Monday, 19 November 2018

The Number 10 Route

Thursday 15 November 2018

The Number 10 kind of encapsulates my time living in London.  When we first arrived, it ran from Hammersmith to Archway, unless we really wanted a ride up the hill of York Way, in which case it could be relied upon to terminate at King's Cross.  Then that end point became official, but the splendid 390 went up to Archway instead.  And now the Number 10 is over.  From Friday 23rd, it will be a former bus:  all part of the plan (to save money, said a driver I spoke to) to reduce the number of buses along Oxford Street.

So anyway, we picked it up in Wharfdale Road, at 10.20, and turned down into the end of Caledonian Road, to emerge onto the Euston Road and pass King's Cross, and St Pancras. Separate stations demonstrate the fact that private companies each built and ran their own railways, just as the fact of all the stations lining the North of the Euston Road show the power of the noble landlords (Dukes of Bedford and Westminster) who did not want railways on their lands.

Then comes the British Library, with a very interesting exhibition about the Anglo-Saxons at the moment, and then the former Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (now a Trade Union HQ) and, on the other side of the road the 'new' St Pancras Church, which superseded the 'old' one, where Thomas Hardy was employed to oversee the removal of graves to make room for the railway.
We turned left down Woburn Place (in the olden days, the 10 used Gower Street as the 390 does now) and were trapped in very heavy traffic, but happily the route turns right at Russell Square, to pass the British Museum, before rejoining its old route in New Oxford Street for the long slow trundle to Marble Arch.

The smart new entrances to Tottenham Court Road Station are looking very busy already.  Apparently, once the Elizabeth Line opens, the expected footfall will be greater than Heathrow Terminal 5.

We did not think much of the Christmas Decorations (OX ST? Why?) but it did not take as long as we expected to get to Selfridges, and then the left turn into Park Lane.

The massed cyclamens outside the Dorchester caught our eye, as did a notice close to the southern end of Park Lane.  It actually refers to a plan by the Italian artists Matt Marga to use 1 million crystals to make a head of the Queen.  I am sure Linda and I will be passing this way again and so will be able to comment on it.  At this instant, my mind is boggling.

I have always loved the war memorials at Hyde Park Corner:  the simple angled poles of the New Zealanders; the wall of home towns spelling out the battle fields where the Australians fought; the cheeky Machine Gunners' statue of David (Saul has slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands) which so annoyed other branches of the army; the fine artillery memorial and of course the Iron Duke himself, or at least his arch.

Then we headed along into Kensington, with Hyde Park looking autumnal and lovely on the right.  At the end of Exhibition Road, the Royal Geographical Society has a statue of David Livingstone in a niche, reminding us that exploring was often done by missionaries in the 19th century. We passed the Albert Memorial, as well as the Polish Museum, both placed we had enjoyed during our museum project. We also noted that there are 'works' going on at the Albert Hall.

After these handsome buildings, one does not have to be the Prince of Wales to find the Royal garden Hotel absolutely hideous, but by then we were in amongst smart shops and restaurants, some with beautiful plantings, though some with plastic wisteria or amazing baubles for Christmas.

At Kensington Olympia, they were holding the European Pizza and Pasta Show, but we did not leap off the bus to experience it, which is as well as it proves to be a trade show, rather than an eatathon.

Even here, in smart Kensington, there was masses of building going on.  Soon we were on the outskirts of Hammersmith, where parts of St Paul's School have become a hotel, and where we enjoyed a glimpse of the attractive parish church of St Mary's West Kensington

The bus station is at the eastern end of Hammersmith, so we did not need to grapple with the difficult traffic there before rolling up onto the top level and climbing off, with barely a minute before our next bus departed. Ninety minutes to cross from on side of central London to the other is not bad in  today's  traffic conditions.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

The NUMBER 9 Route

Hammersmith Bus Station to Aldwych  
Thursday November 15 2018

As we are reversing what we did nine years ago we actually arrived in Hammersmith via the Number 10 and were just fumbling around looking for bus stops /letter identifiers/maps when a Number 9 whisked up so we got on.

Before I go further a reasonable rant about the ‘new’ routemasters - where we sit upstairs the windows are really quite small so our photos, never our best feature, look like letter box format videos ie boxed in. it’s also darker than it could be. Their main redeeming feature I have decided is that they are quite quiet, but little else appeals.

So we bowled out of the double decker bus station and headed straight onto the Hammersmith Road but back towards London so this does not feel like a route that offers you much of Hammersmith itself. Both sides of this thoroughfare have grand buildings of different eras. Nazareth House bills itself as a care home but looks very much like the forbidding establishment it once was - unfortunately a Childrens' Home whose ‘inmates’ had little chance of escape? And unsurprisingly these walls hid some abuse too. 

