Monday, 2 July 2012

The Number 355 Route

Brixton Police Station to Three Kings Pond (Mitcham)
Wednesday August 3rd 2011

This was part of a memorable trip, as it was the journey that led us to the Number 200 route and thus another landmark. We were also on that occasion accompanied by the Press, who were getting together an article for ‘Completely London’ – a magazine published by estate agents Kinleigh, Folkard and Hayward – and had arranged a photo-shoot at Brixton Bus garage. 

The bus garage was busy and the photography took longer than expected as we posed between dodging the buses, which needed to park in their tightly allocated spaces and then drive off again – we admired the skilful reversing and careful driving off but we were essentially IN THE WAY of such vital routes as the 59, 137, 319 and even the 19 run by ARRIVA. A garage manager (Lee) gave us some vital statistics like 7% of the force are women (in South Croydon at least). Even after losses last year ARRIVA currently holds close to 19% of the market. Our guide had been working for 26 years and said that many of the drivers stayed in the job a long time (we have met some with over 30 years service) and  with some seniority they can specify which routes they might want. In any case they get 48 hours notice of shift and route, which seems fair enough.  He knew the history of all the routes out of this garage and a whole host more when  we mentioned the more recent changes (extensions) to the 159. From Lee’s helpful email:

In addition to the above, in most cases a driver must take a 30-minute meal break after 5.5 hours on duty. In London it is accepted by all the major bus operators that because of extenuating circumstances this should be extended to 40 minutes minimum, but this is concessionary. There are certain exceptions to the 5.5-hour rule, which will vary from company to company, but these are the general stipulations. Suffice to say that driving hours regulations are a field of knowledge in their own right. (And just to complicate matters, there is a completely different set of regulations for coach drivers and buses used for private hire and in my job I occasionally have to mix them).


Photography complete we headed back to Brixton itself to pick up the 355, still accompanied by the photographer and now joined by the journalist.  Peter** was a ‘friend of buses’ having written columns on routes 1-60 for ‘Time Out’; after that he feared boredom and repetition, which I said was a factor we recognised but tried to combat.  It is indeed a challenge: for example, today was probably our ninth or so trip past Brixton Station, which is now the real hub of this part of London, with the market just behind in Electric Avenue. This route goes down, past the Ritzy with its pavement tables out on Windrush Square, to the one-way system round St Matthew’s Church where we noticed they had put in some swings in the bits of the churchyard not used for burials – presumably open for all areas of the community not just the congregation. We then turned left in front of the Town Hall and noted the nearby Unison Office – handy for those inevitable negotiations and liaisons that take place between public employees and their masters.

So grandiose it would not fit into the churchyard is the family mausoleum for the Budds, now in the final part of the one-way system before the 355 turns into Acre Lane, 

By the station the bus had taken on a fair few shoppers who had clearly been to the market and as we approached different sections of the Clapham Park Estate the passengers descended with their purchases. There are some older houses between the blocks but also recent demolition and  new builds coming. 

Just before we turned into Balham Hill, and not long past the very pretty Clapham Police station, the bus was boarded by two inspectors. Peter thought this was quite unusual on such a small bus where it is hard to get on without passing the driver, and they were certainly on their way very soon. As we joined Balham Hill we passed the Majestic Winehouse, which has in its time been a cinema – an inevitable loss I suppose but at least they have preserved the building’s exterior.
Nearby is the ‘Gateway Hotel’ to make sure you had not forgotten the memorable Peter Seller’s sound travelogue for Balham. 

This part of the bus route doubles up as Cycling Superhighway painted of course ‘Barclays Blue’ just in case we failed to honour the sponsors.  The cyclists amongst us have little faith in this kind of tokenism – where there is insufficient road space (and there are no bus lanes here) cycles will inevitably get dangerously sidelined and squashed.   

Peter, who had grown up not far from here and whose mother was born in Tooting, knew well the urban legends about Du Cane court, though to be fair he has found a couple of swastikas in London (see his blog )
Sometimes you have to reclaim old symbols for what they were. Although his memories go less far back than mine we both wondered at the gentrification of Balham as evidenced by the Waitrose midway along the High Road – and those of us who remember when Bedford Hill was a red light district to be avoided are still somewhat bemused to see estate agents describing it as desirable.

From Clapham South the bus follows the Northern Line south – usually by a much slower route but in spite of the heat (or possibly because of it) we were nipping quite smartly though the stations with an inevitable slowing round the Broadway. With Ramadan just started the clothes shops were displaying new models for the Eid festivals with shops such as ‘Wed in Style’ or ‘Western Jewellery’ which looked pretty Eastern to us. We had to dissuade Mary from getting off to buy three boxes of mangoes for £10. The bus stopped just short of Tooting Broadway Station to allow the drivers to change – as ever very punctual with minimal delays.

Turning left at the Broadway crossroads meant we were heading for Mitcham, not a surprise given the destination of the bus The Mixed Blessings bakery indeed proved to be mixed blessings today with quite a large funeral just finishing at the big catholic Church (complete with wicker coffin, we were pleased to see) and an older persons’ home named after a Presbyterian Divine called Joshua Oldfield  (is this like a saint if you are not RC?? Help me somebody). I think he sounds more like a progressive rock guitarist. To complete the religious interlude on this trip we of course pass Amen Corner (which was a pop group) before approaching Mitcham from the north and passing Figges Marsh. Sadly, though Mitcham has more than its fair share of greens – Mitcham Fair Green AND Upper Green West – the overwhelming impression is of traffic and buses, no longer the village idylls.

The 355 finds a quieter spot to park up – not the most original of routes as it duplicates its relative the 155 for most of its route and fails to offer much that is new.  The Press left us to take our Number 200 and headed off to whatever…

** You will all know Peter better as ‘The Great Wen’ and once the next edition of ‘Completely London’ had come out he published his article for them on his blog – a much more topical and eclectic  blog than our own. The photos were exceptionally nice but have their own copyright. We thought his piece  exceedingly fair and accurate.  

Lee is based usually at South Croydon and spotted us a few months later when we went too far on a 412 Route, but that’s another story. Helpfully he updated us on the arrival of newer (hand me down) buses when we opined the ones we had ridden seemed past their sell by dates. Since April the Route 19 now runs out of Stockwell, which to me makes little more sense than running it out of Brixton (Battersea Bridge to Finsbury Park??)



  1. Only part of the St Matthew's Church building is actually used as a church - there is a nightclub and (I think) restaurant in the basement, and at one stage there was a theatre in the building as well. Not sure if that is still in use, though.

    The 355 is one of my favourite routes these days!

  2. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.