Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Number 64 Route

New Addington Tramlink to Thornton Heath Pond
Tuesday March 30th 2010

In order to get thus far we had (seamlessly and effortlessly) taken two other buses so were already as far towards the edge of London as our bus maps allow. An extensive tour of New Addington with its entirely 20th century feel spanning the garden village ideal of the Thirties to the ‘families need homes’ thrust of the Fifties and Sixties has been linked to the rest of the metropolis by the Tramlink, where we to boarded the 64 bus. The 64 has always served Addington and we left Parkway enjoying the extensive views over the fields and can well imagine how it was still farmland 80 years ago. Perhaps because the ten-year-old trams now serve this area pretty well our bus was fairly empty for the start of this trip – it was also amazingly quiet as to engine so we felt quite lulled and soothed on our trip. It is very much the only lower digit bus to serve this part of the world – all the other numbers are well into the 300s or 400s or even the Letters, which really do seem a long way away from 64.

Forestdale, which is the other large housing development hereabouts, occupies much of the hill down into Selsdon – it’s a wide road with the houses set well back. John Ruskin College is well established, having started life as a grammar school, but we have not yet found any evidence that the art critic who supported the Pre-Raphaelites actually lived round here.

There were signs to the London Loop and Section 4 passes this way – saying not surprisingly that the views from the Addington Hills are splendid and far-reaching.

The 64 bus has quite a steep climb to get up into Selsdon and is of course a sole route hereabouts – the trams not managing the hills quite so well. Selsdon is very much the older established but still firmly 20th century bit of Croydon – large detached houses, mature trees, private schools and golf clubs and thus it continues, fairly uninterrupted with still few passengers boarding, giving us opportunity to appreciate the colour coming back into the grey – yellow forsythia and the beginnings of pink blossom –down into Croydon Town Centre, serving all three stations – first South, then East, the real hub, and finally West Croydon.

And suddenly the bus turns not from a frog into a princess but from a country bus to a town bus as all the passengers pile on at the various stops through Croydon. The older building now housing the Halifax has a public clock, still keeping good time I note, and re-adjusted for summertime but perhaps the passing bus advertising a film called the Crazies could be applied equally to the ‘Ladies Who Bus’?

Though termed West Croydon – and it’s only a few weeks since we were here on the 60 – to be pedantic it’s really North Croydon and there we were heading out through the Indian restaurants and food shops now pretty familiar to us, past Mayday Hospital and some smaller hotels who keep up the larger houses along here. And then West or North Croydon merges into Thornton Heath and there we were at journey’s end. The head stop had given us a time estimate of 33 minutes, which seemed a bit optimistic, even for a short route but we did complete our ‘day out’ in just over 40 minutes, and the sun came out too! Just for a change thought we would celebrate this number with an audio link as this is just the sort of activity the writer was thinking of when he wrote his song. (Did you see that coming?)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Number 63 Route

Forest Hill Tavern to King’s Cross

Wednesday March 24th 2010

[Oh, the honour, oh, the responsibility – the first guest blogger, the first male blogger to gatecrash the domain of the ladies who bus, and for such an important route… The 63 is a big deal for those involved in this project – it effectively links the North London participant with her two south-of-the-river colleagues, it is the bus that I, the husband of one of the latter and self-styled ‘63 regular’ on the list of followers, use for my daily commute, and it was the bus that our son used in his school days. This is not an entry to be undertaken lightly – can I possibly do it justice?]

The bus starts outside Camberwell Old Cemetery, near the small area looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which is the resting place of Albert McKenzie VC (whose story is well worth reading). Linda and I boarded at 9.33, finding the bus quite busy considering the time of day and the fact that there was a 363 just ahead. Forest Hill Road soon took us past the house with one of this part of London’s very few blue plaques, marking the birthplace of Henry Pratt, or Boris Karloff as he is better known, and on past the building site where the new Harris Boys' Academy (East Dulwich) is rapidly going up on the site formerly occupied by Waverley Girls’ School.

