diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 28, 2020

[You may want to click here to listen to two minutes of countdown music while reading today's post]

The radio programme Pick of the Pops has been running, on and off, since 1955.

It's been on Radio 2 since 1997 and has been presented over the years by Alan Freeman, Dale Winton, Tony Blackburn and (currently) Paul Gambaccini. If you're not familiar with the format it's basically two Top 20 rundowns from two vintage years, one hour each, along with some erudite commentary. Here are the pairs of years picked in this month's programmes...

 7th November: 1986 and 1999
14th November: 1978 and 1989
21st November: 1981 and 1993
28th November: 1983 and 1994

As a regular listener I've long wondered whether there's a pattern to the years chosen, how often they repeat and what the range spanned is. So I decided to undertake some in-depth research, checking back through the archive on BBC Sounds and tallying all the years played.

Here's what I found by analysing all of the shows broadcast in 2020.
(other than the week they did the album special and not including 19th and 26th December because they haven't announced those yet)



Finding number 1: the range of years picked in 2020 runs from 1963 to 2000
Finding number 2: every year from 1963 to 2000 was picked except 1974 and 1996
Finding number 3: every year from 1976 to 1993 was picked at least three times
Finding number 4: the only years to be picked five times were 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1989
Finding number 5: the 1980s were picked 43% of the time (the 1970s 24%, the 1990s 19% and the 1960s 13%)

Pick of the Pops appears to have a firm 1980s bias. This won't always have been the case, because time moves on year by year, but at present the music you're most likely to hear is thirty-something years old. The producers could have picked every year from 1957 to 2006 twice if they'd wanted, but instead they bunched up in the middle. Nothing more than 57 years old got played, ditto nothing younger than 20, because Radio 2 know their target audience.

But I was fairly certain things hadn't always been like this and that the 60s and 70s used to appear rather more frequently. So I scoured back even further, thanking the BBC archive for being so comprehensive, and tallied all the shows from the last five years. It took a while.



Finding number 1: the range picked over the last five years runs from 1957 to 2006
Finding number 2: every year from 1957 to 2006 was picked except 2001
Finding number 3: every year from 1964 to 1992 was picked at least ten times
Finding number 4: the only years to be picked twenty times were 1982 and 1984
Finding number 5: the 1980s were picked 34% of the time (the 1970s 30%, the 1960s 19%, the 1990s 14% and the 1950s and 2000s 2% apiece)

The 1980s have been the preferred decade for a while, but the 1970s used to be a lot closer behind. Over the last few years the 1990s have comfortably leapfrogged the 1960s. The 1950s used to be on PotP's radar but they haven't appeared on the show since September 2017. And although the producers flirted briefly with the 21st century three years ago they haven't nudged past 2000 since. When you have an hour of radio to fill, a random week in 2005 simply doesn't cut it.

The bottom line is that Pick of the Pops almost always plays music from between 55 and 25 years ago. Currently that means the Beatles to Take That, but it used to mean Elvis to Madonna and before long it'll be Slade to the Spice Girls.

Next I investigated the gap between the two years played in each show. It's often just over ten years.

 7th November: 1986 and 1999 (13 years)
14th November: 1978 and 1989 (11 years)
21st November: 1981 and 1993 (12 years)
28th November: 1983 and 1994 (11 years)

Over the last half-decade the average gap between part 1 and part 2 has been 14 years. Two-thirds of the time it's between 7 and 17 years. But there was a show in July 2016 when the chosen years (1977 and 1981) were only four years apart, and another in November 2017 (1960 and 2004) when the gap was as wide as 44.

Finally I investigated the interval between successive reappearances of each individual year, and I can confirm there isn't a regular pattern. Today's show features 1983 and 1994, for example, but whereas 1983 was last on the show in August, 1994 hasn't been played since September last year.

But the producers do generally attempt to space things out. Here are the last fifteen appearances of 1986.

2016: February, July, October
2017: January, April, December
2018: March, June, September
2019: June, September, December
2020: May, August, November

Notice how every month of 1986 appeared at least once, which meant a different selection from the Top 20 could be played each time. Also notice how each appearance tended to happen three months after the last, with a longer gap every so often to provide some balance. But I should say that other years haven't generally been as well-behaved as 1986, so for example 1992 popped up in March 2018 and March 2019, and then again in August 2019 and August 2020.

My research suggests there's nothing predictable about all of this, so it's only the producers who can determine for certain which two years will be chosen next week. But there is some method to the apparent madness regarding which Pops are Picked, cunningly ensuring that the same tunes don't come round too often. Expect Billy Joel and Baby D to top the charts this afternoon.

 Friday, November 27, 2020

Join me for a walk around the E13 postcode boundary.

E15 E7 
 
 E13 
 
 E6 
 E16 

Plaistow's not everyone's idea of fun, but a 6½ mile clockwise circumnavigation isn't entirely without interest. I'll kick off at the tube station (halfway down the left-hand edge) to give you a vague hope of following the route.

n.b. You can see postcode boundaries by typing a postcode district into Google and checking the associated map. But these aren't always 100% accurate around the edges - E13's red line isn't - so Streetmap is usually a more reliable option.

Plaistow tube station's ticket hall is in E13 but its platforms are in E15. This isn't as perverse as it sounds. Postcodes are a Royal Mail invention based on street frontage and delivery rounds, so geographical anomalies are commonplace. A further complication in this case is the original parish boundary between Stratford and Plaistow which was particularly tortuous in these parts, which is why we're about to set off on a convoluted zigzag through the backstreets. A long Victorian terrace, a jolly primary school, a modern estate centred around a tower block and a spit'n'sawdust pub are all ticked off in a handful of minutes.

E15E7



Our first postcode triple point is at the southeastern corner of West Ham Park. Half the Ornamental Gardens (plus Portway) are in E15, the other half (plus Upton Lane) are in E6. Trying to follow this by reading streetsigns bolted to walls and railings isn't always easy. This crossroads was once known as Upton Cross, back when a handful of houses formed the hamlet of Upton close by, but terraces for 19th century workers soon replaced fields with an amorphous residential grid.

We follow Plashet Road east - the easiest part of the entire walk to navigate. A huge gurdwara presents a warehouse-like facade on one side, a block of flats replaces an unnecessary pub on the other. Much of the street is lined by small shops, providing several opportunities to select neatly-arranged fruit and veg from rows of labelled boxes. All kinds of grilled food are available, or normally are, from takeaways with Deliveroo accounts in lieu of websites. Carpets are easier to obtain than croissants. Chain stores expressed no interest.

E7E6



The switch from Forest Gate to East Ham comes outside the Post Office on Green Street. This is by far the busiest street on the postcode boundary, bustlingwise, now the retail heart of a thriving Asian community. There are long queues for the bank (E6) if not for the jewellers (E7). Upton Park is E13's second tube station, but only because its entrance is on the western side of the road. Queen's Market is open for the sale of mostly food, including exotic vegetables and recently-slaughtered meat, beneath a variety of jarringly postwar canopies. One Pound Fish Man no longer works here. [photo]

Green Street was once the dividing line between the boroughs of West Ham and East Ham, which is precisely why the two sides of the road have different postcodes. But one rectangular chunk of East Ham still has the 'wrong' postcode because it's where West Ham football ground used to stand. Upton Park stadium was demolished in 2017, and pitch and stands have now (mostly) been replaced with tediously vernacular brick flats, but the private road through the development still bears an anachronistic E13 designation.

