Monday, 24 January 2011

The Number 139 Route

Waterloo to West End Green
Monday January 24th 2011

Due to the usual Monday morning nonsense that is the Jubilee Line Linda was a bit late for Mary at Waterloo, but no sooner had we seen a 139 sail off then the next one came along. Jo was away in the Midlands doing some essential child-care but even without her master-planning we were able to manage a simple 2-bus combo. Talking of combos, nasty soiled wrappers from a Subway meal marred an otherwise pristine and new bus and it was only 10.05.

While we were debating whether Waterloo was the busiest railway terminus (we think not) we were slowed down on Waterloo Bridge long enough to be able to take a series of photos both up and down the river offering some of the best London panoramas. The buildings at either end are quite a contrast, with the brutalist Royal National Theatre at the south end and the more classical Somerset House at the north end of the bridge. For Somerset House the seasonal ice rink will just be finishing but the Courtauld Institute will continue with round-the-year study and small art exhibitions, with lovely views from the terraces.

The passage down the Strand could have been worse but once past Charing Cross (where we decided it was truly romantic of King Edward I to set up a series of crosses in memory of his dead Queen Eleanor, even if what is there now is a Victorian replica) and Trafalgar Square progress was very slow, as it always is round Piccadilly and the two main shopping streets of central London Regent & Oxford Street. Piccadilly Circus, in our view, is a pale shadow of its former self. Who wants to take pictures of the series of video loops which replaced the once vibrant and intriguing neon lights – we can all download video adverts even to our phones but no-one has multi-coloured neon in their homes and it was so much more unique – its only USP today being the slight and actually rather fragile Eros statue.
The East curve of the wonderfully elegant Regent Street is currently having a makeover and is under wraps but the other side is fine. Oxford Circus was slightly less busy than it can be and we were surprised (we have not been down here for a while) that the big hole was no more and that Mace are now managing an apparently prestigious development. Actually, they use the I word, but we think this is overused so are not going to use it.
At this point the 139 turns off down Gloucester Place and quickly gathers speed past many of the most attractive houses in London. Apart from an ‘official’ blue plaque for John Godley who founded Christchurch in New Zealand (?) there was also a green plaque for Tony Ray Jones, an English photographer whose legacy is small but covers that transition from the Fifties to Sixties. It was one of those sorts of days when there were more blue plaques than we could manage with Sir Gerald Kelly, a society portrait painter, and Haydon & Rossi, two friends who were art critics, also. Sometimes I really struggle with these as even when you look them up and read about their lives: they don’t seem that important now, which makes you wonder who sits on the committee?

By now we had caught up the 139 in front and were making excellent progress – we did more or less have this bus to ourselves and after a difficult right turn into Lisson Grove passed a blue bike stand and over the Grand Union canal.

By now we were in affluent St John’s Wood with its grand series of largely red –brick mansion blocks and a few single homes, which are adopted by the smaller countries as embassies. Wide streets, large trees, any housing well set back and not the sort of people who get on buses – how could we tell? – the bus was empty. Lisson Grove segues into Abbey Road and AGAIN we missed the key zebra crossing which featured on the Beatles Album, so here it is on its web cam....

The end of Abbey Road turns into West End Lane, which really lives up to its name: after the broad avenues of NW8 you are into a winding and narrow lane – the buses pass just about comfortably – and the houses are old and too large for single occupancy so it’s flat conversions in the main. There is a very large council tower block at the lower end of West End lane which then wends its way up past no fewer than THREE stations and many eating opportunities, some of them chains some more local and individual as the local guide
would have it.

One West Hampstead station is on the Jubilee Line and we weren’t talking to the Jubilee line today. This one is the Network Rail and will get you beyond London – just about. There is  extensive building going on.
The third station used to be the neglected North London Line, now reborn Phoenix- like as the Overground and it was to this one we returned once the 139 had terminated at South End Green (very small green space – just about passes the ‘Is it really a green Green?’ test). Once it left the West End it made good time and the trip took an hour.

