Sunday, 22 May 2016

More Journeys to the End of the Line: Travelling Through London atop Double-Decker Buses 24 and 11.

The 24 bus sets out from South End Green near Hampstead Heath.
After my journey to the end of the Metropolitan Line at Chesham, I thought I would journey through the heart of London, first bisecting the city from Hampstead in the north to Pimlico on the Thames to the south aboard the 24 bus, then bisecting it again by more or less following the twists of the Thames from Fulham Broadway in the west to Liverpool Street in the east aboard the number 11 bus. Both these routes are operated by double-deckers so you can have a panoramic view from the front seat at the top of the bus. 

At the lower end of Malden Street, approaching Kentish Town and Camden Town, we pass another number 11 bus and honk our fog horns like ships passing in the night.

After passing University College London (which Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School famously called 'that godless institution in Gower Street' because it was the first secular seat of higher learning in Britain) we enter the lower end of Gower Street, full of small hotels and bed and breakfast places now but once fashionable.  Lady Ottoline Morrell, grande dame of the Bloomsbury Group, lived on the left.

Blue Plaque at 10 Gower Street.

Lady Ottoline Morrell befriended many writers such as TS Eliot, DH Lawrence, EM Forster, WB Yeats and Virginia Woolf, and her lovers included Axel Munthe, Bertrand Russell and Augustus John.

This snapshot taken by Ottoline Morrell shows from left to right Jean de Menasce, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Eric Siepmann.  Menasce, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, theologian, Persian scholar and 'my best translator' in the words of TS Eliot after he did The Four Quartets into French, was the son of Baron Felix de Menasce of Alexandria, grandfather of Claude Vincendon, third wife of Lawrence Durrell.  I write about this in my book Alexandria: City of Memory.

Trafalgar Square invisible amidst people and pavilions for a classical music concert.

The 11 bus leaves behind Trafalgar Square and heads down Whitehall towards Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.  But at the first stop in Whitehall it develops a fault and everyone has to get off.  As it happens the number 11 also passes this way so I hopped on and rode to Fulham Broadway.

The 11 bus stops at Victoria Station then works its way towards Chelsea.  Here it runs along Orange Square at the bottom of Ebury Street and Chelsea Bridge Road.

After passing through Sloane Square the number 11 makes the long straight run along the King's Road, sedate and quiet on a Sunday now but the centre of Swinging London any day of the week in the 1960s. 

And so into Fulham.  Chelsea Football Club is up ahead and off to the right.  Fulham is what Kentish Town is to Hampstead, a thoroughly depressing place at the outer limits of civilised life.  I did not trouble to take any photographs.  Instead when the 11 came to the end of the line at Fulham Broadway I hopped off the bus and back on again (a ritual insisted upon by the driver who wailed he would lose his job if I stayed in my seat) to make the full journey across London to Liverpool Street Station in the east.

Having got out of Fulham as quickly as possible I am now on the eastbound number 11 passing through Chelsea.  Once upon a time I lived in a second floor flat on the left here along the King's Road.  Bus rides can be as much journeys through time as through space.  One of the things I love about London is that even today it is rarely more than three or four storeys high.  Such a great city, yet so entirely of a human scale. The bus carries us from one village in London to another village in London, each village complete in itself as Chelsea was for me.

The King's Road as it approaches Sloane Square.  Peter Jones, a department store, is on the left; it is part of the John Lewis Partnership and therefore counts as paradise.

Sloane Square.  The Royal Court theatre is partly obscured by the red double decker bus at the centre of the photograph.

Westminster Abbey and beyond it the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben.

The 11 bus goes round Parliament Square and comes face to face with Big Ben before turning left down Whitehall.  On the corner ahead, on the left, used to be a Lyon's Corner House.  I remember going there with my grandmother when she took me atop the tower of Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey) along Victoria Street, then one of the highest vantage points in London. The waitresses who worked at Lyon's Corner Houses were called nippies.

A Nippy photographed by Bill Brandt in 1942.

Late May and 8.36pm but still quite light as we zoom along Fleet Street towards St Paul's Cathedral.

Up Ludgate Hill to St Paul's.  Beautiful evening light.
The Bank of England.  It is protected by an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington out front.  Behind it to the right is the ovoid Gherkin, a rare success of modern architecture.

We are deep into the City of London now, which vies with New York as the greatest financial trading centre on earth, yet despite a few towering buildings much of it remains no more than four storeys tall.  Likewise the name of this thoroughfare, Threadneedle Street,  enjoys fame without grandiosity.

The forecourt of Liverpool Street Station, the end of the line for the number 11 bus.  The area and the station itself succeed in blending the old with the new. 

Monument commemorating the Kindertransport effort which rescued ten thousand mostly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland in the nine months leading up to the declaration of war in 1939.  Private charities brought them by rail and sea to Harwich whence they came to Liverpool Street station and were placed with families or in orphanages for the duration.  Often they were the only members of their families to survive extermination by the Nazis.

Liverpool Street station is both a mainline and an Underground station.

Modern terraces have been built into the old original arches of the station which date from 1874.

There are many ends of the line you can reach within and from London.  For example, from Liverpool Street station you can catch the Metropolitan Line to Chesham.