Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Number 155 Route

St. George’s Hospital to Elephant & Castle

Monday May 17th 2010

This proved to be a nippy uncomplicated route that basically followed the nether regions of the Northern Line into town. Our previous buses had left us outside St. George’s Hospital, where of course several buses call and we hurtled very rapidly at top speed round the corner where we then waited for the drivers to change, puzzled as to why this did not happen at source?

Anyway with a new and more relaxed driver we continued in what was essentially a straight line north up the successive and busy high Streets of Tooting, Balham, Clapham etc. Again the bus was popular, taking on several students from the South Thames College. It’s also not a route where you would be likely to starve – small and mainly fast food joints in abundance. We noted that towards the Broadway the food offered was South Indian and Sri Lankan while further north the shops were more Punjabi and Bangla Deshi, and of course the religious venues to match – some temples further south and then mosques. Fusion food abounds too with ‘The Great Kebab & Samosa Company’ grabbing our attention – or may be it was just getting close to lunchtime. Tooting has no less than 2 indoor markets, one dating clearly from 1930. Along the way there are also ghosts of an older English way of life –  St. Anselm's Church sits squatly on the main road and we spotted a ‘ghost sign’ for Hovis on the bricked side of a house.

The stretch towards Balham was something of a first and we were impressed with the size of the Singer sewing machine sales and repairs  and its companion store ‘Sewing & Craft Superstore’ The jewel of Balham is however Du Cane Court ,  a splendid Art Deco block or blocks – for many years the rumour was that had Hitler managed to invade and conquer the UK he was planning to set up his HQ here. One of those quirky Radio 4 slots explored the urban legend quite thoroughly and a legend it remains. We cannot pass Balham without reference to the Peter Sellers sketch of 1958.
Living in Balham during the early Seventies it was impossible to escape reference to this well sustained piece of multi voicing pastiche by the unique Mr Sellers. The facts were all totally spurious.  Interestingly Balham has become significantly more upmarket since Mr Seller’s day and ours…  as the gated community of Hillgate Place would indicate.  The ‘Gateway to the South’ is desirable in offering both a train and tube service so close together.

We are quite used to bussing along Clapham Common but it was refreshing to take the South Side route of this excellent triangle shaped green oasis of South London – Mary recommended the Windmill as a venue as a Young’s pub it is well maintained and in a prime position. As the name might indicate it sits close to the site of a  former mill.

In spite of the traffic increasing we made good time through the Claphams. Bicycles are also privileged here with their very own fast track blue routes, very newly launched when we passed through.
Stockwell is also a pretty familiar stamping ground for us by now and in fact we are close to finishing the routes in this sector (there being some we had completed earlier) Today we crossed straight over at the Roundabout Shelter and headed up the Clapham Road – both on and off the main road the houses here are very beautiful and often large. This finally gives the chance to mention that Van Gogh lodged at 87 Hackford Road just off to the right heading north during his time working in London for an art dealer.

Close by developers are working on the monumental but still handsome print works, which will become residential property. The nearby White Bear Theatre Company will offer solid entertainment.

By now we could see the tall tower of the Strata building at Elephant & Castle so knew our trip (as indeed the batteries on the camera) were coming to a close. This route comes in past Fusion – Southwark’s swimming pool and leisure centre – and we noted the surrounds had been hard landscaped but offered a sitting and play area that was quite welcoming. The railings of the E & C roundabout were loaded up with bikes and the students for the College of Communication Studies* were out enjoying the sunshine – a 45 minute trip undoubtedly quicker by tube but would we have seen half as much??  * Since passing on this route the former College of Printing has become part of the London University of the Arts currently spread over 6 sites.


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