The dividing line continues past the World Cup statue down Boundary Road. It's well named. By the time it reaches the Greenway it's been downgraded to Boundary Lane, for buses and hospital traffic only, because Newham General is squished into the corner of the postcode. It then downgrades again to a minor footpath, as it has been since all of this was undeveloped Plaistow Marshes. The path ends abruptly at the A13, now a thundering dual carriageway and the site of our next postcode triple point.

E6E16



The walk alongside the arterial is not pleasant so Newham have provided a parallel alleyway overlooked by a broken CCTV camera. This eventually emerges into the grounds of Newham Leisure Centre, a recreational facility from the warehouse school of architecture, whose car park is much busier than current lockdown rules would suggest. From here the boundary follows Chadwin Road, then bulges slightly to encompass the end of Cumberland Road. It was here at number 200, in a villa of finer standing than its neighbours, that actress Honor Blackman was born. I doubt there was a Porsche parked outside in her time, but 007's girl once lived in E13 in the last house before the A13. [photo]

Beyond New Barn Street the postcode boundary becomes contorted again, encompassing the tower block at Stubbs Point but not Star Lane and all points south. Walking the edge of E13 hereabouts involves a lot of doubling back, for example to take in Ohio Road but avoid Chargeable Street, confirming that this is not a rational journey anyone should be making. All you need to do now is keep the recreation ground on your left and the convent on your right and before long you'll be approaching the final triple point at the end of Grange Road.

E16E15



E13, E15 and E16 merge silently outside the local chippy. But the Grange is under new management - a team are currently ripping the insides out - and exterior signage suggests they intend to pivot from Fish/Kebab/Chicken/Sausage/Burger/Pizza to Doner/Burger/Wrap/Chicken Grill. Such is progress. To continue you'll have to take a hike across Memorial Recreation Ground because the cemetery has no back gate, then climb the new steps to cross the Greenway. Expect to hear the announcements at Plaistow station long before you reach the entrance, especially now Newham have blocked off the car park to build a 23-storey tower.

Which brings us back to where we started, with E13 fully circumnavigated. Maybe don't try this where you live.

 Thursday, November 26, 2020

UKay-to-Z (D)

It's time once again for my regular feature in which I revisit towns and cities across the UK and tell you something about them I didn't tell you last time. This time it's the letter D which'll take us travelling far across England (but sadly not to the other home nations as I've never been to Denbigh, Derry or Dundee).



1) Darlington (2017)
It was nigh dark by the time I arrived because I'd spent most of my day elsewhere, so by the time I'd crossed the Skerne the town centre was closing down for the evening. I walked through the covered market, which'd pretty much gone home, and admired the slits of light emanating from the modernist town hall. I walked the Rows, explored the alleyways through to Skinnergate and headed back to the station for the half five train. This eventually arrived but then didn't move for an hour (due to line damage ahead) so we were all bundled into coaches and shipped to York. I'd have enjoyed the journey more if it hadn't been dark. Here we caught the train we'd previously been stuck behind, and by the time we reached King's Cross we were 255 minutes late. This fiasco somewhat clouded my opinions of Darlington.

2) Dartford (2010)
I didn't mean to go to Dartford but the bus terminated short. I remember it was cold and wet, it being the gap between Christmas and New Year, so I failed to venture very far. I spent some time attempting to buy a newspaper but it was late in the day and the newsagents were down to stacks of tabloids, which I thought summed the town up well. I liked Dartford better when I came back in the summer.



3) Dawlish (2017)
I only spent an hour and a half in lovely Dawlish, and pretty much everything I did I've already blogged. But I didn't mention the lacklustre crazy golf course where the town's name is picked out in white and green gravel, nor the jaunty Blenheim B&B on the seafront, nor the fact that I tucked into a pasty before diving into my vanilla cornet with a dollop of thick Devon cream dropped on top. Take everything else as read.

4) Deal (2013)
Deal has a historic maritime vibe, as befits a town made rich on the spoils of cross-Channel trade. Homes on the seafront may be bright pink or bright yellow with large upper windows for ship-spotting, while the narrow lanes behind are packed with desirable mercantile terraces. I guzzled fish and chips at the end of the concrete pier while watching the RNLI rescuing an overturned boat. The old Regent cinema was up for sale (and is still empty because the new buyers have failed to meet a renovation deadline). There are fine views of Ramsgate from the top of the Timeball Tower. The beach is a bit shingly, and Sandwich is unarguably prettier, but there are far worse days out.



5) Derby (2019)
On my first visit to Derby I only had 20 minutes to explore the city centre so I thought I'd make more time on my second. This may have been a mistake. The Silk Mill renovations still weren't complete, the market was shuttered and the bland stepped terrace overlooking the river Derwent was amok with local youth and messy geese. Such are the perils of a pre-booked rail ticket because I'd happily have left Derby an hour earlier.

6) Didcot (2014)
There are more sensible things to do than attempting to walk round the perimeter of a power station whose cooling towers are due to be demolished tomorrow morning. As a result I have lots of photos with the bottoms of those towers obscured by trees, fences, warehouses, engine sheds and a sign saying 'Welcome to Didcot A', but I take comfort from the fact it's impossible to take those photos any more. The more sensible thing to do was of course to take a spin round Didcot Railway Centre, which involved hitching a ride on a railcar, watching the stripping of a steam engine and risking a weak cuppa in the cafe.



7) Diss (2013)
I'm often in Diss, it being the most convenient bridgehead to the parental home, although we don't normally go for a walk through the town. But we did that particular Thursday afternoon, admiring some of the backstreets and stopping for soup in the bookshop cafe overlooking the mere. You can see why Betjeman liked the place. Then we headed out to the auctioneers where it was preview day so the yard and storerooms were brimming over with objects ranging from proper antiques to junk. The auction rooms had appeared on Bargain Hunt the day before which may have explained why it was so busy, or maybe there's nothing much else to do round here. I see in my diary I described Diss as "not quite bloggable" so I'm pleased to have finally proved that wrong.

8) Dorchester (2015)
If you're in town you simply must drop in, said Old Friends. So after I'd dashed round the museum and gawped open-mouthed at Poundbury I simply did. Blimey they'd gone up in the world, because flogging a terrace in Lewisham allows you to buy a capacious period townhouse in downtown Dorset. You must join us for lunch, they said, which was lovely of them... but then they served up three foodstuffs I absolutely detest and I had no polite choice but to tuck in. I must have been convincing because they offered seconds, but this time I was able to decline. I'd never have got out to Maiden Castle and Hardy's Cottage without them, cheers, but I haven't touched a slice of quiche since.



