diamond geezer

 Friday, December 03, 2021

Walking Britain's B Roads: the B108
Cannon Street Road/New Road/Vallance Road/Squirries Street/Warner Place/Queensbridge Road
[Tower Hamlets/Hackney]
[2.7 miles]

After a dalliance with Haringey we're back in the East End, tracking a northerly cross section across Tower Hamlets and Hackney. The B108 starts in Shadwell, ends in Dalston and is almost straight apart from a slight stagger along the borough boundary.

At 2.7 miles it's also my longest B Road yet (and longer than the next 20 B Roads to come), which means you're about to get a whistlestop description rather than an in-depth travelogue. I can also promise you encounters with three other B Roads and no fewer than seven A roads.

We start on the A1203, better known as The Highway, close to the Old Rose pub and the BP garage. That's a busy link road whereas the B108 is a fairly narrow fairly minor connection with a weight limit to deter big lorries. The local landmark with the white towers is St George-in-the-East, one of Hawksmoor's six London churches and thereby almost 300 years old. Much of the east side of Cannon Street Road is equally Georgian whereas the wall of flats opposite is resolutely postwar, and this contrast will re-emerge repeatedly as we head north.

We cross the B126, better known as Cable Street, dodging the bikes and ducking under the DLR. Its first arch houses a dark kitchen for people who like their fish and chips to cost £13 and arrive by bike. The road gets a lot flattier after that, in a drably monolithic way, and then very generic backstreet E1 retail. That means small independent shops very much targeting the local Asian community, including halal takeaways, grocery nooks and travel agents that'll speed you to Mecca. For those who like to know which bus route we're following, it's very much the D3 for the next few paragraphs.

We cross the A13, better known as Commercial Road, in the gap between a tattooist and a free school. Ahead is New Road, which looks anything but, and includes a few Georgian terraces that'd be utterly desirable were they anywhere else but here. One of the modern buildings on the right is Flu Camp, part of the Queen Mary Innovation Centre, where volunteers get paid to be infected and lie around in bed for a fortnight. The boarded-up hospital buildings beyond are due to be reborn not as flats, shock horror, but as life science laboratory space. The former Royal London Outpatients annexe will not be missed.

We cross the A11, better known as Whitechapel Road, which is the second major trunk road in quick succession. By following Vallance Road we skip the market and dive back into a world of minor mini-markets, one of which the owner has had the nerve to call Low Cost Shop. Before long there isn't a pre-war building in sight... other than the former Earl Grey pub whose blue plaque tells us that Mary Hughes Friend Of All In Need once lived here. In 1926 she turned the building into a homeless refuge and renamed it the Dewdrop Inn, living here in voluntary poverty until she was knocked over by a tram, and hers is quite the biography.

We cross the B135, better known as Dunbridge Street, just beyond the mainline railway bridge. Its arches have long been home to car repair shops and taxi tweakers, and have more recently been joined by a series of dark stores for instant grocery services. The redbrick terrace on the corner may look innocuous but has been built on the site of the Kray Brothers' family home. It even has a plaque outside, depicting a well known figure in cartoon form, but that's for the entirely coincidental reason that Prince Charles turned up to inaugurate the replacement building in 1988. Most of the streets beyond were demolished to create Weavers Fields in the 1960s.

We cross the A1209, better known as Bethnal Green Road, at the Marquis of Cornwallis (which used to be one of the Krays' locals). It all gets very postwar up ahead, including a grassy square where two slum streets have been replaced by trees and an outdoor gym. For those who like to know which bus route we're following, for the next few paragraphs there isn't one.

We cross the B118, better known as Gosset Street, via a recently-traffic-calmed wiggle. All the lovely old terraces around Columbia Road lurk just off to the left, whereas the B108 sticks to flats and more flats the other side of Warner Green. The only old building is St Peter's Mission Hall which the local parish church hires out for £100 an hour, and blimey the classified roads come thick and fast round here...

We reach the A1208, better known as Hackney Road, and just for a change we follow it for 200 metres before heading back north. It's quite a contrast, not least the sudden appearance of artisan pastries, vinyl records and whittled spoons. It's also the boundary between Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Best we hurry on into the latter.

The last mile of the B108 is better known as Queensbridge Road and starts beneath a massive plane tree. The road ahead is almost perfectly straight and a lot wider than all that's gone before, indeed a very broad B Road. Fine three-storey terraces soon make way for yet more substantial flats and a school broadcasting its Ofsted report along its frontage ("Low level disruption is rare"). The large open space shielded behind a brick wall is Haggerston Park, which is an excellent example of just how attractive a former gas works can be.

We cross the Regent's Canal, which explains the hump, and enter Haggerston proper. It takes a while but eventually the streets to either side get really desirable - a state which only intermittently applies to Queensbridge Road. Amongst its other delights are a man cleaning all the cycle hire stands, a shop selling highly optimistic bags of charcoal and a pub that specialises in Sunday roasts and chip butties. Some flats look like they should be at the seaside, others like a defensive barrier. For those of you who like to know which bus route we're following, it's very much the 236 throughout.

We reach the A104, better known as Dalston Lane, and also the A1207, better known as Graham Road, and stop. That's been Shadwell to Dalston in one hour flat. I hope you've enjoyed the sneak peaks at B Roads yet to come.

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