diamond geezer

 Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Route 56: Whipps Cross to St Bart's Hospital
Location: London northeast, inner
Length of bus journey: 8 miles, 1 hour


It's traditional around every birthday that I take a numerically significant bus journey. Fourteen years ago I took the 42 to Dulwich, thirteen years ago the 43 to Barnet, twelve years ago the 44 to Tooting, eleven years ago the 45 to Clapham, ten years ago the 46 to Farringdon, nine years ago the 47 to Bellingham, eight years ago the 48 to Walthamstow, seven years ago the 49 to Battersea, six years ago the 50 to Croydon, five years ago the 51 to Orpington, four years ago the 52 to Willesden, three years ago the 53 to Whitehall, two years ago the 54 to Elmers End and last year the 55 to Oxford Circus. This year, closely paralleling last year's journey, it's the 56 to Smithfield.



Except there's a problem, a big one, which is that I haven't been on a bus in almost a year. I last hopped on a double decker five days after my 55th birthday and I have no intention of breaching travel restrictions to maintain an annual tradition. I have therefore been extraordinarily fortunate that the entirety of route 56 lies within the envelope I can walk from home. Both termini are four miles distant and even the closest point isn't close, so it's a tough ask but it was doable. Thank goodness Streatham to Kingston is next year.

Rather than walk the whole route in one go I tackled it in three stages, one day for the Waltham Forest bit, one day for the Hackney/Islington bit and one day to finish it off. The weather was similarly dull each day so hopefully you won't spot the join in the photos. And because I was on foot I had more time to spot things and take notes which means my report is going to drag on a bit, so maybe put the kettle on before you start reading.


The 56 begins its journey at an ex-roundabout on the edge of Leyton Flats. The Whipps Cross Interchange was reimagined as a T-junction two years ago, leaving plenty of spare space what for could have been a bus station but ambition was low so we got a glorified layby instead. It's even been given a name, Phyppe Way, to commemorate John Phyppe who erected a wayside cross here in medieval times. Two flanks of bus stops face off across a tarmac chasm with no safe way to cross from one side to the other, which seems a serious omission, especially this close to a hospital. None of the bus shelters feature a spider map, despite one being available, so good luck deciding which side of the divide you need to be. A few trees have been planted and a few boulders strewn around for landscaping purposes, but nothing that'd make you linger.



One passenger, appropriately masked, waits patiently for the double decker to open its doors. Eventually he steps aboard, waves a card at a reader covered by a sheet of clear plastic and walks back to one of the seats that's not been taped off. I'm not joining him because taking notes aboard a birthday bus ride does not constitute an essential journey, but in what follows pretend I'm sat in the front seat on the top deck looking down.

Off we go, westward and downhill past the uncatchily named City of London and North East Sector Army Cadet Force Headquarters. In its courtyard is someone tinkering with a landrover painted in camouflage colours, not that this'd help disguise it on the streets of E17. For the first three miles the 56 will be following the Lea Bridge Road, a thoroughfare so long that the houses at this end are in the high 800s. It's also been significantly upgraded to promote safe cycling, with a proper segregated lane all the way down to the Lea... which pedestrians have to be very careful not to accidentally stand in.



A hovis sign above the Prestige Pizza Academy confirms much about the evolution of food retail hereabouts. Outside Papa Johns I spy a row of seven parked mopeds, their rear wheels slightly elevated and silently rotating. One shopfront features the title SPY SHOP in enormous letters, a brazen reveal which makes me suspect it's not frequented by the genuinely undercover. Ahead is the crossroads better known as Bakers Arms, named after the former pub, and thankfully not after the Paddy Power betting shop which now occupies the building. The ex-Barclays on the opposite corner is up for let so could easily turn into something similar.

It's at this point that the 55 bus route joins us from Walthamstow which means the next two miles are a direct repeat of last year's birthday travelogue. The 48 also journeyed this way before TfL withdrew it, so I apologise for any excessive déjà vu in what follows.

On our right is the London Master Bakers Benevolent Institution, an Italianate quadrangle of almshouses behind an ornate set of gates, whose flats were transferred to council control in the 1960s. The queue for the Halifax stretches out of the door and around the corner. Pigeons peer down from the Overground bridge before a rumbling freight train displaces them. The prevailing smell, even though it's well before lunchtime, reminds me of suboptimal chips. The phone box at the end of Shrubland Road still displays an advert for a Gregg's Festive Bake.



A 56 double decker pulls up and disgorges two passengers while taking on one more. The lower deck is empty other than three friends sat on the back seat. This is the busiest I've seen any of the passing buses and suggests that continuing operations must be haemorrhaging money.

