Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Number 177 Route

Peckham Bus Garage to Thamesmead Leisure centre

Wednesday June 1st 2011

It was a really early start – before 9.30 – for Mary and Linda (with Jo away walking in France), partly because we knew it would be a long day and partly because Peckham Bus garage is so close to home it was easy to be virtuous.

Today was the day of the magic triangle of buses Routes 177, 180 and 185, which would complete a suite of 9 routes, for the price of 3… Would Peckham prove to be magic? – well, it’s an ordered bus station and the 177 appeared very swiftly, in fact too quick to photograph! As we only had 1 camera for three routes our coverage is a little patchy: we switched off to conserve the batteries and also great chunks of the day found us going back on ourselves.

This was in fact the emptiest of our three buses, and with the exception of a track suited guy who made himself at home – feet on the front ledge, Chelsea scarf tightly wrapped round his neck (it was a really hot day), music plugged in, Daily Star before him and a picnic beside him – we had the top deck more or less to ourselves. It is pretty much a straight run East and further East, and the first part is essentially Queens Road Peckham, which by this time next year should also be part of the great new Overground loop – no outward signs of building and it’s gone very quiet so we hope not to be let down. We also noted as we arrived at New Cross that the long-time road works were now complete and that the traffic seemed to be flowing much better.

It’s a real mixture of usage between Peckham and there are many outlets offering Money Transfers home to remind us how those over here often support two families, as well as pay day loan shops. Notwithstanding, there are handsome old houses amongst the newer shop fronts. One of these contained Hatcham Liberal Club reminding us that roads off to the right lead to Hatcham and Telegraph Hill. What ever its original function we do not think it has anything to do with the current Lib Dems.

There is a red plaque, not quite as official as a blue plaque, to Barnes Wallis, the engineer who built airships and later bouncing bombs, and whose childhood home was in New Cross. We had been travelling in half term and even as we passed Goldsmiths’ College there was little sign of student activity so perhaps they were all indoors revising – on such a nice day too.

Goldsmiths gives New Cross Gate and Deptford quite a focus – as we passed the once lovely Deptford Town Hall covered in carvings of ships we were reminded that Deptford had a strong shipbuilding history now only remembered artistically.

Addey and Stanhope School’s newish building is the most striking part of Deptford High street – Mr Addey was a rich shipbuilder (see above) who left money in the 16th century to educate the poor but no-one seems to have done much until the Reverend Stanhope came along 200 hundred years later with much the same idea. The school continues to cater for local children in a nurturing environment.

It is likely the run-down feel of the High street is due in part to the fact that up to the left Deptford Market continues to prosper and shoppers prefer to go there. More students are to be found (but again not today) at the Deptford Campus of Lewisham College, which dominates the big crossroads junction hereabouts. Greenwich has a pumping station too which would prove to be something of a theme for the day. After the benign neglect that is New Cross and Deptford, Greenwich is of course a shiny tourist destination – with the Cutty Sark still under wraps but with the Maritime Museum and Observatory key attractions. The University, which now occupies the former Royal Naval College, has taken over some beautifully proportioned Wren buildings and even a wispy photo cannot spoil the symmetry of the two wings housing the Chapel and Dining hall and framing the view down to the River. It is not surprising that it is a real favourite venue for filming historical dramas.

Today the approach to the Blackwall Tunnel went very smoothly although this is a notorious spot for traffic to seize up. On from there, as heritage gives way to industry, the start of East Greenwich is heralded by the old power station – all along there are signs of the old and then the newer working River – and at points on the route it is also possible to identify the North Bankside industry as well. Standing out, not so much on the horizon as between road and river was a random old tower, apparently for rent. My Internet researches did not come up with any clue to its original use but we hazard an old mill or chimney (they used to make stuff round here) so I consulted local blogger The Greenwich Phantom  and thanks for the prompt reply. A blog worth following for anyone in this part of SE London. Across the road hoardings promised ‘a new heart for East Greenwich’ but nothing so far to live up to the hype.

I suppose Telecom is an industry – certainly BTs satellites were very prominent.

There was a substantial queue for the Woolwich ferry and we both had to confess we had never used this alternative crossing – perhaps a new Project once this one is finished (1) River Crossings of the Thames.

The traffic was flowing well through Woolwich Town centre  and the central square is clearly well underway. However this may turn out there are still sizeable chunks of Woolwich where poor local employment opportunities have left their mark, as demonstrated by the only M&S being an Outlet store – useful but indicative of how the trader sees the area and its potential.

What has already improved is the Plumstead Road with all its new blocks facing the river – the traffic flows well and the central reservations have been landscaped making this well-used highway speedier and more efficient. We had been warned of water main replacement works in Plumstead but even these caused minimal delay so soon afterwards we took that left turn at Eynsham Drive which led the route, now only one of two, into Thamesmead.
 This was Mary’s first impression of Thamesmead and I had not been since the early snows when it looked pretty. Today in the bright summer sun some of the older blocks were showing their age, and it was clear gaps along the widely spaced main routes had been filled by more recently built infills but overall the words sprawling and empty came to mind – there was a lonely solitary figure at each bus stop (going out of Thamesmead also) and little sign of life given that it was half-term and children could have been out playing or at least going to the shops with a parent. However we saw no shops!

Our answer came perhaps when we arrived at out final destination – Thamesmead Town Centre (Leisure Centre) the photo of which is attached. This seems a bit of a misnomer, as it is just two modest buildings and led us to wonder where the focus in Thamesmead lay. We went into the low level building that has gym, pool and library and the receptionist kindly if reluctantly let us through the turnstiles to use the toilets.

The considerable journey East had taken just over the hour with plenty of riverscapes, a certain amount of pollution and a range of vistas – old and new.

PS: Spoiler alert - because of the number of "ones we prepared earlier" there will be several more routes posted over the next few days.

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