Actually this is a really good tourist route – frequent, fresh and following one of the best river crossings, high and lower end retail and some of the best of gracious London homes. If you want the Album cover moment you need to be alert for the 1st crossing going north – I say no more.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Number 138 Route

Monday 17 January
First we need to welcome all the people who visited us after reading Blog Roll in Saturday's Guardian. Hello!  (For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, here's the link.)

 And now to business.  Clearly the poet Robert Burns was thinking of us when he made his remarks about the best laid plans.  We (Mary, Linda and I) had thought to take the 138 from Bromley North to Coney Hall, then to walk for a few miles of the London Loop, and get another bus back to Bromley North from Downe.  This was based on various weather forecasts over the weekend suggesting that the rain would abate.  From now on we are going to refer to them as 'weather guesses' since 'forecast' implies some kind of scientific input.  Not that I am complaining about the rain, given the images of Queensland we have all seen.   But it was, definitely, pouring - or siling as they used to say in Suffolk - when we met at Bromley North Station.  So despite having boots and sandwiches for the walk, we changed our plans and, for the first time since we started this project, we did two round trips, going 'there and back' on the same bus on both routes.

You will read about the 'other bus' in due course, but since it is a once-an-hour bus, and appeared at the stop just as we had finished our discussion, we climbed onto it, eventually returning to Bromley North, and boarding the day's main bus, the 138, at 11.50.  At first we thought we should be the only people on board as we pulled out of the station area and, instead of turning left to follow the Bromley ring road, went straight over, passing the Railway Pub and the huge and impressive Post Office.  But here the bus filled up with shoppers, announcing that they were glad of the warmth and dryness.

The Post Office appears to be about to vanish, since there were BNP Paribas notices on its handsome facade.  After this little detour, our bus soon joined the more usual route, past the back of The Glades, past the Town Hall and so on.

We were quickly into residential areas:  a mixture of the kind of housing that goes up near stations, two bedroom flats and such, and more substantial properties.  Pickhurst Lane clearly once was a lane, in that it curves and wiggles rather than heading straight, but it now carries a great deal of traffic.  Unsurprisingly, therefore, most people had turned their front gardens into hard standing for their cars.  We passed Cupola Wood, a small but attractive area of green, before coming into Hayes.

 Among the interesting shops of Hayes were Purrfect Pet Care and a couple of Charity Furniture Shops in aid of the London Air Ambulance Service.

Near the end of the town, there was a large formal-looking building, which appears to be a pub, Regan's The New Inn.  It looks as if it started life as a school or hall of some kind, but was apparently rebuilt in the 1960s after a long period derelict having been damaged in the Second World War.  Then we headed down Tiepigs Lane, wondering whether the name derived from would-be escaping pigs, or was a corruption of tithe-pigs.    The crossroads with Bourne Way was a reminder that we were crossing the River Bourne as it heads off to join the Ravensbourne further north. All along this part of the route, which is a 'hail and ride' section, people were getting off the bus, rather than getting on.

With glimpses of Hayes Common, and green spaces, we came into the Coney Hall area, and looped around Chestnut Avenue and Sylvan Way.  This area was built as a private estate, in the 1930s, with a free private bus service to get the residents to Hayes Station, but now TfL's bus appears to visit most of the streets.  Arriving at the terminating stop at 12.15, we ascertained that the driver was heading straight back, and so we barely got off his bus before getting back on.  The return to Bromley was by a much more direct route, straight out of the estate, which makes me feel this should be described as a circular route.  Of course,  we should never have known this if we had stuck with our original plan, got off the bus at Coney Hall, and walked to Downe.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Number 137 Route

Oxford Circus to Streatham Hill (Telford Avenue)
Monday February 22nd 2010

Here we were, still awaiting spring and embarking on a 3-bus day with unremitting rain and threats of snow. We met at Oxford Circus where there were at least four 137s and the female driver let us board while she finished her book on her break. We were the only upstairs passengers for all of the trip and for all we know the only passengers – full stop. This is such a frequent service that Mary, Jo and I could have had a bus each, but we stayed in team formation.