9) Dunstable (2019)
It's hard to believe that only last autumn I had the freedom to go to a minor provincial town for entirely non-essential reasons. I wrung two posts out of my day trip to Dunstable, so there's not much left I haven't written about, but...
a) A mobility scooter had been parked outside Auntie Claudette's greengrocers
b) One of the town's 25th anniversary sculptures is of a whimsical BMX bike
c) Dunstable Downs features lynchett strips and a medieval rabbit warren

10) Durham (2015)
It's the cathedral everyone remembers, but personally I loved Dunelm House, the brutalist Student Union building perched high above the swirling river Wear. The engineer Ove Arup designed it in the 1960s in combination with the sleek concrete span of Kingsgate Bridge alongside, and loved it so much he asked to have his ashes scattered here. The university would love to demolish the building, claiming it's now unfit for purpose, but have thus far been thwarted by a pesky Grade I listing. I hope it's still there the next time I go back because I'd love to admire it in conditions other than relentless rain.

 Wednesday, November 25, 2020

This metal barrier has appeared alongside the A12 dual carriageway near Bromley-by-Bow station.



That's pretty, I thought. I guess it's there as to act as a sound barrier.

Thankfully a press release came along to tell me more, and apparently this is something very special.
New A12 noise barrier a first for the UK
A new barrier intended to dramatically reduce the impact of traffic noise on passers-by has been fitted on the A12, next to Bromley-by-Bow station.
I'm not sure about "dramatically", it doesn't go much above head height and is only 30m long.
The ‘Silk Metal’ noise resistant material from which the barrier is made makes it the first of its kind in the UK. The installation’s unique design intends for it to also function as a public artwork.
Noise barriers have been tried on the A12 before. A much longer one was erected beneath the Balfron Tower fifty years ago, although it's ugly as hell and could never be decribed as an artwork.
The project, led by Poplar HARCA and funded by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and TfL, aims to enhance the area for people walking and cycling in the area.
It won't help cyclists unless they're riding on the pavement.


Noise levels on the busy road, which sees more than 15 million vehicles moving along it every year, have been found to consistently exceed 78 decibels by The University of East London. This puts the A12 in the most severe category for noise pollution, according to the World Health Organisation and the Department for the Environment.
The Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road has been here for 50 years so no special research should have been necessary. It is very noisy though.
Local people surveyed and who took part in focus groups scored road noise as a ‘highly irritable source of noise’ in Bromley-by-Bow.
That's because road noise is a highly irritable source of noise, no focus groups required.
Fran Jefcoate, a local resident who took part in the consultation, said of the stretch of road: “You can’t have a conversation with the person next to you, let alone make a phone call because the traffic noise makes it impossible to hear. I hope the barrier makes it better for anyone who uses this stretch of pavement.”
Fran is correct. I always have to turn up the volume on my headphones when I walk along the A12, it's far worse than walking anywhere else. And the barrier does genuinely help. Yesterday's Radio 4 Afternoon Play went from inaudible to audible when I walked behind it.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “This innovative barrier should serve as a comfort to residents passing through the area who suffer from excessive noise emanating from the A12. We have listened to residents who have complained about the level of noise pollution and if the scheme is successful it could be rolled out elsewhere in Tower Hamlets.”
The barrier isn't going to be much of a comfort. It protects 30m of a mile-long pavement. It's not in front of any flats nor outside the tube station, it only protects the entrance to a Sainsbury's Local. For those walking past it might aid fifteen seconds of conversation. The barrier is a tiny sticking plaster on a massive problem.
Should public perception of noise pollution be found to reduce because of the barrier, it could be extended or replicated elsewhere on the A12, throughout London and the UK.
It sounds like they intend to reconvene their focus groups and ask if the barrier has helped with noise reduction, and people are bound to say yes because it's a noise barrier, despite hardly any of them having stood behind it, and someone's going to use that as an excuse to roll out more of this barrier stuff. Good luck finding the money to protect both sides of the A12. It is very pretty though.

A byproduct of my decade-long library investigation was the opportunity to check the evolution of the 33 London borough websites.

My 2010 post included links to the webpages where each borough listed their public libraries, so the first thing I did in 2020 was click each one. Unsurprisingly most of those clicks failed. Eight of the boroughs told me "Page not found", two gave me a 404 error and four took me to the homepage.

I also got...
» Something has gone wrong
» Sorry - page not found
» Sorry - the page could not be found
» Sorry, something’s gone wrong
» Sorry, we couldn't find that page
» The connection has timed out
» The page you requested cannot be found
» The requested page could not be found
» The specified URL cannot be found
» You are not authorized to access this page (Croydon)
» Warning: Potential Security Risk Ahead (Hounslow)

You'd expect public service websites to have updated in the last ten years, what with the need to be mobile-friendly, and indeed they have. Every single one of the boroughs now lists their libraries on a different URL to that used in 2010. But not every borough makes it easy to get there. So special praise to the eight boroughs who forwarded me to the correct webpage, namely Camden, Haringey, Hillingdon, Kensington & Chelsea, Merton, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster. Some IT teams still have their long-term heads screwed on.

Jumping ahead to 2020, four boroughs have particularly unimpressive library lists...

Tower Hamlets has been using ideastore.co.uk for more than a decade, which is probably why their 2010 link still worked. But they're also the only London borough not to provide a full list of their 2020 libraries (because all mention of those closed during the pandemic has been removed).
Bromley chooses not to list its libraries on its own website because it's outsourced them all to Better, which means locations and opening hours can only be found on the Better website instead.
Sutton's list of libraries isn't on its own website, it's at the wilfully unfriendly URL llc.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/sutton/?rm=LIBRARIES0|||1|||1|||true. They could hide this gubbins if they wanted to but no, Sutton drags you under the bonnet.
Greenwich's Libraries page is a minimalist index optimised for mobile connections. Their directory of libraries features a map and a list of libraries BUT the list stops at 10, leaving the last two libraries (West Greenwich and Woolwich) to appear on a second page. Why not all twelve in one go? It may be 'best practice' but it's also bloody stupid impractical jobsworth muppetry.

I look forward to checking the 2020 links in 2030. I'd bet money that Sutton will fail.

 Tuesday, November 24, 2020

On 24th November 2010 I posted a Full list of London's council libraries (for future reference).

My idea was to return to the list in ten years time to see what austerity had taken away. On this blog I believe in playing the long game.

What I hadn't anticipated is that ten years later we'd be in lockdown during a pandemic and thus most libraries would be temporarily closed. But with the aid of council websites and wider news services I think I've managed to work out which London libraries are still functional, which have changed and which have permanently expired. In good news, a lot fewer libraries than anticipated have bitten the dust.

Let's start with the good guys (most libraries first).

