diamond geezer

 Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Approximately three-quarters of London's nineteen-thousand-or-so bus stops have a letter on top. About five hundred of them have a D on top, and about four hundred have a G. But only five of them have a DG on top. I've been to all five.

n.b. Regular readers will already have realised this is not a post about bus stops.

Location: Dudden Hill Lane, Dollis Hill, NW10 1DG
London Borough of Brent
Buses: 226, 302, N98

All of London's DG bus stops are in southeast London, except this one. It's in quintessential northwest London, on the outskirts of Willesden, outside a chicken shop and a Polish delicatessen. The chicken shop has bright orange frontage and also does pizzas, plus a special "1 piece chicken, 2 lamb ribs, regular fries" deal for £3. The deli looks rather more decrepit, with a faded sepia sign and several sheets of card in the window shielding goodies from abroad. Other delights in this parade include the Supersavers off licence, Tech Dry Cleaners and the Two Wheels motorcycle shop. No branded coffee outlet has contemplated digging in anywhere nearby.

And yet. Just across the road one corner of the Sapcote Trading Estate has been knocked down and is rising again as The Verge Apartments, a discordant development of panels, balconies and glass. Without wishing to belittle the existing residents of Dudden Hill Lane, there is no way that this downbeat street "nestles in a buzzing cosmopolitan corner of North West London", neither is this in any way "the perfect area to escape from the hustle and bustle of city living". But the Jubilee line from "Dollis Hills" is indeed only just round the corner, so I wonder how long before the neighbouring tyre-fitters, MOT garage and plant hire depot go the same way.
A special message to The People Who Update Bus Stops: The timetable for route 302 is missing. An out-of-date poster for Jubilee line replacement bus service D fills the third space instead.

Location: Barry Road, East Dulwich, SE22 0HP
London Borough of Southwark
Buses: 12, 197

I've crossed London to another Victorian district, but what a contrast. The streets of Dulwich are cosily affluent, with Barry Road fractionally one-up on its neighbours. This leafy avenue runs from Peckham Rye Park to Dulwich Library, the elusive destination often seen on the front of a central London bus but rarely visited. Sturdy villas line the street, the number of constituent flats easily approximated by dividing the number of bins out front by 3. Several, it seems, have still never been subdivided. One has been transformed into the local British Legion HQ, so has a Union Jack fluttering outside, while others have giant lanterns in their porches and/or wine bottles in their recycling.

Bus Stop DG, however, sits outside a large block of mansion flats, presenting a face of decorative brickwork towards the street. One of its tiny balconies is bedecked with hanging baskets and miniature globes of privet, another with twin satellite dishes, according to the tenants' priorities. Barry Road is one of those streets where the bus stops have been built out into the road, narrowing the carriageway, in this case merely reducing the space for parking cars. This being almost-Peckham there's a barber shop at one end of the road; this being almost-Dulwich there's a boulangerie a little further down.
A special message to The People Who Maintain Bus Stops: The lime tree beside the bus shelter is in such fine fettle that the top of the bus stop pole has been entirely smothered by the foliage, making it really difficult to read which two buses stop here, and nigh impossible to read the point letter on top.

Location: Woolwich High Street, Woolwich, SE18 5QE
Royal Borough of Greenwich
Buses: 161, 177, 180, 472, N1

A regenerative nucleus is blossoming on the Woolwich waterfront, as well known names in the world of housebuilding move in and stack up flats in lustrous towers. This bus stop lies just beyond the developmental boundary, past the triple-header at Mast Quay, on the start of the run down to Charlton. There has been no redevelopment here. Instead the council estate sweeping back around Woolwich Dockyard station holds sway, and the glory days of the pub adjacent to the bus stop are long past. Happy Hour at the Greyhound now means 50p off a pint, while the 'Weekend Entertainment' promised on a fading painted board is now merely Sky Sports.

As for Kingsman Parade, I might have explored the shops further had there not been a herd of teens holding court outside the bookies and lurking loudly by the chippie. I'm not generally put off my explorations by the local subculture, but here I decided to make a special case. Instead I took a closer look at the mural on the long ramp down into the subway, which I think depicts boatbuilders on a galleon, and waited for a bus to whisk me somewhere, anywhere else.

Location: Bromley Hill, Plaistow, BR1 4HZ
London Borough of Bromley
Buses: 208, 320, N199

That's Plaistow in Bromley, rather than Newham, as my southeast London tour continues. Bromley Hill climbs gently up from Downham, with a decent view back down from the bus shelter towards one of Lewisham's greener hilltops. This Bus Stop DG doesn't immediately look like it serves any local houses, but a drab bungalow is hidden up a driveway opposite and numerous For Sale boards confirm the existence of several dwellings behind the screen of trees. It's also the second Bus Stop DG with an advert for McDonalds emblazoned across the shelter, this drive-thru in Downham supposedly new and 'freshly prepared'.

The hotel in the bus stop's title is located off the main road up what appears to be a driveway but actually leads to a separate suburban street. The Bromley Court Hotel are keen to point out that this is a private road, which they've emphasised by draping shrubbery over both pavements forcing any pedestrians to walk in the traffic. It's quite a building, though, knocked up around the turn of the 19th century as a government minister's country estate, hence the Italianate gardens which survive (for guests only) round the back. £35 will get you a seat at their Rod Stewart tribute night in September, although step back fifty years and the real David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd once played here.

Location: St Paul's Wood Hill, St Paul's Cray, BR5 2SR
London Borough of Bromley
Bus: R1

As is usually the case if you head on a random journey across London, one of the locations comes up trumps. What I wasn't expecting is that that location would be St Paul's Cray, the postwar overspill estate to the north of Orpington. But this particular bus stop is out on the more affluent fringe, where Arts and Crafts style detached houses rub up against the edge of Chislehurst Common, and that was much more pleasant. One one side of the road is a large patch of thistly flowery meadow, and on the other an expanse of fresh-mown grass leading down to a wall of trees. And that's where I went.

Hoblingwell Wood is a remnant of once-ancient woodland, occupying several acres around a dip where a spring feeds a stream. The name does indeed refer to 'the well of the hobgoblins', as evil spirits were once thought to live here, whereas lizards and foxes are now more common. I traced a newly-laid path round the rim of the green bowl, then a narrower, older track back, startling a cat who thought this was her private domain, and avoiding acorns falling from above. Despite being peak summer holidays no other humans were to be seen, the adjacent recreation ground generally getting all the attention, and I relished the opportunity to explore nature alone. This is the Bus Stop DG I'm most glad I made a (brief) pilgrimage to.
A special message to The People Who Pick Adverts For Bus Shelters: Nobody in outer Bromley is interested in the Santander Cycles app, it does not Unlock Their London.

 Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Garden Bridge will absolutely definitely not be built.

The Chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust threw in the towel yesterday.
"The Garden Bridge Trust, the charity established to build and run the proposed Garden Bridge in central London, today announced that it will be winding up the project. It has informed the Mayor of London, as well as Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport, who have both allocated public funds to the project, of its decision. The Trust has had no choice but to take this decision because of lack of support for the project going forward from the Mayor."
I went down to Temple station and wept.

This lacklustre corner of the Northbank could have been transformed by groundbreaking design, but instead has nothing going for it, as can be clearly seen from the featureless roof terrace above the station.

What kind of a view is this supposed to be?

It's impossible to see the Thames because there are trees in the way. How much better it would have been to chop them down and replace them with plants on a bridge. But no, the new Mayor thought he knew better.

He's also turned his back on a direct crossing of the Thames at the precise location London needs it most. At present it's almost impossible to walk from Temple to the South Bank, not without hiking four minutes to Waterloo Bridge and crossing there, which inconveniences hundreds of people daily.

And have you seen the view from Waterloo Bridge? There's not a beautiful flower in sight, which there could have been if only the Mayor hadn't been so pettily narrow-minded.

Queueing to cross a sponsored garden would have been a proper experience, smiling at the security guards on the way through the gates, then weaving through the heavy crowds without breaking any of the bye-laws.

What's more the bridge would only have been closed to the public for twelve days a year, or every day if you were a cyclist, because the last thing central London needs is another superhighway.

It's hard to believe that this desolate stretch of the South Bank won't now be demolished. The site currently suffers from scrappy grass, litter-strewn tarmac and a bloke trying to flog smoothies, when it could contain so much more!

How much more realistic to replace it with a beautiful bridge, the space underneath artfully crammed with gift shops and cafes - tourist facilities criminally lacking in the locality at present.

London could have had another world class attraction like the cablecar or the Orbit, but instead a dazzling icon conjured up by the previous Mayor has been cruelly spurned. Fewer international visitors will now flock to our great capital, and we will all be poorer for it.

£37m of public money has been wasted on this drawn-out planning debacle, which is entirely the fault of Sadiq Khan for lacking vision, and definitely not the bridge's trustees who couldn't raise the money themselves.

Next time a privatised bridge comes along demanding public funds, pretending to be a transport link rather than a tourist attraction, we should have the nerve to embrace its folly whatever the long-term cost.

Instead these trees survive, the existing view remains, no further money will be wasted, and some quite rich people have seen their dreams of a floating paradise cruelly dashed. Weep with me.

 Monday, August 14, 2017

Folly Brook
Mill Hill → Totteridge → North Finchley (2¼ miles)
[Folly Brook → Dollis Brook → Brent → Thames]

The amazing thing about the Folly Brook is that, although it flows across north London for over two miles, its valley is almost entirely un-built-up. Wealthy Totteridge residents stepped in to protect the land from development between the wars, since when the Green Belt has done the job for them. What remains is mostly farmland, woodland and haymeadows, so that's lovely, although it's not always possible to walk alongside the river, especially in its upper course.

The Folly Brook divides Totteridge from Mill Hill, its valley a gentle dip between the ridges to north and south. It rises near the foot of Holcombe Hill, best accessed by 251 bus if you're coming by public transport, across a field occupied by two grazing ponies. The opening few metres run between clipped hedges through a pristine plank-lined trench, which I suspect forms part of a water jump when horsey types come to ride. Beyond that the fledgling brook disappears off into a wedge of woodland, which you can't follow because the paddock's owners have put up 'Private' signs on every available approach. You sense they don't approve of the perpendicular public footpath, but can do nothing to stop it.

The stream's first mile is accessible in only two places, the first on a footpath sweeping down from Totteridge to Mill Hill. I walked in from the former, the posh linear village preferred by celebs, showbiz names and football managers, which always looks like it belongs in Surrey but was in fact once part of Hertfordshire. On my shady descent I passed a haybaler weaving back and forth to bring in the harvest, and a farmer dashing out to watch proceedings on his red quad bike. Folly Brook was barely visible from the footbridge, recent downpours not having been enough to set this end of the stream in motion.

The ascent to Mill Hill is more eventful, passing through the livestock-filled grounds of Belmont Farm. Take care crossing the horse track, for fear of being knocked down by a canterer, then watch out for grazing cattle and pigs snuffling right up against the path. This large-scale visitor attraction is open to all, especially families with young children, with daily activities including Meet The Cows, Meet The Sheep and Meet The Tortoise. Posters out front also seem insistent that Belmont Farm's cafe serves the finest waffles in London, which must be annoying for any foodies who've been grazing in Shoreditch or Peckham instead.

Mill Hill Village, like Totteridge, is a corner of the capital that makes you gasp "seriously, this is London?" The ridgetop road is lined with posh schools and institutions, including the copper-topped bastion of the former Francis Crick Institute. The High Street is 100 metres of quaint terminating at a duckpond, by the almshouses, opposite a church now taken over by a white-robed congregation with Nigerian roots. A couple of streets of posh houses lead steeply down the hill, one of which screams Private but actually has a public footpath at the end, which subsequently crosses the local cricket pitch on a brazen diagonal.

If you were hoping to read about the Folly Brook, the good news is we're finally back on track. To rejoin it turn right at Folly Farm, a residential fortress with a supremely whiny hound, and the only building along the first two miles of the river. Alongside is a meandering channel, which actually has some water in it after the downpours of the last week, though is nothing special to look at. This section of the walk is a favourite for people who've parked up at the garden centre and fancy a short stroll, nothing too strenuous, maybe down to the gate and back, or perhaps across the next open field. One of Totteridge's ginormous deluxe mansions is wilfully visible at the top of the rise.

A previous mansion-on-the-ridge, Copped Hall, is responsible for the highpoint of today's journey. Its formal gardens included an ornamental lake created by damming the Folly Brook, which was then transformed in the 1970s into Darland Lake Nature Reserve. The lake's also really shallow, which is how I got to watch a heron striding purposefully across the centre in search of lunch. A limited number of footpaths lead through the woodland site, including either side of the lake, with connections to the dogwalking meadows below Totteridge as appropriate. I walked round twice, because all was so joyously peaceful, and also slipped off piste into the trees, jumping across the rippling stream like a big child.

The finest stretch of actual river follows, meandering between earthen banks twisted with roots from towering horse chestnuts. Any other river in London would have been confined in some way by now, this far into its descent, but the Folly Brook has been left to flow naturally because there are absolutely no houses anywhere nearby to threaten. Planks and logs in the footpath hint at the mudbath this track becomes in winter, the underlying clay being easily sodden, and even in August there are sections that'll leave your best trainers anything but pristine.

