Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Number 23 Route

Westbourne Grove Station to Liverpool Street Station Tuesday August 4th 2009

This was a South London posse expedition, only as Jo was taking healthy exercise in Yorkshire, so Sue G, Mary and Linda emerged into gentle rain after a novel trip on the Hammersmith & City Line to get us to Westbourne Grove. TfL had indicated a trip taking 1hour 35 minutes on this very cross London route, which is in fact a 24-hour service.

Leaving the canal behind we ran briefly alongside the railway and almost immediately ran straight past Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower, which is now subject to a Grade 2 listing and has been a star of film and TV. Greenery is limited round here but we noted some balcony baskets and a small strip of possible guerrilla gardening close to the railway.

The Cobden Working Men's Club in Kensal Road, which was the first of its kind in London, even if no longer living up to its name gave a hint that this had historically been an area for labourers probably here to build tunnels of all sorts. My research tells me there were Potteries also. The bus briefly detours for the Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury’s, which is canal-side, and from there turns into Ladbroke Grove which steadily becomes more gentrified as the bus progresses. All the houses are sizeable – up to 5 stories of white stucco early Victorian – but start very much as multi-occupied and slightly run down before becoming cherished and very large single homes.

The London Plane trees were in full leaf and we were very conscious of them brushing the roof of the bus as we passed underneath. We just glimpsed a blue plaque for a Hablot Knight Browne aka ‘Phiz’ – the illustrator for much of Dickens’ work, who had lived in Ladbroke Grove – before arriving at Elgin Crescent, where the delightfully ice cream coloured houses are, and past the Portobello Road. Some of this area had been blighted by the looming of Westway overhead but seems to have settled over the years. Colville Square had a delightful garden at its heart, and what’s more one open to the public. Just close by is the Brands museum, which started its life in Gloucester as the (Robert Opie Collection of packaging!

Suddenly we were in Westbourne Grove and the most amazing array of upmarket shops such as Joseph, Dyptique, LK Bennett, where there used to be expensive antique shops. The bus continues the length of Westbourne Grove and gradually the shops become more mainstream and mundane as the road narrows. Two of us regretted the passing of the very beautiful Elliott shoe shop in the art nouveau premises on the corner of Westbourne Grove and Chepstow Road. In fact we were held up for some considerable time by the usual (renewal of Victorian mains) road works. The bus had not been particularly busy and while it was stopped I noticed a wheelchair user asking to get on, which the driver refused – however he did let someone impatient to walk off!

Kensington & Chelsea borough gives way to Westminster City and we remembered Dame Shirley Porter and her famous "Homes for Votes" scandal along the Bishops Bridge Road. We slowed again as we followed two articulated 436s along to Paddington Station, where not surprisingly large numbers of passengers got on. We had passed the plaque for Sir Alexander Fleming at St Mary’s hospital before but now we knew (having watched Breaking the Mould) that he may have noticed the beneficial properties of penicillin mould but it took Florey and Chain at Oxford to graft away to find out how to mass produce and dare to test it out.

Of course we then came out onto the Edgware Road, where in spite of its being a Red Route and within the congestion charge zone the traffic was nose to tail so progress to Marble Arch was slow – the number of venues where you can gamble openly seem to be on the increase? This part of the Edgware Road is famous for the Lebanese restaurants, which we have yet to sample. A blue plaque told us that Randolph Churchill (father of Sir W.) lived quite close to Marble Arch at 2 Connaught Place – handy for the shops you might say! This was something like our 6th trip along Oxford Street but there is usually a new development or window display to admire – certainly the upper deck allows you to appreciate the style of the different buildings as when walking the street you tend only to see the goods on offer.

After Oxford Street we turned right down the more salubrious Regent Street and through Piccadilly, noting the new Tfl display. Down Haymarket, where a non-EH blue plaque on New Zealand House recalls Ho Chi Minh’s stint in the kitchens of the now-defunct Carlton Hotel, and across the bottom of Trafalgar Square – it was just on mid-day so the plinth person was getting down and the American college band just striking up. Going down the Strand this way is much faster and we nipped along and round the Aldwych, wondering who would build 92 luxury apartments on what is effectively a traffic island? The answer appears to be the Norman Foster Partnership.

We passed the very handsome Royal Courts of Justice and were thankful, all three of us, for not having to appear there any more. Fleet Street is narrow but retains some charm though most of the newspapers are long gone with small churches such as St Dunstan-in-the-West and later the Wren church of St. Martin’s with St Jude, after the bus drove across Ludgate circus.

The 1 hour 35 minutes was up so the driver decided to terminate at St. Paul’s Cathedral, not a bad place to stop and admire the scenery except the bus was so close to the end of its journey it seemed a bit silly. Very honestly we waited for the next 23 which went alongside a big 60s block – Bucklersby House – being demolished and the now familiar statues of Peabody and Gladstone. Then just over London Wall we arrived at our destination, the back of Liverpool Street Station.

Mary was of the view that you did not get your 30p’s worth of toilet when she remembered the rotating and self-cleaning facilities at Seoul airport, but Linda thought Liverpool Street was in an altogether better league than the grim facility (note the singular) at London Bridge…

2 hours in total when you count the wait to finish on a second bus.

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