diamond geezer

 Sunday, February 11, 2024

London's next dead bus
455: Wallington to Purley, Old Lodge Lane

Location: outer London, south
Length of journey: 13 miles, 85 minutes

The 455, which dies soon, weaves a ridiculously contorted route around the broader outskirts of Croydon. It's particularly wiggly at the Wallington end to take in a housing estate and an industrial park, and a little more direct on its southbound charge towards an isolated valley in Purley. It was created in 1996 by bolting together two existing routes with an additional lunge towards IKEA - a veritable Frankenstein's monster - and if you genuinely wanted to get from one end to the other it would be just as quick to walk. The 455's final day will be Friday 1st March, but so many new bus routes are pencilled in for that particular week that I thought I'd best get my reportage in early.

If bus changes aren't your thing I've relegated the salient points to small red text so you can skip them and read the main report without interruption.

The 455 has its own dedicated stand outside Wallington station, adrift from the entrance, where incoming drivers can rest following a tiringly long haul. The timetable promises a 79 minute journey end-to-end, which is very much in the premier league of London's longest bus routes, although my off-peak journey is destined to take even longer than that. We start by heading south along the high street, ducking beneath the particularly intrusive railway bridge, and pick up our first passengers outside The Square, a non-square shopping mall. "Are you going to Purley?" asks a cautious passenger, and the driver has to open up his cabin to explain yes, eventually, but you'd be much much better off catching the 127 which goes direct. She picks the sensible option and retreats.

More pensioners board at Sainsbury's around the corner, bags a-brim, after which we slowly descend Wallington's long retail tail. Our initial destination is the Roundshaw estate, very much a prime example of a residential airfield which was built across the remains of Croydon airport in the 1960s. I note that the local takeaway deigns to title itself Wallington Village Fish and Chips, whereas the supermarket nextdoor is less haughty and plumps for the more accurate Roundshaw's Co-op. We endure a short delay while the driver of a reversing scaffolding lorry pauses to remove a hubcap, after which we plough on past Alcock Close, Spitfire Road and Typhoon Way. Few estates wear their past so brazenly as the Roundshaw.

The 455's first mile is not being replaced by any other route because TfL reckon the existing double decker 154 can carry the load. The S4 also links Roundshaw to Wallington but via a less preferable backstreet crawl.

Roundshaw's houses are a peculiar mix of original and urgently-replaced, the latter rather more angular, whereas the schools remain as flattened cuboidal amalgamations. Pick your building carefully and boxing classes, dance lessons and evangelical worship are all readily available. Outside Wallington Primary the bus veers north to begin a lengthy run heading away from our final destination. I don't want to keep overemphasising this, but if you alight from the 455 here Purley's only a mile's walk away across the Downs, whereas we're going via such a roundabout route that we won't be there for another hour.

After the 455 is extinguished the next two miles are being adopted by the existing S4. This currently terminates at the top of the estate but will be extended to cover the upcoming Beddington stretch, just not quite as far as Croydon. To balance this the western arm of the S4 is to be transferred to new route S2... but more about that at the start of March.

Beyond Mellows Park the 455 is briefly the sole bus route, heading up and over the railway to land between a cemetery and a cricket academy. I assume the road's called Plough Lane after the pub at the end on the main road. Beddington's very much a settlement of two halves - the pleasant suburb where we are now and the dispiriting wasteland which lies ahead. Initially there are nice shops, a village hall and a bridge over the fledgling River Wandle, but all too swiftly the warehouses, scrapyards and distribution depots kick in with a vengeance. This is the Beddington Industrial Area, one of London's largest, which sprawls across the windward side of a major water treatment works. 'Beddington Lane | Sewage Treatment Works' may be the least attractive bus stop name in the capital.

Unless you work here the sole attraction is a massive Asda, at which we exchange a fair few passengers. Then it's on to wait awhile outside a major bus depot while we swap drivers, and to pick up a couple of off-duty employees because other public transport options are a long walk away. Things then get even less scenic with waste management companies, builders merchants, logistics depots and collapsed fences decaying by the roadside... but thousands of people work here hence the need for a regular bus service. I'm a little surprised when a mother alights in the middle of it all, wielding a double pushchair containing identical twins. We've now been going for half an hour and are considerably further from our destination than when we started.

As we finally swing south it's time to shadow the trams. We serve Therapia Lane, Ampere Way and Waddon Marsh tram stops, with a separate bus stop dedicated to the big tram depot along the way. Again the 455 isn't the quickest way to Croydon, that's the tram (for the same fare), but multiple passengers are still waiting under IKEA's twin chimneys when we turn up. A brief spell along the concretier end of Purley Way now follows. Near Sainsbury's another mother steps up to address the driver with a familiar query, "Are you going to Purley?" Alas this time our new driver says yes, rather than yes eventually, but you'd be much much better off catching the 289 which goes direct. Mum will discover the error of her ways as we progress.