Boroughs with the same libraries as 2010
Hillingdon (17): Botwell Green, Charville, Eastcote, Harefield, Harlington, Hayes End, Ickenham, Manor Farm, Northwood Hills, Northwood, Oak Farm, Ruislip Manor, South Ruislip, Uxbridge, West Drayton, Yeading, Yiewsley
Croydon (14): Central, Ashburton, Bradmore Green, Broad Green, Coulsdon, New Addington, Norbury, Purley, Sanderstead, Selsdon, Shirley, South Norwood, Thornton Heath, Upper Norwood
Redbridge (12): Aldersbrook, Clayhall, Fulwell Cross, Gants Hill, Goodmayes, Hainault, Ilford, Keith Axon, Seven Kings, South Woodford, Wanstead, Woodford Green
Hounslow (11): Beavers, Bedfont, Brentford, Chiswick, Cranford, Feltham, Hanworth, Heston, Hounslow, Isleworth, Osterley
Wandsworth (11): Balham, Battersea, Battersea Park, Earlsfield, Northcote, Putney, Roehampton, Southfields, Tooting, Wandsworth Town, York Gardens
Havering (10): Central, Collier Row, Elm Park, Gidea Park, Harold Hill, Harold Wood, Hornchurch, Rainham, South Hornchurch, Upminster
Haringey (9): Wood Green; Alexandra Park, Coombes Croft, Highgate, Hornsey, Marcus Garvey, Muswell Hill, St Ann's, Stroud Green
Kingston (7): Hook and Chessington, Kingston, New Malden, Old Malden, Surbiton, Tolworth, Tudor Drive
Kensington & Chelsea (6): Chelsea, Kensington Central, North Kensington, Brompton, Notting Hill Gate, Kensal Green


Just nine (out of 33) boroughs have kept open all the libraries they had ten years ago. They could have reduced opening hours and curtailed services, of course, so it may not all be good news, but because I'm counting libraries they all score top marks. I'd argue that boroughs at the foot of the list had an easier job, having so few libraries open to start with, so especially well done to Hillingdon at the top for keeping so many buildings open.

Some boroughs have replaced libraries to mantain their overall total.

Boroughs with the same number of libraries as 2010
Westminster (13): Charing Cross, Church Street, Express, Little Venice Sports Centre, Maida Vale, Marylebone, Mayfair, Paddington, Pimlico, Reference, Queen's Park, St John's Wood, Victoria
Newham (10): Beckton, Canning Town, Custom House, East Ham, The Gate, Green Street, Manor Park, North Woolwich, Plaistow, Stratford
Islington (10): Archway, Central, Finsbury, Cat and Mouse, Lewis Carroll, Mildmay, N4, North, South, West
Lambeth (9): Brixton, Carnegie, Clapham, Durning, Minet, South Lambeth, Streatham, Waterloo, West Norwood
Merton (7): Colliers Wood, Mitcham, Morden, Pollards Hill, Raynes Park, West Barnes, Wimbledon
Hammersmith & Fulham (6): Askew Road, Avonmore, Hammersmith, Fulham, Hurlingham, Shepherds Bush
City of London (4): Barbican, Artizan Street, Guildhall, Shoe Lane


Express is a self-service replacement for St James's. Cat and Mouse used to be John Barnes, Colliers Wood used to be Donald Hope and Artizan Street used to be Camomile Street. Hammersmith & Fulham shifted two libraries into other buildings, replacing Barons Court with Avonmore and Sands End with Hurlingham Academy. Newham relocated three of its libraries to new premises. As for Lambeth, their long term rationalisation plan involved co-locating two libraries with other services, which was very much a step down. Simply counting libraries can hide a multitude of cuts.

Next, boroughs who couldn't afford to keep all their libraries on.

Boroughs who've created 'community libraries' since 2010
Enfield (4+13): Edmonton Green, Enfield Town, Ordnance Road, Palmers Green; Angel Raynham, Bowes Road, Bullsmoor, Enfield Highway, Enfield Island Village, Fore Street, John Jackson, Millfield House, Oakwood, Ponders End, Ridge Avenue, Southgate Circus, Winchmore Hill
Lewisham (4+8): Catford, Deptford, Downham, Lewisham; Blackheath Village; Crofton Park, Forest Hill, Grove Park, Manor House, New Cross, Sydenham, Torridon Road
Barnet (10+6): Burnt Oak, Chipping Barnet, Church End, Colindale, East Finchley, Edgware, Golders Green, Hendon, North Finchley, Osidge; Childs Hill, East Barnet, Friern Barnet, Hampstead Garden Suburb, Mill Hill, South Friern
Bexley (6+6): Central, Crayford, Erith, Sidcup, Thamesmead, Welling; Bexley Village, Blackfen, Bostall, North Heath, Slade Green, Upper Belvedere
Ealing (9+5): Acton, Ealing Central, Greenford, Jubilee Gardens, Northolt Leisure Centre, Northolt, Southall, St Bernard's Hospital, Wood End; Hanwell, Northfields, Perivale, Pitshanger, West Ealing
Waltham Forest (8+2): Hale End, Higham Hill, Lea Bridge, Leyton, Leytonstone, North Chingford, Walthamstow, Wood Street; Harrow Green, South Chingford
Hackney (7+1): Clapton, Clr James, Hackney Central, Homerton, Shoreditch, Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington; Woodberry Down


Enfield and Lewisham are kings of the spin-off, having divested themselves of the majority of their libraries since 2010. These community ventures are still part of the borough's library system but rely on volunteers to keep them afloat. Barnet and Bexley have handed over six apiece, again perhaps because they had so many libraries to start with. Ealing closed five last December and intends to reopen them in "community-managed" mode. Waltham Forest and Hackney have lost rather fewer, but in both cases have gone for a total abdication of financial responsibility.

Here come the first boroughs to have scrapped a library.

Boroughs that've closed and replaced libraries since 2010
Greenwich (12): Abbey Wood, Blackheath, Charlton, Coldharbour, Greenwich Centre, Eltham Centre, New Eltham, Plumstead, Slade, Thamesmere, West Greenwich, Woolwich [Closed: Ferrier]
Southwark (11): Blue Anchor, Brandon, Camberwell, Canada Water, Dulwich, East Street, Grove Vale, John Harvard, Kingswood, Nunhead, Peckham [Closed: Newington]


Greenwich closed a library in Kidbrooke in 2011 without providing a replacement, while Southwark closed a temporary box at Elephant and Castle in 2018. But both have also replaced library buildings so they're not as bad as the boroughs which follow. The Greenwich Centre is a modern substitute for East Greenwich, Thamesmere ends a long-running saga in SE28 and Canada Water is a state-of-the-art replacement for Rotherhithe.

Here's where things get over-colourful.

Boroughs that've closed, replaced and spun-off libraries since 2010
Brent (6+4): Ealing Road, Harlesden, Kilburn, Kingsbury, Wembley, Willesden Green; Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Preston [Closed: Neasden, Tokyngton]
Camden (9+3): Camden Town, Highgate, Holborn, Kentish Town, Kilburn, Pancras Square, Queens Crescent, Swiss Cottage, West Hamsptead; Belsize, Keats, Primrose Hill [Closed: Regent's Park]


Brent cast out six libraries in 2011 in favour of "fewer but better-resourced libraries". Four were taken on by dogged volunteers, but the two closest to the new civic centre never resurfaced. Brent's library record is not a proud one. Meanwhile Camden gained a swish new library at King's Cross but turfed out three of their smaller ventures and killed off Regent's Park altogether.