Another institution is the old Building of St Paul’s Private School, now more jollily made over into a quirky hotel, though someone passing a quick look over my photos thought it looked like the Psycho House. 
Most of the school buildings have gone but the Waterhouse designed Master’s House has been preserved and made over – I am pretty sure that it was looking quite disreputable one of the last times we passed. It was also the venue for a planning meeting for D-Day held between Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery.

Meanwhile there have been changes on the opposite side of the Hammersmith Road – however when I tried to find out who was using the massive glass and steel complex (with some quite nice front landscaping) at Nos 68-72 all I got was a multiple offers for offices to rent – in other words IT IS EMPTY! 

Calling itself first Brook Green then Olympia this was clearly no longer Hammersmith. Olympia is a conference /exhibition centre on a BIG scale and today was hosting two events: The European Pizza and Pasta Exhibition closely followed by Professional Diabetic Care, as indeed too much of the former could easily  trigger the latter..

Once past Olympia the route enters Kensington proper – that small rich borough which got itself such a bad name last year.   Both the bus and the High Street were busy – there are outlets of most of the predictable chains – perhaps looking at some higher end ones interspersed with odd shops such as ‘Jereboams’ and two charity shops for the Octavia Trust which seems to be a charity focused on helping the less privileged of West London.

High Street Kensington once rivalled Oxford Street with its department stores including the Derry & Toms/Barkers with its famous roof garden; it also had a brief history as the Biba Store that over-expanded. More successful had been Biba's original dress shop on the other side of the road. 

Once past the graceless Garden House hotel the bus follows the edge of Kensington Gardens with Prince Albert  in all his glory. In our Museum days we had  been privileged to have a really excellent Blue badge guided tour which you can read about here.

A little further along, and set back from the road,  you can also find the Sikorski Institute which counts as a worthy rather than fun visitor experience. The BIG museums – V&A, Natural History and Science – can all be reached very easily from this bus route: just take  the turning  opposite Albert. 

Some of the grander buildings are now used as embassies and we were a bit puzzled at one of the Thirties mansion blocks which clearly had a much later ‘infill’. As we neared Knightsbridge the shops started appearing again with some expensive looking jewellery displays – for some reason topped by a suspended rhino sculpture. The Evening Standard suggests it is the most heavily fortified jewellery shop in London so I wondered whether the rhino descended on those who chose to misbehave. This is certainly a recent addition to the more well established stores around here.

We made excellent progress towards Hyde Park Corner  where traffic often slows and in fact kept going quite smartly till just short of Green Park Station. A Blue Plaque (not an English Heritage one) to Francis Barraud reminded us that he is remembered for  painting  the picture of Nipper the Dog who became the logo of HMV records; this is close to the Cavalry  and RAC Clubs and once we had turned downhill right towards  St James's Palace and Pall Mall we were truly in club land – the sort that don’t admit women and serve stodgy school dinners to those recumbent in club chairs. So it was hardly surprising that we saw men ‘of a certain age’ between RAF Club, the Oxford & Cambridge all along here and the Athenaeum in pride of place.  Variously this is where they would take you and try to recruit you for MI5/6 before these jobs were more conventionally advertised and competed for.

We had plenty of opportunity to admire the Athenaeum and its frieze (reminding us that the founder, one Croker spoke thus:
I'm John Wilson Croker, 
I do as I please; 
Instead of an Ice House
I give you - a frieze!)

and the Crimea monument as we waited through three changes of lights. The reason? Further back in Pall Mall an ambulance, presumably attending one of the clubs, was blocking the traffic which had backed up to the box junction – our side was flowing well but impeded  from carrying on by a van stationary across with insufficient space for the bus to continue.  One can only admire the tenacity and patience of bus drivers though he did permit himself the odd hoot. Once past the blockage, the Institute of Directors  is equally splendid  and launches the way into Trafalgar Square. A white van was parked adjacent to Landseer’s Lions so we wondered whether   he was going to give them a polish  but in retrospect he was probably prepping for the Christmas tree or on a surveillance mission !

Strand, Aldwych and Trafalgar Square have rebranded themselves as the ‘North Bank’ (a phrase in our house more associated with Arsenal FC) and you can only ask why, as the given names are both explanatory and evocative enough. However it has afforded them some quite nice Christmas decorations which sustained us along  to our stopping place by the theatres on the Aldwych.

This was a straightforward route taking in largely affluent and moderately picturesque inner West London, finishing, if you go this way, close to the ‘high point’ of Nelson’s Column.   

