I didn't move to Bow for the shopping. My local retail hub is Bromley High Street, that's Bromley-by-Bow, not the economically more important centre in SE London. Bromley High Street used to be busy, say 100 years ago, with a thriving collection of shops based around a cobbled triangle. A florist, a tobacconist, a greengrocer, a baker, a hairdresser, a toy dealer, a bootmaker, a laundresss, an undertaker, an umbrella maker and a draper, all these plied their trades alongside Henry Tovey's coffee rooms, Simon Samuels' fried fish shop and John Felton's diner. They're long gone, of course, and so is almost everything that used to be here. The Rose and Crownpub held out until2006, and still stands only because it's a Grade II listed building. Everything else was demolished after the war, some time after I'd say, and replaced by something aspirational but hideous.
The planners must have had high hopes for Stroudley Walk. The centrepiece of a new estate, they planned for two arcades of shops as well as a central market. The feature colour was brown, mostly brown brick, with the new shops shielded behind rows of thick brick arches. Were this anywhere posh you might be able to call them arcades, but these are merely dingy shields, making it harder than necessary to read the names of the shops behind. On top they built flats, again mostly brown, and fairly utilitarian. And outside they left a windswept brown space, a pedestrian zone far wider than necessary, plus a substantial dedicated area for the creation of a market. If that ever materialised it's long gone now, with metal studs in the tarmac all that remains to delineate an absence of stalls. Only one stallholder ever turns up these days, selling scant fruit and veg beneath an awning opposite the Post Office. As postwar regeneration projects go, it's fairly disastrous. [8 photos]
A separate row of shops grew up below the tower block, Warren House, this built on the site of Bromley's former police station. Outside the dry cleaners there used to be a drinking fountain and a water trough, and if you go back to the 1700s a pillory and the village bowling green! But any sense of community focus is long gone now. Nobody hangs around Stroudley Walk unless they need to, or they're selling something, or they're propped up with a can of cheap alcohol near the bookies. Most walk straight through on their way to somewhere else, like Bow Road at the end of the street, or their home in one of the ex council flats hereabouts. Blokes with staffies in tow, kids in ribbed black anoraks riding bikes, elderly gentlemen with sticks, faceless ladies, and of course me, because they're my local shops too.
Stroudley Walk - Traders' Directory
2-4Post Office This is a hideous building, quite the shabbiest Post Office I've ever had to queue in. The feature colour is 1970s brown, and the interior feels like some kind of bunker in a youth centre. It is of course fantastic for Bromley-by-Bow that this service exists, both for the boost its presence brings to local traders and for the free cashpoint, but less great that there are imminent plans to relocate to back of the Nisa supermarket on Bow Road. 6Bow Fish and Chips I used to pop in here every fortnight or so for wrapped fish and fried potato doused in vinegar substitute, yum, but I gave up a few years back, partly because of my diet but mostly because I was no longer convinced I was eating cod. 8RSA Cash & Carry This used to be the Rose and Crown pub. Not so many Bromley-by-Bow people drink any more, but they can now buy gizzard, breeder, hen and sheep on the premises. 10-12Fahima Grocers Halal meat and fish, sure, but also useful stuff in tins.
16Ladbrokes At the heart of any down at heel neighbourhood there's a betting shop, this one often with an inebriate band of punters gathered outside to merry the day away. 18Bow Pharmacy I'm in here regularly to pick up my prescriptions. I'm invariably the only customer wearing cufflinks. I'll not hear a word said against the place. 20Quix Newsagents Rebranded as a "Best-One", according to the temporary banner outside, but that's been there for a while and no imminent upgrade of facilities is apparent. Photocopier Service available. Currently selling Weetabix for 89p, if you're quick. 22Local People Local Jobs Until fairly recently this was a health clinic, but now it's a community job centre run by my local doctor's surgery. Because E3 needs places to help you with your CV more than it needs wellness technicians. 24Bromley Furniture IKEA this ain't, but if you need a chair for your bedsit or a bit of carpet or a chipboard occasional table then the bloke sat right at the back would love to see a customer. 26Ahmeds Bakers Delight There may be two apostrophes missing but this corner shop sells a decent range of home baked treats, and bread, and Halal stuff, and there's a chiller full of Snapple at the back.
30Bow Tandoori It won't be appearing in Time Out any time soon, but every parade needs an Indian takeaway, and this is ours. 32-40Stroudley Walk Health Centre This community health hub is a relatively recent initiative, open for clinics and advice for 12 hours every weekday plus a bit of Saturday, and is probably where local residents should be going rather than turning up at A&E with a sniffle.
31Streets of Growth "A social enterprise charity specialising in engaging youth and young adults away from educational and career drop-out, postcode territorialism, group/gang violence, criminality, drugs, and associated behaviours leading to harm, poverty, neighbourhood dysfunction and dependency." You'd never have guessed that from the title. 33Perfect Fried Chicken It's not, I bet, but I've never risked it. 35 Empty, awaiting some social entrepreneur to come along and make their mark (if you're interested?) 37Choice Accessories A beacon of light in the dark parade, selling tins and tubs and toys and toasters and toilet rolls to a local clientele who very much appreciate the bargain basement prices. 39MA Halal Cash and Carry Stroudley Walk no longer has a supermarket as such, but here's another grocery outlet selling bags of rice rather than baked beans, and not yet put out of business by the Tesco Superstore across the A12.
And yes, there are of course plans to redevelopStroudley Walk, how could there not be? All the premises from 2 to 26 will survive, but the two southern blocks will be demolished to be replaced by flats. The space where the market stall was supposed to go becomes flats too, which would be an eminently more sensible use of space, as does some of the patch of grass opposite. Tenants in Warren House would be moved out so that their tower block could be replaced by something newer and taller, and the retail units out front would be replaced. Anywhere else this might worry me, but the redevelopment body here are PoplarHARCA, the local Housing and Regeneration Community Association, and they have a fairly good record on these things. Plus nothing's happened yet. Plus, quite frankly, Stroudley Walk could do with a decent masterplan after the brown brick mess imposed by well-meaning architects fifty years ago. Just, please, nothing so brilliant that all the rest of London wants to move in.