Finally, the naughty list.

Boroughs that've closed libraries since 2010
Harrow (6): Greenhill, Kenton, Pinner, Roxeth, Stanmore, Wealdstone [Closed: Bob Lawrence, Civic Centre, Hatch End, North Harrow, Rayners Lane]
Barking & Dagenham (7): Barking, Dagenham, Marks Gate, Robert Jeyes, Rush Green, Thames View, Valence [Closed: Wantz, Castle Green, Markyate]
Bromley (14): Bromley Central, Beckenham, Burnt Ash, Biggin Hill, Chislehurst, Hayes, Mottingham, Orpington, Penge, Petts Wood, Shortlands, Southborough, St Paul's Cray, West Wickham [Closed: Anerley]
Richmond (11): Castelnau, East Sheen, Hampton, Ham, Hampton Hill, Hampton Wick, Kew, Richmond, Teddington, Twickenham, Whitton [Closed: Heathfield]
Sutton (8): Carshalton, Cheam, Phoenix Centre, Sutton Central, Circle, The Life Centre, Wallington, Worcester Park [Closed: Beddington]
Tower Hamlets (7): Bow, Bethnal Green, Canary Wharf, Chrisp Street, Cubitt Town, Watney Market, Whitechapel [Closed: Dorset]


Harrow are the serial murderers of London's library system, culling one in 2013 and four more in 2015. It's not a good look. Barking & Dagenham are almost as bad, ditching two in 2012 and one in 2013. The other boroughs on this list have only closed one library, not always a significant one but a local loss all the same. Anerley 'merged' with Penge in 2014. Heathfield closed in 2011, Beddington in 2016 (and I can't find a date for Dorset).

In conclusion my figures show that London's tally of council libraries has only fallen by 17 over the last ten years. I confess that's a lot fewer than I expected would be lost when I tallied the original list, and means 95% of 2010's library total remains.

Although it's easy to blame certain councils for slimming down in lieu of their statutory duties, let's not forget that the real villain is central government for squeezing local government spending year after year after year after year. It is perhaps a miracle that so many libraries survive.

But the next decade may be tougher still, courtesy of pandemic economics, as councils struggle to provide even basic services on pared-down resources. When I return to this list in November 2030, who's to say how many libraries will have been merged, rationalised or lost to save a few hundred thousand pounds, and how many will still be a beacon of learning and culture at the heart of their communities.

 Monday, November 23, 2020

Random City of London ward (4): Queenhithe



My fourth random ward is also the smallest, indeed it may be the UK's tiniest electoral district. Queenhithe covers a mere 10 acres, plus an adjacent slice of the River Thames, and is one of the oldest parts of the capital. What's more you've all been there, as I shall attempt to demonstrate with this photograph of the ward taken from inside the ward... [pdf map]



Queenhithe itself is the City's oldest dock, thought to have been used by the Romans and definitely by the Saxons (who established a market alongside). The queen who gave her name to the dock was Matilda, the wife of Henry I, who was granted duties on all the goods landed here. For centuries that meant corn, later furs and leathers, but being upstream of London Bridge caused most of Queenhithe's trade to decline and it's been some time since boats last unloaded. What remains is the City of London's last surviving inlet, a clinkery slope exposed at low tide with damp timber posts to either side.



In 2014 a splendid mosaic was created along the harbour wall depicting two millennia of Queenhythe's history. It's both comprehensive and gorgeous, ranging from Roman chariots to the Diamond Jubilee barge, so you'll be pleased to know The Gentle Author has captured the full 20m length on his blog so you can ogle it from the comfort of home. It's not the prettiest of locations in real life, other than the cobbles down the street, the ancient inlet now overrun by a flurry of modern blocks in various shades of brown - one residential, one offices and the other a forthcoming hotel. The only positive to the opening of the 220-room Westin London City is that it'll open up the waterfront, finally ending the need for the Thames Path to make a miserable inward diversion.



The ward of Queenhithe stretches along 300m of waterfront and no more than the length of a football pitch inland. The riverside was once all wharves and warehouses, plus intermittent access to the Thames down narrow alleyways. A couple of these survive, in name if not in atmosphere. Stew Lane extends past ventilation grilles and fire exits to the Samuel Pepys public house, beyond which a vertiginous ladder descends to the foreshore. Gardiners Lane is little more than a service road terminating at some smelly bins. As for Trig Lane this has been entirely relocated, now parallel to the river, to provide access to some fairly hideous 1980s blocks of flats. Despite its diminutive size Queenhithe is actually one of the City's four most populous residential wards, making up in property prices what it lacks in charm.



Only two pre-war buildings survive inside the ward, one a church and one a bit of a church. The latter was St Mary Somerset, rebuilt by Wren but whose congregation had dwindled so much by the 1860s that it was almost all demolished. The tower stands alone at the foot of Lambeth Hill, since reworked into a private home, and surrounded by a strip of box-hedged garden whose gingkos are shedding vivid yellow leaves at present. The church that remains in service, so to speak, is St Benet Paul's Wharf. It too was at risk of demolition but Queen Victoria gifted it to the Welsh Anglican congregation who (normally) worship here in their mother tongue. It's also Wren's last unmodified City church and, amid a redevelopment maelstrom, somehow still surrounded on three sides by an inclined cobbled cul-de-sac.



The road which divides Queenhithe ward in two is Upper Thames Street, which was rebuilt as a major arterial thoroughfare in the late 1960s. It's so divisive it's been spanned by a couple of the City's iconic pedways, one a fifty year-old original, the other a more recent addition. The land drops away so steeply that what was ground level at one of Fyefoot Lane is three staircases above the roadway at the other, with a dizzying drop. The pedway at the foot of Little Trinity Lane is more curvaceous and less lofty, but seemingly requires a reassuring message that "users may detect slight vibrations while crossing" but "the structural safety of the bridge is unaffected".



Upper Thames Street disappears into a bleak box tunnel to continue its passage across the ward. A row of adjacent portals suggests a quadruple bore, but only the central pair eventually connect through to the Embankment. High Timber Street swiftly hits a gloomy dead end where service vehicles hide, and Castle Baynard Street has been acquired for the benefit of the East-West Cycleway as an exhaust-free express route. I'd always been put off entering by the No pedestrians sign, but it turns out this only applies to the middle two tunnels and walking along Castle Baynard Street is unnerving but permitted.



The tunnel also takes you underneath Queenhithe's most significant building, the City of London School. This independent fee-paying establishment educates 800 boys with moneyed parents (and is partnered with the girls' school at the Barbican). It moved here in 1986 - the ebullient brickwork very much of the era - squeezed into a riverside site with a trenchful of vehicles concealed between the classrooms on the lower two floors. It must be an astonishing location to spend your schooldays, as did Daniel Radcliffe, although its three football pitches have to be supplemented with a sports centre a coachride away in Grove Park.



