diamond geezer

 Monday, November 20, 2017

If you've ever fancied watching part of London being created, come to Barking. Specifically come to Barking Riverside, the brand new neighbourhood being carved out of hundreds of acres of desolate Thames foreshore. Where Barking Power Station once stood, or rather on the landfill site and pulverised fuel ash dump nextdoor, preparations for an enormous housing estate are taking place. Eventually 10% of the population of Barking and Dagenham will live here, in mews and flats and apartment blocks, across a landscape that's currently mostly blank. But a phenomenal act of placemaking is underway, and to see it all you have to do is take the bus.

The EL1 heads south from Barking, crosses the A13 and nudges the Creekmouth industrial area. It turns off through the postwar Thames View estate, which was as much as anyone was allowed to build round here before transport links were improved. In 2013 the bus was extended to the first chunk of Barking Riverside, several hundred homes of much more modern provenance. But only in September was the EL1 extended - evenings and weekends excepted - up the hill, past the top flats, along a bus lane and out the other side. It's not exactly pastures new, but it is an astonishing alteration.

River Road used to be the main access to a belching power station, before decaying to a potholed track. It's where the amazing Dagenham Sunday Market hangs out, and should do until Phase 4 wipes it away. The market used to be highly inaccessible unless you had a car, or liked a long hike, but now a new road's been knocked through from the estate suddenly getting here's a doddle. Until 2013 a bus ran along River Road twice a day to ferry mostly non-existent workers to their recycling yards, pausing at some of the remotest bus stops in London. In a remarkable turn of fate the replacement bus stops now see ten buses an hour, rather than two a day, not that there are yet any passengers for the EL1 to pick up.

Immediately ahead will be the district centre for the new Barking Riverside neighbourhood, as yet entirely unbuilt other than one road. The EL1 turns off into a landscape of flattened earth, skips and cables, which will eventually be a buzzing hub of offices, restaurants, bars and retail. It feels really odd entering a zone previously entirely inaccessible, now crisscrossed with caterpillar tracks and trenches, where tens of thousands of people will one day grab a coffee. And just off to the left, perched on a viaduct, will be Barking Riverside Overground station, the key transport link which unlocks the entire development. Completion isn't due until 2021, and construction doesn't begin until early next year, so don't expect to see anything yet.

The penultimate bus stop on the route exists physically but not digitally, close to the stack of silver containers on the waterfront that Barking & Dagenham council built as an environmental study centre. Today the Barking Riverside development team have taken it over, because their need is greater, as they keep an eye on the brick-and concrete wave that's about to sweep inland. The existing jetty will be upgraded and gain a Thames Clipper service into town, and long before that a floating hotel, if the planning notice pinned up at the top of the footpath is to be believed.

The reason for the EL1's extension lies ahead, namely Riverside Campus, England's largest free school cluster. This opened in September, in the middle of pretty much nowhere, because Barking and Dagenham urgently needs more school places, as will the 29000 residents who move in later. Part secondary, part primary and part special needs, pupils are already enjoying a sports hall, four multi-use games areas, an all-weather pitch and two dance studios. The bus provides a lifeline for pupils from existing communities, and will one day whisk actual residents away from neighbouring streets, but until those exist 'every six minutes' does feel like a ridiculously wasteful service.

What's unnerving is alighting at the terminus on a perfectly formed road which leads nowhere. It has segregated cycle lanes, double yellow lines and speed limit signs, as well as zebra crossings with zig-zag markings that absolutely nobody yet needs. Ahead the road terminates at a set of temporary barriers, behind which is a forest of cranes and a workforce doing stuff with diggers. It's promised that buses will terminate up here from the summer, but in the meantime drivers turn off up a one-way access road and park their vehicles at the top of the slope, before heading back and picking up any school staff or pupils on the way. One day this'll be be a throbbing metropolis, but for now the EL1 is parking up in an amazingly remote location.

