Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Number 474 Route

Manor Park to Canning Town (Hermit Road)
Wednesday May 9th 2012

Due to poor communication on my part I leapt onto a train at Stratford, just catching it, while Jo, who had been waiting a while thinking I was going to be late, didn’t.  So in the end I arrived at Manor Park ten minutes earlier than she did – most unusually – and therefore had time to photograph the station and the corner of Wanstead Flats, which is the innermost ‘corner’ of Epping Forest and home to not a few water birds.   As I write this I am still not sure whether the Flats will be used as a so called ‘police hub’ for the upcoming Olympic games but as these will be well over by the time you read this it matters little. What matters more is that we were boarding a bold double-decker and the moisture in the air was somewhere between mist and rain. The countdown had said 6 minutes but the 474 set off more promptly than that.

Our only other upper deck passenger did Tai Chi for his whole trip. After passing the Blakesley Arms  (I have failed to find a family to go with their coat of arms), which at least looks open and has looked after its external plasterwork, we passed the Ruskin Arms (firmly shut) which billed itself as the ‘home of metal, rock and heavy music’and worthy of a pilgrimage? 

From here until East Ham the shops and businesses were almost entirely South Asian, interspersed with some shop-front mosques and also temples. As we had noted in other places the 99p shop looks as though it might have emerged from the cocoon of a former Woolworths store; their shops have a High Street Art Deco look.  Going south the bus routes veer round the back of the High Street and both markets The Queen’s and East Ham have delivery /transport access from the back, and seem very much to be at the core of this community.

On past the Town hall and Library complex, the 474 comes quite soon to the park adjacent to the White Horse – it seems a very long time since our first trip to East Ham proper on the 115 and 58 but the pub’s closure predates that.   And today was probably the last time we shall pass this way.  East Ham Nature Reserve is essentially the old Churchyard of St Mary Magdalene Church . I am not a church goer myself though a frequent visitor for architectural gems but I liked the idea of being a  'mystery worshipper' as opposed to mystery shopper and I thought this seemed a fair description that combined both the faith and architectural aspects of church going. This very much marks the border between Victorian and Edwardian East Ham and the rather later origins of Beckton, built for the gasworks that functioned for about a hundred years between 1870 and 1970. The former slag heaps which now form the Beckton Alp were looking quite pretty today, covered as they were with cow parsley and other wild flowers/weeds all looking quite lively after our lengthy wet spell. Most of the bus routes round Beckton take care to go into the various estates to the left and right of the bigger roads but the 474 takes a direct route through to Docklands. We noticed that there were ample bark chippings surrounding some newly planted shrubs.  ‘All very well,’ said Jo (who has an opinion on most things), ‘they keep the weeds down but don’t half harbour the litter’.  Round the corner we came upon numerous young people doing just that – gathering up the litter on the bark shreddings.  The other thing we noted were bus stops/shelters with voltaic panels fitted – as they did not have countdown controls we were not sure for what purpose the stored power would be used? 

By now we were well into DLR territory with the stations coming thick and fast and the bus route passing under the overhead bits of the lines. Though well connected by both trains and buses the area still lacks local shops so most residents are obliged to use the big 3 supermarkets, which have divided up this area between them. 
(The next bit is very similar to previous post 473 so regular readers may wish to skip a couple of paragraphs)

The continuation of Woolwich Manor Way will get you, or in our case the 24 hour 474, to the Woolwich Free Ferry which runs every fifteen minutes or so and is one of the more leisurely ways of crossing the Thames. The run had been very smooth so far, by which I mean both few traffic hold ups and little bouncing, but from this point the road surface changed markedly. We had passed this way a few months ago and have not really been able to work out what all the roadworks are about except that they are extensive and run the length of the former railway lines  closed in 2006.

The tracks have now vanished but what is to come in their place is not clear. There was some discussion between us as to whether the Tate & Lyle Factory was still operating.  Jo said she saw smoke from the chimney though it hardly looked like a hive of activity, but according to their website over a million tins leave this factory each month.  Nevertheless the chimney stack has a very bright poster of the famous Golden Syrup lion, referencing the Old Testament riddle of ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’. The bus was on diversion by now and shortly to do another of its loops (it had already called in and out of Beckton bus station and the Ferry Terminal), this time into London City Airport. Positioned as it is on a former bit of Docklands it has only 1 runway so welcomes small jets. Lying below sea level it is also susceptible to fog and mist but there seemed to be just about enough visibility today.

Leaving the airport the road curves under the overhead DLR until it rejoins the North Woolwich Road. Our next landmark could have been the Thames barrier  but in  today’s mist meant this was unlikely. In any case there is significant building along the North Woolwich Road -  with over 500 homes being built.

Almost opposite is Caravansarai which would appear to be a fairly newly created would-be hub for local businesses and talent; however by the time we  came to blog this, seven months down the lien the website has folded?. Certainly there is a wide and empty stretch of road along here so the potential to create something more vibrant is certainly there. Already in place, rather to our surprise and said through tightly pursed lips as it counts as a ‘Boris Vanity Project,’ we saw the Emirates cable cars criss-crossing the road – on a test run we presume. Like most of Stratford there was much cosmetic work going on with diggers and landscapers making sure all would look beautiful for the Olympics – we just hope it is also sustainable. Certainly riding underneath the dangling cars – there must have been eight or so – we cannot imagine the view is that great, nor do the 2 places need to be linked that urgently. **

The 474 calls into Canning Town but the bus station is not its final resting place – this is in fact further on, round the still full-of-works roundabout and along the Barking Road. A measure of how the workers now think they own Canning Town is this picture of a Conway Operative holding up the last resting place of our 474.
This was quite an exhilarating route and like Brian and the football – a route of two halves: older East Ham, with all its shops and small businesses, and newer Beckton then Docklands still in the throes of being built.  The trip took us just 50 minutes.
** Wrong – see 100 routes back and the (Not) 374 for an altogether excellent view from the little pods. 


  1. The extensive roadworks are largely to do with the building of Crossrail's branch to Abbey Wood (and,hopefully, beyond). Some of the route of the North Woolwich line, which was closed when the DLR built their extension to Woolwich, is being used, including the Connaught Tunnel under some of the original dock basin.
    Whilst London City does not take Jumbos you can reach 46 different destinations. It is even possible to have an afternoon in New York by through British Airways plane from here.

  2. Yes thanks, Crossrail seems to pop up everywhere - let's hope the disruption proves worthwhile.