News (and stuff) from London E3

Thursday 25 June 2009


RM2071Warning: minority interest post
Bow's buses are changing. Changing a bit, anyway. And I know that some of my readers actually live round here, and occasionally catch buses, and might care, so here's the heads-up.
Other readers may want to come back tomorrow, when I'll be visiting somewhere you've actually been.

Route 8: Bow Church - Victoria
It's five years this month since London's beloved Routemasters were withdrawn from Route 8, which kicks off in Bow. Five years on something else is being withdrawn, at the end of service tomorrow, and that's the last mile of the route. Number 8s have been chugging down to Victoria since 1992, but from Saturday they'll be stopping short and terminating at Oxford Circus. There's a good reason for this curtailment, apparently, which is that Oxford Street is seriously over-stuffed with buses. By stopping the number 8s short there'll be 20 fewer buses an hour clogging up the 500 metres of road between Oxford Circus and Bond Street stations, and every little helps. To make up for this break of service, and to ensure that buses still serve the middle of Mayfair, another route is being extended. Buses on Camden route C2 (which currently terminate at Oxford Circus) will now continue down to Victoria, carefully avoiding Oxford Street along the way. East London residents will then need to take two buses to get to Victoria, not one, which'll cost a few pay-as-you-go users twice as much. On the plus side, however, a shorter journey for the 8 ought to make the service more regular and reliable.

Route N8: Hainault - Victoria
The N8's also being cut back from Victoria to Oxford Circus. Need to get a night bus from Victoria to East London? Sorry, but from Saturday no single bus will take you further than Liverpool Street.

Route 15: Blackwall - Paddington
The 15 may not stop in Bow, but many of the fleet are currently based at Bow Bus Garage in Fairfield Road. Not after tomorrow, though. From Saturday they're all being transferred to West Ham Garage, a huge new complex built as overspill to make up for lost garages within the Olympic Park. Yes, I know, who cares. But...

RM1941 at Bow Church, June 2009Route 15 (heritage): Tower Hill - Trafalgar Square
TfL still run two Routemaster services, one of which is on route 15. Ten old buses are used to run the timetable, and the entire stock is currently held at Bow Garage. This means that the buses have to run empty into town from Bow in the morning, and trundle back to Bow at night. So if I'm ever outside my house at quarter past nine in the morning, there's often a big red Routemaster trundling by on its way to the City. The sight never fails to make me smile, because it means that RMs linger on in Bow even five years after they were officially culled. But not any more, not after tomorrow. On Saturday these heritage Routemasters are also being relocated to West Ham Garage. Off will come the "BW" plate outside the driver's cab, to be replaced no doubt by a less local "WH". And I'll never see these characterful workhorses chugging round Bow Church again, which is a damned shame. Ding ding.

Route 25: Ilford - Oxford Circus
It's five years tomorrow since bendy buses were first introduced on Route 25. Sorry, they're not changing at all. By rights the 5-year contract ought to be ending this weekend, but a two year extension means Boris can't remove Bow's bendies until at least 2011.

Route 205: Mile End - Paddington
And one bit of good news for local residents, but you'll have to wait a bit. At the moment there's only one bus that goes down Bow Road to central London and that's the 25. From 29th August there'll be another, because the 205 is being extended from Mile End to Bow Church. At last, a choice of bus that isn't bendy. At last, a choice of central London destination that isn't Oxford Circus. And (even better) the 205's a 24 hour service, so if you're staggering east to E3 after a heavy night out and the bendy 25s are full, at last there's an alternative. You lose some, you win some.

Friday 12 June 2009


I went for a walk around the block yesterday. Quite a big block, from my home in Bow up one side of the A12 and down the other. And I was struck by quite how much new stuff there was. Things that weren't there when I moved to London eight years ago, but are now an integral part of the landscape. So I took some photos of some of the new stuff, which you can see a bit bigger by clicking on them, and I've written down a few thoughts. London's a-changing, some parts faster than others.

The Bow Flyover used to be the one of the tallest things around here, but not any more. A whopping great apartment block's been erected alongside, one of a chain along the Olympic borderline into Stratford, and still they come. This tower was only due to have nine storeys when the original planning permission went through, but greed and speculation raised it higher, and now there's a semi-let village hanging in the sky. In its shadow lurks a drive-in greasemonger selling stodge and fries, not an option eight years ago, but more than popular today. Rumour has it the local Baptist church may soon be reinstated alongside, no doubt slightly richer than before. Round here red and silver has replaced brown and grey, and there's no going back. [map]

Grove Hall Park's my local greenspace. It's nothing special, but its handful of grassy acres are more than pleasant all the same. The council's poured a load of money into the park over the last couple of years, sprucing up the memorial garden and adding a decent (and well-used) playground. There are tumbly slides for toddlers, geometric frames for kids and twin hoops for teens - a big improvement on the lacklustre selection on site before. Even the brightly painted garden wall has so far resisted the attention of the E3 spray-tagger posse. With fresh tower blocks poking up above a leafy canopy, this is the photo that most looks like it's an illustration from a town planner's brochure. I still can't quite believe it's real. [map]