With spring at last underway, the daffodils on the Peckham Rye verges were coming into bloom with almost audible sighs of relief. One of the things about travelling a route that has been familiar for three decades is that you notice things that are no longer there as well as things that are – in this area, the ghosts of Austins the second-hand furniture store and the old Co-Op rattle their chains. Rye Lane, Peckham shows its fantastic diversity in the wide range of groceries, cosmetics and religious options available to locals; the last stretch towards Peckham Pulse is in the throes of extensive roadworks, the final purpose of which is not yet clear. The wriggle round Hanover Park and Clayton Road evoked two further ghosts: the site of the former Peckham Leisure Centre (known in the family as the Leis-re Centre from the long period when the ‘U’ went missing), now a block of key workers’ flats with Swordfish Masquerade, a striking piece of public art, by Nigerian-born artist Sokari Douglas Camp outside it, and the very blue ‘Gaumont House’ keeping no more than the name of a former cinema and bingo hall.

Turning right off Peckham High Street into Peckham Hill, we admired in rapid succession the Manze Eel and Pie House, Peckham Library, ‘Underexposed’ – a roadside photographic portrait gallery of black actors including Idris Elba, The Wire’s Stringer Bell – and the first glimpse of the Strata tower block at still-distant Elephant and Castle. This stretch of the route goes over an unmistakable canal bridge which seems well out of place until you find out you have just crossed the route of the Grand Surrey Canal, absorbed surprisingly recently into Burgess Park.

Joining the Old Kent Road, we were again just one of many bus routes. The ‘Thomas a’Becket’ pub has a Southwark blue plaque recalling that boxer Henry Cooper trained there, and we noted that the opening of the ‘Premier by Eurotraveller’ hotel would make life easier for fans of the Monopoly board (when Tim Moore explored London board in hand for ‘Do Not Pass Go’ it was one of his major challenges). The Old Kent Road has already lost many of the pubs for which it used to be famous – think of the book and the film of ‘Last Orders’ – and we were sad to see ‘For Sale’ signs on ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ whose pub sign we used to enjoy.

After the flyover, the 63 takes you to Elephant and Castle, past the Heygate Estate which this project has mentioned several times already. Top-deck passengers get a good view of the pile of rubble that is still all there is behind hoardings bearing Oakmayne’s promises of completion in 2006 or 2007. Round the E&C roundabout, the stop across the road from the South Bank University is where my commute usually stops, so from here on the view was marginally less familiar. The bus picked up a lot of travellers at this point, since there are no other routes that head up past Clerkenwell to King’s Cross. Blackfriars Road was empty and fast moving, but not even the ability to sail past it quite quickly reconciles us to the LDA building, which we find one of modern London’s least attractive additions.

As we crossed the Thames the sun came out and there was a lot of work going on for the new ‘on the bridge’ Blackfriars railway station. We duly noted the bus stop claimed as ‘mine’ 20 years ago by our school-commuting son, and worked out that our trip under Holborn Viaduct would be the last by the Bus Project, as 63 is the highest number that does that. Farringdon Road railway station is undergoing further redevelopment: it feels to us that it has only just finished the previous revamp, but perhaps it was longer ago than we realise.

Being on the top deck, we could see the massed post office vans behind the Mount Pleasant sorting office – a view you don’t get from a car or the lower deck. In King’s Cross Road we spotted and photographed a very eroded stone identifying Bagnigge House, which seems to have links both to Nell Gwynne and to an 18th century rural spa. Turning into Grays Inn Road meant the journey was nearly over: we passed the offices of the Terence Higgins Trust and the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital and – one last ghost – the shell of the long-departed Mole Jazz, now just another shop awaiting redevelopment. And there we were in York Way and ‘this bus terminates here’. The whole journey had taken 55 minutes – 10 minutes less than the time forecast by TFL – and provided an interesting opportunity to take a new look at a lot of familiar sights. We must also say, having now travelled this route in both directions at many different times of day and night, it is an impressively frequent, regular and reliable service.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Number 62 Route

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Both Linda and Mary being busy today, I was delighted to have Jenny as company and as photographer. We were able to start quite early and after two other buses, about which our readers will learn in future years, we boarded the 62 at 11.40.

Its departure point was in the Gascoigne estate, so we had had a short walk through Barking market to get there. The bus was very full, with shoppers, and when some go off, others got on, so only for the last few stops was there no-one standing. Jenny and I noted a young boy who should certainly have been in school, but he was looking after a not-very-able elderly man. We also enjoyed the condom advertisement on the bus.