Normally this is a very attractive route skirting as it does a wealth of London Parks – starting with Hyde Park after Marble Arch, then round the corner past Kensington Gardens and upper Knightsbridge, then down the very swanky, moneyed shoppers-only Sloane Street past Ranelagh Gardens and the Royal Hospital, home to the Chelsea Flower Show ,  and over the pretty Chelsea Bridge to Battersea Park . The bridge dates from 1937 and is apparently a ‘self-anchored suspension bridge’ Yes, I am breathless with naming the parks we failed to see through the Impressionist mists of rain.

What we did spot, or just about discern, was that something along Park Lane is being renovated and that nothing is happening on the disputed Chelsea Barracks site – acquired for development but vetoed by HRH .
There has been some more building near QVC, once the home of ‘The Observer’ newspaper and now a rather deserted-looking HQ for the Shopping Channel. Sopwith Way is quite a resonant name, making one think of a Sopwith Camel, which for some reason is an airplane – but I digress.

South of the River (and it may be that the current mayor is trying to cut us South Londoners adrift by shutting off the bridges systematically) we definitely acquired some more passengers, passing the handsome St Philips’ Square and fringes of the Shaftsbury Estate. We liked the sound of 'Natty Tatty’s’, which offered baked potatoes with Greek fillings. The uphill which now houses the Shaftesbury homes was once known as Pig Hill, which would seem quite quaint in 21st century London, had it survived.

The 137 cuts through to Clapham Common courtesy of the wide Cedars Avenue, slightly nicer sounding than it is, and brings you out on the corner by Clapham Common Station, the war memorial clock and some dalliance with other bus routes that we have ridden.  Clustered round Clapham Old Town, as it likes to call itself, are two more hairdressers of note – Head Quarterz and Witches Hut.  Further along the Clapham Park Road we decided the 'The Coach & Horses' still looked quite original and discovered that William Bonney, after whom an estate is named , was more likely a local dignitary though my technical support instantly recognised him by his nickname of Billy the Kid ……”Wild West hero born in South-west London” – I think not, but it’s nice to dream and there would have course have been a blue plaque..

However, rather than press on down into Brixton, this bus turns right down the rather magnificent King’s Avenue back towards Streatham. King’s Avenue has a mixture of different aged housing, most in modest and manageable blocks with the King’s Avenue Primary School serving the local population.

On a pleasant day a very pleasant trip. Today the driver got through it very swiftly as there were so few people out and about that at the penultimate stop we were held to regulate the service.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Number 136 Route

Grove Park Station to Peckham Bus Station
Tuesday August 3rd 2010

Being the school holidays and lunch-time, there was that combination of children and food aboard this bus – at least 2 lots of chips and a certain amount of sweetie squabbling but generally peaceable nevertheless. This journey on the 136 meant that we had with a single visit crossed Grove Park off our list of places to start and finish. The 181 had brought us here and the 136 would carry us away – the bus station is very modest with only 2 routes and a recovery vehicle. The 136 is a double-decker, so we were able to admire the views as we climbed up Downham Way and looked over London towards Blackheath. The huge inter-war Downham estate was named after the chair of the LCC at the time, though it sounds suitably rural – the land was originally farmland in Kent and offered new homes with baths and kitchens to the workers of Bermondsey and Deptford. Having said that, it stranded them far from much useful affordable transport and shops – even now for worthwhile shopping you need to take the bus back into Catford, which is where of course we were heading. Over the years there have been a few additions to the communal facilities, which were a little thin on the ground when the estate was built. Not surprisingly, many of these are religious in origin, for example the Downham Family Church and the the 999 club dealing with local crises for the population both young and aging.

Back towards Catford the bus passes over the trickle which is the Pool river. Today - the dry season perhaps – but it does still run from outer Bromley to the Thames, and as it passes through the Homebase ornamental fountain we noticed a couple of guys in waders doing some dredging. The opposite corner to Homebase used to be the site of a large crossroads pub – The Tiger’s Head – now not even a desolate ruin but a building site – homes we presume.

