Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Number 339 Route

Shadwell to Fish Island   (Bow)
Tuesday August 31st  2010

This lovely late summer morning found us (with 63 Regular taking some photos) in Shadwell from where we were intent on taking the short but sweet route out again.  Talking of sweets we were rather distracted by sampling some particularly delicious and celebratory (Completion of Route 100 earlier) Turkish delight and so missed the earlier bus – this being a route that runs 4 buses an hour to a time-table. Never mind, it gave us plenty of time to admire the dual purpose bike and bus shelter decorated with the Tides on one side and the Moons on the other (not just a random display of circles) and to think that the route must be a very handy add-on for the very many people who live on the densely packed local estates and commute either by the DLR or the Overground, Shadwell now having both services. Both these stations are actually located on Cable Street, famous since 1936. Interestingly, websites are as polarized  politically now as they were then but this site has some interviews with  people who took part.

The flats came thick and fast, both low rise and older high rises, and it was no surprise that this little bus was always busy with shoppers.  For once we did not pass any very large supermarkets, but several clusters of smaller local shops at the bases of the blocks or in the remnants of the old high streets. The shops were particularly numerous round Roman Road, which also has a market.

It was also to be expected that in such a densely populated area there should be many schools to serve the local people and the Route 339 passes at least four, starting with Ben Johnson Primary. We were a bit puzzled by this as while the playwright had a few fights round Shoreditch, for all the talk he was quite a middle class lad – born and schooled at Westminster no less. Anyway he is remembered round here in what looks a to be a nice new building. We also passed. Sir John Cass (a City of London alderman, merchant and benefactor who had ‘escaped’ to Hackney to avoid the Plague!) and Stepney Green schools
and Redcoats school again with new buildings though a much longer history. Not to forget Higher Education either – the campus of Queen Mary College, University of London is very much on this route also.  The  Bow Heritage Trail  offers a more detailed appraisal of this historic neighbourhood.  

The bus passes close to Stepney Green where you can still get some idea of how it must once have been, complete with ‘village church’. A more recent history than Roman times brings us to the delights of the industrial age and its heritage for the inner city nowadays – that is the local canal and this area is fortunate to have access to the Regent's Canal  over which the 339 passes.

Stepney has a very long history of migration and today is no exception with several specialist shops serving the current local communities. Labbaik Travel on Ben Johnson road offers a very dedicated travel bureau – Labbaik apparently means ‘at your service’ and forms part of the Hajj prayers. Next door is an ‘only for females’ beauty parlour.

After Roman Road most of the passengers except us got off – we completed the trip onto Fish Island ; I had assumed that this little wedge of industry and new buildings was so named because of its shape and surrounding water (canals see above) but it seems the name originates from the street names. Considering how narrow the roads are round here we were astonished at both the volume of traffic and the heavy nature of it.  .  With many larger blocks still underway I guess this volume will continue for some time yet. 

This was only a 20 minute bus ride taking us from the old Docklands area to the old industrial bases both of which have outlived their moments of glory. After periods of neglect and desolation these are now being regenerated through both private and public investment .A short but fully packed route. 

PS Just round the corner from Fish Island is the rather excellent Bow Garage, built 1908 out of which run the 5s, 8s 15s 205s and 207s, which stands opposite the former Bryant & May factory made famous in the ‘match girl ‘ strikes. Now converted into flats they were recently in the news as the site of  Olympic related anti-terrorist missiles!     


  1. ...and since extended to Westfield. Just before the bus enters the Olympic Park, a security guard comes on board and looks around to check nobody has any explosives with them. I wonder what you'd have made of all that...

  2. Thank You - the Rules Committee is yet to meet to decide whether we complete the missing link.

  3. If you do decide to come back, make it before next Wednesday (when the route is banned entirely from the Olympic Park and terminates at Stratford bus station instead). Or after mid-September, when it's allowed back in (and without the security check).