diamond geezer

 Saturday, April 10, 2021

London's Bus Termini (a continuing series)
Route 263 - Highbury Barn

Well this is a big improvement on East Beckton Sainsbury's for the 262. Here we are at Highbury Barn by Highbury Clocktower at the top of Highbury Fields. Few bus termini are quite so quintessentially middle class as this.

Back in the 14th century, long before the invention of omnibuses, this high ground was the site of Highbury manor house. Built by the Knights Hospitallers, a crusading military order, it was later burnt to the ground during the Peasants Revolt by thousands of infuriated Kentish men. The attached farm lingered, now known as Highbury Barn, and by the 18th century its tea and ale house was attracting Londoners out of town for a merry day out. In the mid 19th century the site became a full-on pleasure gardens, the kind of place capable of hosting dinner for 3000 people with fireworks, but lost its licence in 1870 after descending into bawdier entertainment. Waiting for a bus here is less fun.

Simultaneously the fields of Highbury were being rapidly replanted with grand villas, and only a concerted effort saved Highbury Fields from development in 1885. This greensward sweeps down from the bus terminus towards the railway station, neatly segmented with low railings and at present lightly daffodilled. Fine terraces surround on all sides, a super little cafe dispenses treats and a council operative weaves back and forth on a ride-on mower. I've been more used to walking London Fields than Highbury Fields over lockdown, and the Hackney incarnation is scrappier, less structured and a few notches less genteel.

The 263's drivers rest up inbetween a clock tower and a place of worship. Christchurch was erected first, when Highbury's population was small but had the money to build big. In normal times anyone can pop inside the cruciform Gothic building and view a touchscreen Highbury Heritage display, should the interval between buses permit. The clock tower in the centre of the turning circle is made from pink polished granite and commemorates Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, as you can tell from from the portraits of Her Majesty emblazoned halfway up the column. The clock still works, for which we can thank a refurb English Heritage did for the centenary, although I doubt it's used for official service regulation purposes.

The clocktower stands at one end of Highbury Hill, the urbane avenue that eventually bends north towards Arsenal's former stadium. Route 263 doesn't go that way, indeed no tube station in London is a longer walk from a bus stop than Arsenal is. Instead the 263's first stop is on Highbury Grove, one of an abundance of streets hereabouts called Highbury Something. Here we find the actual Highbury Barn, a tavern which opened in 1885 as scant replacement for the former pleasure gardens, now a free house bedecked with rows of flowering plants. Don't come looking for bottomless brunch with unlimited prosecco, that's on hold, but reservations are available from 17th May.

And what a shopping parade Highbury Grove delivers. It doesn't have a scuzzy minimarket with bowls of veg outside, it has Mrs Lovell's Greengrocer. It doesn't have a mobile phone bazaar where someone'll tweak your SIM, it has a proper hardware store. It doesn't have a Tesco Express, it has a butcher, a fishmonger, a fromagerie and (plural) delicatessens. Admittedly it does also have a Greggs and a launderette, because Londoners of all incomes lurk under the radar in Highbury, but foodies will find much to delight their palates as they prepare to board the bus to Barnet Hospital.

No, I'm not doing a long-running series reporting back from London bus termini, obviously I'm not. It'd be a ridiculous amount of work, I can't get to all the termini at present and some of them are dull as ditchwater. But suppose I was, and that for each route from 1 upwards I had to write about either one terminus or the other. How far could I get before I was forced to repeat myself?

The first seven London bus routes are all distinct, they all start or finish somewhere different. The first repeat comes with route 8 which shares its Tottenham Court Road terminus with route 1. But that's fine because I could write about route 8's starting point instead, which is Bus Stop M, and you'd like that.

The next fifty-or-so are all fine too, there'd always be one end of the route I'd not have written about before. The first route with repeats at both termini is the 68, where the 2 has already ticked off West Norwood and the 18's already ticked off Euston. But that needn't be a problem either because I could have written about Marylebone for 2 or Sudbury for 18 instead. If I'd planned carefully enough ahead, I could avoid being stymied later.

Issues arise where routes collectively coincide. The 111 and 285 have identical termini, namely Heathrow Central bus station and Cromwell Road bus station in Kingston, but that'd be OK because I could pick one for one and one for the other. The 132 and 486 have similar issues with North Greenwich and Bexleyheath, but this time I genuinely would be stuck because the 401 and 472 start in those same places and both head to Thamesmead. Four routes into three termini just doesn't go.

So it can't be done, so why bother starting? Only the 263 starts at Highbury Barn, let's leave it there.

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