London Journey number one:


June 1992 (?)

This journey starts from the International Hotel, Marsh Wall, London East 14.

Transport will not cost more than five pounds if the journey is commenced after 9.30 in the morning.

The purpose of the journey is to show you a typical outer London suburb - the sort of place where an ordinary modern-day Londoner might live.

They are often quite interesting places.

We shall be travelling by train most of the way and walking the rest.

The distance walked will be about two and a half miles (4 kilometres), but not all at once.

There is no need to rush.

The minimum time for this journey is about 3 hours, but it may take longer, depending largely on how casual you feel about it.

The main idea is to enjoy the trip.

Them journey is made using a Travelcard, which is a ticket that allows you to use all types of trains, and buses within Greater London) area as often as you like, and can be bought at almost any newsagent, corner shop or station.

A `cornershop` is a very loose term to describe a small local shop of the type that sells most things you might need in your everyday life, and is not necessarily on a corner.

Most residential areas have at least one.

It would also help to have a Travelcard map. which' is free from any shop that sells travelcards.

This will show you how far you can travel, and where to change trains.

Tt would be even better still if you c an get yoursceel f a stre et map of Greater London.

Many corner shops sell these, too.

Now we are ready.

Turn left out of the hotel and head along Marsh Wall about 200 yards (180 metres) to the Docklands Light Railway station of South Quays.

This is on the left hand side of the road, and the railway is overhead.

For those of you who are not English `quays' is spelt q-u-a--y-s.

There is a ticket machine at South Quays that accepts five pound or ten pound notes or coins.

There are instructions for use on the machine.

Buy a Travelcard for regions one to six.

This will enable you to travel anywhere in Greater London all day, but you cannot buy it from a machine before 9.30 in the morning.

If you want to have a travelcard before nine thirty (even though you cannot use it before nine thirty), you would need to buy it in a corner shop.

Get on a train travelling towards the centre of London, which will almost certainly be marked on it's front 'Bank' as there is no convenient terminus along that branch before Bank.

Do not get on one going to Stratford. Should any other name appear on the front of the train, consult your Travelcard rail map - which only shows railways.

The Travelcard map, like most maps, has the North at the top.

The Docklands Light Railway is shown as a white line starting in Zone 1 on the East side, and the section of it we are starting from is shown as going into the first Southward bow of the Thames to the South East of that point.

You are going to get off again at Shadwell, 6 stops up the line.

Whilst travelling on the train, notice the names of the stations.

They are all very recent because the railway itself is very recent.

As far as I know there were never any quays in the area, because it was docks, and it would be rather unusual to have a quay in a dock.

A dock is a man-made hole on the ground into which a ship may be driven for loading and unloading and normally one would be able to keep the water in when the tide is out, whiilst a quay is a projection out into water or a frontage along the side of which a ship may be brought for the same purpose.

According to all the maps I looked at, all the docks I looked at in this area were named West India Docks, Poplar Docks, etc., with the one exceptioin of Blackwall Basin.

So that deals with the question othe Quays.

They are probably just a flight of fancy on the part of Docklands Light Railway.

Developers have done the same thing across the river at Surrey Docks, which they now call Surrey Quays.

Maybe people find the idea of a quay less threatening than a dock and these people were redeveloping to sell houses.

Mudchute may be where they dumped mud whilst building the railway, but I doubt it.

Some of the other station names are a little more convincing, but I rather suspect they are names dreamed up by young men who were good at Lego - like kids playing with their new train set.

I looked at a map of the area before the railway was built and could not find a single area whose description might suggest these names.

Switch off till you reach Shadwell.

Now we are at Shadwell, we need to change from the Docklands Light Railway to the Underground.

This is part of the original London Underground Railway, most of which was built during the last century.

You should get on a train going south to New Cross (not New Cross Gate).

Don't worry too much if you find you have got on one going in the wrong direction, because it will stop two stations up and go back down again, and your ticket allows you to travel up and down all day.

But it is important that you finally end up at New Cross not New Cross Gate.

