Friday, 3 May 2013

Route Random Wapping

Sunday April 28th 2013

The observant amongst you will note that the heading relates to no known bus and Sunday is not usually a day we choose to go travelling…

However, there we were, boarding and re-boarding an elderly and number-less double decker red bus and sidling along Wapping High Street and Wapping Lane, routes more officially assigned to the single decker Numbers 100 and D3. What was going on?

The folk/staff at the London Councils, who had organised some publicity for us back on Route 381, wanted to make a little film about the eligibility for and benefits of the Freedom Pass, and had recruited, alongside a group of extras, the Ladies Who Bus to take part. 

So at the unearthly hour (I am not a morning person, as they say) of 8AM we, alongside some sprightly dancers, assembled at Tower Bridge Studios.

While the dancers went off to perform and record the Bus Stop Zumba (don’t ask, we never really saw what they were up to) Mary, Jo and Linda had some light make-up applied. Amie too was a volunteer for the day and kindly stuck around to retouch her handiwork after we had spoilt it by eating lunch and drinking tea. Amie, we learned, combines make-up with her other career as an illustrator, but most interestingly she does the make-up for the Madam Tussauds waxworks, both UK models and overseas ones too. As you might expect, she works from very high-resolution good quality photographs in order to reproduce the flesh tones of David Cameron et al. However if you want a glimpse of her artwork do look here.. We were very grateful to her for covering our flaws but not making it look artificial.

Once the Zumboids returned, somewhat chilled and in need of coffee, we set off down Wapping Lane so that we could be filmed waving from the back top deck of the bus; this shot was to be enhanced further by opening the window, and leaning out but sun reflection problems for the camera man put paid to that ‘vision’. The bus London Councils had hired was clearly an ‘older model’ and I think quite venerable – can you imagine the health and safety implications of having an outward opening upstairs back window on a bus without CCTV?

Having re-assembled the extras who were skilfully distributed throughout the bus as ‘passengers’ we were filmed doing what we normally do which is photographing the passing sights/sites both and making notes for later blogging. I suspect when all is edited together what we will be passing will be a series of ‘iconic’ London shots, though quite why this is necessary we are not sure as we are not a tourist service.

The places we passed in Wapping are a delight and everyone was very taken with the area. Whether the area was taken with us is another issue. Both Wapping High Street and Wapping Lane are very narrow, the one cobbled the other as you might expect curvy, and both served by two legitimate routes, which are small buses used to passing each other. When we were parked up, or moving very slowly to film they both had problems squeezing past, but much patience was displayed by the 100 and D3 drivers as well as by ‘our’ driver Eddie, who had to do conduct intricate reversing manoeuvres, much to the alarm/annoyance of some local residents.

Along the High Street is the 'Town of Ramsgate' Pub, close to Wapping Stairs, and the Pierhead houses. Whether you walk or ride along the narrow street, so tall are the blocks it is hard to imagine and impossible to see the river behind, so it is in the names such as Pierhead, or   Chandler Street (chandlers did and still do provide all those ropy hooky things for boats) that tell you it’s there.  Most of the warehouses have been very sympathetically converted with high loading bays now balconies. 

Jo had had occasion to visit the week earlier, having a family member doing well in the marathon. 30 years ago another relative ran the same stretch and was able to say how the former dereliction had been greatly improved. The area seems quite mixed also with some Tower Hamlets social housing and community centres down Wapping Lane and a sizeable congregation coming out of the Sunday service at St Peter’s C/E London Docks. As London churches go it is pretty new (built 1856 as an Anglican mission for the poor and just in time to bury the victims of the latest cholera outbreak) and its website enlightened me as to who Stanhope Wainwright might be as we later passed his Blue Plaque – a local one I think, commemorating a local priest who had worked for 50 years for his then very impoverished parish. 

St George’s are the company developing the old Fort  at Wapping , so called partly for its high dock walls and later for its defences against police and rioters. (Murdoch’s Sun and Times had all been here)  I suspect the resulting dwellings in the Tower block, whose planned height is still up for discussion, will be on the more expensive end of property prices.

Rather than doing yet more loops for filming purposes, our Random Route struck out for Shadwell and Whitechapel, even running into the Number 15 –one of the heritage routes. Our director wanted some ‘shots’ of the words ‘BUS LANE’ so we went way out past Cable Street, Tower Hamlets car pound and the beginning of Whitechapel’s rag trade stretch of road.  Once the requisite shots were ‘in the can’, or more likely digitally captured, we headed back to the studios to deliver the extras for their lunch after which most were free to go.

Meanwhile the three of us were filmed climbing the stairs, then boarding the bus and finally (in grand reverse order) beeping our Freedom Pass on the Oyster reader, except of course it neither beeped nor was an active reader. For reasons of technical fuzziness this last shot took longer than you might think so were pleased the others had left us more than enough sandwiches.

After lunch we returned for what was to be a brief chunk of filming on the bus with each of us saying one piece ‘to camera’ after a morning of pretending Will (the cameraman) wasn’t really there. Some people were better at this than others - I mention no names. The real drama was when a large lorry hailing from Scotland and transporting 'Udderbellyto a venue came the other way to add to the minor bus jam we had already created on the curviest bend of the lane… After some negotiating and further skilful reversing from Eddie we managed to let the legitimate buses (and Mr Udderbelly) through. Eddie got us all safely back to base and was allowed to go. We had just some indoor shots of Jo ‘writing up the blog’, as it were, and a public information caption for the London Councils.

There was to be some location shooting on Monday, but this did not require any people or buses. We are not quite sure how long the editing of this film will take – it is intended to be 2 or 3-minutes long – but we promise to provide a link when it is complete. It is planned to launch it onto the London Councils website, Youtube and Twitter. 

We, as indeed all Freedom Pass holders should be, are very grateful to the London Councils for their administration of this scheme and the funding which allows us and so many of the elderly and less able to travel independently round London, and while we would normally avoid publicity, we do feel we owe London Councils  for their tireless support for (and defence of) the Freedom Pass.  


  1. And I, in my turn, am very grateful to you for pointing me towards the Mayor's Photocard for those aged 60 and over who don't yet qualify for a Freedom Pass. I quite thought I should have to pay for transport in London for another 3 years or so, and am delighted to have just bought my Last Ever Monthly bus pass! I had no idea Mr Johnson had brought this in until I read about it on your blog a few months ago!

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