All this emphasis on what was going on in the bus points to the fact that this was not the most exciting trip we had ever been on. For almost all the route, we were going through housing of varying ages and sizes, and being the sole bus serving the route, providing the way for people to get home with their shopping.

Interesting things we did pass included the new memorial to Driver Job Drain VC, who won his VC in August 1914, when the war had barely begun. And there was some attractive public art on the roundabout taking us out of Barking. The Royal Oak pub boasted 'probably the best beer garden in Barking' though its misplaced apostrophe ('video camera's in operation') annoyed us both.

Barking Park was showing clear signs of spring, as were the grounds of Barking Hospital and the huge cemetery just past Upney Station.

After Becontree Station, more residential roads brought us to Chadwell Heath, crossing both the A13 and the A12; then we were in Marks Gate, and the bus went on until, to our surprise, we came to THE END of London, and the Green Belt stretched ahead of us as we turned into Billet Road and terminated, somewhat far from anything, much! Our journey on the 62 had lasted exactly an hour.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Number 61 Route

Monday 15 March 2010

We - Linda, Mary and Jo - arrived at Bromley North Station by varying routes, in warm sunshine, and were onto the 61 by 10.20, heading towards Chislehurst. This was a real taste of Kent's commuter belt, with large car parks (and a satisfactory number of cycle racks) at each station we passed. Though speaking of cycling, we saw a serious amount of the type of cycle track which is shared pavement, with the cycle track narrowing at each lamp post, leaving cyclists no choice by to encroach upon the pedestrian bit. This gives me an excuse to recommend the Warrington Cycle Campaign's fabulous archive of even worse cycle lanes.

Anyway, this is meant to be about the 61. We knew the first part well, round the outside of Bromley and then cutting in to get to Bromley South station, passing the Glades shopping centre, the huge Police Station and the magnificent Waitrose and with wonderful views over Kent down the steep hill. Many young people boarded the bus, but we were wrong to suppose that they were heading for Bromley College, as they stayed with us till Orpington.

We headed down the Hastings road, into and out of attractive Farnborough Village, where the old Police Station is now a 'boutique spa' and where a jeweller's shop offered 'pre-owned watches' as well as hand made jewellery.

Spring's arrival was demonstrated by the fact that there was weeding going on close to Orpington War Memorial, and then we turned to go down into Orpington High Street where pavement works slowed us down enough to spot Shimla Pink, offering contemporary Indian Cuisine, which is part of a chain more frequently seen in the Midlands. Most of the young people got off here, leaving us wondering what made Orpington College so attractive.

Out of Orpington we headed uphill again, diverted off the Chislehurst Road, for reasons unclear, into Poverest Road before reaching the business and retail area of Nugent's Business Park and St Mary Cray Station.

We townies were impressed by the size and amount of green space around Leeson's Primary School, already marked for rounders, we thought, and then we passed the Chislehurst village sign and the war memorial to reach Chislehurst Green with its handsome pond, complete with duck house, presumably not claimed on anyone's expenses. We were saddened to see what we thought was another defunct pub, The Legion, which is in fact, or was, the local branch of the Royal British Legion, now closed despite protests.

We arrived at our alighting point exactly one hour after leaving Bromley North, having enjoyed the swooping hills and descents of this route.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Number 60 Route

Streatham Bus Garage to Old Coulsdon (The Tudor Rose)

Tuesday March 9th 2010

This proved to be (Yes, Brian) a bus of two halves but to start at the beginning.. We boarded at around 11.25 after a brief wait (it never seems long when you can see them sitting there ‘on their break’) and took our usual seats. The bus floor looked rather as though a football team had come off a muddy pitch and smelt faintly of beer. Not to worry: the significant number of upstairs passengers en route into Croydon were eating their chips with vinegar and KFC so things looked up. As befits a bus advertising Miss Sixty the passengers were by and large young and probably students.

The bus immediately turned off Streatham High Road, where we said a temporary farewell to the A23, and down Greyhound Lane into what we learned to think of as Streatham Vale, or the hinterland of Thornton Heath and Mitcham. To find a builder advertising pebbledash seemed to sum up this part of the trip, where the homes must have been really sought after when built but currently look a little forgotten – other signs of neglect included an abandoned school and some derelict front gardens.