After crossing the ancient trackway of Burtonhole Lane, the brookside path opens out into Dells Down Acre. Brambly scrub and tracts of open meadow make for pleasant walking, occasionally diverting round the remains of a gate or stile installed when the route was a little less welcoming. Only now do the back fences of suburbia brush down towards the stream, specifically the outer edges of Woodside Park Garden Suburb, one side pre-war and the other-post. Emerging alongside the local Sports Club the river abruptly reaches Southover, the only road it crosses along its entire length.

Ahead, just ahead, is the confluence at which the Folly Brook feeds into the Dollis Brook. What's unusual this juncture is that's totally accessible, simply by stepping off the tarmac of the Riverside Walk and advancing carefully through the trees. The stream ends gingerly, braiding around flat pebbled beds in rippling rills. With water levels low it's possible to step across the shallows to a decaying bench sometimes used by littering lager drinkers, or to stand on the very stones where one brook gently enters the other.

» Pre-1965 the entire Folly Brook marked the boundary between London and Hertfordshire.
» To the best of my knowledge the Folly Brook has not yet featured in the Peter Grant novels, which if you're familiar with Ben Aaronovitch's magical detective series is perhaps surprising.
» There are some excellent walks in this part of Barnet, championed by the Mill Hill Society [map]
» If you'd prefer a longer walk in the area, try the Totteridge Circular, #228 from the Saturday Walkers Club [map]

 Sunday, August 13, 2017

I hesitate to mention (again) the westbound Next Train Indicator at Bow Road station.

But they tweaked it again midweek, and now it's malfunctioning in a completely new and unbelievable way.

No longer is there any pretence that the screen is showing you what the next train might be.

Instead, when you get down to the platform, the display invariably says this.

1 Check Front of Train  
2 Check Front of Train 0 mins
3 Check Front of Train 1 min

Zero minutes. Seriously, zero minutes.

Most worryingly of all, it's the second train.

How does a train zero minutes away arrive into the platform second without there being an almighty crash?

What's more, the first train isn't necessarily in the platform yet. The top line on the display now says 'Check Front of Train' all the time, with no number of minutes attached, whether there's a train in the station or not.

Most of the time the second line says 'Check Front of Train 0 min' and the third line says 'Check Front of Train 1 min'. The third train being only one minute away is almost as untenable as the second train being zero.

But every minute or two, for a few seconds, the display flickers and changes to something even more insane.

1 Check Front of Train  
2 Check Front of Train 1 min
3 Check Front of Train 0 mins

How is that order even possible?

Either somebody at TfL has invented time travel, or there is something extremely wrong with this Next Train Indicator.

(Spoiler: Nobody at TfL has invented time travel)

The 'second train 1 min, third train 0 min' version of the display stays up for about ten seconds or so, then flips back to the original.

1 Check Front of Train  
2 Check Front of Train 0 mins
3 Check Front of Train 1 min

And this cycle then repeats, with the 0 and 1 shuffling around for no obvious reason...
...or at least it has repeated all the times I've been watching since the middle of the week.

How poor can a datafeed be to generate a zero, repeatedly, in the number of minutes? More to the point, how unfit for purpose is the underlying programming which allows these impossible orderings to appear?

Alas, it seems there's no longer any useful information being provided on Bow Road's westbound platform.

• Two weeks ago, before the upgrade, the display offered one minute's notice of the (correct) destination of the next train.
• One week ago the display offered the next three trains, but generally to incorrect destinations at incorrect times.
• Now have we 'Check Front of Train' as a permanent fixture, and no clue whatsoever as to what's going where or when.

On the bright side, at least people walking onto the platform can now immediately deduce that the information on the display is gibberish. Last week they'd have believed it, unless they looked up more than once and saw the seemingly random combinations flipping around.

I'll also remind you that a seriously archaic signalling system is being upgraded, in stages, and that the data arriving at Bow Road is reliant on what stage that upgrade has reached and where. It may well now be impossible to provide good information if enough connections have been broken, or if the data reaching the display can no longer be translated.

But if the best anyone can now do is...

1 Check Front of Train  
2 Check Front of Train 0 mins
3 Check Front of Train 1 min

...wouldn't it be less wholeheartedly misleading to cover the display or turn the damned thing off?

 Saturday, August 12, 2017

2 Acton/Brentford & Chiswick
The Herbert Commission proposed combining Acton, now in Ealing, with Brentford & Chiswick, now the eastern end of Hounslow. That pairing may not have come to pass, but the two former boroughs are still linked by twin battles during the early days of the English Civil War. In 2007 the Battlefields Trust erected six information boards at the appropriate locations, each of which I attempted to locate, like a giant game of heritage orienteering. If you're resident in this part of west London, do you, perhaps, live on the site of the third largest battle on British soil?

a) The Battle of Brentford (Saturday 12th November 1642)

Syon House [panel 1]

The English Civil War was barely three months old when the focus of hostilities reached Middlesex. Royalist forces were on the move down the Thames Valley after the indecisive Battle of Edgehill, while the Parliamentarians had slipped ahead and returned to their stronghold in London. The two sides met again just west of Brentford, the King's advance guard disturbing a group of red-coated artillerymen outside the house of royalist Sir Richard Wynn. Hedges on each side of the road provided cover for defensive cannon fire, which kept the King's horsemen at bay until a larger group of footsoldiers arrived, and on they pressed.

This early action took place in what was known as New Brentford, a ribbon of housing along the main road to the west of the town, where Sir Richard's house was located by the main exit from Syon Park. That exit is long closed, but the Lion Gate still stands with its classical colonnaded screen and a stone beast prowling on top. As for the Battlefield Trust's first information board, that's been plonked in a flower bed on the Syon Estate, just outside the entrance to the Wyevale Garden Centre. I can't believe many shoppers with pelargoniums on their mind stop to read it, nor long distance coaches dropping off their pensioners, but I did, and then set off to find the rest.

Brentford Bridge [panel 2]

Brentford Bridge has been replaced at least twice since the Civil War standoff in 1642. This key crossing of the river Brent was the strategic position Parliamentary forces were hoping to defend, and had set up a barricade to try to repel the advancing forces. Unfortunately the earlier cannon fire in the initial skirmish had scared off most of the Parliamentary horsemen, so the bridge took less than an hour to capture and the King's men streamed into the town.

The bridge is still a bottleneck, and now crosses a river which doubles up as the Grand Union Canal. It's also considerably more built-up than it was, not least the speculative marina-style residential development that now surrounds the canal basin. Today a large Holiday Inn stands in the prime defensive position, a poster in the window keen to welcome passing trade to the Starbucks within using the bland slogan "Visit our new open lobby concept". I resisted. A worrying proportion of the commercial premises in the parade across the road are up for sale or rent, but Artisan Chocolates remain available, most probably to a royalist demographic.