Further down the Bromley Road is Catford Bus garage where the drivers changed – very efficiently as it happens – and we swept on through Catford and down what is officially known as Catford Broadway passing the Grade 2 listed theatre that is unimaginatively called the Broadway Theatre. On the whole Lewisham does rather better for theatres than it does for cinemas: the former cinema round here has become a UKCG centre.

We have ridden this section of the route more than once, though more recently in the direction from Lewisham to Catford, and the range of civic buildings stays the same: Town Hall, Theatre, Eros House (also listed), Housing Department, Library, Child Development Centre, Department for Social Security, Job Centre and then of course Lewisham Hospital and Registry Office. All those public sector workers need to get fed and clothed .

Lewisham market was as busy as when we had come through earlier, but from the top deck we had a better view. I note the German Sausage man is now a permanent fixture – having come for a Christmas market once he seems to have stayed. Rolls & Rems  had the most wonderful display of bright furry material: should you wish to start making your own soft toys, this is the website for you.

Still we were through Lewisham pretty quickly, noting that the all the older housing opposite Lewisham stations had been razed to the ground and that Barratts  moved in. This is a truly ambitious project and a pretty vast site so it will be interesting to see how it progresses if we pass this way again. This route is essentially one of the main ways into London and usually very busy. We passed Goldsmiths College but mid-vacation this was unusually quiet and few passengers boarded. There is a good range of second hand shops hereabouts, including the delightfully named  Aladdin's Cave  - very handy for chairs apparently. Goldsmiths accounts for many incomers to Lewisham – in a very common pattern the students come to study and end up staying to live and work. (unless you are Damien Hurst presumably?)

The bus passes New Cross bus garage, our third garage of the day, and the two stations, New Cross Gate of course now proudly linked to the excellent Overground service. There is a pub on the bridge which seems to be called ‘the Rose’ on the side and the ‘Hobgoblin’ from the front so we detected a take-over at some point – an endless supply of students will doubtless make its fortune, or at least secure its future.

The major road works at the apex of the New Cross one-way system held us up for a while – it was a bit difficult to see what exactly they were doing. Sooner than you might think we were heading straight on down Queens Road for Peckham – away from Lewisham borough and into Southwark the hanging baskets stopped abruptly.

By now no-one much was interested in a 136 as from here on it is the big brother 36 route which does the business right up to North London – so we have now done another in the ‘36’ family…

We have mentioned the pioneering health centre before especially on routes 21, 36, and especially the 78, which goes even closer, but the founders  lived here on the Queens Road and this seems to be the only Blue plaque of the day (which involved three buses overall)
Did I mention this was a REALLY dirty bus? The food and drink spills had turned into a stickly (new word meaning sickly and sticky) black soot which coated all the upstairs floors – not sure where the cleaners had been: I think Aggie and Co were needed with buckets of bleach and Marigolds. Still we survived keeping our eyes glued firmly to the road not the floor or seats. And we are not that fussy….

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Number 135 Route

Crossharbour (Asda) to Old Street Station
Monday January 10th 2011

The three of us met just after 10.00 at the 135 bus stop which is located in the Asda car park at Crossharbour – there is generous space for several bus routes but all the other routes proved to be ‘D’ buses which we will get to eventually. I don’t normally include a map but this whole area known as the Isle of Dogs is so intriguing in its contours and situation I could not resist including this. As you can see, the 135 follows the sinuous curve of the Thames hereabouts.

Without being quite able to explain it, we all felt this part of London is fascinating  and unique and the link here gives a very potted history of the Isle of Dogs, as it became known a mere 200 hundred years ago (previously known as Stepney marshes).  Where the bus starts and the Asda-laden shoppers board there is still the sense that there is a resident community, and the new builds, or empty sites, are interspersed with some old pubs and houses – what little remains from excessive war time damage. The Millwall docks remain mainly in name, a reminder that though the football club has been in SE London since 1910 it started out as the team for a canning factory on the Isle of Dogs.