Where did that shop come from? I'm sure last time I walked up Fairfield Road this was just an industrial unit awaiting rebirth, and suddenly it's a brand new convenience store. The people of Bow Quarter used to cope perfectly well with their own internal mini-market, but now there's another huge estate on the opposite side of the road it seems an additional shop can be supported. Its shelves are piled not-quite-high with lowest common denominator comestibles, with alcohol and fizzy drinks ranking higher in importance on the boards outside than fruit, bread and vegetables. Don't expect organic splendour, this is still the East End after all, and a packet of Haribo and some Lucozade will do quite well enough for many. [map]

Here's change in action. A nine-storey "contemporary development" is in the ascendant, but for now all you can do is pop into the sales centre and look at some pictures. Disappointingly the sales centre is based in a proper brick house (once the offices of HF Bates recycling yard), now hidden away behind enormous advertising banners, and a building with far more character than the pile of shiny boxes that'll replace it. Even worse, some marketing guru has labelled the entire project "Mojo", and has written some of the most complete tosh I've ever read to try and promote it. "Mojo is right where you want to be", apparently. Alas this end of Bow isn't "vibrant, full of contrasts and distinctly cosmopolitan", but is instead rapidly losing its soul to heritage-free building sites such as this. [map]

Not all redevelopment is bad. The area east of Parnell Road used to be covered by Soviet-style council blocks, and then the demolition teams moved in, and then the showhomes went up, and now there's an entire new community on site. At the heart is a long oblong green, with two giant poppies spouting in the centre, beneath which two- and four-legged friends hang out. Medium-sized flats surround the perimeter, each named after a god or goddess, and each with their respective cartoon image beaming down from the front wall. It's not quite so delightful beyond, where a solid ¼-mile wall of apartments flanks a roaring dual carriageway, dotted with tiny east-facing windows to keep the traffic noise at bay. The estate's brand new road network is considerably quieter. E3's local map is never static. [map]

The East Cross Route sliced through Bow in the early 1970s, and the community's been trying to join up the two sides ever since. Here in Old Ford is one of the few crossings, a 21st century footbridge designed to make Fish Island a slightly more accessible outpost to reach. It's a simple yet elegant hump, passing through a twisted ring of steel at its highest point, with separate (disregarded) lanes for pedestrians and bikes. To the west there's a grid of terraced houses plus corner shops and kids on bikes, while to the east there's a big yellow warehouse and a converted chapel and industrial bleakness. And viewable from the top, the steady stream of through traffic that created this social chasm in the first place. The first minor battle has been won. [map]

I fear that, one day, everybody in London will live in a tiny compartment on the site of something more interesting. Here's a case in point. This is Wick Lane, until recently a sidelined industrial outpost, before property developers deduced that high-rise living was worth far more than low-profit manufacturing. This pink-based block (on the site of a former dyeworks) was first to arise five years ago, its early residents isolated in the middle of social nowhere. The brochure for 417 Riverside (still available) promised "urban riverside living" (conveniently ignoring the sewer nextdoor) and offered "an attractive and accessible location" (maybe one day, definitely not yet). The neighbouring block appeared last year on the site of a newspaper ink factory - the end result a bland grey cuboid. Nah, sooner you than me. [map]

And the upgrade continues. The southern half of Fish Island, the chunk where the streets aren't named after dace, roach or bream, is (very) slowly evolving from grimy backwater to residential bubble. Making stuff is so very 20th century, so all the local jobs and places of employment are gradually shifting elsewhere. Come back in a few years and the JCBs will have moved on, the van hire yard will have disappeared and that boarded-up warehouse will have realised the potential of its residential footprint. Tomorrow's Islanders will be happiest working from home in their broadband-enabled studios, but they'll have to get their cars fixed somewhere else. Pack 'em in, pile 'em high, and erase all the stuff that made the area interesting in the first place. [map]

The northern half of Fish Island retains a little more character. Tower Hamlets recently slapped a conservation area around Dace Road, so this enclave of artist-packed warehouses and old factories (mmm, Percy's peanuts) should survive relatively unscathed. This photo shows the more modern Ironworks building, tightly squeezed into the courtyard of the feature it replaced. It's built right up close to the Greenway, access to which ought to be a simple hop off a balcony, but the site's single gated front entrance forces residents to make an unexpectedly lengthy detour. Expect the BBC or some other international TV company to take over the penthouse suite in three years time, because it's probably the very closest viewpoint to the final stop on my journey. [map]

A short stroll along the Greenway and there it is, the building that's acting as a catalyst for all this change in the surrounding borderlands. The newly-sprung Olympic Stadium is proving to be an irresistible magnet not just for sport but also for investment. There'll even be new homes erected right here, immediately in front of the stadium, come the post-Games legacy phase. As London's population grows, an even greater proportion of us are going to end up living in buildings that didn't exist at the turn of the century. Most of the new architecture I've passed on my walk would have sprung up anyway, but 2012 means that far more will follow in its wake. Olympic ripples are changing my neighbourhood, almost beyond recognition. [map]