County Court [panel 3]

A second barricade, close to the top of Ferry Lane, held back the King's forces for a couple more hours. But Lord Brooke's Regiment of Foot were soon almost surrounded, and fled for their lives, either by road back towards London or by escaping into the Thames. Here several drowned, discovering too late that they weren't good at swimming in battle dress. Total Parliamentary losses in the Battle of Brentford were about 50, while fewer than 20 Royalists lost their lives, and they celebrated by ransacking the town. King Charles' men were on the advance, and the next day's battle might prove conclusive.

Information Board number three is outside Brentford County Court, which isn't as illustrious as it sounds, unless you think 1960s reinforced concrete bastions count. Also outside is a pillared monument commemorating this Battle and other key moments in Brentford's history, including some proper big hitters like Edmund Ironside's battle against Canute and (allegedly) Julius Caesar's crossing of the Thames. Meanwhile the heart of Brentford is being systematically wiped away, as boatyards and warehouses are replaced by Waterside Living, but if you still fancy exploring then several old wharves and alleyways survive... for now.

b) The Battle of Turnham Green (Sunday 13th November 1642)

Turnham Green Terrace [panel 4]

On Sunday morning the action switched a couple of miles up the road, to open land in Chiswick, where the two forces assembled at dawn. Only two battles on British soil ever involved more soldiers than this. The Royalists numbered 13,000, and were low on ammunition and provisions. The Parliamentarians who faced them numbered 24,000, their total swelled by untrained militia who'd walked out from London to join the fight. These inexperienced soldiers were sandwiched into the centre of the Earl of Essex's line, as a prominent signal to the King's men that the capital was firmly in favour of Parliament.

Both armies fitted into the gap between what are now Chiswick Park and Turnham Green tube stations, with the Parliamentarians in a line starting close to the latter and stretching south towards what's now Hogarth Lane. It's hard to imagine Turnham Green Terrace as a warzone, unless the battle was gentrification, in which case this upmarket Chiswick parade won long ago. Sushi bars and kids' clothing boutiques mix with patisseries and the ultimate symbol of retail pointlessness, an Oliver Bonas outlet. Board Four is located up the less posh end, opposite the tube station, on Chiswick Back Common. Impressively I had to wait for a mother and son to stop reading it before I could take a look myself, confirming that historical interest is not dead.

Barley Mow [panel 5]

With the opposing armies only 500 metres apart, something of a standoff ensued. The King's troops knew they were greatly outnumbered so were reticent to attack, particularly this close to the capital, and because to be seen to slaughter inexperienced Londoners might be a politically poor move. The Parliamentarians also preferred to stand their ground, aware that their role was simply to prevent a Royalist advance. They also had the advantage that a large crowd of spectators had turned up from London, bringing much needed food and occasional applause, although they also tended to run away when the fighting got too loud.

I took some time to locate information panel 5, the only clue on the overall map being the words 'Barley Mow'. I interpreted this as Barley Mow Passage, home to the Barley Mow Centre, a historic back alley leading off from Turnham Green. But there was no board here, only an interwar office block, a former Post Office and the rear of a pub. I turned to the Battlefields Trust website for clues, but their 2007 photo showed a Woolworths in the background which didn't really help. Eventually I found the board on the High Street round the other side of the pub, which it turns out had been called the Barley Mow since 1788, but changed its name to The Lamb in 2012. No sense of history, these Chiswickians.

Acton Green [panel 6]

The Royalist front straggled off into hedgerows towards Acton, the plan being to protect the army's northern flank from attack. But a Parliamentary manoeuvre soon flushed these diffuse soldiers out, leading to some of the only casualties of the battle. In a separate move the Earl of Essex sent foot soldiers up onto the higher ground in Acton, then thought better of it, withdrawing his troops for fear of splitting his army in two. A stalemate ensued, and late in the afternoon the King's troops withdrew to Hounslow Heath to avoid further confrontation. King Charles would never again come so close to taking London, and a war which might have ended before Christmas dragged on for four more years.

The final information panel is at the western end of Acton Green, a long strip of parkland in the shadow of the railway embankment, and a remnant of the open commons which existed hereabouts in the 17th century. It's now the kind of place where mummies do yoga under the trees, and daddies try to encourage toddlers to ride scooters with due respect for health and safety. Equally it's where a funfair has turned up this week, with a handful of whirling rides and a village of caravans, trailers and generators stretched out behind. It takes a very vivid imagination to strip away the surrounding shops and houses, and to picture tens of thousands of soldiers facing off in a battle which could have been a turning point in our island's history, but wasn't quite.

» Battlefield Trail website
» Battlefield Trail
» Battlefield Trail leaflet

 Friday, August 11, 2017

The London borough of Hounslow punches well above its weight for stately homes; Chiswick House, Osterley Park, Boston Manor. But there's one I'd never properly been to, even after fifteen years of blogging, and it's probably the best of all. It's Syon House, on the Thames between Brentford and Isleworth, and it packs a whole lot of history within its landscaped grounds.

In the 15th century an impressive abbey was built here at Syon which, thanks to royal patronage, became the wealthiest convent in England. It didn't last long, alas, courtesy of the Privatisation of the Monasteries. Chief protagonist Henry VIII imprisoned Catherine Howard here before her execution, and his coffin rested for one night in Syon Abbey on its final journey to Windsor, reputedly oozing fluids from the bloated body. Within 10 years all trace of the abbey had been removed, and a Renaissance style mansion was built in its place.

The 9th Earl of Northumberland acquired the house in 1594, and it's been in the Percy family ever since. It's not their main residence - understandably that's Alnwick Castle - but various heirs have lived here over the years, and the house has been open to the public since 1951. It's damned impressive inside too, a sequence of ornately decorated rooms packed with period furniture and copious works of art - precisely the kind of thing you have lying around when you're one of Britain's oldest and wealthiest dynasties.

The entrance hall is a double cube in Graeco-Roman style, a proper 'wow' with intricate stucco coving and bold mosaic floor. The next room is completely different, dark and square-ish featuring a dozen green columns topped with golden statues (and with a door in the corner leading down to a historical display in the cellar). The refashioned Syon was one of Robert Adam's first commissions, and the ornate interiors truly dazzle.

In the Red Drawing Room are mirrors the equal of Versailles, as well as 239 individually painted roundels on the ceiling. The Long Gallery is probably the most impressive room, over 40 metres in length, and with various finishing touches designed for the amusement of ladies parading through. It required two fireplaces to heat, and doubles up as a library, with one fake bookcase concealing a door out into the gardens. It's said that Lady Jane Grey was offered the English throne in this room, maybe, perhaps.

She's not the only royal with links to the place. Queen Victoria was sent here at the age of 12 to learn courtly etiquette, and her bedroom remains much as she'd have known it on the first floor. The corridors are a bit more spartan up here, passing bedrooms the 20th century Percy family would once have used, indeed their very-1980s selection of reading matter has never been cleared away from a few lowly shelves along Nursery Passage.

