Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Number 196 Route

Elephant & Castle to Norwood Junction (Grosvenor Road)
Tuesday March 30th 2010

Today there were just two of us actually boarding a bus at Elephant & Castle, instead of merely passing through on one of the other 25 routes that do so. Perhaps it’s time to say a little about the proposed regeneration that never quite seems to happen: what the website describes as an “important milestone” proves to be that “Southwark Council's Executive approved the terms of a Heads of Terms agreement with Lend Lease Europe Ltd.” Ooh, be still my beating heart!! Meanwhile, the Shopping Centre remains with only Boots and Tescos hanging in there against a raft of small and struggling outlets – the indoor mall is gloomy which is perhaps why the outdoor market stalls threaded round the base are livelier and do better business. The underpasses require you to take a deep breath and focus or all is lost, as I nearly was today.

(Update : To be fair there have been improvements since we wrote this and it is now almost possible to do all the key pedestrian crossings overground )

Off we set on a damp day, the bus damp underfoot with a random potato, which might just start sprouting. Mainly quiet upstairs and our photographer struggling with some scratched windows. We liked the contrast between the firmly labelled ‘Builders CafĂ©’ adjacent to the Strata and then, as the bus turned niftily into Kennington Lane, not one but two French cafes: the Toulouse Lautrec and the Lobster Pot. Kennington Lane is aptly named and for its winding length has the full range of 18th to 20th century buildings. If you penetrate this surprisingly peaceful hinterland lying as it does so close to major routes you can find  the Cinema Museum .

This bus, as we discovered, has the very good trick of going to all sorts of key places but by the back streets so the drivers need to be really gifted. We crossed Kennington Road and passed the Lillian Bayliss School and having skirted Vauxhall Bus station we did a brief start on the Lambeth Road, admiring some rather well maintained C of E flats (non-believers need not apply?) and by turning into Landsdowne Way cut through the heart of pretty Stockwell to rest briefly at Stockwell Bus Garage, where of course the drivers changed. It is a splendid edifice and you can almost imagine the buses nestling there each one under its white roofed duvet.

We passed the war memorial and clock, and the fairly recently added mural of Violette Szabo, who apparently grew up round here. Then down towards Brixton – when I was a child this was the place to come to buy a second hand car as dealers Pride & Clarke, whose showrooms were painted red brick and they seemed to own the whole street, though it has now been taken over by a range of offices/shops/housing/community projects. From the top of our bus we had an excellent view of the purpose-built skateboard park, sadly without any skateboarders but they should all be at school of course. Nearby is the Brixton Academy, for once not a school academy but funky venue.

The 196 joins all the other buses that pass through Brixton and today was a really swift passage – many passengers boarding but little traffic hold up – the road widening schemes seem almost finished with a wide plaza (Windrush Square) in front of the Ritzy but work still in progress alongside St. Matthew’s Church. As well as “collecting” punning hairdressers/cycle lanes/strange slogans/public clocks we have developed a penchant for ‘ghost signs’ in the brickwork and there is a fine sample of the Bovril one round here.

Dulwich Road and Poets’ Corner brings you to some very pretty houses and past Brockwell Lido, with a quite difficult turn to take in Herne Hill station, which is really attractive and well kept and includes local cafes and florists. In addition to the twists and turns the bus now needs to climb along Dulwich road and the other side of Brockwell Park – a great community resource.

On the other side of the road I have long been fascinated by the attractive building that is the Fisher Book Binding Building  assuming it was still in its original use but apparently not.

Just before crossing the South Circular at Tulse Hill we were scrambled by a police car and ambulance that went ahead but not our route. There must be a vet’s hereabouts as a lady boarded with her pet carrier full of cat.

The roads narrow and the pedestrians were out and about again as the rain had stopped, so progress slowed somewhat as we passed both the impressively large West Norwood Bus garage (not today thanks) and the extensive West Norwood Crematorium and cemetery. West Norwood is one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ and amongst others you would find Sir Henry Tate and Mrs Beeton; nowadays we know her early death was probably due to a gift of syphilis from her husband. More roller coaster hills: Knight’s, Convent and Beulah from which the views were extensive back to Crystal Palace and virtually down to Croydon – it suddenly becomes airy and spacious and we think this may all have been part of the Great North Wood (North of Croydon you understand). All these hills remain very much landmarks and features, which have determined the growth and spread of South London. After the ups come the downs onto South Norwood  Hill (North Wood = Norwood – get it?) and of course Norwood Junction with just a little blue plaque to William Stanley (Inventor) to divert us at the end of what was a twisty turny route through the long thin borough that is Lambeth, ending just over the border in Croydon and the start of another journey.

Apologies if I have muddled any of the Norwoods…

1 comment:

  1. Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre doesn't just have Boots and Tesco in terms of chains, but also Iceland, WHSmith, Superdrug, Peacocks, Clarks Factory Store, Card Factory, 99p Stores, Santander and Lloyds TSB. Not to mention a bowling alley and a huge and popular bingo hall!