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

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