High Street 2012 15) STRATFORD HIGH STREET (east) Greenway to Great Eastern Road
Is there a less High Street-y High Street in the country than Stratford's? No department stores, not a single high street chain, in fact barely even a shop in sight. You might just be able to buy a Mars Bar or get your hair cut, but don't count on much more than that. Instead Stratford High Street is little more than a fast track east, an ex-industrial thoroughfare, a road in transition. Few hang around to find out more.
The nicest building along here is the Yardley factory, a creamy lido-style Art Deco structure, blessed by an attractive "Lavender Girls" mural on the wall above the entrance [photo]. Its location by the Greenway seems a strange place to base a perfumier - beside a none too fragrant river and a stinky sewer - but back in 1903 it made perfect scents. Your great gran no doubt daubed herself with the company's finest flowery essence, once produced and packed herein (until Yardley moved out to new premises beside the Wickford bypass in the 1960s). The old building looks like being a rare survivor of Stratford's pre-Olympic goldrush, its shell now standing alone in a sea of high-rise development (good grief!blimey!). A few metres further west and the Lavender Girls would have been absorbed by the 2012 security frisking zone, but instead their smiling Cockney faces should remind international visitors that not everything round here is shiny and fresh.
The area seems as yet undecided whether it's serving the old community or the new. There are still sufficient grease-covered workers to support a greasy spoon or two, plus the obligatory betting shop and fried chicken dispensary. Giuseppe's barbers shop struggles on, though judging by the photo of a moustached model in the window this hairdresser hasn't trimmed any locks since the Seventies [photo]. Local ladies can sometimes be seen puffing and gossiping outside the entrance to the Gala Bingo Hall, before vanishing swiftly back inside for another eyes down. But facilities are thinning out - there's just the one garage now and only a single pub - as the street's upmarket transformation begins to plays out. The Labour Party have seemingly given up, as a half-vanished sign in front of their former West Ham HQ bears witness.
As Stratford nears, the older buildings stand firm against the modern onslaught. Stratford Market station hasn't seen a train for 50 years but the southern pavement still diverts beneath its litter-strewn urine-stained Victorian portal. The closed down nightclub opposite is the StratfordRex, born as a three-thousand seat Theatre and Opera House (opera in Stratford! How things change!) before metamorphosing into an Art Deco cinema. And some architect had fun decorating the front of Essex House [photo], topped off with three rampant griffins, not that anybody ever thinks to look up and notice. Yes, those really are palm trees down the centre of the road [photo], plus a few shiny metal sculptures for good measure to celebrate the area's inherent Newham-ness. But there's still nowhere to buy bread, furniture or shoes. Keep walking, genuine High Street approaching.
four local sights » Holiday Inn Express: It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to stay here, on Stratford High Street, no matter how "vibrant" the website claims the area is. This identikit hostel may be ideally situated for the Olympic Park, but I can't believe local construction workers get paid enough to stay overnight. » Pie Crust Cafe: One of my readers recommends checking out the Pie Crust. "It's a place that I love very much. A small run down looking cafe serving Thai dishes alongside the usual bacon and eggs. Run by friendly Thais the place is decorated with golfing trophies, colourful Thai pictures and a British Rail clock. Nothing beats a hot plate of chilli beef and onions with rice on a damp and cold Saturday morning. Funnily enough it does not seem to serve many pies. Kind of opposite the Holiday Inn, it is quite easy to miss. It is mostly frequented by local builders and is by far the best place to eat in Stratford."[photo] » Log Cabin: Former coaching inn, now a forlorn semi-boarded-up pub with drooping green and gold sunshades [photo]. Wholly inappropriate black and white photos of grinning Cockneyfolk fill each first floor window. » Greenwich meridian: There's a plaque in the pavement on Stratford bridge, above the Jubilee line, marking passage from the western to the eastern hemisphere. There's no such plaque on the Bingo Hall on the opposite side of the street (they don't do zero, obviously).