The train goes through the first Thames Tunnel ever built.

It was built by Brunel's father for pedestrians to pass through at a penny a head (quite a lot at the time), and was opened in 1843.

At New Cross the Underground joins onto British Railways Nest work South East, and here you can get an overground train to Lewisham.

The actuaI place we are aiming for is called Beckenham Junction and it may be that a train going to Lewisham will continue on to Beckenham Junction.

The timetabIes on the station pIatforms will tell you the numbers on the fronts of the trains going to Beckenham Junction. The numbers are called headcodes. If there is no train listed that goes straight there, just go to Lewisham and change again.

Whilst you are on the train have a look at the architecture around you.

London, like all cities, has developed outwards, so that the oldest buildings (where they haven't been demolished) and oldest roads are mostly to be found in the middle, and they get more modern as you go further out.

New Cross is on the inner edge of the later Victorian suburbs.

You see these for a little, then you are between high wall'a as though to hide the squalour that surrounds you, and suddenly it all opens out to prime Victorian suburbia - all of these places were origimally other towns and villages.

St Johns with lots of greenery.

There`s miles of this Victorian suburb now, although not as much as twenty years ago, and here and there a bit of industry.

Lewisham looks so very green from the train, but if you decided to get out you might well be disappointed because the trees largely manage to disappear behind high level car parks and shopping arcades when you are at street level.

Next, Ladywell.

It's almost the same story here, but Ladywell redeems itself by having a lovely old gardeners' hut in the park right next to the station and neat playing fields.

Then there's the magnificent Edwardian school to the left before we come into Catford.

Catford is famous for 'the dogs'.

This is a greyhound racing track on which many a fortune has no doubt been made and lost.

Then suddenly after Catford we are in the 1930's.

Miles and miles of London County Council estates, built to give the workers a decent standard of living at an affordable rent, and full of socialist idealism.

They were once a proud thing, but have fallen into decline in recent years.

But they may yet make it into history proper.

Next, Lower Sydenham, with it`s industrial estates and playing fields.

Most of the Lower sydenham industrial estates look like they originated in the nineteen thirties, but in places the older buildings have been replaced by new ones in the possibly misplaced belief that newness brings new tenants.

We have yet to see.

When I lived in my substantial Victorian villa to the right hand side of the railway (two blocks and a park away from the line) I used to bring the dog for walks on this industrial estate In the evenings.

It was very peaceful.

Even on those rare occasions when there was night work going on, it was always a very quiet activity.

Through more playing fields and between large houses, and then suddenly we are at New Beckenham.

Well, of course it isn't new now. But it was at the turn of the century.

Beckenham seems to have been little more than a hamlet with a belt of expensive Victorian villas and a few outlying farms at the turn of the century.

We get off here and walk to the exit gate.

Isn't that a lovely Victorian bungalow right in front of you at the entrance to the tiny industrial estate?

I think it is about 1880, and may well have been built when the railway was brought to here.

If we turn left, there is a tunnel that will take us under the railway.

When we come up the other side we walk straight ahead and then left into Kings Hall Road - the first turning.

Most of the houses in Kings Hall Road are either late Victorian or early Edwardian.

Note that most of them still have their fancy porches and original sash windows in place and functioning.

Then suddenly there are some nineteen thirties houses on the left, possibly built on a piece of spare land or perhaps someone's very large garden when demand became sufficiently great to warrant it.

Turn left into Bridge road.

We arc now going back over the railway, which divides Just before this point.

Bridge Road is in fact at pair of bridges.

Note Station House to your left in it`s shabby splendour, and further up on the left a small patch of agriculture going on in the triangle of land formed by the two railaway lines and the bridge.

I imagine this must be tended by railway workers - perhaps the people in the Station House.

Just after the turning off right (which is called Blakeney Rd.) there is a gap in the hedge and a steep flight of steps.

Let's have a look down there.

What we have here is a turn of the century railside development.

If the fences were a bit more authentic it would not be difficult to imagine Edwardian office workers returning here in the evenings after a hard day's work in the city.

