Saturday, 22 December 2018

The NUMBER 15 Route

Trafalgar Square   to Blackwall
Thursday  December 19 2018

Jo was preparing for an ‘away from home’ Christmas so I decided  to travel on my own and at mid-day, once the rain had passed, on this rather odd route that does not  connect very usefully.  The USP of the 15 is that it offers, on the most touristy bit of the journey a heritage Bus experience.  Luckily I managed to get one of the more modern vehicles albeit the unloved Boris Bus which is at least safe (and occasionally heated). The driver earned maximum brownie points by lowering the bus for a passenger with sticks. I thought three homeless guys plus dog might be intending to board but they were in an animated conversation about shelters. (Of course it used to run from Paddington Basin..

Setting off from just opposite Charing Cross station this bus picked up passengers steadily along the Strand and I was surrounded by the happy chatter of tourists. Less happily behind me sat the bus germ zone – namely the man who coughed and sneezed into  my neck. Thank goodness for scarves which can double as surgical masks...

I noticed, as the signs were at eye level, that Westminster council dubs the Strand (and Aldwych) as Theatre land and indeed theatres and hotels more or less alternate along here. The bus slowed down considerably towards the confines of Fleet Street where there was plenty of time to admire the public clocks – on the whole keeping good time. It was also possible to deduce the reason for the protesters on hunger strike in front of the Royal Courts of Justice – they clearly see the Family Division Judges as child snatchers. In my experience, having tried to intervene in families to stop them getting into the court process and possibly losing their children, the judges themselves bend over backwards to be fair.   Ironically someone was eating his sandwich barely a metre from the Hunger Strike notices.

The source of our delay was soon apparent – Farringdon closed (again) presumably for Crossrail: someone must regret naming this venture CROSSrail. It was not to be our last road closure . The 15 itself remained on track, so to speak, but all sorts of other random displaced buses were clogging Ludgate Hill and points east.  One of the joys of travelling at this time of year is the chance to admire less the street decorations, which were not special this year, but the municipal and company trees. St Paul’s had put theirs up on the portico . In the grassy areas beyond/behind the cathedral people were out enjoying their lunch hours in the winter sunshine.

We passed a few of the Heritage 15s, some on the return trip to Trafalgar Square, some just standing empty. Cars are discouraged from the major road junction by the Bank and Mansion House, which too had big trees.
Further along King William Street there were signs of more diversions but we kept going, emptier now as the road widens towards  the Tower. We had visited the large church which is All Hallows by the Tower and hard to miss. Most of the Heritage routes terminate at Tower gateway – the end of one of DLR lines.

The top of a double decker offers you one of the more comprehensive views of the Tower of London which also marks the boundary of the City as we headed into Tower Hamlets.  We had accounted for the Tower, now for the hamlets – presumably all former villages Stepney, Whitechapel fringes and Poplar were such.

Just past Aldgate East a poster proclaimed Fotografiska Opening Spring 2019 – this proves to be a branch of the Stockholm Photography Museum 
So the 15 may prove the way to go?

Once out of the City the bus speeded up, and avoided yet another set of road works as we took the Commercial rather than the Whitechapel Road.  Built originally as a private enterprise to take goods from the East and West India docks to the City, this was once a toll road that made an awful lot of money, but later adopted as a public road, and still very much an artery... and as a result looks rather run-down. Small clothing outlets predominate which reminded me that the East End was the heart of the ‘rag trade’ well remembered  here
I missed photographing Watney market but at a glance right it looked busy enough. and the buildings of the London Metropolitan University are not immediately obvious though announced as a bus stop – this may be because they are located in the old Wash Houses which I had noticed.
The Troxy really caught my attention though – someone having a mash up of Roxy and Trocadero perhaps.  It proves to be a Music Venue – there is a very good history here

Back on the other side we passed Stephen Hawking School and Salmon Lane and Tequila Wharf (a little optimistic I fear) which indicated that we might be getting close to water and indeed we crossed first the Regent’s Canal and then the Limehouse Cut. By now the Commercial Road, still the A13, had turned into Burdett Road and East India Dock Road and we were heading firmly for Poplar. It was clear to see that the war damaged surrounds had been  frequently replaced  by Fifties and Sixties era public housing which was again showing its age…  Other reminders of  this area’s past can be seen in the various buildings called Seamen’s  Missions – there are several including the Poplar one shown on this useful site.

Islam, not to be outdone has taken over a former bank for one of its charities.
Slightly odd was the announcement for the University of Cumbria in London – there is real one up in the Lake District and Carlisle but they seem to want to run a spin-off? 

There was a crowd at the bus stop for All Saints Church Poplar (currently being restored)  but they weren’t catching this bus which was near its end . It turns off the main road and takes a couple of turns down Poplar High Street which as you might guess from its name is quite low key and small scale so it was quite a surprise when we emerged at Blackwall DLR Station to find myself in the middle of a number of large scale building sites; demolition and construction . Clearly there is a lot of development going on at Blackwall
Indeed, and I quote:   

Blackwall Reach is an unparalleled project of innovative design and visionary schemes. Realised in a magnificent collection of more than 1,500 new apartments and a sustainable community, the development is the very pinnacle of fresh thinking and celebrates the area’s magnificent history by putting its values at the forefront of the future

Sadly we shall not be back to view its progress as the rather generous station approach hosts only the 15 bus route – whether more transport links are planned we shall see.
This is a route well worth taking – in either direction you get the old and the new – the most touristy bits of London and some older historic parts – and it’s the first route, this time round in the Project, that kept to its promised 65 minute timing.