I can't begin to tell you how incongruous this transformation looks to someone who remembers how the area used to be. The footpath along the foreshore from Dagenham Dock has long been one of my favourites for its sheer isolation, and the joy of walking half a mile beside the Thames along entirely undeveloped riverbank. Originally the area inland was an expanse of hummocky brownfield, and free-to-roam, but a few years ago it was fenced off, and prolonged dirt-shuffling has finally created a level plateau upon which homes can be built. Footpath 47 still somehow survives around the perimeter of the site, flanking the river with dazzling estuarine views, but is losing its edge somewhat as the excavators encroach.

One day Footpath 47 will be reimagined as a sanitised wetland strip with timber boardwalks and a 'coastal garden'. One day a wall of flats will replace the temporary metal fence, facing out across the river towards lowly lowrise Thamesmead. One day the road beneath the pylons will be diverted and turned into a park, because nobody wants to buy a flat under a string of fizzing cables. One day this empty wasteland will be alive with a brand new community, and one day you might even move out here to raise a family. But to witness the art of placemaking in action, and the genesis of something from absolutely nothing, a double decker bus ride is all it takes.

 Sunday, November 19, 2017

Friday's opening of the new entrance to Bond Street station ticks off a special achievement - it's become only the third step-free tube station inside the loop of the Circle line. This time last year there was only Green Park, but two Crossrail-related upgrades in 2017 have trebled the total. At Bond Street it takes three lifts to get from street level to the Central line (two downs and an up), but then you can ride the tube to the other end of Oxford Street... which'll be dead useful when it's pedestrianised and all the step-free buses disappear. Learn more about the new entrance (and the labyrinth beyond) from Ian's photos, or from Geoff's video.

Meanwhile, here's my attempt at a chronology of all the wholly step-free tube stations in Zone 1.

YearInside the
Circle line
On the
Circle line
Outside the
Circle line
1999 WestminsterSouthwark
London Bridge
2005  Earl's Court
2010 King's Cross St Pancras 
2011Green ParkBlackfriars 
2012 Farringdon 
2016 Tower HillVauxhall
2017Tottenham Court Road
Bond Street
now3 out of 21 = 14%5 out of 27 = 19%4 out of 15 = 27%
2018 Victoria
2020  Nine Elms
Battersea Power Station

This may not seem an impressive list, but most stations in Zone 1 are over 100 years old, and you can't berate the Victorians and Edwardians for their failure to futureproof. Every new tube station built in the last 40 years is step-free (Hatton Cross being the last that wasn't), but we don't build much rail infrastructure in Central London any more, which is one reason why Crossrail will be so transformational.

The next step-free connection will be at Bank, when the new Walbrook entrance to the Waterloo and City line opens next month. Making only one end of a 2-stop line step-free obviously isn't ideal, but every upgrade helps. Let's hope they solve the challenge of how to show the new blob on next month's tube map without making a complete visual mess.

With very little fanfare, indeed no publicity at all, TfL have moved into a brand new office block. What's more, it's the very first office block in Stratford's new business district, the International Quarter. You'd think someone would have shouted louder.

The International Quarter follows the strip of land between the Olympic Park and the Westfield shopping centre. The two towers nearest to the station are residential, but TfL have taken the prime commercial spot, immediately opposite the exit from the shops. It may be quiet outside now, but when the hoardings are removed and the direct route into the Olympic Park reopens, everyone will be walking this way along the promenade, straight past TfL's revolving doors.

Beyond the doors is a spacious atrium with 12 branded roundels on the wall above the reception desk, ordered alphabetically from Air Line to Underground. Turn left to swipe your card through the row of gates - I'm guessing contactless doesn't work here - and then the main lifts and a staircase lie beyond. I haven't been inside the building, you understand, merely walked past the cigarette smokers out front, but glass is a wonderfully transparent medium.

TfL's new address is 5 Endeavour Square, a third administrative hub to match their existing presence down the Jubilee line at Southwark and North Greenwich. Relocated staff visited for an induction look-around in September, started moving in properly last month, and will fill ten floors of office space. The liftshafts form a red-panelled rib down the centre of the building, and a nice touch is that the big numbers on the external stairs are written in Johnston, the official TfL font.

