Monday, 6 June 2011

The Number 181 Route

Lewisham Bus Garage to Grove Park Station

Tuesday August 3rd 2010

A sunny summer’s day found Jo and Linda  ready to board the single decker 181 close to Lewisham Rail & DLR station. If we have not mentioned the DLR we should, because it’s pretty important round here and though bearing a close resemblance to a clockwork toy does the job.

………….The start of the 181 was deceptively calm – lots of shoppers having spent their money at Lewisham’s market and shops were ready to go to their homes in the south of the borough. Just at the large roundabout we noted the space only recently cleared (derelict housing and shops and once the site of an old cinema) suddenly razed to the ground. It appeared that no developer or buyer had been found so it was being hastily landscaped with turf being laid – we only hope they keep it watered as all the other grass round this way looked well browned off.

The market and high street were in full swing and lots of people boarded with bags and one balancing an orchid pot. Once we had passed under the other railway bridge (taking the train to Hither Green) the bus turns left and along Hither Green Llane, which is indeed quite a meandering and narrow road. Strangely at this point the driver stepped on the accelerator and did not really take his foot off the pedal until the end of the trip – we were sure he was exceeding the fairly modest limit at times and if you were not quick you would miss your stop – so we tore past most of the key sights without a chance to photograph them. Hither Green Lane is the site of the old Hither Green Hospital of which just the gates, wall (1896) and tower remain, the site having been cleared for housing. There had originally been 4 hospitals in this area, all built for different client groups, including Sydenham and Grove Park as well as this one, but all acute medicine is now concentrated at the main University Hospital Lewisham site, and there are no non-acute beds any more… Hither Green, which was once the old fever hospital, closed in 1997.

After this digression the bus turns into Torridon Road – one of the many Scottish names chosen by the developer/builder Cameron Corbett. The  Corbett Houses are reasonable sized and handsome, however, some double fronted though still semi-detached. They were built at the time of Hither Green Station. The library and Torridon School are some of the few local amenities and I suspect Mr Corbett was a teetotaller as there are no pubs or shops on this bit of the route. The 181 actually crosses the South Circular, which is in one of its very modest modes round here; it then dives back into what is now known as the Catford Gyratory (much changing of passengers as they got out for the Catford shops) and then heads off down Catford and Perry Hills following the valley of the River Pool.

Like most of the buses that serve this area, the bus does a little loop into the large Sainsbury’s still referred to locally as the Savacentre and our driver took it, including the very tight turning loop, at such a speed it was quite scary, so we were in and out in a trice. The ground between Sainsbury’s and the gasholder has long been empty with hoardings promising a range of possible uses including at different times a cinema and a DIY store but now it seems Willmott Dixon has the contract to build yes-you’ve-guessed-it homes.
Turning along Southend Lane the 181 serves the substantial Bellingham estate built between the two World wars as slum clearance. The land had been previously farms and most of the homes are well set back from any busy roads with many connecting crescents – on the whole the houses are cottagy and where well maintained still look good. The road names reflect the Viking and Saxon links thought to exist round here. The key schools in the Bellingham have been through several incarnations but both Watergate and Sedgehill have gained splendid new buildings in the last few years.

For a brief time the bus – still in a hurry – follows the River Ravensbourne past the old Peter Pan’s Playground, which was incorporated into the Catford Homebase as quite an attractive water feature – fountains and quite a few ducks. For people with a soft spot for  ducks please click here

Talking of ducks three shoppers of a certain age complete with their trolleys got on and were heard to complain as the driver, still in a hurry, had neither stopped by the kerb but mid road nor lowered the sill so they had to heave their trolleys up the steps.

The 181 abandons both the New and Old Bromley Roads because it is heading along Downham Way – on the map this is a beautiful S shaped curve of a road which cuts a swathe though the Downham Estate (see above like  the Bellingham) down to Grove Park. Downham had been looking a bit down on its luck with the local pub closed for a while following one drugs bust too many – after changing hands it now looks quite smart but seems to have been again in the news with a fatal stabbing in July 2010. The council has tried quite hard with a multi-purpose Leisure centre – swimming/library/health visitors etc and beautiful hanging baskets the length of Downham Way. Having gone up and over the crest of a hill the bus turns the corner and tucks itself into the Grove Park bus station, a rather mean little enclave – 2 routes only.

The route is advertised as taking 35 minutes only, which is clearly unrealistic though we could see this particular driver was trying very hard to make the fantasy real by completing it in barely 40 minutes. Not a relaxing ride even for us seasoned travellers.

PS Thanks to Chris for his helpful suggestions about the A-W routes; we shall bear those in mind!

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