This section of the street is an amalgam of small shops and residential terraces, mostly the former, selling everything from grilled fish to bath fittings and basmati rice to electric gates (but no longer fireplaces because that shop's being gutted). One notable building is half mosque, the remainder Tesco with a gym-stroke-sauna stacked on top. Lea Bridge Library is closed, "a difficult decision" apparently, to spare resources during the pandemic. I don't for one moment believe that either Royal Burgers or Crown Pizza have the Queen's patronage.

Further apologies are required at the junction with Church Road because this is the point where route 58 crosses our path so I'll be back to mention the millennium clocktower again in 2023.



Here Lea Bridge Road dips more convincingly downhill, aiming towards an anomalous trio of white towers in the middle distance. Within a very short stretch of road the advertised food offering embraces German, Turkish, African, Polish, Italian, Romanian and English. The Dagenham Brook is easier to spot from the upper deck than at ground level. The Hare and Hounds pub says it misses you all and that the building is fully alarmed. The big Aldi is missing nobody, judging by the state of its car park. Those white towers turn out to be a hideous residential development called Motion, but I already knew that because I came this way last year.



Before we cross the first strand of the Lea we pass Lea Bridge station, barely five years old but with a new entrance already in the pipeline. Two police officers are having a chat with a driver parked up in the entrance to the nature reserve. A woman with a trolleyful of scrap takes one item over to the roadside, smashes its glass panel to smithereens and returns the metal frame to her stash. Over at the Lea Valley Ice Centre, which has all the allure of an oversized Nissen hut, a dozen picnic tables have been upended against the corrugated exterior. A passing 56 boasts perfectly distanced passengers - one upstairs, one downstairs.



The Princess of Wales pub changed sex in 1995, having previously been a Prince. I can't work out why a cyclist is careering towards me along the pavement when there's a perfectly decent cycle lane, except I've just passed from Waltham Forest into Hackney which means there abruptly isn't. Instead the 55 and 56 have their own bus lane, a faded once-red strip, and cars and bikes can go hang. The road rises slowly past greenspace dotted with daffs, plus a granny peeling off a scratchcard, until Lea Bridge Road finally comes to a halt at a big roundabout.

Finally the 56 gets a road to itself, a unique stretch that'll never crop up on any other route. Make the most of the next paragraph and a half.

At Clapton Pond we turn off the high street between the dry cleaners and the chemist, bearing off down the evocatively-named Cricketfield Road. Alas there hasn't been a grass oval nearby for yonks, and even The Cricketers pub on the corner has been renamed the Mermaid. A black cat pads across the road and then follows us down the street by leaping walls between front gardens. These belong to fine 3- and 4-storey villas which'd be much more pleasant places to live if only they didn't face constant cut-through traffic.



We pass the southeast corner of Hackney Downs, the last decent-sized open space en route, and a Victorian church now occupied by a denomination so evangelical their minister is apparently a Bishop. Here the local housing changes abruptly to bulky interwar LCC blocks, each behind railings so that nothing runs amok on their lawns. A man wearing a red beanie hat careers down the pavement desperate to catch a 56 stuck at the lights, and succeeds because the driver's a) alert b) good at her job c) not exactly overwhelmed with other passengers.

At the foot of the slope is Pembury Corner, a complex five-way junction where traffic waits patiently on all arms but one. A substantial proportion of that traffic is red buses dillydallying round the centre of Hackney, because this is what happens after a main shopping street gets pedestrianised. Three police cars zip through on a red light, sirens blaring, followed by an ambulance heading somewhere altogether different. Most of those waiting at the bus stop outside Hackney Downs station want the 30, not the 56. The gloomy undercroft beneath the platforms is seemingly a good place to grab a coffee or a cab.



This is Dalston Lane, some of whose villas have survived from Georgian times when this was a rural idyll on the up. Navarino Mansions are instead Edwardian, a substantial quartet of Art Nouveau blocks built to accommodate 300 Jewish artisans. Ironwork letters on a wall at the end of Wayland Avenue announce that this was once Margett's Corner, named after the long-gone Margett's jam factory which lay behind. The road ahead is very mixed... newbuild, oldbuild, builders yard, freehouse... not to mention Beryl's Bikes who appear to be doing a roaring trade in London's most cycle friendly borough.