This is as far as the S4 will be extended, terminating at a bus stand outside Waddon Marsh tram stop. It means there'll no longer be an eastbound bus from IKEA, the disappearance of the 455 meaning to reach Croydon you'll have to take the tram. That said, a brand new southbound route will be starting in the same place on the same day... but expect to hear more about the 439 next month.

Our onward journey requires aiming for the centre of Croydon because that's where all the demand is, but because that's been optimised for trams it'll also require touring all the sights. Look, there's the bridge to Wandle Park, there's Croydon Minster with its four glittering weather vanes and there's Reeves Corner because we're back to shadowing a slew of tram stops. Soon comes Centrale where the serious shoppers alight, then a massive new block of apartments beside West Croydon bus station and eventually the skyscraper cluster where we finally head south for the penultimate time. What you can smell is a box of saucy chips brought aboard by a bloke with a neck tattoo, and quite frankly it's not helping the ambience.

Even escaping the town centre takes time because we're not going the quick way. We deviate away from the Fairfield Halls towards St George's Walk for helpful interchange, then veer off round the big elongated roundabout because someone's got to serve Park Lane and that bus is us. South Croydon station and St Peter's Church are duly ticked, and then the driver finds a minor sideroad and nips through to The Swan and Sugarloaf. If there's a better disguised Tesco Express in the whole of London I'll be surprised. As the bus swings north, entirely counter-intuitively, the mother who asked "Are you going to Purley?" 25 minutes ago finally loses faith and alights. She should have stayed on board, she'd endured the worst of it.

Ten different bus routes link The Swan and Sugarloaf to Croydon town centre, and six to Purley, so the withdrawal of the 455 won't significantly dent provision.

The main road to Purley is not for us, instead we'll be following a separate thread behind the Whitgift School playing fields. At Croydon Bowling Club a couple of tracksuited gentlemen run for the bus and the driver kindly waits. "Are you turning left?" they ask, and on receiving an affirmative answer reveal that in fact they have no way to pay, so despite their pleading the driver turfs them off. Had we gone straight ahead, by the way, it'd only be a mile's drive to Mellows Park where we were fifty minutes ago, and the more I ride this route the more I understand why it has to die.

Pampisford Road is long and comfortable, a suburban axis linking multiple cul-de-sacs and a surprisingly high number of schools. The oik with the box of chips has finally finished munching but remains mostly mute while his female companion does all the talking. She reads out an article verbatim from her phone - some football news so mainstream that even I already knew it all. Then she moves onto the subject of her rusty car exhaust which the garage said would cost at least £650 to replace so she's tempted to scrap it but with judicious driving it got her to Clacton and back. By the time we reach the Wetherspoons in Purley proper I'm willing them to get off, but alas they're staying almost to the bitter end.

The only other bus down Pampisford Road is the 405, and when the 455 vanishes it's not yet clear what'll replace it. The original consultation proposed shifting the 166 across but this proved unpopular, plus the consultation's four years old and has been deleted, plus as yet the TfL website isn't letting on about any bus changes in March.

At Purley Cross we stop on both sides of the road at what appear to be identically named stops, but in fact one is called Purley Station/Purley High Street and the other is called Purley High Street/Purley Station. No passengers take advantage of either opportunity. At the big Tesco however it's a different matter, as befits what's probably Purley's most significant building. Amongst the boarding customers are a young couple whose bag is topped with peppers and a baguette, an elderly lady with a significantly smaller haul and two blokes who've just emerged from the mosque across the road. Only one of these people has a full-sleeve full-colour tattoo of a Cyberman.

At the fire station we turn left and embrace the 455's unique finale, an off-piste mile up an otherwise unserved dry valley. The first stop is outside Reedham station, one of London's least used halts, where the shopping parade includes a massage parlour and a French polishers. As we enter Old Lodge Lane the slopes of New Valley rapidly steepen - one of the sideroads displays a sign for a gradient of 14% - and below Lodge Hill it's clearly been a challenge to squeeze in a set of tennis courts. We rumble along the lower of the two avenues, pausing once to allow a fox to cross our path, before eventually pulling up opposite The Costcutter At The End Of The Universe. I almost twist my ankle dropping down to the kerb. One hour and twenty five minutes have elapsed since we left Wallington.

This remote sliver of housing plainly needs a replacement bus route so it's intended that the 312 will be coming here instead. It's being extended from South Croydon bus garage and the very good news is that it runs five times an hour, not just three, which is a big public transport win for hereabouts.

I wrote a full post about this extraordinary outpost back in 2022 when I was exploring grid squares I'd never previously visited, and Old Lodge Lane continued to intrigue me for a second time. I thus didn't hang around the bus's turning circle and wait for a return journey, I'd had enough of meandering purgatory, so instead mountaineered up to the top of the ridge and crossed the woody divide into Hayes Lane... which should be gaining its very first bus service when the 434 is diverted this way on 2nd March. Steel yourself for a return visit. And don't mourn the tortuous 455, it's being suitably replaced.

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