Monday, 12 November 2018

The NUMBER 8 Route

Bow Church to Tottenham Court Road (St. Giles)
Thursday November 8 2018

We had arrived in Bow via the rather testing 205 all the way from Paddington in what felt like half a day’s travelling – we had failed to obtain our front seats and the bus had been busy and noisy – you will hear about it in due course. To be fair it had speeded up a bit through the East End. 

There was an Inspector/time keeper who came to greet our 205 driver so we thought we would ask him where to pick up the Number 8. He pointed straight ahead in spite of our protestations that London was behind us and we were not heading out of town. To be sure we saw one lurking and then pull away so the bus apps gave us a waiting time of 12 minutes. Fortunately for the time of year it was mild. Bow Church bus stop is just to the side of St. Mary’s Church. Last time of course we arrived here from Victoria!

I don’t pretend to understand the Bow Roundabout or Interchange, which seems to be a way of joining  the As 11 and 12, with perhaps  a couple of other local routes thrown in for good measure but people seem rather low on its list of users. You can see the Olympic (now West Ham) stadium seemingly not that far away but it would be a brave pedestrian or cyclist who would try to access it.

Happily the bus turns off the dual carriageway quite soon and finds itself trundling through much more human scale roads and housing – there are few towering blocks and this friendly scale of Bow made it feel very welcoming. There is no shortage of housing – low level flats, small houses old and new – and a new educational facility which appears to offer both vocational and academic sixth form courses. This route takes in the delights of Roman Road. I was a bit surprised to spot a somewhat over large and over pink Macaroon but clearly ‘La table de saveurs’ is aiming to bring French patisserie to this bit of London.  Roman Road offers some intimacy and must give a good local service to many people as th
is website illustrates.

But all good things come to an end and soon we were heading straight along the Bethnal Green Road which is of course wider and busier
Since we last passed this way (and this includes our underwhelming visit to the nearby Museum of Childhood )  the memorial has been  erected  to the many people crushed here during  one night’s false alarm during the war. Now called the Stairway to Heaven appropriately for the  overcrowded stairwell led to the multiple  casualties. This link elaborates both the story and the symbolism of the monument.  Though we were bowling along quite fast there was time to spot the range of shops from pawnbrokers to a tiny pub which somehow must have survived the war, and later demolitions, though whether it is still functioning is not clear. Definitely thriving is Brick Lane which is a turning shortly before we reach more recognizable  ground.

For us folks who use the Overground, Shoreditch High Street is a familiar station and the nearby BOX PARK always pulls in a crowd – I sometimes think the names are better than the products? Talking of names Jo spotted a group of ?Chinese tourists being given a  talk outside the  'Bull In A China Shop'
The expression has a very particular meaning – some-one blundering in a fragile environment either physically or metaphorically – but possibly the tourists saw this differently?

Broadgate, which I often think of as a fairly new addition to this part of London, seemed to be undergoing some kind of refit with hoardings covering the arched facades. The link The account here is very detailed but it seems the refurbishment has been prompted, how could I not have guessed, by the Elizabeth Line. It also means some disruption to the bus station – there’s a surprise. Still the Number 8 in this direction pushes on straight as the roads narrow through the City – of course the area around Bank is now buses and bikes only which seems very sensible.

More hoardings as we pushed on down Bishopsgate – 22 London seems to have had a chequered history and it’s not quite the same project that was happening when we were last along here.   Other barriers were already in place for the Lord Mayor’s show which will have happened by the time you read this. We hazarded that next year’s mayor might be a Mercer as they had hung a large banner from their first floor. As we learnt on our trip to the Mansion HouseThe Lord Mayor is self-funded so not sure whether he pays for his ‘Show’ as well?  The hoardings and barriers continue and are joined by diversion signs but on Thursday we were still able to get round St Paul’s.

I was feeling pretty confident the Number 8 would be completing its  journey within the time scheduled but I had of course forgotten about High Holborn – the earlier bit round the Prudential was fine and sunny and with lots people out questing their various lunches but once we had passed  Chancery Lane and Holborn stations progress was  reduced to sitting still behind a row of taxis .
‘Why on earth would you sit in a taxi in this stopped traffic?’ I said to Jo at which point we watched a father and son just get out of their cab and walk.  The Bus Project rules determine that we stay put so we had ample opportunity to admire the heraldry on Holborn Town Hall in detail and we could just about have popped into the pretty The Princess Louise Pub, bought a drink and got back on.

'Many shall pass through and learning Shall be Increased’  Library or Pub? - Looking down on a van that said ‘Mum you can find me on Google Maps’ was a bit confusing  but kept us amused while passing the Lego brick-like flats until we finally arrived at the end point – not strictly Tottenham Court Road but a point outside St Giles., he who saved a Hind from hunters - just what you need in London?  
It was great to be back in parts of the East End with sights old and new and through the City on a well-established route.