Also intriguing is London’s largest City Farm ,
 the first park we passed and soon followed by Sir John Mcdougall Gardens , as Jo rightly guessed,  named for the flourmill owner who was also a local councillor. There are a few smaller houses remaining but most of the very dense housing hereabouts is flats with nautical sounding names like ‘The Barkantine’ and ‘Anchorage Point Flats’ lest you forget where you are.

Sure enough the 135, alone amongst the numbered routes actually penetrates the northernmost part of the Isle of Dogs, now usually known as Canary Wharf. Canary Wharf is of course best known for its tall tower, which is in fact 1 Canada Square, the tallest tower in London when built, though fated to be no more than the 2nd tallest when the Shard at London Bridge gets finished. With the City proper this is very much a financial district with many of the huge global firms and banks so it was not surprising that even the bus has to go through a security barrier.

On a day when the bankers’ bonuses were being announced you did wonder why the workers were not at the barricades protesting but that’s not really the English way. As even we, between us, know two people who work in this district we photographed the moneyed HQ and admired the pretty wharf side landscaping. The map above indicates how the 135 does a tour of Canada and Cabot Squares before diving back into the real world, which round here is  Limehouse.

We spotted the pair of dragons announcing the transition into this once notorious part of London, where the Chinese community used to live, now home to a more diverse community.   Always an area of transients there are several reminders of places where the merchant seamen used to flop down when ashore in London.
Some are abandoned, some luxury developments. The Sailors’ palace, built on the corner of Beccles Street and Commercial Road, stands out as a very fine Arts & Crafts era building and though hardly palatial must have seemed pretty luxurious to seafarers after months in hammocks or bunks. The contribution of the Merchant Seamen in both World wars was also fresh in our minds after watching The Sinking of the 'Laconia' 

By now we had joined routes familiar to us from our early days (the Heritage Route 15, and its relation the 115) and the busy commercial and other traffic heading into the City of London. Apart from the lovely St Anne’s Limehouse Church, we passed a plaque for some one whose name we could not read! I had forgotten to mention earlier that though the bus itself was new and clean for passengers the front window was either badly scratched or badly cleaned so difficult to decipher or photograph detail.
At this point the very memorable buildings of the City are getting closer - the Gherkin is very photogenic and we can offer you the Gherkin straight or in its LEGO version (courtesy of Little Gooner) but please don’t ask for a brick count.

Actually the 135 does a very short trajectory through the City – it passes Aldgate East then heads across to Bishopsgate and once past Liverpool street turns left along Great Eastern Street and towards the rather daunting Old Street roundabout - daunting both if you are a motorist or a tube traveller with too many exits to choose from downstairs.

Along Great Eastern Street there is some very bold graffiti, which we failed to capture (Jo mutters about camera speed at this point) but research indicates this is a favourite spot and there have been two different art works and not sure which one we passed today! More likely the June 2010 one.

Clearly a popular spot for statement art, as just a few yards further on we found  The Great Brain Robbers and a seemingly fitting ending for a trip which took us through some of the poorer bits of London and undoubtedly the most affluent real estate that is the financial heart of London.

Though estimated to take over 55 minutes we completed the trip in under 45 for a hugely exhilarating journey, where I am sure we missed as much as we saw!

P.S. Two more routes to follow this week!


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Number 134 Route

Monday 30 March 2009

This was a bus that we did very near the start of the project (with the 6, to be precise) and so to come back to it and blog it now is a reminder of what a lot of ground we have covered since then.

No sooner had we stepped off the 460 and crossed the road than the 134 rolled up: so much for exploring the delights of North Finchley.  Actually, the 134 is a fairly frequent service, especially if one is waiting for a different bus in the centre of Camden.
Friern Barnet Town Hall had magnificent magnolias outside it and, as we crossed the North Circular, with its almost stationary eastbound traffic, we had magnificent views of Alexandra Palace.
Passing a remarkable number of places where we could have had our nails done, we sailed through Muswell Hill, spotting the Blue Plaque for Peter Sellers  and on through Highgate to Archway (again) and the Whittington Hospital, where Mary did a Medical Anthropology course when she was a student.  Down the hill and under the Archway, past Tufnell Park and into Fortess Road, where we saw another Blue Plaque, this one for Ford Madox Brown.   

