diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 01, 2005

Prime Movers
Route 2: Baker Street - West Norwood
Location: London south, inner
Length of journey: 8 miles, 65 minutes

According to Travis Elborough's fine new book, The Bus We Loved, London's very first Routemaster journey was on Route 2. On 8th February 1956, very nearly fifty years ago, passengers travelling from Golders Green to Crystal Palace were surprised by the appearance of a strange-looking new prototype bus with a rear platform and chugging engine. Little did they know, that cold snowy morning, that they were the first passengers to board a future London icon. History does not record whether any old men in wheelchairs or young mothers with perambulators stood cursing at the kerbside as this new inaccessible omnibus pulled up. But the story that ends next Friday began here, with bus RM1, on route 2.

Route 2 no longer runs all the way from Golders Green, starting instead outside Transport for London's Lost Property Centre on Baker Street. Just across the road from the very first stop is one of the most famous non-existent addresses in London - 221B Baker Street. Tourists attempting to visit the site of Sherlock Holmes' London residence have been disappointed in the past to find nothing more than a feeble window display in an Abbey building society window. Now they're probably even more disappointed to discover no building at all, because the whole of Abbey House has been demolished (except for the very top tower) and is awaiting rebuilding. Never mind, enterprising entrepreneurs have set up a Sherlock Holmes museum-cum-shop just up the road, complete with 221B plaque, although the fact that the shop is located between '237 Baker Street' and '241 Baker Street' should suggest that the whole emporium is a bit of a fiddle.

To be honest, the 2 doesn't take the most scenic route across town. Baker Street itself is a bland one-way rat run lined by offices, restaurants and insignificant shops. Along Orchard Street you can peer down from the top deck into Selfridges' food hall, but only a very tiny sliver. Park Lane may be historic, but the hotels and posh car showrooms are less than attractive. Past Hyde Park Corner there's a bus stop called 'Buckingham Palace', but it's a long way from the Queen's house (and rather closer to the retail outlet of bravalingerie.com). Heaven knows what sports they play in the Queen Mother Sports Centre, but I don't remember gin drinking and corgi racing in the last Olympics. Vauxhall Bridge ought to be charming, but MI6's ugly HQ and the owl-headed apartments of St George's Wharf detract from the glorious view along the Thames. The 2's not for tourists.

South London kicks off with the startlingly modern Vauxhall bus station, hovering in midair like a giant silver tuning fork. And then, after the rail bridge, the real world begins. We're entering Stockwell - onionbagblog territory, and an area which appears poorer, leftier and more emotional than previous northern neighbourhoods. You may know Stockwell only as the site of 'that shooting', but the brightly coloured murals painted around the Deep Level Shelter in the Stockwell Memorial Gardens tell a much fuller story (which onionbagblogger tells in full here). Alas the latest painted memorial to Jean Charles De Menezes has been painted over by an over-zealous 'knobber', and a succession of Brazilian flags removed because, apparently, this is not the sort of thing that Londoners should be remembering - an argument which deserves to be shot down.

Next up is bustling Brixton, a high street thronging with bargain hunters busy buying nothing expensive. The distinctive tower-topped Town Hall is very nearly 100 years old, in sharp contrast to both the grim bleak expanse of Windrush Square and the bold bright glass frontage of the newly-renovated tube station. Route 2 climbs southward and upward, past vast brick council estates and leafier suburban homesteads, before descending the crazy-paved slopes of Tulse Hill. And finally to West Norwood, past a Woolies and a Wimpy, and the gates to one of London's premier Victorian cemeteries (last resting place of Mrs Beeton and Sir Henry Doulton). Well worth a look round, just so long as you get off the bus in time and don't end up getting trapped inside the garage instead, sheepishly waiting to be let out of the terminated vehicle by a sarcastic driver. Oops.

2 links
Route 2: anorak-level route information
Route 2: timetable
Route 2: anorak-level bus information

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