But as I said at the beginning, the reason you've most likely visited the area is on a walk from St Paul's to Tate Modern. Queenhithe begins at the traffic lights by the Sally Army HQ, and continues along a familiar broad walkway with the school on the right hand side. Within 90 seconds you're at the start of the Millennium Bridge, where two staircases (and an inclined lift) lead down to the riverside walk. But you'll have continued above the water along the slender suspended thread, and that was Queenhithe too, all the way out to the halfway point where Southwark officially begins. With far fewer tourists than usual to block your selfie, it's the perfect time to visit.

 Sunday, November 22, 2020

I can confirm that South London is still there.

Yesterday I went down to the Isle of Dogs to stare at it across the watery abyss, and everything seemed to be in place.



The Millennium Dome is still there. You can see it across the Thames from East India Dock, its twelve spikes still defiantly piercing the sky. It's not entirely impossible the roof could have been removed since I was last there, which was in March, but all the visible evidence confirms its continued existence. The building's not open though, it's had to shut throughout lockdown 2 because every single thing inside is non-essential. Restaurants and big arenas were always going to close, but if you ever needed evidence that the O2's new shopping mall was entirely superfluous, here it is. Nobody's clomping over the top either, which will have saved a lot of people £32. I assume the new creative quarter outside is still under construction but that alas was out of sight. If only it were possible to reach the Dome from North London I'd hop over and check, but a Jubilee line jaunt simply isn't permitted at present.



North Greenwich is still there. You can see it across the Thames from Cubitt Town, still an impractical mix of old and new. It's not entirely impossible the peninsula could have been cut off since I was last there, which was in March, but my zoom lens dictates otherwise. The highrise offices on the far bank are likely empty, what with most employees working from home, plus it was Saturday yesterday anyway. But the nearside land remains defiantly industrial, with a mucky expanse of aggregates where any practical urban planner would have zoned housing. Not even the driving range can function at present, so would-be athletes are forced to confine their activities to jogging or cycling along the riverbank. I assume the entire Thames Path is open at present but I can't be certain. If only it were possible to reach North Greenwich from North London I'd hop over and check, but a Dangleway ride simply isn't worth the money.



Shooters Hill is still there. You can see it across the Thames from Virginia Quay, its slopes swathed in semi-detached houses and autumnal trees. It's not entirely impossible all these properties could have been evacuated since I was last there, which was in March, but common sense suggests this would have been impractical. Somewhere here are Charlton's retail sheds, no doubt thronging with purchasers of groceries rather than large ticket luxury items. Beyond are the wilds of Woolwich, not to mention the emergency wards of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, however crowded they may now be. I'm reminded that the population of South London are getting on with their lockdown lives, entirely cut off from those of us doing the same in the North. If only it were possible to reach the area from home I'd hop over and check, but a trip on the 108 bus is very much to be avoided at present.



Maritime Greenwich is still there. You can see it across the Thames from Island Gardens, the Cutty Sark still marooned in the middle of the piazza. It's not entirely impossible it could have been bulldozed since I was last there, which was in March, but this appears not to be the case. There won't be much open, though, because heritage tea clippers aren't on the legally permissible list and no international tourists have flown in to swarm its decks anyway. Up on the hill the Royal Greenwich Observatory must offer great views across the park towards Canary Wharf, but the optimum meridian vantage point isn't allowed to reopen until December, and I hear the Time Ball's being repaired at present. If only it were possible to reach Greenwich from North London I'd hop over and check, but a walk through the Foot Tunnel is too claustrophobic at present.



Deptford is still there. You can see it across the Thames from Masthouse Terrace, the historic dockyard still mothballed on the water's edge. It's not entirely impossible that the actual town could have fallen into a sinkhole since I was last there, which was in March, but this would involve impractically conspiratorial levels of cover-up. If the Convoys Wharf development continues to stall, given current economic conditions, the double-arched cast iron Olympia Warehouse may never be surrounded by flats. The incinerator chimney behind appears to be intact and functional, but the most surprising manifestation on the skyline is the St George Wharf Tower in far-flung Vauxhall. If only it were possible to reach Deptford from North London I'd hop over for a closer look, but a journey on the DLR would be entirely non-essential at present.



Rotherhithe is still there. You can see it across the Thames from Canary Wharf, its lowrise flats still skirting a remote bend in the Thames. It's not entirely impossible that the waterfront could have been quarantined since I was last there, which was in March, but I think I saw actual people on the opposite shore. The presence of the Shard in the distance suggests that significantly more of South London exists, not just the bits that I can see, but I'm unable to hop over for a closer look. Only a masochist with a death wish would walk through the Rotherhithe Tunnel so I'll not be trying that. Meanwhile Thames Clippers are suspended so that's not an option, and the Mayor has alas cancelled the footbridge which was supposed to have spanned the Thames at this point. The Thames provides an almost impenetrable barrier at present, at least to those of us avoiding public transport or confined spaces, so I continue to stare across the river without being able to cross it.

I hope South London is still there when all this is over. I miss it.

 Saturday, November 21, 2020

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• 'normal life back next winter' thanks to vaccine
• Test & Trace tell PM to self-isolate
• testing capacity will double in 2021
• US vaccine 95% effective (UK hasn't bought any)
• PM working from home, 'feeling great'
• tier system may need strengthening
• political will to 'save Christmas'
• 11 areas in Scotland raised to tier 4
• PPE contracts: £10bn awarded without tendering
• Hull has UK's highest rate of infection
• head of Test & Trace now self-isolating
• Oxford vaccine showing good results
• New York closes schools
• rescue package for UK sport
• Brexit talks suspended after +ve test
• NI relaxes lockdown... for one week
• infection rates levelling off
• UK setting up vaccine hubs
• R still (just) above 1
• curfew introduced in California

Worldwide deaths: 1,310,000 → 1,380,000
Worldwide cases: 53,700,000 → 57,800,000
UK deaths: 51,766 → 54,626
UK cases: 1,344,356 → 1,493,383
FTSE: up ½% (6316 → 6351)

     1
 
 2    
3
 
  4
 
        
     5
 
      
 6
 
 7
 
        
       8
 
 9
 
  
 10
 
 11
 
 12
 
     13
 
     14
 
 15
 
    
  
 
          
         16
 
  
 17
 
          

ACROSS
2 see 8
3 10 Government slogan March/May 2020 (4,5)
5 7 11 Government slogan May 2020 (7,3,5)
7 see 5
8 13 2ac Government slogan March 2020 (4,2,4)
10 see 3
14 7 17 Government slogan March 2020 (7,3,3)
16 see 4
17 see 14
   DOWN
1 see 2 down
2 1 12 Government slogan September 2020 (5,4,5)
4 15 16 6 15 Government slogan August 2020 (3,3,2,4,3)
6 see 4
(8) 9 Government slogan May 2020 (4,5)
11 see 5
12 see 2 down
13 see 8
15 see 4

Four posts I decided not to write today



i) If queues at delivery offices are this long now, how bad will December be?
ii) It can't be spring already, the daffodils aren't out yet.
iii) Why do parks have railings round them and so few gates?
iv) How come so many corner shops have survived in backstreet East Ham?