The garages are much later, of course.

This is Monivea Rd.

The railway we arrived on is still to our left.

At the end of Monivea Rd. we turn right and then left into Blakeney Road.

Before we go under yet another railway line, there is on our right a pair of houses that must either be much older than all the others or a thirties modern copy of something older.

Unfortunately they have been pebble-dashed, so you can't be certain.

Pebbledashing is a process by which first of all wet cement is smeared all over the house and then large quantities of small stones are hurled at it, so that some stick.

I have seen a machine designed to do it with.

It was a box with a wheel with flaps on it that could be cranked.

You fill the box up with stones and start winding whilst aiming it at the appropriate part of the building.

I presume all windows are boarded up first

It is something people often do in the mistaken belief that It will raise the value of a house, when in fact it will frequently do the opposite.

It is a little like reading between the lines.

I am sure you will be able to visualise what these houses should look like.Imagine them with probably a tall chimney at each end, though sometimes houses like this are seen with one big chimney in the middle shared between the two.

Even the front door on one of them seems to be the wrong one.

OK. we`ll walk under the railway, and turn right into Hayne Rd.

For someone who knows the suburbs it is quite easy to get an idea of what Hayne Road is about.

It was originally large villas - almost mansions - with about an eighty foot frontage and three hundred feet of garden.

In metric that is about 24 metres by 90 metres.

Now they're all blocks of middle-class flats.

But no.

What about number twelve and it's coach-house, now noticeably two separate lots because of the different gardening styles?

The gap in the massive yew hedge opposite looks promising, but when we go over and look in it turns out to be more sixties flats.

Nuber eighteen is managing to hang on in there, though, and has the misleading label "nineteen thirty five - Hayne Court".

Don't believe it.

That type of architecture belongs to eighteen eighty five and has been re-labelled by a developer.

Number 20 - also an original - belongs to a charity concerned with mental health - Mind.

We can't avoid the traffic forever.

Let's turn left across the fire station forecourt and head towards the High Street.

Across the road to the right when we reach the roundabout there is a terrace of Victorian shops with upper parts where the shopkeeping families used to live, but we are going straight ahead to look at what might now be argued to be the more genuine Beckenham: the High Street.

Look up, not across, to see what I'm talking about.

Shopkeepers don`t seem to know much about design.

Then again, neither do architects.

But can you see?

We' ve got everything here, including thirties modern, forties modern, suburban mock tudor (which is a style alI on it's own) on the right, and even two buildings that may be older than 1930 two doors down from there.

this is almost certainly where the original Beckenham High St. Was, but every ancient building has either disappeared or has been disguised, and in a strange way the whole thing manages to tell you it is a fake.

But I like it.

The Drive, on our left, is probably what city people in 1920 would have thought of as rural homes.

If we walk a little further, we can now see on our right some real old buildings.

It may surprise you to know that I don't mean the Three Tuns, which may or may not be old, but the houses to the left of it.

I have seen houses like this in illustrations for certain of Dickens' books, so in the light of the stories they illustrate I think this type of house is probably 1860's.

Further down on the right we have Ye George Inn, which could be anything but for it's porch, which I cannot envisage as being anything other than early 19th century.

A look at the interior suggests early Victorian modernised thirty times over, culminating in an attempt to return to the original design.

So what we have is probably original early Victorian modernised to suburban mock Victorian.

The brewers might have saved money by leaving it all alone.

I once went in here and sat for a while with a glass of something, but the piped music, though quiet, was relentless, and I felt forced to leave.

You couldn't have come in here for a quiet chat on that day.

Further down on the left there are some real Victorian shops again, but as it is only the tops that are original it is difficult to tell more exactly what age they are.

At the cross roads, we will turn left, but not before lookinng at the fine ornamental garden in front of the public conveniences (comfort stations) on the right.

Had we gone straight ahead, we would have come back into the 1880's again, and I think that must be the sign of the other side of Beckenham because from then onwards towards Bromley the buildings get newer and newer.

But we're turning left.

