Poplar (All Saints’) to Mile End
Monday March 18th 2013
Our first job on exiting the DLR station was to find our bus stop but of course ‘All Saints’ proved to be the very handsome parish church for Poplar, just about ready to celebrate its second centenary. Our photography was a bit rushed as the double decker D7 arrived immediately, so naturally we hastened to occupy the front four seats, having our guest Blue Badge-hopeful Ricky with us.
The D7 dives behind the busy main road to narrower streets, which it then shares (not very successfully) with Cycling Super Highway Number 3 also passing the rather mysterious Blackwall, where we boarded our Route 15 nearly four years ago.
This part of the East End, down by the docks, suffered very badly from the negative attentions of the Luftwaffe so most buildings are randomly aged post-war replacement housing destined for those bombed out of the East End. In amongst them some gems do remain – St Lawrence’s Cottages, for example, which look to have to have had some more modern additions. Blackwall was the favoured departure point for trips (probably 1-way) to North America, including Martin Frobisher’s journey of 1576, which I discover was financed by the Russians; no less of a gamble than backing a random football team I suppose.
The distant view of the Millenium Dome across the river told us we were approaching the Isle of Dogs. On our previous route Ricky had been chatting with a local passenger who told us a story of King Henry VIII having kept his hunting dogs at what would have been just across the river from Greenwich, though the real origins may be more prosaic. Whatever, it was a marshy, low lying area often cut off and that was certainly our follow passenger’s experience. She said there was only ever one bus (every half hour if you were lucky) and if the ‘drawbridge’ (sic) was up, even longer. The Isle had only small shops so for her a railway line plus half a dozen bus routes and a supermarket to boot was sheer luxury. Part of the southern bit of the Isle is known as Cubitt Town for the builder, developer and Lord Mayor. According to Ricky most of Belgravia was built on the mud etc dredged out to make the docks, which feels like it ought to offer a symbol of some kind…
Continuing round the loop that is Manchester Road, the late Arts & Crafts homes of Jubilee Crescent still look very desirable, and even more so now there is a handy DLR station nearby. The D7 paused a while at Island Gardens and peering through the blossom (at last) we could just make out the domes of the Wren buildings at Greenwich.
George Green School is the only secondary school on the Isle and two of Mary’s family taught here most successfully. Some of the older pubs remain; that they are called ‘the Lord Nelson’ and ‘The Ship’ is not really surprising and the nautical/maritime theme goes on – the Barkantine Pharmacy, for example, named for a type of ship and the Great Eastern Slipway from which Brunel’s ‘The Great Eastern’ was launched. Just to make sure the soul is not forgotten there is a rather incongruous Italianate Church, now an Arts Space but still looking as though it had landed from another continent.
Close by is Dockers Tanner Road, which ungrammatically commemorates the 1889 dockers’ strike for a ‘tanner’: 6d or 2½p in today’s money. The rather excellent 'Ripper Street' featured the strike as a background to issues of immigration/unionisation, and agent provocateurs (or should that be agents provocateur?).
The bus was stopping quite frequently, what felt like every few metres, so there was plenty of opportunity to take in our surroundings. Westferry DLR indicates we are close to the financial district and sure enough we snaked through the policed barriers and did a complete tour of the money-making island that has grown up where once bananas were offloaded from the Canaries. Strangely enough today what we noticed was a burgeoning of nature – a male swan batting off all comers while his hen sat on her nest (‘bit cold to have babies’, the ladies said in chorus) and forsythia and primulas brightening up the office slabs. We exited (do you suppose they counted us in and out?) the barriers past Cannons Wharf and the multiple clocks showing different time zones, straight past the dragon sculpture which alerted us to our arrival in Limehouse, formerly another Chinatown.
Today Limehouse is bisected by very busy East/West trunk roads, which can be no pleasure to live near. ‘The Star of the East’ is an impressively sized pub, presumably so big as it had to cater for the hundreds of sailors who would have overnighted here, and nearby are the various Missions built to offer them bed, board and a shot of redemption, one of them picked out by Caroline's blogspot.
“Further east in Limehouse is the Passmore Edwards Sailors' Palace, built in 1901 as the headquarters of the British & Foreign Sailors' Society. An inscription above the door still records the fact, although the building itself has been converted into flats.”
More philanthropy was evident as the bus headed up Burdett Road, named for the friend of Dickens whose wealth meant she could offer ‘salvation’, and hopefully ‘a trade’ to the fallen women of the East End. A crow swooping across the road and up to its nest at the top of a tall tree (courtesy of the ribbon Mile End Park) reminded us again that spring might be on its way and that indeed the crow’s nest of a ship is very aptly named.
The bus comes to a halt just short of the Green Bridge *and the numerous passengers spilled out with the four of us heading for Mile End Underground Station. The trip crammed with history and buildings took just 35 minutes.
* Yes I know, Jo had this one, sometimes great minds think alike...