Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Number 354 Route

Penge (The Crooked Billet)* to Bromley North Station
Thursday May 26th 2011

*A bent branch of a tree – and there I was thinking it was some kind of agricultural implement. Needless to say, neither was visible in Penge today.

Our key route of the day has left us just round the corner, so we found the Crooked Billet quite easily. On the whole Bromley Council tends to pretend Penge belongs elsewhere but they have attempted to inject a little continental café society into the High Street by providing a canopy/clock and area to sip your lattes etc – though the weather was not really suited to that today.

Counter-intuitively, the bus heads north out of Penge, in what I think of as the opposite direction to Bromley, but a Tfl operative handing out questionnaires to all boarding passengers distracted us. This is a route that runs to a timetable about three times an hour so perhaps they were thinking of axing it? I noted that buses in the opposite direction had also been given mini-questionnaires and pencils. She collected them as people got off so I am not sure whether she noted the length of bus use or not?

It was a very small one-door only bus that caused some fun as we had 2 buggies (not at the same time) and a dog large enough to require a whole passenger area. O yes, and a rogue escaped balloon.

Anyway it somehow got to both Penge West and Anerley Stations without following the main roads, thus avoiding some of the more depressing bits of Anerley Hill.

Just by Betts Park the bus crosses over a small stream – I have not been able to discover if it has a name but did find a rather good account of the former  Croydon Canalwhich did run hereabouts – the bus runs along side the Castledine Road which is mentioned in the link. Just fancy: tearooms in Anerley (this is not a typo). Mr Betts was of course a local chap who did well enough to donate land.

The crossroads from which there is always a fine view over South London used to be called the Robin Hood, but as the eponymous (been waiting to use that) pub has been demolished, I am not sure what it is called now. Anyway, we went straight across in the direction of Birkbeck which seemingly does not warrant a Wikipedia entry so I am left wondering whether it has any relationship with Birkbeck College, famed for its evening and extra-mural courses. Beckenham crematorium and cemetery seem pretty large but then the latter runs into South Norwood Country Park at some stage.   My handy guide to all things dead tells me that both  Thomas Crapperprime plumber to the Royals and WG Grace are buried here – today we were to have a cricketing theme, as you will see.

The present Beck Lane was not developed for houses until after World War II, being previously used as allotments. At the far end, on the Elmers End Road corner, stands the London Transport Depot. The former building (1929), which incidentally housed solid-tyre 'buses, was destroyed by a Flying Bomb and when rebuilt (1953) one of the entrances was called 'The Cunningham Gate' in memory of   a faithful fire-watcher who remained at his post on the roof, to give warning; I note that 41 Firemen are also commemorated in the local cemetery where they took part in a bad air raid.
Beck Lane still has some allotments but the whole area has a certain charm and a very unified look to it. 

At this point, where Beck Lane turns into Churchfields Road, our bus ground to a halt for nearly 15 minutes – it seemed mainly to be volume of traffic – at 12 noon? So we crawled past the superb Bromley Dump – sadly we non-Bromley types can no longer use it as it is now strictly reserved to Bromley rate payers but we remember it fondly as a 5* site: well ordered, clean and with plenty of room for cars to turn, and a nearby children’s playground if things do take a while.

We were finally able to come onto the High Road near Clockhouse Station and the road from here to the Beckenham War Memorial is largely composed of (loosely speaking) civic and communal buildings – library, pool,  fire station, English Language School and so on.

In spite of having two quite large supermarkets near by, Beckenham does somehow manage to hang on to its High Street and there is always something to see, like Thai boxing for example! At this point the bus really filled up. Traffic through Beckenham is usually slow so we were able to note that the metal structures that had gone up in the park alongside St. George’s Church, and which looked as though they might be expecting peas, were in fact supporting roses – a bit like having your roses supported by scaffolding we thought.  The churchyard on the other hand had been left to grow wild or perhaps they had not cut the grass? It’s hard to tell nowadays what is deliberately left for wild flowers and insects and what is merely non-intervention: a bit like distressed paintwork or ripped jeans. 

Rather than take the direct road to Bromley we took a side road: Foxgrove Road and then Downs Hill – the very names tell you that this will be affluent Bromley with larger, even double fronted houses. This area is known as Ravensbourne for the River of that name which joins the Quaggy at Lewisham – it also has a station, which is down in a dip and looks very rural.

Ravensbourne had both a golf course (through which the river goes) and Beckenham Cricket Club, and later in the day we noted a banner for a cricket festival?  I refer to this in the spirit of selflessness, as I have never watched cricket in my life. Notwithstanding the apparent wealth of the neighbourhood several passengers got on, obviously heading for Bromley – this included two police officers who of course do not pay, and a bus driver heading to work and all remarked on the late running of this route today.

Things were about to get even later as once we came out into Beckenham Lane, which is both steep and twisty, some road works delayed us even further but we did eventually reach Bromley Bus garage 50 minutes after leaving Penge in what is advertised as a 25 minute trip across outer SE London using residential rather than main roads. It did show the social contrasts that you can find within Bromley as we did stay within the one London borough.

PS After posting the 208, which takes a more direct route through Catford to Bromley we received a comment from a bus driver – yes Paul I mean you -who had noticed us boarding in Penge.; I think the only driver ever to do so (or they’re too polite to say what they really think) so Paul this is for you….

Also as our note on the 351 states the route followed by that erstwhile number is now more or less this 354. 


  1. It's a rather doubtful comment about a 'London Transport Depot' standing at the corner of Beck Lane. The garage was closed in 1986 and then demolished shortly afterwards, the site now being occupied by flats (apartments?).


  2. Ladies;

    I have to be honest; I was dreading this particular entry. Thankfully there are no references to bad driving! I confess, I don't remember the particulars of the day (it was over a year ago!) but were we really that slow along Churchfields Road? It wouldn't surprise me because it can get busy around the dump - apparently it's part of the reason the route does not run on Sunday, or so I'm told.

    If I could make a few comments;

    The questionnaires being handed out are done for every route on a regular basis. At the time you rode the 354, the route was approaching the end of the five year contract and TfL would be considering whether or not a two year extension would be granted. As far as I'm aware nothing has been decided yet....

    Despite the pub not having been there for many years, the junction is still referred to as the Robin Hood and, I suspect, will be for many years to come. As I type they are building one of the budget supermarkets on the site (can't remember which one!)

    If I may be permitted to be pedantic; we reached Bromley North Bus Station. Bromley Bus Garage is situated further outside Bromley along Bromley Common. That said, many do refer to Bromley North Bus Station as the bus garage

    Believe it or not, 50 minutes during the day isn't much over what is scheduled. I've not actually driven the route in a while but from memory during the peaks the journey time is approximately 44 minutes, dropping to around 36 minutes during the day. The given time of 25 minutes is only achieved after about 8:30pm and even then it's rare to achieve it!

    Keep up the good work ladies; I really do enjoy your blog


    1. Peter: Yes the bus depot is no longer there, but something must have alerted me to what the retirement home replaced? This perhaps

      Paul:Thanks for your comments. We are glad the 354 continues to flourish.