The 12 plans of Christmas (pick one)

1) Lockdown for the whole of December so we can all get together safely for Christmas.
2) Lockdown for the whole of January because this has no effect on Christmas whatsoever.
3) Keep promising a fantastic Christmas as a distraction from how bad Brexit will be seven days later.
4) Keep promising a fantastic Christmas, then withdraw plans at the last minute blaming public rule-breaking.
5) Allow a social free-for-all on December 25th, then watch hospital admissions shoot up on Twelfth Night.
6) Tell the Christians they have to stay at home, just like all the other religions did for Eid, Rosh Hashanah, Divali, etc.
7) Put The North into Tier 4, sorry, then let the rest of the country celebrate Christmas as normal.
8) Wait until everyone's gone back home on Christmas Eve, then ban all travel for a fortnight.
9) Hold a tug of war in the No 10 back garden between the Exchequer and the Dept of Health, and see which side wins.
10) Reopen non-essential shops on December 2nd, but everyone has to complete their Christmas shopping by the 10th.
11) Tell everyone to stay indoors and get Christmas delivered, then blame DHL and Ocado when it doesn't turn up.
12) Announce really harsh restrictions to keep the scientists happy, safe in the knowledge everyone's going to ignore them anyway.

TV nostalgia just got easier. Ravensbourne College have uploaded over 3000 BBC opening titles, promotional trailers, stings, idents and programme content sequences to a new website. Officially it's for graphic design students to study the history and development of motion graphics from the 1940s to the early 2000s, in case they ever need to know that the intro to Breakfast Time was produced by backpainting animation cels and filming them on a rostrum camera. But the site's also freely available to interested members of the general public, so if you simply want to explore the classic suite of BBC2 idents, follow the evolution of Animal Magic, reacquaint yourself with Bugs or endlessly replay the opening to The Good Life, there's tons to explore. Here's a selection.
        
1960 The Sky At Night
1961 Maigret
1962 Z Cars
1963 Animal Magic
1964 Wednesday Play
1965 Jackanory
1966 Camberwick Green  
1967 Play School
1968 Tomorrow's World
1969 Nationwide
1970 Vision On
1971 Old Grey Whistle Test 
1972 Colditz
1973 Doctor Who
1974 The Generation Game
1975 Pot Black
1976 I Claudius
1977 Record Breakers
1978 Grange Hill
1979 Shoestring
1980 Juliet Bravo
1981 Blake's 7
1982 Yes Minister
1983 Jigsaw
1984 Box of Delights
1985 Bergerac
1986 Blackadder II
1987 Crimewatch UK  
1988 Playbus
1989 Byker Grove

I lost hours in the BBC Motion Graphics Archive. Pick one, dive in and tune out.

 Friday, November 20, 2020

Usually travelling around London makes me smile. There's pleasure to be had from seeing something amazing, something new, something surprising, something mundane but interesting, something unexpectedly quirky or somewhere that brings back a warm reminiscence. But a handful of locations jolt my memory in a negative way, taking me back to something I did or said that could have turned out better. Live here long enough and London is dotted with regrets.

The building is gorgeous, Grade II listed, rising umpteen storeys above the surrounding estates. What's more I got the chance to go inside, and wow, that central staircase. But whenever I walk past I sigh a little and wonder where I got it wrong.



We bumped into each other at the Olympics, somewhere near the Basketball Arena, an old friend I'd lost touch with a decade earlier. Hitched now, I see. We chatted and we still got on, and I received an open-ended invite to come round for dinner. It took a year to get round to it but eventually here I was, bottle in hand, and hell no I was not using the lift I was slogging up the spiral staircase and soaking in the experience. Hello again! An excellent meal was knocked up in a tiny kitchen with an amazing view, the dining table near enough filled the lounge and the evening was an unbridled success. It must have been, I got invited around again, and two more times after that, but then nothing... I dont know why. Maybe the hard work was too one-sided (I did explain coming round to mine wasn't an option because I couldn't have matched the experience), or maybe the novelty wore off, or maybe their lives suddenly changed, or perhaps they had more interesting people to meet, but I never climbed that staircase again. It's not a catastrophe, just a friendship lost and an opportunity squandered, but every time I pass that building I'm hit by a twinge of regret.

This is where Betjeman used to live, or one of the places. Always a man of taste, Sir John. Specifically it's the restaurant underneath, an exclusive affair which I had lined up for a meal that never happened. And whenever I walk past I sigh a little and wonder how I got it wrong.



It's probably the closest I've come to a relationship since I moved to London. You could argue the toss, but sane, smart and sparky is always a good look. We hit it off early at a National Trust property, then got into a groove of meeting up every week or so, usually for food or some kind of cultural experience. All the restaurants we visited required an acceptable vegetarian option, which if nothing else encouraged compromise, and those meals have scattered pleasant memories across the centre of town. We ticked off several of the artier cinemas too, plus my sole experience of afternoon tea, not to mention that day trip to the backwaters of the West Midlands. But when everything inevitably faded away, unacrimoniously, I still hadn't got round to playing my master card - a meal in the vegetarian restaurant underneath the Poet Laureate's flat. It's under new management these days and not averse to serving fillet of beef, so no longer pitch-perfect, but every time I pass that building I'm hit by a twinge of regret.

Everybody loves this place, or at least anyone worth speaking to. It's very much greater than the sum of its parts, although several years ago one of those parts laid me out flat. So whenever I walk past I sigh a little and wonder how I got it wrong.



The email came out of the blue from somebody you know. We're at that event you're going to at that place we like, fancy a drink afterwards? It seemed rude to decline so afterwards I wandered up to whichever floor the bar's on and made myself known. We got on effusively, immediately, so that was good. The joint also had a special offer on gin cocktails, so I made a start on ticking off their list in the expectation I might ultimately claim a freebie. Conversation flowed smoothly throughout the evening, and I thought I'd aced this. But my previous experience of gin was virtually non-existent so I had no idea of its impact on my system, plus all I'd eaten in the last eight hours was a slice of toast. Shortly before closing time I received the fourth stamp on my loyalty card, downed my fourth drink and felt my head spinning, after which I was copiously sick all over my shirt and trousers. I just about had time to apologise profusely to my new companions before I passed out... and woke up later on a sofa with no recollection of getting there. We've been out for non-gin-based drinks since, so I didn't blow all my social capital, but every time I pass that building I'm hit by a twinge of regret.

Also on my map of regrets...
» The eastbound platform at Aldgate East station (why didn't I?)
» The small meeting room on the 3rd floor at work (why did I?)
» Oxford Street opposite the Virgin Megastore (what if I had?)
» Office on the west side of Berkeley Square (what if I hadn't?)
» The choir seats at the Royal Albert Hall (what was I thinking?)
» The staircase at Fulham Railway Bridge (should've faked it)
» A pub on Ruislip High Street (should've sustained it)
» Bang & Olufsen, Coulsdon (should've said no)
» Upper Marsh, Waterloo (should've said yes)
» All Saints Church, Fulham (sorry Dad!)