PS Shortly after I published this entry the following link appeared on the BBC website - excellent  40+ year old colour photos of many of the places this route passes.. do have a look

Friday, 14 December 2018

The Number 14 Route

Thursday 13 December 2018

We had to trot across the road from our 37, since the 14 drew away from its space as our bus pulled in.  So there was no time to enjoy the pleasant ambience of Putney heath, so different from the grim North Finchley dungeon of last week.  And off we went, at 11.25

We did, however, have time to scan the scenery of Putney, because we were following the truck that empties the litter bins.  At first we followed the route of our 37, with the difference that we were not looking straight into the sun, on this lovely day.

We passed Putney High School for Girls, and wondered if they were pleased with the wood cladding on one of their several extensions:  did it perhaps need a coat of cuprinol?

 We liked the thought of the Gentle Dental Practice, and we were also taken with the sundial on the wall of a building.  It was put up for the Millennium, but we could not quite work out how it would catch the sun, given to obstructions around it.

We were able to catch a glimpse of the blue plaque for Algernon Swinburne, a poet not much studied or even read these days.  Here's his Ballad of Death, so you can see why he's not on every GCSE syllabus.

The traffic was slow as we passed Putney Station, and came to the Spotted Horse Pub.  Such horses are normally known as piebald, but spotty is, after all, what they are

 The nearby Wagamama continued the spotty theme, though that might have been the building, not the eatery.
We were pleased to see that the Odeon Cinema still exists, and then we were at St Mary's Church, and over the Bridge, to move into Fulham

 We remembered walking around here when the river was so high that we had to walk one street up from the water.  Today, the tide was pretty far out.

The gardens of Fulham Palace were on our right as we came towards the Temperance Pub.  Built in 1910, it was originally a Billiard Hall, hoping to distract working me from the evils of alcohol by friendly activities.  It is now in fact a pub, as listing does not protect the intentions of the original builders, just the structure.

We saw the wittily named Band of Barbers, as well as another beauty shop, called, puzzlingly, Mortar and Milk.  Their website has a lot about beauty, but nothing to explain the name.  

The Slug Pub so dazzled us with the colour of its tiles that we did not notice if it was still in  business.  Apparently its speciality was South-of-the-equator customers, and here is a report from The South African suggesting it was closing.  On the other hand, it appeared quite healthy to us, and if it had closed in 2009 it would be apartments by now.

The route takes you past Fulham Broadway Station, and the disused but huge town hall, and then we were in a place which is apparently known as the Chelsea Village, because it houses some football club or other.  Given the Arsenal links of this family, you will not be expecting me to say more, though no doubt some people would recognise the wealthy young men on the roadside banners.

Oh, yes, you could tell we were in Chelsea, with substantial blocks of flats and innumerable furniture and fittings shops such as Breteuil.  The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital was the first of several that we passed, and we squinted down Farrier Walk Mews, presumably once a place where workers plied their horse related trades.  It was a great deal smarter than that now.

 After large shops and other buildings, we were taken with the diminutive size of Sokol Rare Books and Manuscripts. They clearly have wonderful things to sell.

Two more Hospitals, the Brompton and the Royal Marsden, brought us into Kensington, past the locked and private square gardens like Onslow Garden, and then we were at South Kensington Station where, disconcertingly for some of our fellow passengers, the bus stop was closed.  However smart Chelsea may be, this is the first time you can get on the tube other than the District Line.


Here we saw our second Blue Plaque of the day, commemorating Charles Freake, who made the area, as he said himself, 'a second Belgravia'.

The 14 heads on to turn right in front of the Natural History Museum, one of the many reminders of what a great profit the 1851 Great Exhibition made. There is a charming little skating rink outside it at the moment.

On through Knightsbridge, and the traffic was pretty slow by now.  We thought that the decorations outside Harrods were really quite attractive. Ahead of us in the stationary line as a van with a most interesting name.  Starting life in what would have been the reign of Henry VII if they had been English, they prove now to be a removal firm.

Slowly we ground our way to Hyde Park Corner, and then inched along Piccadilly, with Green Park looking attractive to our right and various smart restaurants and shops to our left.

After Green Park Station, the Ritz had  wreaths in every arch, and Fortnum and Mason had wreaths everywhere!  The overhead decorations were angels, or possibly fairies. All very Christmassy.

St James' Church has a beautiful Grinling Gibbons altar surround and is altogether as lovely as you would expect Christopher Wren's work to be, but of course we only saw the outside from our bus.

We also had time to watch a worker scraping the Santander red logo off the window of a disused branch of the bank, and to smile at the Snowman outside Waterstone's.

 But eventually we reached Piccadilly Circus;  Eros has been surrounded with hoarding to make sure that festive fun does not affect him;  and we saw a stall covered with Christmas jumpers of a lurid kind.
Then it was along Shaftesbury Avenue, passing a number of musicals and the attractive decorations of Chinatown, to reach the Charing Cross Road and the huge building site which is (still) the planned Elizabeth Line.  Londonist, always interesting to read, has some incisive questions about the delays to this flagship project.

 Actually, much of Tottenham Court Road is coned off and narrowed, as part of the West End Project.  How wonderful it will be when finished, with buses and cycles unimpeded by motor vehicles for substantial periods of the day.  But it did mean that getting to Warren Street Station continued to be slow to the end.  We finally arrived at 13.00, having enjoyed the sunny views of mainly affluent areas of west London.