Over three years ago, I made some Resolutions for my unemployed dotage. My dotage has in fact turned out not be completely unemployed after all, and a delightful proportion of the rest of my time is now taken up with grandmotherly duties (which will only get better since the number of grandchildren has risen by 200% (I hope that’s mathematically accurate?) in the course of 2018.
Spending a few days every month in the eastern purlieus of London ought to have enabled me to fulfil one of my Resolutions, which was to explore the Great Wen on foot, rather than scuttling to the just-about-manageable sanctuary of the Underground, but the ease of King’s Cross/Northern Line/Bank/DLR had seduced me until the fatal evening, about three weeks ago, when I emerged from Platform 11 at King’s Cross (in good time for the Ritual of The Bath) to find police (many armed) everywhere and the metal shutters to all the Underground entrances pulled across, with TfL staff letting people out but not in.
Demonstrating (yet again) that definition of idiocy which involves doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, I went to all the possible entrances, but could not get close enough to hear what the problem was, until I was told by a Chinese-whispers process that it was carnage down there, with people on the line … I also saw a man with a green-painted face being frog-marched away by the police, a novelty to me (the frog-marching, not the paint – after all, I live in a city where to stand out in the crowd you have to try much harder than face-paint). I never did find out what it was all about, and when I excitedly narrated my adventures on arrival at my destination, I was assured (eye-rolling was involved) that this sort of thing was deeply un-newsworthy and happened all the time …
I contemplated the taxi queue – which of course had by now reached almost the length of the one at Schipol airport the day we arrived en route to Leiden to discover that a thunderstorm had put most of the trains in the Netherlands out of action; but then, nervously, approached the array of bus stops outside the station. As so often, one needed to know a lot already to be able to make any sense of the information on offer – but I learned that the 205 went to Bow Church, and I know that Bow Church is also a stop on the good old reliable DLR – further than I needed to be, but I could work my way back! And – who knows – I might even pass some places that I’d heard of en route.
The bus came, I got on (not realising that, had I proffered my Very Old Person Cambridge Bus Pass, I could have travelled for free), and texted the offspring to report progress. The welcome news came back that the 205 stops at Stepney Green – job (almost) done! I then sat back to observe what I could in the darkness of London passing by.
You can find the route of the 205 here. As far as Old Street it seems to follow quite closely the Northern Line below (correctly, of course, the Northern Line follows it), though I had no idea that the Angel, Islington, was anywhere near the City Road, as in John Wesley’s chapel and the latest incarnation of the Leysian Mission (see below), and the Bunhill Fields burial ground, both of which I had visited several times in former years.
I was most excited to see the Eagle pub (as in ‘Up and down the City Road, in and out the Eagle’), of which I imagine Wesley would not have approved (and which I note is also described as being in Hoxton, which I had no idea was anywhere near here).
Then we went down (up?) Old Street, and lo! there was the grandiose, 1904 building of the Leysian Mission, founded in 1885 by old boys of the Leys School, Cambridge, to improve the lot of the East End poor. (In 1998 it was ‘converted into 30 flats, 30 multi-level lofts [sic] and nine shop units, through a redesign that respects the historic layout of the building’. It is now called ‘Imperial Hall’.)
The bus then went to Shoreditch (St Leonard’s Church, tick, Vegetable Sermon, tick), which also reminds me of the day a few years back when I walked down Old Street and Kingsland Road from the Underground station to the lovely Geffrye Museum in a pair of un-broken-in shoes: my blistered feet caused an early, daring foray on a bus back to what I hoped would be the Known World. (Fortuitously (though there is no such thing as coincidence) the unmatched Gentle Author has just written about Old Street, here.)
But then, somewhat to my astonishment, we went down Commercial Street (is it really near Shoreditch?) and then to Liverpool Street (which I had thought was back on my tracks), followed by St Botolph’s, Aldgate and the Whitechapel Gallery; and (now moving towards the area where the People of the Abyss lived), Whitechapel High Street with the Royal London Hospital (I’m sure the blue plaque recording the birth of Professor Hedgehog’s two grand-daughters will go up any day now).
I was now in reasonably familiar territory, and, sure enough, after passing the William Booth memorial, we stopped outside the Anchor Retail Park, opposite Stepney Green.
This was formerly the Anchor Brewery, founded in 1738 by Wastfield and Moss; it became Charrington and Moss in 1766 and Charrington and Co. in 1881, until it ceased production in 1975, and like most of the other monster East End breweries, was demolished.
I’ve since done the journey (out of choice, rather than necessity) a couple of times more, in daylight; and I’ve also (daringly) boarded the 100 at the Minories to go to Shadwell, even getting off at London Dock for a bit of light shopping and then catching the next bus. So, London is now my oyster, without my needing an Oyster Card.