Square Routes: Day 10 x 10 Bus 100: Shadwell - Elephant & Castle
Location: London east, inner
Length of journey: 6 miles, 40 minutes
And finally, route 100 - possibly the bendiest bus route in London. I don't think I've ever been driven around quite so many corners as I was on this particular bus journey. Our little single decker snaked through Shadwell, wriggled through Wapping, curled through the City and finally wound up at the Elephant. And it all began down one of the most infamous streets in East London.
The 'Battle of Cable Street' was a pre-war watershed in the British fight against facsism. Back in October 1936 Sir Oswald Mosley aimed to stir up racial tension by rallying his loyal Blackshirts for a march through the Jewish East End of London. But he had reckoned without the strength of feeling of ordinary Londoners who were determined that the march should not pass. They set up barricade after barricade down Cable Street using bricks, barrels, corrugated iron, paving stones, timber planks and a builder's lorry. A pitched battle was fought, not against the fascists but against the police who had come to bring order to the streets. Stones were thrown, batons were raised and several participants were either injured or arrested. The protest had the desired outcome, however, and Mosley's march was re-routed west into the City where it soon dispersed. Sir Oswald would no doubt be appalled by modern Shadwell and its integrated multi-ethnic mix. The Itthadi Supermarket now stands side by side with Peter's Pie and Mash, and a giantmural on the side of the Old Town Hall commemorates the day the flames of intolerance were snuffed out.
We headed south into Wapping past the monolithic headquarters of News International and the failed retail centre at Tobacco Dock. Where Shadwell had been poor, Wapping was bubbling over with unexpected affluence. The bus squeezed down narrow cobbled streets, the old dockland wharves to either side now converted en masse into elegant yuppie housing. Pirates used to be executed round here, now estate agents sell off studio flats for criminal amounts. Remind me to come back and blog about Wapping properly sometime, it's a fascinating and historic place.
The City of London may only cover one square mile, but our journey aboard the 100 appeared to thread around most of it. To our right the Royal Mint, to our left the Tower of London, to our left the Gherkin, to our right the Barbican, to our left the Museum of London, to our right St Paul's Cathedral, and to our left an enormous crane blocking the road while topping out yet another enormous new office block. The direct route from Commercial Road to Blackfriars Bridge would have been far quicker, but not half as interesting.
We then began our final descent into South London, speeding past Southwark station, rounding St George's Circus and lurching towards our destination at Elephant and Castle. Words cannot describe the awfulness of the shopping centre here (except for words such as 'hideous', 'over-pink' and 'poverty-stricken'). The market clinging to the pavement outside the main entrance was wretched enough but the bleak selection of shops inside was even worse, reminiscent of some struggling postwar Eastern European state. The quicker they knock this place down the better, although I believe 2010 is the earliest likely date. I had to leave - my tenth and final Square Route had finally driven me round the bend.