The route also passes a large crematorium and cemetery too, doubtless adding to the note of gloom. However there were also clear signs of regeneration with a new Harris Academy and a new library, even if some of the play facilities come courtesy of McDonalds. This area proves to be Pollards Hill and, often being the only bus to serve the many streets round here, the Number 60 continued to pick up passengers apace before emerging back onto the main roads to approach Croydon via the Thornton Heath Ponds (not), the busy local Mayday hospital and West Croydon. We also passed the TFL rapid response tyre squad.

West Croydon has a strong South Indian flavour with several restaurants and outlets catering to the community: ‘Tastes of Kerala’, another Ambala which tempted us last week on the 58, and our usual hairdressers, which today included ‘Kare Cuts’ and ‘Halos’ which might have something to do with the local ‘Saints & Sinners’ pub?

Central Croydon of course is well known for having, amongst others, the head offices of such different organisations as Nestle HQ and Lunar House, now part of the UK Border Agency, where asylum seekers have to report as soon as they can after arriving in the UK – after that it becomes a mystery as to what happens to their applications? (If I were newly arrived in the UK, I am not sure I could understand much of their website.)

Given that we passed close to the Whitgift and other shopping centres it was not surprising that all the chatty young passengers we had acquired en route got off at this point.

This route goes under the flyover, through South Croydon, where you can find the school after which the shopping centre was named, and familiar landmarks such as the ‘Swan & Sugarloaf’ a still extant pub which features on bus destinations, and has done since the days of horse-drawn trams. For once the web does give an explanation of the ‘sugarloaf’ bit, but it is fairly extensive so only anoraks need click here.

This route, which follows the commuter railway line was very familiar to the Project members having all had parents or in-laws that lived in Purley. As a niece said to me when she heard about ‘Purley’ as a small child she thought it was somewhere exotic like Bali or Hawaii so when she grew up and discovered the real place, the reality fell somewhat short. The closest Purley came to ‘exotic’ was the Orchid Ballroom (1950-1973) now sadly, after several less successful rebrandings, just another gym.

Purley, like its neighbours Sanderstead, Reedham and our ultimate destination Coulsdon, is solid suburbia into commuter belt, and no worse for that. Most of the Tudorbethan houses are in good repair, though we did see the odd casualty. Purley has its war memorial and some large old pubs. Purley, though I think not the parts we passed today is known for its privet hedges, and even on the A23 the tone is set.

At Purley, Route 60 rejoins the A23 and heads on to what is essentially the start of the North Downs. The bus had emptied considerably after Croydon, but slowly began picking up some more passengers, again young people heading to college. The folk of Coulsdon must be really relieved since the Coulsdon by-pass was completed – I can remember sitting in this narrow bottle neck on the car en route to Gatwick biting my nails as to whether we would make the check-in time, so road travellers to the airport must be pleased also.

Clearly the by-pass has given Coulsdon town centre a new lease of life and there was evidence of new pavements, and other face-lifts restoring the High Street to the locals. Just by the road junction where we moved into Surrey from the London Borough of Croydon and my rather ancient A-Z indicates Piggeries there were indeed free-range (though fenced in) hens and ducks and geese beside the bus route.

The last leg of the route heads pretty steeply up onto the hill with several footpaths offering us Farthing Downs/New Hill and Happy Valley off to the side with clear opportunities for a walk.

The Number 60 must earn its keep as most of the passengers were clearly students heading to (or later from) Coulsdon College, which is just by the terminus of this bus route. It also hauls itself up a steep gradient, which I imagine was not passable in the snows.

We did not think that ‘Old Coulsdon’ looked that old as the ‘Tudor Rose’ seemed much of a period with the suburban housing, but marked a suitable stopping point. Perhaps made hungry by the smells of all the food consumed on the bus for once we treated ourselves to some warming soup from the ‘Tudor Rose’ before re-boarding this route to get us back to the nearest train station.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Number 59 Route

Tuesday 30 November 2009

This was our way back from the 45, and Linda, Mary and I began with a brief walk, made longer by my inadequacies with the A-Z, to reach Streatham Hill, and climb onto a nice new bus at about 11.30. The weather had picked up a bit, after earlier rain, and we had some flashes of blue sky.