The Kentish Town Road was slow.  A young man at the back of the bus was preaching into his mobile phone - about how God knows everything and all nature’s gifts should be free – for almost the whole journey.  Through Camden, pausing opposite Sainsbury's, we headed along Bayham Street, one of many streets where Charles Dickens is said to have lived.  Down Hampstead Road, and we reached the Euston Road at UCH, which feels like the family hospital since Chloe was born there, and they sorted out Jo’s broken wrist, among other events.  

On along Gower Street, we noted the vermin embellished balconies of the School of Medicine and Tropical Diseases, to Tottenham Court Road and the end of our journey.  This is a bus that Jo usually hates, as it stops before getting to the West End if you are coming from Camden.  But the whole journey demonstrated that it is a really good route, and after coming all the way from North Finchley, it's not surprising that it wants to stop at Centre Point

The Number 133 Route

Tuesday 4 January 2011

A Happy New Year to all our readers!

Our three bus day was due to start at Liverpool Street, and we had agreed to meet at 10.15.  But so efficient are we (Mary, Linda and Jo) that we were on the bus by 10.00 and heading off, round Finsbury Circus to go along Moorgate and towards the Bank of England.

 We admired the stained glass at London Metropolitan University.  It seems that this early 20th century building is on the site of the Bethlehem Hospital, which moved to Lambeth in 1815, and now houses the Imperial War Museum.  Now that's what I call a connection!

As we came down towards the river, we saw that some tourists had got their day started early, and were already at the top of the Monument.

  But the skyline here is now much more dominated by the Shard, which we do not like.  As we bus our way around London, we pass countless empty and available office blocks, and yet someone always seems to think it worth building more.  We also noticed how the new large building at Elephant and Castle spoils the view of Southwark Cathedral, almost appearing to elbow the slender towers out of the way.

Still, as we crossed the river, and Linda took her usual river view, there was the more cheerful sight of HMS Belfast, with her new masts, about which you can read if you go to the end of this link.

 Borough High Street is always a pleasure, as we noted the many side roads, named for the yards of the Inns which used to line this road, to accommodate travellers waiting to cross the only bridge into the city of London.  We also saw where John Harvard;s family pub had been before he emigrated to America to invent the concept of the Ivy League University.

We passed the Inner London Criminal Law Courts and the large Department of Health building, before coming down to Elephant and Castle and heading on towards Kennington. Smart restaurants and bars indicate how posh this part of London is becoming, but we also admired the handsome buildings of the Guinness estate, and St Mary's Newington, with its modern building alongside the old tower.

Kennington Park was looking very trim, leading us to wonder if they had perhaps cut the grass during this brief warm spell, and we also noted the listed Kennington Tube Station.  If you have ever wondered why Charing Cross train terminate here while Bank trains head on to Morden, it is to do with the layout of the platforms (apparently)

We passed St Mark's Church, one of the four named for the evangelists, and were shortly to pass St Matthew's, since we were coming into Brixton, with all its familiar landmarks, Windrush Square and the Ritzy Cinema, as well as its cosmopolitan shops - and shoppers - and its clubs.

Our bus driver was going at an extremely leisurely pace.  Linda's theory is that the return trip always takes longer, traffic into London being the way it is, so they take it easy to even out the journey.  Still it gave plenty of time to enjoy the long experience of Streatham, as we passed the LCC Tramways HQ, the Arriva Bus Garage and the (defunct) baths and (very much alive) Skating Arena.

We also admired the fine Art Deco building which must surely once have been a cinema, and noted Dr Doolittle's Petshop as well.

And so, 50 minutes after leaving Liverpool Street, we arrived at St. Leonard's Church, the terminus of this pleasant and familiar route.