The foothills of gentrification arise as we dogleg our way into Dalston. Shops have names like Silk Stocking, Wondrous Theatre and The Picklery, and are stocked with nice-to-owns rather than need-to-haves. Through one window I spot an artisan operative packing six vegan brownies into a fancy cardboard box ready for posting, delivery price £18. Opposite the Overground station one shop hopes to sell packs of three colourful face coverings as part of a Back To School offer. But any illusion of affluence is shattered by the crowd lingering at the bus stop, their cheap black masks tucked beneath their scruffy beards as they neck another Red Bull.



The 56 continues to nudge west before it heads south, in deliberate contrast to the 55 which does the opposite. This means following the Balls Pond Road, once a laughably downbeat thoroughfare but no longer so. It now boasts a deli flogging beetroot lattes, a cafe with a window stacked full of oatmilk and a taproom with a mural depicting a bear clutching a glass of red wine. Some houses look run down, others perfect enough to appear in a Sunday supplement. The lady who works in the costume studio has stepped out today in matching floral headscarf and wellies.

Essex Road is a broader thoroughfare and also where we start the social climb towards Islington. It's longer than I remember and takes its time to develop a consistent character. For every hipster barber there's a fruit-fronted minimart, for every elegant crescent a bank of flats, and for every gastropub a catering-sized bag of burger buns dumped on the pavement. The Canonbury Vets practice is proud to offer 'weekly dog socialisation parties'. An electric scooter whips down the bus lane.



Beyond the station the middle classes come shopping. I spy fishmongers, furnishers and florists, not to mention holistic day spas, yoga studios and a butcher selling prime cuts via a table placed in his doorway. It's here that the very first spider map of the journey appears - Islington Angel edition - ending five miles of shelters with empty frames where it looks like spider maps used to be. London Buses' cartographic decline is alas well underway.

Sir Hugh Myddleton's statue is currently surrounded by a ring of winter pansies as it stands guard over the junction with Upper Street. I'm pleased to say that the raised paving slab over which I tripped flat on my face has been lowered back to pavement level. The pavements are busy here, or at least busy for 2021, with shoppers, joggers, smokers, builders, chatters, chewers, pushers and striders. A double decker 56 attempts to pull in outside the tube station as half a dozen passengers cluster by the middle door, impatient to alight. Only one passenger stays on board because the Northern line's by far the better way out.



The Angel Islington public house still exists but only as a Wetherspoons, not the Monopoly-friendly original. Here the 56 turns sharp left down City Road but only because the one-way system doesn't allow it to fork left instead. We pass the J Smith and Son clocktower and the finest houses on the journey, then triangulate down a mundane sidestreet where the Dogs Trust has its HQ. London is a city of close contrasts, as Goswell Road is about to exemplify. Broad but minor, a place of work but also somewhere to call home, it's a lot quieter than you'd expect for the southern end of the A1.

Music is blaring out from a balcony at Turnpike House, inexplicably not St Etienne but something indeterminately urban. At Kennedy's the £4.95 British Pie Week special comes with mash and onion gravy. The Zaha Hadid Gallery is based in a building with no architectural oomph. Anyone needing an Indian visa needs to queue here or queue in Hounslow. The former Hat and Feathers pub is being used as a heritage sticking plaster on the nose of a tediously newbuild hotel.

Oh look it's the 55 again, crossing our path as it heads somewhere considerably more central. None of the 56s on Goswell Road have a single passenger on board.



At last the edge of the City appears, heralded by the crescent facade of the Golden Lane estate. At ground level two staff from Barbican Fruiters and Greengrocers are laying out crates of fruit and veg outside the window of Cliffords Hairdressing For Men. The concrete towers of the Barbican rise up from a concrete plaza above a concrete podium. It's here that I stumble upon a fake bus stop complete with fake bus shelter, a feature so unexpected that it deserves its own post on the blog tomorrow. We're nearly at our destination, so best not extend today's verbose reportage unnecessarily.

We wiggle through a checkpoint on the edge of the Ring of Steel and circle past the current entrance to the Museum of London. Ooh look that's St Paul's Cathedral, the first building en route an international tourist would have recognised. Our final task is to head up Newgate Street to the Old Bailey, then turn off up Giltspur Street where this bus terminates. My hospital to hospital journey is complete.



Any straggling passengers are chucked off bang opposite the entrance to St Bart's, although if they've come to visit Prince Philip they're a week too late. Other local sights in this quiet City backwater include an ambulance station, a Premier Inn and Smithfield Market. And although I'm glad I walked here it would have been three hours quicker on the 56, and I'd hate to make a habit of this every year.

Route 56: route map
Route 56: live route map
Route 56: route history
Route 56: route history
Route 56: timetable
Route 56: The Ladies Who Bus


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain
#coronavirus

read the archive
May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv