Hammersmith Bus Station to Aldwych
Thursday November 15 2018
As we are reversing what we did nine years ago we actually arrived in Hammersmith via the Number 10 and were just fumbling around looking for bus stops /letter identifiers/maps when a Number 9 whisked up so we got on.
Before I go further a reasonable rant about the ‘new’ routemasters - where we sit upstairs the windows are really quite small so our photos, never our best feature, look like letter box format videos ie boxed in. it’s also darker than it could be. Their main redeeming feature I have decided is that they are quite quiet, but little else appeals.
So we bowled out of the double decker bus station and headed straight onto the Hammersmith Road but back towards London so this does not feel like a route that offers you much of Hammersmith itself. Both sides of this thoroughfare have grand buildings of different eras. Nazareth House bills itself as a care home but looks very much like the forbidding establishment it once was - unfortunately a Childrens' Home whose ‘inmates’ had little chance of escape? And unsurprisingly these walls hid some abuse too.
Another institution is the old Building of St Paul’s Private School, now more jollily made over into a quirky hotel, though someone passing a quick look over my photos thought it looked like the Psycho House.
Most of the school buildings have gone but the Waterhouse designed Master’s House has been preserved and made over – I am pretty sure that it was looking quite disreputable one of the last times we passed. It was also the venue for a planning meeting for D-Day held between Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery.
Meanwhile there have been changes on the opposite side of the Hammersmith Road – however when I tried to find out who was using the massive glass and steel complex (with some quite nice front landscaping) at Nos 68-72 all I got was a multiple offers for offices to rent – in other words IT IS EMPTY!
Calling itself first Brook Green then Olympia this was clearly no longer Hammersmith. Olympia is a conference /exhibition centre on a BIG scale and today was hosting two events: The European Pizza and Pasta Exhibition closely followed by Professional Diabetic Care, as indeed too much of the former could easily trigger the latter..
Once past Olympia the route enters Kensington proper – that small rich borough which got itself such a bad name last year. Both the bus and the High Street were busy – there are outlets of most of the predictable chains – perhaps looking at some higher end ones interspersed with odd shops such as ‘Jereboams’ and two charity shops for the Octavia Trust which seems to be a charity focused on helping the less privileged of West London.
High Street Kensington once rivalled Oxford Street with its department stores including the Derry & Toms/Barkers with its famous roof garden; it also had a brief history as the Biba Store that over-expanded. More successful had been Biba's original dress shop on the other side of the road.
Once past the graceless Garden House hotel the bus follows the edge of Kensington Gardens with Prince Albert in all his glory. In our Museum days we had been privileged to have a really excellent Blue badge guided tour which you can read about here.
A little further along, and set back from the road, you can also find the Sikorski Institute which counts as a worthy rather than fun visitor experience. The BIG museums – V&A, Natural History and Science – can all be reached very easily from this bus route: just take the turning opposite Albert.
Some of the grander buildings are now used as embassies and we were a bit puzzled at one of the Thirties mansion blocks which clearly had a much later ‘infill’. As we neared Knightsbridge the shops started appearing again with some expensive looking jewellery displays – for some reason topped by a suspended rhino sculpture. The Evening Standard suggests it is the most heavily fortified jewellery shop in London so I wondered whether the rhino descended on those who chose to misbehave. This is certainly a recent addition to the more well established stores around here.
We made excellent progress towards Hyde Park Corner where traffic often slows and in fact kept going quite smartly till just short of Green Park Station. A Blue Plaque (not an English Heritage one) to Francis Barraud reminded us that he is remembered for painting the picture of Nipper the Dog who became the logo of HMV records; this is close to the Cavalry and RAC Clubs and once we had turned downhill right towards St James's Palace and Pall Mall we were truly in club land – the sort that don’t admit women and serve stodgy school dinners to those recumbent in club chairs. So it was hardly surprising that we saw men ‘of a certain age’ between RAF Club, the Oxford & Cambridge all along here and the Athenaeum in pride of place. Variously this is where they would take you and try to recruit you for MI5/6 before these jobs were more conventionally advertised and competed for.
We had plenty of opportunity to admire the Athenaeum and its frieze (reminding us that the founder, one Croker spoke thus:
I'm John Wilson Croker,
I do as I please;
Instead of an Ice House
I give you - a frieze!)
I do as I please;
Instead of an Ice House
I give you - a frieze!)
and the Crimea monument as we waited through three changes of lights. The reason? Further back in Pall Mall an ambulance, presumably attending one of the clubs, was blocking the traffic which had backed up to the box junction – our side was flowing well but impeded from carrying on by a van stationary across with insufficient space for the bus to continue. One can only admire the tenacity and patience of bus drivers though he did permit himself the odd hoot. Once past the blockage, the Institute of Directors is equally splendid and launches the way into Trafalgar Square. A white van was parked adjacent to Landseer’s Lions so we wondered whether he was going to give them a polish but in retrospect he was probably prepping for the Christmas tree or on a surveillance mission !
Strand, Aldwych and Trafalgar Square have rebranded themselves as the ‘North Bank’ (a phrase in our house more associated with Arsenal FC) and you can only ask why, as the given names are both explanatory and evocative enough. However it has afforded them some quite nice Christmas decorations which sustained us along to our stopping place by the theatres on the Aldwych.
This was a straightforward route taking in largely affluent and moderately picturesque inner West London, finishing, if you go this way, close to the ‘high point’ of Nelson’s Column.