Be sure to chat to the volunteers scattered about the place, they're excellent and know their stuff, and there's a heck of a lot of stuff to know. Who's the lady in the portrait, what's the provenance of these curtains, why are there only columns on one side of the room, which American institution was founded by which member of the Percy family? The information sheets you wander round with are very good too - accessibly informative, but detailed rather than dumbed down. Thumbs up to the Historic Houses Association for their ongoing work here.

And then there are the gardens. More visitors come for the gardens than the house, not just because they're open every day of the week rather than merely three. The grounds are vast for London, covering 200 acres of 'unspoilt countryside', in reality landscaped to high heaven by Capability Brown. His tidal water meadows are off limits to all but cattle, and the trout fishery is similarly private, but a not insignificant segment to the north of the house is fully accessible once you've paid up.

Essentially the gardens are a long thin lake surrounded by wooded parkland, with a single path on one side and plenty of room to meander on the other. You'll know them well if you've ever visited Syon's Winter Wonderland, although I suspect they look better in summer daylight blessed with ducks and flowers. The goddess Flora looks down from a column at the broadest point, while grassy paths and boardwalks weave through attractive pastoral beds, and a couple of slender footbridges span the water. The chief target audience will appreciate several benches for a nice sit down.

Most impressive of all is the Great Conservatory, one of the first massive showcase glasshouses, combining symmetrical ironwork and a bulbous central dome. So pioneering was the design that Joseph Paxton visited for inspiration when coming up with his plans for the Crystal Palace. Inside the conservatory is still decked out with cacti, palms and subtropical plants, but also power points for plugging in hospitality-friendly tables and trolleys, should you have the money to hire it out.

An adult ticket for the house and gardens costs £12.50, with 20% off if you can prove you live in one of a dozen local postcodes. You can also get 20% off by claiming to have seen a Syon House advert on the back of a bus and quoting the code BUS17 at the till, which is what I did. A ticket for the gardens costs £7.50, and is available daily, whereas the house is only open to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Don't come for the Butterfly House, because that closed ten years ago to be replaced by a Hilton hotel. And if all else fails the Syon Park cafe is hidden inside a Wyevale garden centre, which seems to be where most visitors end up, more's the pity.

 Thursday, August 10, 2017

Last summer, you may remember, TfL printed a tube map with a mistake on it.

Morden station accidentally ended up in a 'Special fares apply' zone, along with the trams, when it should have been in zone 4. An easy mistake to make when adding the tram network to the tube map for the first time.

Unfortunately, due to insufficient checking, the error wasn't spotted before the map went to print. Lots of copies were printed, all of which had to be reprinted later after the error was spotted.

But how many copies were pulped, and how much money was wasted? Well, the Daily Mirror put in a Freedom of Information request, and got the answers.

Bungling Tube bosses pulp half a million maps after printing them with a tiny but crucial mistake
(Daily Mirror, 8 Aug 2017)

They asked three questions.
1. How many hard copies have been printed/produced of the Tube Map which places Morden in the same 'special fare zone' as the tram network, instead of Zone 4? Please itemise these by the number printed/produced of each size, giving the dimensions in each case.

ProductDimensions (mm)Quantity printed
Type 1 Ticket Vending Machine240×125700
Type 2 Ticket Vending Machine292×204200
Type 3 Ticket Vending Machine233×156600
Quad Royal poster1270×10163980
Pocket tube map297×149460800
Large Print Accessibility Tube Map1012×6278000
Add that lot up and the total number of Morden Error Tube Maps printed was 474280 - pretty much the half million copies the Mirror's headline states.

The vast majority of these were copies of the pocket tube map, the version available to pick up for free in station ticket halls. I've long wondered how many of these they print, and now we know, at least for one print run (prior to the error being spotted). 460800 copies would be enough to provide for 1700 maps at every tube station, not that that's how they're distributed, but it gives an idea of scale.

Meanwhile 8000 copies of the large fold-out Accessibility Tube Map were printed, as well as a few hundred of each of the types they get to stick on ticket machines across the network. The unexpectedly high print run is perhaps the Quad Royal Poster - that's the metre-wide tube map displayed on platforms - although 4000 maps would be enough for six at every station in London, so that's not an unrealistic number either. They're big maps, though. I wonder how much money was wasted there?
2. If the information is available, how many of these hard copy maps have been put up in public areas or on trains on the Tube network?

No copies of the map were put up in public areas or on trains on the Tube network. However a delivery was sent to Victoria Coach Station and Gatwick Airport, these were then collected.
I have a copy of the Morden Error Tube Map. I picked it up in a station on the Circle line where, inexplicably, the racks had been filled with copies of the incorrect map. This was on the first weekend the new maps were supposed to be rolled out across London, but had mysteriously failed to appear elsewhere. I'm not sure quite what lapse in the supply chain led to paper copies of the incorrect map being put on public display at this one station, especially given that the error was already public knowledge at this point. But it is simply not true that no hard copy maps were in circulation, because I have one. I may even have more than one.

What I think we have here is a prime example of 'FOI weaselling'. The question the Daily Mirror asked was "how many of these hard copy maps have been put up...?" and TfL have chosen to interpret "put up" as "placed on walls or in poster frames". No large maps destined to be "put up" ever made it that far. However, numerous pocket maps destined to be "put out" definitely did.

An employee at one particular tube station told me at the time, "we got a delivery but they were recalled before we could use them". It seems TfL only noticed they had a ghastly error on their hands after boxes of pocket maps had reached stations, and only just managed to recall the misprinted batch in time. That's everywhere except at one particular central London tube station where the staff put them out anyway, for whatever reason, and where the duff maps hung around in the racks for at least a week. TfL's FOI response is at best misleading, and at worst a lie.

The Daily Mirror managed to get a bit more information out of TfL once they discovered the story was about to be published. "The minor error was identified by TfL part-way through the initial printing in May 2016," they said. Minor error? Anything that results in the destruction of every single copy of a tube map is not a minor error. It's also the case that TfL were happily crowing about their new tube map in a press release and in a Londonist video before a member of the public pointed out the mistake. They missed this one. It got away.
3. Please give the actual or estimated cost of these hard copy maps. If not available please give the standard cost of printing each size of the Tube Map.

