Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Number 35 Route

The Falcon (Clapham Junction) to Shoreditch High Street

Tuesday October 13 2009

Follower Sue kindly joined me today to help with the photography on what was to prove quite an extensive odyssey. The train having delivered us at Clapham Junction, which is all trains to all people, we transferred our attention to the bus on a crisp, clear and ultimately pretty warm autumn day. The head stop is in fact just close to the enormous railway bridge carrying all the mainlines from the South and South West into London, but we quickly passed the shopping hub of Clapham Junction, still dominated by the ghost of Arding & Hobbs.

Once we reached Clapham Common North Side we could really appreciate the autumn colours in all the trees across the still green common and the very finely kept houses. According to the blue plaque one used to be the home of John Walter (1739-1812) who apparently founded The Times newspaper. Just further along is a building that now forms part of the very exclusive Eaton House Schools group, but which, years ago, used to be one of ILEA (the Inner London Education Authority)’s special schools for the ‘delicate’, or open air schools as they were known. In a quiet way, these provided nourishment (breakfast and tea) and fresh air as well as education – it was no coincidence that this one was located near the common, and took children from the more deprived parts of Wandsworth and Lambeth, as indeed the borough boundary falls mid way along North Side. Trinity Hospice along here is also known for its charitable works. It too nestles amongst the trees and some were overgrown enough to bang on the roof of our very nice and clean double decker.

Passenger numbers were steady, including a series of African gentlemen conducting what sounded like business deals as we went on our way.

The bus turns away from Clapham Old Town along Clapham Park Road towards Brixton and we noted a small mural saying that ‘The Good Die Young’ on a take-away pizza shop … research indicates it to be in memory of Antoine Smith, a local resident of 24 years who was shot in this alley just 3 years ago.

Progress through the centre of Brixton, that is round the Town Hall and Ritzy cinema, was much slowed by a combination of both replacement water mains work and no traffic lights, but we passed the time lamenting the passing of the old Bon Marche, which was apparently the first purpose built department store in the country also a branch of John Lewis at one time. Brixton had a very handsome Woolworths too, which also is no more.

Sue lived here when she first came to London and Goldsmiths’ College in 1965, in a Hall of Residence called Armytage, which was in the Brixton Road, and indeed it was opposite the Ram Jam Club. The bus goes the length of Coldharbour Lane, and comes out in Camberwell, just north of King’s College Hospital – close to the Green, though this is not one of the more attractive Greens that often form part of bus destinations. The bus pursues its route up Camberwell Road where the large blocks still stand – when Sue worked as an Education Welfare officer in the mid-70s, she remembers this patch was a pretty deprived area. Evidence of long-standing attempts to help with the deprivation is the presence of Cambridge House, once a ‘settlement’, now more of a local resource and focal point.

By now we had moved on from Lambeth to Southwark and it was clear as we approached Elephant & Castle (please remember about twenty-six different bus routes pass through here so it’s difficult not to be repetitive) that Southwark was working to improve the area – some of the Heygate Estate has already been demolished with the rest of it boarded up. There are several excellent short films like this one on YouTube, which give a very good idea of the life and death of the estate over the last five years. On the other hand someone clearly thinks it’s OK to allow the building of the STRATA block, also known as the Castle Block (and less reverently as the ‘electric razor’) going up just the other side of the roundabout. It was ‘topped out’ in June 2009, but still looks unfinished: only holes where there apparently will be some wind turbines to provide power for the building.

From Elephant the Number 35 heads off through Borough, past some of the sites we had already seen on the Number 21 – St George the Martyr and British School of Osteopathy, the Blue men and Southwark cathedral , which should be better known. There were very extensive queues outside the UK Border Agency’s ‘Overseas Visitor Record Office’ (from which we assume the recent autumn influx of students must be attempting to register).

Very soon we were crossing London Bridge, in significantly better weather than last week, and as always the views up and down river are incomparable and heart lifting, especially from the top of a bus. Regrettably the slowing works in King William Street we encountered last week were still very much in evidence – you have to admire the patience of London bus drivers through the city where they still have to contend with narrow streets, significant traffic and often very selfishly parked white vans…

There is a magnificent old Fire Station building opposite the Broadgate Development with one remaining red door and the rest given over to Tesco’s. The contrasts as you leave the City of London past Liverpool Street & Heron Tower to enter Tower Hamlets are immediately palpable, with the cleanliness and almost glitz of the city giving way to the likes of the boarded up ‘Crown & Shuttle’ pub. The bus stops in a pretty busy thoroughfare by the old Shoreditch Town Hall and police station, and we took the opportunity to explore a very little of what remains of Shoreditch.
The bus took the full hour and a half TfL had said it might and actually I cannot imagine anyone wanting to take it end to end: it is not the most efficient way of getting around, but as a ‘trip’ it was fine and varied enough, covering as it did at least 5 London boroughs including the City of London.


  1. You'll be revisiting the Clapham Junction to Brixton bit very soon when you do the 37!