Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Number 264 Route

Croydon Town Centre to St. George’s Hospital  (Tooting)
Monday May 17th 2010

This was the middle bus of a 3-bus outing and took us into unknown territory, the ‘we’ being Mary & I as Jo was off being clever somewhere else. The day went like clockwork as we had just descended from our key bus round the corner, broken into enough of a run to convince the driver to wait and off we went at 11.05. Croydon is of course amazingly well provisioned with buses and this one made every effort to leave its friends behind as soon as possible, disappearing behind the High Street and managing to thread its way behind (it being pedestrianized in front of course) no less than three Shopping Centres: the Whitgift, the Drummond and – the newest and sleekest – The Centrale, to emerge in what can only be described as a hinterland criss-crossed by both railway beneath us and trams alongside and above us.
(NB There has been recent press coverage of negotiations being afoot between Croydon & Westfield about the future of the Whitgift; not sure why? Surely a shopping centre is a shopping centre?)

The 264, bravely striking out alone, next seems to hit a kind of ‘No Man’s Land’ which is neither Croydon nor Mitcham, characterised by small pebble dashed houses put up between and after the wars, and where the most significant landmark is the chimneys of the nearby IKEA – one of the early and most enduring IKEA branches. The odd more modern building really stands out and we thought some local flats had individual wind turbines, which seemed very neat.

The roads are broad and though the volume of traffic is steady the bus was able to make good speed and before long we were at Mitcham Common, where it hardly stopped. Even on a nice late Spring day it had something of the look of a ‘blasted heath’ about it, and from a bus seemed lacking in features or walker friendly paths which might inspire. The (website  would clearly beg to differ.

To be fair it was a novelty to be on a bus driving through extensive greenery after the concrete canyons that are Croydon. Mitcham itself clearly has a history as a village that has gown up over the years – it still retains many village features in names such as Three Kings Pond, The Windmill and Fair Green, though unfortunately the names are now more evocative than the reality as much of Mitcham seems to be a vast one-way system. Clearly the bus proved quite popular from this point as several passengers boarded as we carefully edged our way round a dog-riding sidesaddle on a bike with its owner. (And no, the dog was not wearing a safety helmet.)

What this journey made me realise is that what I have previously assumed to have been Mitcham Common is in fact (Figge's Marsh a much smaller area once belonging to Mr Figge. The latter kind of forms a boundary between the boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth and the areas of Mitcham and Tooting – the roads narrow, the housing stock is not public and much older, and though not in any way more affluent than its neighbour Mitcham seems to be both livelier and more populous and popular. The replacement window and pebble dashing firms give way to ‘Life in the Spirit Fellowship’ at Amen Corner and the (Mixed Blessings) Bakery seem to sum up the vibes round here This perhaps a second branch of the master bakery in Camberwell that Mary had noted on her travels.

Tooting Broadway was heaving, not only with buses at the crossroads but with students from South London College out foraging for food (no shortage there). Tooting Library’s face-lift is now complete and its frontage and magnificent weather vane were glinting in the sun . Tooting Broadway station sports not only a statue of King Edward but also some curly street furniture – a seven branched candelabra, which some one has seen fit to preserve.

Very kindly this bus goes straight across and up Garratt Lane and round in a big square to arrive back at Blackshaw Road and the front entrance of this hospital – once of course sited close to Hyde Park Corner but firmly established in Tooting since 1973 and serving the local population – Edward Jenner, he of the smallpox vaccination, is a former St George’s man.  It is also the co-ordinating place for blood transfusions.

Being fortunate enough to need neither blood nor treatment but merely another bus we ambled from one stop to another to pick up our route north and home…  

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