ProductCost per map product
Type 1 Ticket Vending Machine0.30p
Type 2 Ticket Vending Machine0.99p
Type 3 Ticket Vending Machine0.31p
Quad Royal poster£2.06
Pocket tube map0.08p
Large Print Accessibility Tube Map0.25p
I've often wondered how much tube maps cost to print, so the release of this information is fascinating. If the cost of a pocket map is only 0.08p, that means twelve pocket maps can be printed for a penny, which is remarkably cheap. Meanwhile each big full-colour poster map on a tube platform costs just over £2... and in this case all of those £2s were wasted. Indeed I can now work out precisely how much TfL spent on the whole Morden debacle, like so.
ProductQuantityCost per mapTotal cost
Type 1 Ticket Vending Machine7000.30p£2.10
Type 2 Ticket Vending Machine2000.99p£1.98
Type 3 Ticket Vending Machine6000.31p£1.86
Quad Royal poster3980£2.06£8,198.80
Pocket tube map4608000.08p£368.64
Large Print Accessibility Tube Map80000.25p£20.00
That's a total of £8593.38, or about £8600, which is a wholly insignificant amount in the overall TfL budget. It seems the Morden error has wasted almost no money at all - less than, for example, the income received from four Zone 1-6 annual travelcards. This is no story of wasteful excess, so move along.

Except, I don't know about you, but those costs for the individual products look remarkably cheap. Taking the pocket map as an example, I don't believe it's possible to print a full colour double-sided triple-folded card for a twelfth of a penny, even if the printing company strikes a really good deal. Likewise the maps on vending machines are large and colourful, so I genuinely don't believe the bill for 700 of them could be as little as £2, and 8000 Large Print Tube Maps for £20 surely isn't credible either.

My suspicion is that TfL's response to the FoI request may contain a schoolboy error regarding currency notation, where £ and p have been confused. The cost of a pocket map may well be 0.08, but that would be £0.08 not 0.08p, and somebody somewhere has misunderstood how units work and inserted the wrong symbol. I'd be a bit happier with the idea that a pocket tube map might cost 8p to print, given the colourful complexity of its production, while a larger fold-out Accessibility tube map might well cost 25p.

And if the table published in the FoI request is indeed wrong, then the true figures are these.
ProductQuantityCost per mapTotal cost
Type 1 Ticket Vending Machine700£0.30£210.00
Type 2 Ticket Vending Machine200£0.99£198.00
Type 3 Ticket Vending Machine600£0.31£196.00
Quad Royal poster3980£2.06£8,198.80
Pocket tube map460800£0.08£36864.00
Large Print Accessibility Tube Map8000£0.25£2000.00
Now we have a total of £47656.80, or nearly fifty thousand pounds, which seems a more likely figure for a totally pulped print run of half a million maps. That's the sort of total a newspaper or London Assembly member might get righteously indignant about - fifty thousand pounds squandered by a public body because its checking procedures were insufficiently rigorous.

Except there was a caveat to TfL's answer to question 3, which was this.
Please note we did not pay for the incorrect maps. We were able to work with our print suppliers to have the required numbers and types of maps produced within the original agreed budget.
Whether the total was £8600 or £48000, it seems that the taxpayer didn't end up footing the bill. Some arrangement was reached, the specific details of which have not been revealed, and it seems only the printers were out of pocket.

My assumption had been that TfL were plainly to blame, either their design team for placing Morden in the wrong zone or their proofreaders for overlooking the error. I guess it is possible that the mistake was at the printers' end - perhaps they sent the wrong version of the design to the presses. But all the evidence, specifically the fact that the final printed maps were initially despatched to stations, suggests that nobody at TfL noticed the Morden error until someone else pointed it out.

The Daily Mirror managed to extract a little more detail from TfL about printing costs for the misprinted maps, specifically this. "These were subsequently recycled (the pocket maps are printed on 100% recycled paper) and through the procurement efficiencies that we have been making, we were able to recover these costs and still produce the required number of Tube maps within our overall print budget."

This version of events suggests all TfL are admitting is that their budget wasn't exceeded, and maybe there was a cost but it was covered by other savings. Who knows? The whole point of FOI responses is to be vague and evasive, and TfL have certainly achieved that here. They may also have made an error in their presentation of the information, which in an FOI response about an error would be both ironic and embarrassing.

All we do know for certain is that almost half a million tube maps had to be withdrawn and recycled because of a mistake, and that several thousand pounds which might have been spent elsewhere was lost. What Morden confirms is that it pays to check stuff carefully before you print it, and that insufficient checking costs.

» Daily Mirror, 8 Aug 2017
» Evening Standard, 9 Aug 2017

 Wednesday, August 09, 2017

What are the top 10 must-see attractions for visitors to London?

Obviously it depends on what kind of visitor you are. A Chinese tourist is going to want to see something different to a family from Northamptonshire. But generally, overall, all things considered, which 10 places would they be?

These are the 10 most-visited attractions in London last year, according to the annual ALVA list.
  1 British Museum
  2 National Gallery
  3 Tate Modern
  4 Natural History Museum
  5 Southbank Centre
  6 Somerset House
  7 Science Museum
  8 Victoria and Albert Museum
  9 Tower of London
10 Royal Museums Greenwich
That's a pretty good list of world-class attractions... but flawed, because only members of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions are included.

Hence TfL's list of the 10 most popular attractions is subtly different.
  1 British Museum
  2 Somerset House
  3 National Gallery
  4 London Eye
  5 Tate Modern
  6 Tower of London
  7 Natural History Museum
  8 Victoria and Albert Museum
  9 Science Museum
10 Madame Tussauds
Two of Merlin Entertainments London attractions now appear, the London Eye and Madame Tussauds. You might not rate them, but tourists certainly do, as the number of visitors confirms.

The Visit London website, our capital's global tourist ambassador, provides its own list of Top 10 Free Attractions.
  1 British Museum
  2 National Gallery
  3 Tate Modern
  4 Natural History Museum
  5 Southbank Centre
  6 Somerset House
  7 Science Museum
  8 Victoria and Albert Museum
  9 Royal Museums Greenwich
10 National Portrait Gallery
That's almost exactly the same as the ALVA list, but the Tower of London isn't eligible because it costs, so the National Portrait Gallery edges in.

The Visit London website also has a list of Top 10 Bookable Attractions (because flogging tickets is how it makes its money).
  1 Buckingham Palace Tour
  2 Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
  3 Warner Bros Studio Tour
  4 Kensington Palace
  5 London Eye
  6 Tower of London
  7 Sea Life London
  8 ZSL London Zoo
  9 Madame Tussauds
10 The View from the Shard
Focusing on paid attractions puts a very different slant on things, and looks a lot more like a list of 'Stuff That Tourists do'. That Harry Potter tour is a naughty inclusion, though, because it's several miles into Hertfordshire.

So far we've only considered attractions you can go inside. What of iconic attractions most tourists only point a camera at, like Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament? Surely some of these deserve to be included. Or London's great churches - Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral - which surely more tourists come to see than our museums?

So, combining all of the above, here's my attempt at a list of London's Top 10 Must-See Attractions.
  1 Houses of Parliament
  2 Buckingham Palace
  3 Tower of London
  4 Tower Bridge
  5 River Thames
  6 St Paul's Cathedral
  7 Westminster Abbey
  8 Trafalgar Square
  9 British Museum
10 London Eye
I'm sure you'll disagree. I could be persuaded to change my mind.

