Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Number 394 Route

Homerton Hospital to The Angel (Islington) Tolpuddle Street. 
Wednesday March 14th 2012

Mary, Jo and Linda managed to walk in the correct direction for once, namely along the rapidly gentrifying Chatsworth Road from where the 308 had left us and back to Homerton Hospital. As this is a hub for several routes the buses have their own car-free (and doubtless carefree as spellchecker would have it) space. This number was busy from the start, mainly taking on board the ‘walking wounded’ – slings/plasters and crutches where the NHS had put them back together. Interesting to note that although it is not very well signposted, certainly from the direction we approached  is in fact a designated ‘Olympic’  hospital.
But sometimes there are just too many notices on the streets to take them all in.

With the numerous passengers and their luggage/shopping and buggies all settled we set off with our first destination Central Hackney and Mare Street. This is a very densely populated part of London and we noted how hard Hackney council was trying to improve the facilities for residents: for instance there were raised beds awaiting seeds and plants in the greens by old LCC-era blocks and the shiny new City Academy School – only built in 2009 – where the pupils have bright red blazers, to match their school’s frontage, which certainly makes them visible when crossing the road. 

The route through Hackney, especially along Mare Street, can be a traffic nightmare but today went smoothly, and just slow enough to photograph St John’s and the Town Hall. Opposite the well-established Hackney Empire is a new cinema venture, opened about 6 months ago and already popular with locals. We know some long-time Hackney folk whose church we also passed just as we progressed away from the main road down Richmond Road. 

By this time the bus, already full, was joined by a small nursery group comprising five children and two adults. The children were quietly excited at their trip and both age groups pointed out things to each other. There was lots to see. The bus took in two sides of London Fields, Mary convinced she could see the steam from the Lido pool. It also edged past Broadway Market with the Cat & Mutton on a prominent corner.  Luckily the pub has a website which explains the curious name – it’s a contraction. The establishment has, you learn, been a 'fixture in London’s East End since the late 1600s when it started its life as ‘The Cattle & Shoulder of Mutton,’ a renowned ale house frequented by the many drovers and agricultural workers arriving in London to sell their various beasts in the markets of the city; the name was centuries later shortened to The Cat and Mutton So that makes sense now.

The children may not have been interested in the pub but they all remarked on the canal and the gas holder, looking very resplendent today.

Just after this the bus stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere for the drivers to change, but later research indicates there is a small bus garage run by CT

We had waited for a while and after a few more tortuous corners the bus halted again. ‘Stopping again,’ said the children in chorus and indeed it needed some extreme revving to get going so on we went alongside the canal for a while. Thurtle Street seemed a wonderful name reminding me of Dr Suess’ ‘Yertle the Turtle’.

The Regents Canal is so leafy on its passage through Regents Park one forgets its more prosaic roots and here in Hackney it has more of a look of its industrial heritage.

The intensity of housing had been remarkable throughout the route and here we were crossing through the Kingsland Estate and all boarded up ready for renewal and new builds. In partnership with London & Quadrant 830 new homes are promised as replacement for older properties presumably.  The Kingsland Estate of course borders on the Kingsland Road down which we travelled very briefly passing the familiar landmarks of St Leonard’s Hospital and the Geffreye Museum. 

This community bus was heading across town by smaller (very much smaller) streets, and we found ourselves passing the training centre for  the Games Volunteers recognised by Jo because of their use of a distinctive and unlovely font plastering the training centre in Falkirk Way. (By the time you read this we will all know how marvellous the Gamesmakers were, so all credit to their trainers (the teacher as opposed to the footwear sort) and them. 

Hackney are busily replacing older properties with newer. 

Hoxton and Shoreditch, where we were in effect, may be the new trendy hangouts but during the day and traversing the tightly packed housing estates over potholed and humped streets of increasing narrowness made the latter stages of this route bumpy for the passengers and challenging for the driver. We could sense his relief when we came out just before the City Road by the Eagle Buildings reminding us that this was where ‘The Eagle’ of  'Pop Goes the Weasel' once stood.

Well we may not have gone in and out of ‘The Eagle’ but we certainly went in and out just about everywhere else. I note that that CT Plus group run ‘Community Services’ and this was a real locals’ bus serving hospital and home, market and museum alike, leaving us finally behind the Angel in Tolpuddle Street. There is no way you would take this route to get from Homerton to the Angel – for Mary this had been a nostalgic trip and she reckoned it would have been quicker to walk directly, than the circuitous 55 minutes we travelled but we all loved every minute of it.   


  1. The 394 did start out life as a non-TfL 'community' route like others CT run now (the 812 springs to mind, whether there are more I don't know), with large minibus vehicles - baby blue in colour, I seem to recall, marketed as the Shoreditch Hoppa. It was about 9 years ago that it was brought into the main network and got these buses - especially narrow for the estate roads, but 'proper' buses. It was extended from Broadway Market to the Homerton at the same time.


  2. A woman gave birth on the 394 a few years ago - more likely I guess on a route serving a maternity hospital - and the boy was called Dennis after the make of the bus. I guess it's somewhere on the web. Great blog. My fave is the 488.