There are more Victorian shops here, and the church which seems quite old - but which was knocked down and rebuilt at various stages between the middle of last century and early this century.

My mother as a girl in the 1920's used to play the organ in this church, and she tells me the two boys who had to work the bellows used to fight from time to time, during which time they would stop pumping and the organ would fizzle out.

She would then have to go round the back of the organ and resolve the dispute before normal service could continue.

Usually the church is locked, but if it is open it may be worth a look inside because I am told it has some fine stained glass.

Further up we come to the crossing with Albermarle Road, and across the road and to our left Beckenham Junction station.

The big yard in front of the station was once a pull in for carriages and had a large timber merchants` premises between the pull-in and Rectory Road (which is the continuation of Albermarle Road.

Albermarle Road, incidentally, on a map looks like it was an alternative main road to London or the actual main road to Sydenham, but then when you get a bit further towards London or Sydenham it peters out.

Most, if not all, trains to London from Beckenham Junction go to London Victoria.

If possible let's get one that goes via Crystal Palace.

Whilst waiting or on the train I will tell you something I found out from a friend of mine in Beckenham.

Whilst the main road through Beckenham is obviously old because of it's shape, people in Beckenham believe the original Beckenham to be a small terrace of early Victorian workers` cottages about half a mile beyond the crossing where we turned left.

They are off the main road to the right, in what is now a quiet backwater.

I know the houses they mean, but I am not entirely convinced.

I think the centre of Beckenham had old buildings which developers knocked down to replace with new ones from about 1920 onwards.

Our train journey back to the centre will take us through the same periods of London that we went through on the way out, but before it does that, look out of the right side of the train to see the allotment gardens - something Londoners call just "allotments".

These are cheaply rented gardens on which the tenant can grow whatever he or she wishes.

I believe they were originally intended to help people with food during dificult times.

Tine footpath through the middle is a public one. It is one of the most pleasant urban walks in the district.

|Beckenham`s postal address is Kent. Kent is the county of hops - the plant they grow to make beer.

Hops grow wild along either side of the path here.

The train will go through Crystal Palace, the place named after the hall of the Great Exhibition of 1851 was moved here towards the end of the century.

It burnt down in the 1930's, but the area of Upper Norwood has popularly been called Crystal Palace ever since the hall came here, and the name persists even with the palace gone.

Next, Gipsy Hill. I don't know why it's called that.

Then suddenly the houses begin to get smaller and closer together, and we are beginning to get back into the city again.

But there's still plenty more Victorian suburb to go.

Try to look at Battersea Park station.

It must be the least well-kept station in London, yet it is also almost entirely the original station built somewhere between 1864 and 1890.

Note that it is built mostly of wood - even the platforms - and has many little rooms that are apparently no longer used.

It is difficult to visualise how many people railways used to employ in Victorian times, but these rooms would have been to do with that.

They would have been for people like porters and ticket-collectors - and probably waiting rooms and Ladies` rooms. Travelling at that time must have had an element of the hotel about it.

I imagine the railways would like to demolish Battersea Park but conservationaists keep getting In the way.

Then Pimlico, which is later, and built after the railway was extended over the river to Victoria.

Then Victoria itself.

You should by now have started keeping an eye on your wallet.

Here we get out.

We now need to find the Underground again.

It is fairly well signposted.

Down the steps into an underground ticket hall.

Straight across this and out the other side up a long passage, at the top of which are the ticket barriers for the Circle arid District lines.

You can put your travelcard in these machines and they will let you through and give you your ticket back.

Both lines use the same platform, and we want the Eastbound trains.

Either a Circle Line or a District Line train will do.

We are going to Monument, where we will be able to get back onto the Docklands Light Railway.

Switch off till we get to Monument and concentrate on guarding your wallet.

At Monument there are plenty of signs to direct us to the Docklands Light Railway.

I believe all trains departing will go to South Quay.

And from thence we go back to The International by turning right out of the station and strolling up the road for 200 yards.

I hope it`s been a nice trip.

I shall be publishing some more as soon as I get time.