And finally, a top 10 list of Must-See Attractions Only Tourists Do.
  1 Madame Tussauds
  2 Changing The Guard
  3 M&Ms World
  4 Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
  5 The London Dungeon
  6 Harrods
  7 Shrek's Adventure
  8 Ripley's Believe It or Not
  9 The Dangleway
10 Camden Market
I fear this may be closer to the truth.

 Tuesday, August 08, 2017

As you cannot fail to be aware, Waterloo station is partly closed at the moment. Ten of the platforms have been shut for three weeks so they can be lengthened and the track layout outside the station can be enhanced.

Hell on earth, they promised us.
"Waterloo will be exceptionally busy"
"You will be required to queue to enter or leave the station, particularly at the busiest times"
"You will have a better journey if you can avoid the station during this time"
Wrong on every count, it seems.

London's not seen transport gridlock paranoia on this scale since the Olympics. In 2012 they promised us the world would end, or at least that there'd be hour long queues outside Mile End station. When the Games finally arrived the trains were busy but they weren't that bad, almost as if the warnings had been entirely fictional, designed solely to frighten passengers away.

According to the media yesterday morning you'd be forgiven for assuming the same thing had happened again. A bunch of Cassandras moaning for months how bad everything's going to be, and then empty concourses and trains with more free seats than usual. Either the predictions were incompetent, or else a carefully orchestrated campaign of scare tactics worked as planned and prevented railhead lockdown. I like to think the latter.

I went to check.

"Waterloo will be exceptionally busy", they said. It wasn't. Admittedly I turned up mid-afternoon, rather than in the rush hour, but Waterloo wasn't even busy, let alone exceptionally so. This is the problem with oversimplified warnings. Presumably "Waterloo will be exceptionally busy at peak times" was ruled out for being too complicated, or not scary enough.

"You will be required to queue to enter or leave the station, particularly at the busiest times", they said. I wasn't. Admittedly I turned up mid-afternoon, rather than in the rush hour, but nobody was queuing anywhere. This is the problem with over-presumptuous warnings. I guess "You may be required to queue to enter or leave the station, particularly at the busiest times" was ruled out for being too vague, and not scary enough.

"You will have a better journey if you can avoid the station during this time", they said. Again, not so. I had a totally excellent journey, specifically because I had turned up during the three weeks they didn't want me to turn up during. Specifically I got to catch a train from platforms 20-24 - the old Eurostar terminus - which is something I hadn't done in well over a decade.

Eurostar trains were diverted from Waterloo International to St Pancras international in 2007, since which time the old terminus has been essentially mothballed, and only dusted off for events such as performances of The Railway Children. It had been intended to return them to general service considerably earlier, but a substantial amount of track reengineering was necessary, and money's tight. However, full reopening is on the cards for December next year, which'll help boost Waterloo's capacity, and enough preparatory work's been done for them to be reopened during this summer's upgrade work.

Platforms 20-24 are a bit of a hike from the rest of the station. You can't walk down the steps that used to be here when this was the gateway to Paris, you have to walk around the back and then up a long approach towards a new row of ticket barriers, and then forwards some more. During the current awkwardness platforms aren't being announced until a few minutes before trains depart, which isn't at all helpful, so try not to be up the wrong end of the station if you can. But when you do get there, ooh yes, very late 20th century, very chic.

The roof is glass and steel, of course, comprising 37 non-identical arches and tapering off into the middle distance. It's bright and airy, very spacious, and as yet unencumbered by adverts for new cars or Lucozade. The platforms are also suitably long, which they had to be to fit Eurostar trains, so you're unlikely to have to walk all the way to the end. The vaulted structure won RIBA's Building of the Year in 1994, so it's a shame it hasn't been used for so long, and great that it'll be in permanent use again.

Did I also mention how incredibly unbusy it was?

It would of course be wrong to base criticism of the scare campaign on one mid-afternoon jaunt. So I spent a bit of time heading out to Clapham Junction (which wasn't busy, but had barriers up along the overbridge in case it was), and to Vauxhall (which wasn't busy, but was full of extra staff standing around in blue tabards hoping to be helpful). I even went to poor old Queenstown Road, which is one of the handful of stations that's completely closed for the next three weeks. I was expecting to see banners hung outside warning passengers away, and a member of staff or two in case anyone turned up, but no. Access to the platform was shut off, the front doors were closed, nobody was outside, and all the useful warning notices were locked inside the ticket hall.

And then, at the very start of the evening peak, I went back to Waterloo. It wasn't busy, but then it wouldn't normally be at this time. However, in readiness for the approaching hordes, ooh, the escalators halfway down the platform were now operational. They're really new, the treads are almost pristine, and they lead down into... golly. A cavernous space exists below platform level, which when Eurostar were here would have been used for passport control, customs, and circulation. What would have been bureaux de changes or first class lounges are hermetically sealed off, and a walking route exists into the bowels of the station.

On the opposite side of the lower concourse are further stairs down - a hint that the 1990s weren't such a great time for step-free access - and then another long passage to follow. There are plans to turn this concrete undercroft into a shopping mall, because that's what all unused bits of mainline stations get turned into these days, and there are certainly enough potential units to create quite a retail cluster. A lot of dressing-up will be needed, however, because the current ambience is more drab service tunnel than boutique destination.

After a dogleg at the far end, the passageway eventually leads out into the peak hour subway that links all of Waterloo's platforms at basement level. A slight technical hitch yesterday was that all the doors out of that subway were locked, which especially annoyed all the passengers who'd just been funnelled down into it. "Someone's gone to get a key," was the apologetic response from one of the blue-tabarded staff, who smiled with obvious relief when that someone finally turned up and let us escape. We emerged immediately opposite the ramps down to the Waterloo and City line, as our novel subterranean trek came to an end.

I understand that the evening peak at Waterloo yesterday turned into a chaotic maelstrom. The station was exceptionally busy, homebound commuters were required to queue, and they might have had a better journey if they'd avoided the station. Perhaps all those scare stories were absolutely true after all. But if you come down outside the busiest times, you too can experience a wing of Waterloo that's simultaneously the past, and very much the future.

» Nine photos from along, and under, Waterloo platforms 20-24

 Monday, August 07, 2017

Welcome to the Diamond Geezer Food Court.

It contains 50 food and drink outlets, each belonging to a well-known UK chain.