Brixton has a number of up-to-date venues, like the White Horse and the Fridge, but also the lovely St Matthew's Church. Our route took us along Kennington Park Road, past attractive houses and the industrial units at Kennington Corner. We liked 'Art in Hair' and were pleased to see that Lambeth has winter hanging baskets to cheer up the next few months. Little did we know when we made this journey that 'cheering up' would still be necessary by March 2010.

Past the Imperial War Museum and over Waterloo Bridge, we headed steadily northwards, noting the plaque where the Civil Engineers had their training college, and admiring the Russell Hotel. The former Social Security building in Woburn Place is now up for sale, while the new building for Unison, along the Euston Road where the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital was, is coming along nicely. And so to St Pancras and King's Cross, within the hour as promised.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Number 58 Route

East Ham (White Horse) to Walthamstow Central Station

Tuesday March 2nd 2010

Today we were joined by one of our followers – Green Lanes Girl – who is on a break between two high-powered city jobs. She must be a good luck charm – sunshine at last. And she took loads of photos for us, along what was pretty new territory for all of us.

We set off from the White Horse adjacent to Central Park (not that one) which has benefited greatly from some Lottery Funding so has new facilities we were pleased to use, and gave us a chance to admire the War memorial – the park also contains a more personal memento for a ship’s steward who went down with the Titanic.

This route immediately serves the wonderful civic complex of Newham Town Hall with its ensuite library, fire and police stations; such was civic pride in the late 19th century. There are more up to date services for local residents like the Sickle Cell Centre and the Hartley Centre – a multi-purpose community resource. The bus strikes cross town (it was very much ones of those routes rather than an into town and out one) affording a full frontal view of West Ham’s stadium, which keeps the regal Tudor theme of honouring Anne Boleyn. Research indicates she once had a home here in Green Street, hence the honour paid her! (The Boleyn cinema had some Bollywood films) The crenellated towers flank the main entrance to this comparatively small premiership stadium (35.000 capacity) though Jo said they were medieval rather than Tudor? The Trevor Brooking stand tells you all you need to know about local heroes. Very soon, and quite slowly as it’s the high street we edged along by Upton Park Station and Queens Market (no apostrophes so we are not sure how many royals).

As High Streets go this one is in pretty good shape with lots of small lively shops and shoppers, our eyes very caught by the exquisite saris and gold bangle outlets, so we have promised ourselves a return trip. The shops and pavements were equally colourful with bright street furniture, especially the lampposts, Gaudi type benches all interspersed with fruit and food ‘Rice, Spice and All Things Nice’ as the shop front said. Ambala, famed for its Indian sweets, has an outlet here too.

Heading North we crossed the Romford Road towards Forest Gate through which there was a tremendous range of religion on offer: Temples, Mosques and Churches abound but we thought one slogan would do for today. The bus has to negotiate some quite narrow roads such as Dames Road, which takes you to Wanstead Flats, looking quite rural in the sunshine, with geese plashing in the pond or was it standing water? Really they are the southern tail-end of Epping Forest. Apparently cows grazed here until the BSE crisis. Then Cann Hall Road through Leyton and another football ground. Like SE London, the Underground hardly reaches this part of the city so buses and to some extent the railway are the way to get around. It seems William Morris was born and brought up in Walthamstow which might explain naming a school after the home he acquired after getting richer and more famous – Kelmscott Manor.

Roundabout here we were rather tantalized by the view of distant cranes (the building sort) which we think belong to the Olympic site but the bus turned off before we could really see. It seems likely we were seeing the Olympic Village going up, though this may be as near as we can get for a while. There is clear evidence of the history of Leyton with a parish church and rather overgrown cemetery alongside (how handy) the almshouses, still inhabited by a guy with 2 equally elderly dogs we saw taking the sun.

A very well maintained grander house makes sure we all know this was the residence of Cardinal Wiseman, the first (post-Reformation) RC archbishop of Westminster. There are some Coronation Gardens, which research tells me were planted to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII. However it seems the shine may have come off the Park somewhat. Leyton still has its town clock, now rather overshadowed by the volume of passing traffic as once again we followed the railway and headed into Walthamstow (makes a change from heading out which is what we’ve done before) revealing that it has a shopping centre from this approach.

On the dot of the 59 minutes estimated we drove into Walthamstow bus station delighted with our sunny and colourful journey, which let us enjoy some corners of East London, where we had never been.