 Thursday, November 19, 2020

It's now four years since TfL were due to print some new bus maps but decided not to. The last quadrant maps were published in March 2016, ditto the last Central London bus map, and haven't been updated since. I've blogged about this in some detail before.
You can download archived pdf copies of the final bus maps here: NW/NE/SE/SW/Central

Never fear, said TfL. Most passengers know where they're going, and those who don't can use our excellent digital products like Journey Planner or fire up an app, skipping the tedious mapreading stage altogether. Plus of course there are hundreds of spider maps, which we link to on our website, and these provide local information in key locations.



Last year TfL started switching to new-style spider maps which focus on shorter journeys and no longer show the full length of each route. The new-style maps were only used when local routes changed, as many have recently, so a mix of old and new coexists across London. Bow Church still has an old-style spider map, for example, whereas Oxford Circus has a new style map because its routes changed last year. I've blogged about this in some detail before.

But now spider maps are under threat, indeed they've already started disappearing. Here's some evidence, and further down I'll bring you some proof.

The bus spider map page on the TfL website started haemorraghing pdfs some time last year. They only vanished in certain parts of the capital, generally in outer London, but in some boroughs the vast majority of spider maps have been deleted. In Hillingdon, for example, the number of spider maps has dropped from 37 to 17 and in Harrow from 27 to 5.

This map shows how many spider map pdfs remain in each borough.



Some of these totals are as high as ever, for example in the West End where all of last year's many route changes were reflected in updated maps. But whereas Newham still has 30 spider maps neighbouring Barking & Dagenham has been throttled down to three. Ealing's total of 19 somehow exceeds all of Harrow, Brent and Barnet combined. Wandsworth's six looks pitiful compared to all of its neighbours. And although Bromley still manages 26 maps poor old Bexley has been cut back to just two, both of which are on the borough boundary.

There are some really striking local absences. Uxbridge, no maps whatsoever. Finchley, nothing. Streatham, bugger all. Wood Green, nah. Clapham Junction, nul points. Meanwhile Romford still has as many as seven different maps focusing on different parts of the town, Sutton has five and even Greenford has three. Something odd is going on.

A clue was provided in this response to a Mayoral question in December last year.
"Following the large number of recent changes to the bus network, Transport for London has almost completed updating all of the information at stops and shelters. This includes posting an estimated 6000 updated bus spider maps at stops across London. TfL will make sure that all out of date maps are updated or removed by the end of the financial year and is looking at ways in which this can be completed more quickly in future."
That sounds good... except hang on, the promise is to "update or remove" out-of-date spider maps. What if more maps are being removed than updated? It'd certainly be one way to speed up the process! The response continued...
"Some spider maps have been discontinued as recent research with customers shows that they are used by less than 1 per cent of bus users. In future, TfL will focus on providing maps at those shelters that serve multiple routes or serve destinations that are more likely to be unfamiliar to customers, for example hospitals."
It seems spider maps are being thinned out on the somewhat spurious basis that they're used by less than 1% of bus users. Given that the vast majority of passengers ride the same journey regularly that's hardly surprising. Indeed by the same logic we could shut down the entire Heathrow loop of the Piccadilly line because it's used by only ½% of tube passengers. As for focusing on shelters served by multiple routes or serving unfamiliar destinations, that doesn't sound too unreasonable... does it?

Alas here's further clarification provided recently by TfL to a stakeholder meeting in west London. It's bad news I'm afraid.
We only re-issue maps that show five or more routes with locations most likely to generate unfamiliar journeys.
Apparently spider maps will now only get produced if they show a minimum of five bus routes. If your locality has four, bad luck. That's Pinner blacklisted, along with Woodford, Cheam and Sanderstead. Previously TfL would do you a spider map even if you only had two routes (hello Kenley, hello West Ham), and in Hillingdon station's case just one. A substantial number of the suburbs' spider maps have suddenly been deemed fundamentally unsustainable.

It gets worse...
The hub map also needs to show two of the following:
• a nearby significant place of interest (e.g. hospital or visitor attraction)
• transport facility (e.g Tube or Rail station)
• major shopping centre/high street

So a major shopping centre without a station or significant location - nothing. A big station with nowhere important nearby - nothing. This sounds very much like an excuse to reduce the number of spider maps to an absolute minimum.
Spider maps that don’t meet these criteria have now been discontinued and will no longer be reissued.
In good news, this is only for spider maps being re-issued. If your local bus routes don't change, your spider map stays. It's only if a route gets added, diverted, extended, curtailed or withdrawn that these new conditions apply. Meet the criteria and somebody makes a new map. Fail and somebody takes it down.

Take the London borough of Havering. The only bus route that's changed recently is the 497, a new three mile route running from Harold Hill to Harold Wood. As far as I can tell all of Havering's spider maps remain on the TfL website except for those served by the 497. Harold Hill is a major postwar housing estate whose residents are very heavily reliant on bus services. Its shopping centre is served by six bus routes, which passes the threshold, but it has no place of interest nor transport facility so now there's no map. Meanwhile Harold Wood is going to be a Crossrail station and is served by five routes, but being a significant transport interchange is no longer sufficient so it too no longer merits a map. How shortsighted is that?

As a further example, consider route 278 which was introduced last December between Heathrow and Ruislip. Normally this would have meant all the spider maps along the 11 mile route got updated. But somebody scrutinised the list and decided that only three should be retained - at Hayes, Heathrow North and Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3. All the rest were junked for being newly-inaccurate and will not reappear. This is why Ruislip no longer has a spider map - its bus services were improved so its maps were removed. Better zero information than incomplete information, it seems.

Of course just because a spider map's up in bus shelters doesn't mean it's on the website. And just because a spider map's on the website doesn't mean it's up in bus shelters. For example Bus Stop M's spider map mysteriously disappeared at the start of lockdown, despite being (to the best of my knowledge) up-to-date and accurate. I had thought this was temporary and it'd be coming back, but now I'm not so sure. Eight daytime routes and two nightbuses serve the location, so that's not reason enough to scrap it. Maybe there's too little of significance close by, or maybe the bus-map-putter-uppers are simply being as inept as usual.
We’ve recently reviewed the number of maps we issue to ensure resources are being prioritised to the right places.
In conclusion, it's all about money. TfL are increasingly skint and the production of spider maps is an unnecessary drain on resources, at least in a chief accountant's eyes. These days all the investment is in powering digital solutions (open app, enter start point, enter destination, view choice of routes) rather than a quick glance at a sheet of paper. And yes, the vast majority of bus users won't care because they already know where they're going. But next time you're in an unfamiliar part of town and hoping to travel by bus, it's increasingly likely there'll be nothing to help you plan ahead.

London - the city with 600 bus routes but fewer and fewer maps to tell you where they go.


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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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