Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Number 78 Route

Shoreditch Church to St Mary’s Nunhead

Tuesday October 13th 2009

Taking this route was something of a spur of the moment decision as we fell upon it having got off our key route ( the Number 35 which brought us to Shoreditch) By now it was lunch-time and Sue and I had eaten our sandwiches in the well tended and gardened (but nevertheless frequented by drinkers) churchyard of St Leonard’s. We found some local sites while trolling in vain for a toilet so in the end just boarded the bus. The 78 is a single decker so photo opportunities are less good but people watching and nipping through the back streets much better. It did a complete circuit of Arnold Circus with its magnificent blocks, built in their day as ‘slum clearance’ now looking a bit run down but it was beautifully quiet considering how central we were.
The bus went back towards the City, passing TEA and the building site that is the new overground station Shoreditch High Street, which will be part of the East London Line and apparently by 2010 will be (is!) joining hitherto ‘tubeless’ south east London more directly to network.  This was lunchtime and the streets were really busy round Spitalfields, Artillery Row and the tiny ( or is it just dwarfed by the surrounding buildings?) Dirty Dicks. These streets going round the back of the Pinnacle building were all strange to us non financial sector workers but we came round into Houndsditch and St Botolph’s and eventually into the Minories as we approached Tower Bridge. Although the pedestrians were clearly ‘city types’ the passengers on the bus were not; however that did not stop them conducting some different sorts of business over their mobile hones as we progressed very smartly past the Tower of London and across Tower Bridge – what a privilege. Butler’s Wharf on the left houses some very expensive real estate and the 
Design Museum and very soon we were bowling along Tooley Street and Bermondsey through the heart of Southwark –here too there is green in the shape of Bermondsey Spa gardens. Dunton Road leads into both the Old Kent Road and Mandela Way, which leads only to the biggest Tescos around which I fear demeans the name of the great man. Once out on the Old Kent Road (remember this was the old pilgrim route out of London towards Canterbury) and heading south you pass a number of large stores an Asda, a B&Q … you get the picture. Avondale Square estate on the left looks well maintained and is still managed by the Corporation of London - a better landlord than many.

Being essentially a ‘back-streets’ bus we turned off down past the old, Livesey Library (now seemingly a church ) with its murals celebrating the history of Southwark, and down into the Friary Estate but noting an excellently maintained butchers’ shop with some nice meat on the counters. **This reminded me of ‘Last Orders’, Graham Swift’s excellent book, which when filmed featured Michael Caine as a Bermondsey butcher who loses out to the local supermarket. There are dense estates hereabout with one of the blocks adorned by a Southwark plaque for Rio Ferdinand.

The 78 then doubles up with the 63 route for a while which of course means it comes round by Peckham Library and through the Peckham 1 way system – the fruit and veg stalls were on top form today and it was all we could do not to leap out and buy a basket of bright peppers.

At Peckham Rye this route diverges left past Austins court and time again to be nostalgic about the passing of the real Austins; a three storey furniture shop. Nunhead Lane winds authentically as a lane should but much of its original character has been lost or poorly replaced. The Almshouses (‘Live and Let Live’ motto over the door ) and nearby pub do enhance the not very green Green next to the Pyrothechnics' Arms. A nifty right and we were in St Mary’s Road – peaceful and pleasant and near to the old Health Centre complex called Peckham Vision.

In contrast to our index trip of 1½ hours this one barely took 40 minutes - impressive, considering how far it had come.


  1. Lovely read. As a regular rush hour user of the 78, I think this is the first time I've read anything so fondly written about the route. Curse words and complaints are the reality, as I suppose is true with almost all routes - we're all looking forward to the promotion to a double-decker later this year.

  2. "Yes" ever-so lovely ride'n-read. Except this blinking 78 single-decker bus don't 'arf bomb along residential Ansdell road on its terminus Nunhead route back to the City. This quiet road didn't used to be a bus route. And, in the last falls of winter's inclement icy snow and such they didn't even grit this side road to facilitate the buses. Well, why would they? It's a 'side road' that didn't ought-er categorise as being prioritised for winter grittin' buses or no buses. And would you believe it? They're plannin' to run even bigger double-deckers through 'our quiet residential Nunhead street' you eulogise about on your 'anorak bus rides'...