Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Number 198 Route

Thornton Heath High Street to Shrublands

Monday July 25th 2011

It was a real summer’s day when Mary and I met at Thornton Heath Station to walk back down the High Street to the start of the 198 route. Passing through by bus Thornton Heath can look a little weary but with a chance to admire the range of mangoes (imported) and lack of gooseberries (home grown) we decided the shops were holding their own against the Tescos by the station. Several 198s passed us so we knew we would not have long to wait.

At the bus stop we met a chatty A&E staff nurse on his day off and he was pleased about the sunshine too and in fact rode most of the route with us. It was the first week of the holidays and how can you tell—much less traffic and more families and children on the buses.

The bus’s first job is to get itself facing the right way to travel the length of the High Street passing the new leisure centre (an attempt to kickstart some regeneration, we thought) the rather handsome Thomas Farley Pub – the reviews think little of it but it has a handsome exterior, and who was Thomas Farley? I know pub signs aren’t known for their likenesses or accuracy but roughly speaking this one offered a Victorian country squire, which seems an unlikely match for the New York medical officer or the journalist (both modern) or the 1600 chap who emigrated to Jamestown US which Google offers. The corner has a Crossways garden centre, a biggish Tescos and Ambassador House, where Mary had encounters she would rather forget. Thornton Heath station has quite an attractive exterior and the bus then heads down Brigstock Road – another sign of regeneration being the library annexe along here. And of course the Clocktower.

Very soon we were in the Mayday Hospital belt around which there are signs of improvement – a brand new mosque (expecting up to 30,000 per week through Ramadam), a refurbished and extended hotel with 100 rooms, and what seemed to me a random Boots Optical store outlet but which clearly has some hospital links. The booking website refers to a ‘tranquil corner of South London’ which is not the description I’d choose for this quite bustling bit of West Croydon. There has been building here with some rather tall blocks which do not fit well with the more modest scale of the older properties hereabouts – tall is for Wellesley Road and Central Croydon. Along the London Road there is a large plot which remains empty – presumably some kind of dispute – and which now offers a haven of wildlife where the buddleia and grasses have gone wild.

We felt the pubs we passed had missed tricks and could have had more explicit and entertaining pub signs than they did – ‘Saints and Sinners’ for example and the ‘Ship of Fools.’ The story for the latter harks back to a medieval allegory about a pilotless vessel populated by human inhabitants who are deranged, frivolous, or oblivious to their destination. Umm, could this be a description of the ‘Ladies Who Bus’ ??)

The other pubs: Arkwright’s Wheel and the Fox & Hounds opposite West Croydon station were trying a bit harder. We covered the very familiar territory from West to East Croydon – with just a nod to the excellent hanging baskets on the barriers – very smartly, and were soon out on the quieter (?tranquil corner of South London) Addiscombe Road complete with double fronted homes, a tramroute and, just by the Shirley roundabout, the prestigious and private Trinity School – it was they who sold their Central Croydon site which gave the world (or at least South London) the Whitgift Centre and Trinity a nice new site. Shirley morphs into West Wickham – this whole route mainly composed of broad avenues sizeable homes  and open spaces – some of them reserved for golf.

The Tudor Lodge is more pretentious than some of the homes but you have to give them a round of applause for their chutzpah – there are even traditional twirly Tudor chimneys. Much of Monks Orchard is still owned/occupied by outposts of the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital, one of the UK’s more prestigious psychaitric treatment facilities. On the whole the wards down here offer very specialist services for which you need a referral.

The last little bit of this route, which for much of its way duplicates others and in particular the 194, branches off down Bridle Road to Shrublands, an apt name for an estate built by Croydon and completed in the late Fifties (and they also built shops and a pub’The Goat’) to deal with the post-war housing shortage. Building on shrublands, they left plenty of  grass and the homes all have gardens. Shrublands also has its very own bus route: the very regular 198 which starts and stops here.


As we got off downstairs another passenger looked rather surprised and said ‘Was the bus going on to Bromley?’ and she was mortified, as a long time local resident, to realise that back in Shirley, where there was a choice, she had got on the 198 rather than the 119 . I was tempted to say ‘should have gone to Specsavers’ (or indeed the Boots near the Mayday) but instead we, and the helpful driver suggested she rode the next one out of town and picked it up there…

We gave our driver a card and contrary to the usual bemused stare Driver SHAH Badge Number 78444 gave us his card. He told us he had been driving for 46 years and remembered the Route 109 when it used to start in Purley and go to Westminster. We said we would record that he had driven carefully and thoughtfully on a quiet day on a journey that had taken us about 40 minutes through the South East London’s greener suburbs.


  1. Just a heads up that you're link to the Wikipedia article about the "Ship of Fools" painting is missing it's closing parenthesis.

    Otherwise a typically good post. Have you ridden route 200 yet or are you saving it for shortly before the post?

  2. Thanks Chris M - hope I've fixed it.

    Yes, the Ladies hope to ride the 200 next week - watch this space!