Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Number 450 Route

 Lower Sydenham to West Croydon
Thursday July 14th 2011

Here was one of our more seamless transfers – just crossing the road – and not much of a wait for a bus that was very popular and full for all of its route.  It was late morning and many of the passengers had been or were going shopping, living as it later transpired in parts of London where food shops did not abound.

The single decker heads out of the Sainsbury’s bus stop area and straight up Sydenham Road, the first of many  hills.  As we left the gas holders  behind and the smaller cottages where the  gas company workers would have lived we climbed up the hill towards the highest point in SE London – the Crystal Palace Hill – which was all part of the Great North Wood (North being north of Croydon). I had worked in this area (a Children’s hospital absorbed into Lewisham in 1991) so had often walked up and down watching businesses grow, flourish and sometimes fail --- or sometimes just change its name.  I remember Slatters as the local bakers but now known as the Cake Store.    It continues to provide small and large, and often pink cakes for all.

Sydenham had an illustrious Victorian era when different musicians would visit George Grove, Master of the Royal College of Music, in his home and as we passed St Bartholomew’s Church we remembered the wonderful painting Pissarro made of this solid grey building. It can be seen at the National Gallery and is much more evocative than this photo!  Around the corner is Jew’s Walk, where Eleanor Marx, the daughter of Karl both lived and died; she committing suicide following an unsatisfactory relationship but had achieved much politically, particularly for the trade union movement.

By now, having swept up shoppers the length of Sydenham, we reached nearly to the crest of the hill and then took a deep downward turn along Fountain Drive mainly to access the Kingswood Estate – one of Lambeth Borough’s more inaccessible housing clusters. There are schools and nurseries round here, and the Paxton Green Health Centre, but if you have moved, or been moved,  from the more bustly north of the borough it must have seemed very remote. . What goes down must come up and sure enough having edged its way round the estate the bus then climbs back up to Crystal Palace Parade via College Road. The one-way system at Crystal Palace can often be slow but we moved round fairly quickly today noting that yet more ‘Vintage’ outlets had opened – what only a couple of years ago was verging on the derelict has now become quite vibrant and quirky.   A branch of the Blackbird Bakery should thrive here.  

We had only just turned left onto Central Hill, noting the Gypsy Hill Police Station (the highest Met station in London), when a young woman got on telling the driver that one of the 450s going the other way had ‘knocked a bloke off his bike’ – this came as no surprise to us having seen the minuscule bike lanes down and up the hills so far. We were pleased to hear that he’d got up and walked on but not nice for anyone. However the 450 was not to stay on Central Hill (where lurks a secret bunker apparently) but turned down Hermitage Road.
(The secret bunker, by the way, is not the only dark part of Lambeth’s history hereabouts: there used to be a notorious children’s home where the children were not well treated also.)

The Hermitage Road turn-off was to serve a little corner of Norwood, and serve it did with passengers boarding all around the Upper Norwood Recreation Ground where the bus does a tour.  Quite remote from railways and busy roads, this seems a quiet area of what is essentially Inner London.  Jo spotted the Capital Ring Walk signs, which I will leave a more experienced blogger to describe in more detail.

We continued uphill (yes: to use that cliché, this was a real roller coaster of a ride) crossing Beulah Hill and down the other side known as Spa Hill. We had just returned from Dorset where out in the country they warn you of  ‘Blind Summits’ and this was one such. As we descended the hill the houses got much smaller and more modest – none the less attractive for that – and it was really refreshing to be approaching Croydon by the back streets in the diamond shaped area between the more usual main routes.  Beulah Crescent turned out to be two crescents forming a circle – nice town planning someone.

We did surface briefly, so to speak, at Thornton Heath, where shoppers for Tesco’s (some difference of opinion here – Jo seeming to favour treating Tesco’s name as though a potato plural) got on and off and we passed the station – quite handsome but in need of a little TLC.

Back in the smaller roads off Belsham Lane we spotted a rather grand lodge which looked as though it might have been a workhouse but later research indicated is in fact the lodge entrance (now in private hands) to Queen’s Road cemetery, the original burial place for the people of Croydon – now full, so there are no longer burials there.

This last stretch into Croydon proved to be the most tricky – somewhere along Windmill Road was a major building site and three or four large lorries were trying to leave, bringing the traffic in what is quite a narrow stretch to a standstill. The bus was also being bullied by an ice-cream van, but we eventually succeeded in getting out and turning sharp right at the major 5 way junction and down the end of Whitehorse Road.  The fenced-off empty plot mysteriously dubbed ‘IYLO’ has, I suspect, gone into administration, so what was planned to be a 35 storey block has stalled. A nearby café called ‘Doodlebuds’ seemed a good play on words and reminded us of how Croydon had suffered from the Luftwaffe raids, leading to its characteristic modern rebuilt look….

So there we were, back at West Croydon station just under an hour from leaving Sydenham and still full of people, which as Mary remarked is quite unusual as it’s normally only us left to the bitter end – no bitter end this but a very sweet ending for a charming and useful service.

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