Can you name each outlet from the cryptic clues given?

n.b. Numbers 1-20 are all anagrams

coffee ran
game partner
hiss you
back truss
nowhere spots
damn colds
burst sack
starve her
stay frigid
cougar fee
scrub task
elect filth
my Kirk spree
Cola circus
I label a tail
Guiana lass
zap sex prizes
bra's stuck
marshy errands
male quintet
Christmas returns
weak and feeble
Lord George Gordon
newspaper county
3.14 × 3.14
yellow shack
Howerd & Hill's
Second Jimmy and Lisa
used to be bisexual
Lee Curtis is from Rome
nitrogen and osmium
Greek laid by hens
£1.99 for a latte
back in rozzer prison
999 out of 1000
rodents retreat before rabbits
Washington (laugh) California
blunder around infrared
Battlestar Galactica lieutenants
Kingstonian Football Club
one eye closed in sleep, one eye open
leave nothing after Greek letter
back spoilt child in Hoover actions
food returned by Elizabeth II and George VI
female dog is pleased to see puppies

All 50 answers have now been guessed, and are in the comments box.

There are 10 Starbucks in the Food Court.
If you still fancy a challenge, see if you can spot all ten before looking at the answers.

 Sunday, August 06, 2017

10 Camberwell
My next turned-over card revealed the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell, previously home to the Liberty of Peckham and the Hamlet of Dulwich, now the southern half of the borough of Southwark. Camberwell remains not as well connected as it could be, so I've been off to visit a) places where old stations used to be b) the bit of Camberwell that's over a mile from any station c) places where new stations might be built.

a) Camberwell station

In a notoriously stationless suburb, it must be galling that there's still a street called Camberwell Station Road. The ex-station (on the line south from Blackfriars) opened in 1862, but swiftly succumbed to competition from electric trams at the start of the 20th century, and closed to passenger traffic in 1916. Freight continued to use a small goods yard on the northern side, but this too was closed and the station's been completely out of action since 1964. No platforms survive, but the booking office is still in use as a garage... or at least I think it is, it's hard to tell on a Saturday when the front is shuttered.

Camberwell Station Road is very garage-y these days - mechanics do tend to flock to arches under railway viaducts, which is somewhat ironic here given how road transport killed off the station. The former tram works at the end of the road is now Walworth Depot, packed with red double deckers, and retains a banner out front proclaiming the Year of the Bus 2014. Meanwhile the former Post Office depot opposite the former station is now Camberwell Bus Garage, home to another dozen southeast London routes. There do seem to be a lot of bus depots round here, perhaps because there's no station, but this could ultimately change if an imminent business case supports Camberwell's reopening. It does seem utterly bonkers this one's been closed for over a century. [more history]

a) Walworth Road station

Here's proper carelessness, a second consecutive station closed in 1916 and never reopened. Walworth Road station lay just off the street of the same name, on a viaduct spanning four residential streets, and was a full four platform affair. Those surrounding terraces have since been comprehensively redeveloped, the Station Tavern replaced by flats and the street pattern radically changed, with Beresford Street (where the entrance was) now known as John Ruskin Street.

In what remains of the shopping parade, unisex Afro salons and spicy takeaways now butt up against Bob's Cycles, where men who properly like bikes stand around with mug of tea in hand admiring the silver steeds racked up outside. There'd be considerable latent demand for a reopened station hereabouts - the line sees plenty of Thameslink trains heading Herne-Hill-ward - but it's not clear the timetable could cope with the extra stops, and there isn't the money. There never is the money where existing residents are concerned, only where there might be the prospect of squeezing in more. [more history]

b) Burgess Park

Zone 2's railway black hole lies at the eastern end of Burgess Park - the only part of inner London to be over a mile away from a station. My blog explored this phenomenon in some detail a couple of years ago with the aid of a special map, you may remember. There were once houses here where the park now stands, either side of the Grand Surrey Canal, but bomb damage and demolition carved out a new greenspace for Southwark in the 1970s. Alongside grew the monolithic slab blocks of the Aylesbury Estate, about as far removed from their Metroland namesakes as it's possible to imagine, a couple of which also nudge into the 1-mile void.

The least accessible spot, station-wise, is to be found on the south side of The Lake beside the barbecue area. Here Southwark council display a strict list of rules and regulations - no gazebos, no generators, no music - but this doesn't stop the local populace turning up and firing their coals, even less than an hour before it's forecast to chuck it down. Almost on this precise spot (in fact the floodlit football pitch) is where the R Whites lemonade factory used to be, the ultimate postwar refreshment brand, but with its roots in late Victorian Camberwell. As for the lake, in 1982 it boasted the world's largest plastic sheet lining, and is today crossed by a low-key footbridge. I checked on Citymapper - Elephant & Castle 1.1 miles, South Bermondsey 1.1 miles, Peckham Rye 1.1 miles. You won't be coming by train any time soon. [more history]

c) Old Kent Road 1

But you might be coming eventually. Plans to extend the Bakerloo line to Lewisham are progressing slowly, and one of the two brand new stations is pencilled in for the northeast tip of Burgess Park. Not actually in the park itself, you'll be pleased to hear, but on the opposite side of the busy Old Kent Road, in one of two potential locations. A recent consultation offered up either the big Tesco and its car park, or a light industrial compound the other side of Dunton Road, for the station currently codenamed Old Kent Road 1. And last week the results of that consultation were published, with a fairly convincing (2:1) public preference for supermarket demolition.

Tesco aren't that keen, unsurprisingly. They have other plans for the possible redevelopment of their enormous traffic island... which if the other site is chosen could make them lots of money. But there is a strong case for building the new Bakerloo line station on the Old Kent Road rather than a couple of hundred metres further back, not least for easy interchange with other forms of transport, hence locals may end up requiring alternative grocery options during the construction phase. If eventually built here, however, the lake in Burgess Park would be only 250m away, closing off Southwark's station-free black hole forever. [factsheet]

c) Old Kent Road 2

The location of the second potential Old Kent Road station is more of a headscratcher. Again there are two possible locations but this time almost half a mile apart rather than nearly on top of each other. Option A would be on the corner of St James's Road, opposite B&Q, with the station replacing Currys, PC World and B&M. This site is well placed for interchange with local bus services, and also close to a trading estate developers have a mind to turn into flats. On the downside it'd be relatively close to Old Kent Road station 1 - I walked it in comfortably under 15 minutes - which might be the site's downfall. When you're planning to open two new stations in an area that hasn't got any, it's a bit silly to build them too close together.

Option B would be further down the Old Kent Road, at the top of Asylum Road, and swallow up Toys R Us and its extensive car park. There's plenty of space, and most of the people who'd mourn its loss don't yet have children. It'd also space out the stations better, the next down the line not being until New Cross Gate, although the site is a bit close to Queens Road Peckham and there isn't the same amount of potential housing close by. This time, the consultation report shows, four times as many respondents preferred Option B to Option A. That doesn't necessarily mean Asylum Road will ultimately get the nod, but we'll discover more when TfL respond in due course. It's still not even confirmed there'll be trains by 2030. Until then central Southwark remains annoyingly disconnected, but also safe from the whirlwind the Bakerloo extension could bring. [factsheet]

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