Most of the ground floor is taken up by 50 car parking spaces(!), as well as a creche and a selection of as-yet empty retail units. Pret A Manger and ramen-mongers Tonkotsu will soon be arriving to feed off the captive audience above, and to cater to passing hordes. The top floor features a large rooftop terrace overlooking the Olympic Park, ideal for events and receptions. As for bikes, cycle parking is provided inside on the mezzanine, a cycle hire docking station has been located a few yards towards the Aquatics Centre, and a 2-way cycle lane runs past along the pavement on Westfield Avenue.

And round the back is Balcony Park, a bijou area of stepped grass provided specifically for the residents of Glasshouse Gardens, but within easy relaxation distance for TfL staff. Come slouch on the benches, or shoot some hoops, or take a bounce on the three mini-trampolines. It's also fully publicly accessible, should you ever fancy a break from Westfield shopping, even if no signmakers have gone out of their way to suggest it exists. Likewise I wonder why TfL moving into a massive new office block has gone as yet unreported, especially given the savings and efficiencies they must have realised by doing so.

 Saturday, November 18, 2017

Stratford's post-Olympic zone continues to grow and change. Here are some updates from the southern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Crossrail's new electricity substation is finished, and the towpath alongside the Lea is back to normal. Pedestrians and pedallers had been forced onto a pontoon floating in the Lea for over a year while construction was underway, but that diversion is now over, and the new spiky-topped wall is already so covered in graffiti that it looks like it's been there for ages. Crossrail trains will be whooshing underneath before emerging from the Pudding Mill Lane Portal, and the tracks connecting the tunnels into the appropriate platforms at Stratford are also now in place.

Since September the western side of the Olympic Park has had a school to cater for the surrounding neighbourhood, and for the occupants of flats yet to be built. It's called Bobby Moore Academy in honour of West Ham's greatest footballer, even if the team's illustrious history includes only 15 months playing in the stadium alongside. There are two sites, one primary and one secondary, the former for 400 pupils and the latter for 1000. Thus far only the primary site has opened, but with a cohort of Year 7 pupils who will transfer to the secondary school next year, and only then do the first reception kids turn up.

The primary school is lowrise and has its back to the River Lea, with frontage on the Loop Road, which weaves through what will one day be the neighbourhood of Sweetwater. A lot of potentially valuable building space has been taken up by the school's football pitch, which I guess is essential given who the place is named after. Meanwhile the secondary school is being built just to the south of the stadium, between the West Ham Store and the View Tube, and currently has a crane and numerous builders swarming over it. The site's quite compact, hence the building has six storeys and very little in the way of outside space, unless they open up the community running track alongside for breaktime relief.

The View Tube's view has been compromised somewhat by having a whopping great secondary school built in front of it, and the cafe changed hands earlier in the year. The new lot were from The Common, Bethnal Green, who made the menu a little trendier with an emphasis on sourdough and prices quoted to one decimal place. Passing trade is now somewhat limited, and the presence of three chalkboards and three flappy banners further up the Greenway suggested a certain desperation to egg additional punters inside. Perhaps that's why the owners have just thrown in the towel, leaving landlords Poplar HARCA to try to maintain a counter service over the coming weeks as best they can. Meanwhile the upstairs room has been hired by a small social enterprise, so is now off limits, while the containers out front have become mini studios whose artists (allegedly) open up to sell their wares every Saturday afternoon.

A large area bounded by the Greenway, the railway and the Lea remains empty, immediately to the north of Pudding Mill station. There was a residential furore hereabouts when it was proposed that London's largest concrete and asphalt factory be built on the site, even though that's pretty much what used to be here before the Olympics arrived. More than 12000 people signed a NIMBY-ish petition screaming about the impact of chemical dust and vehicle fumes, so were delighted when the LLDC finally refused planning permission in September. The land is still zoned for industrial use, however, so seems destined to remain a mess of mud and piled-up earth until something less belching is proposed.

The Greenway now has streetlamps along it, from Hackney Wick all the way to East Ham. Planners had originally been vehemently opposed to adding lighting, stating that this sewertop path was never intended as a nighttime connection, but that opinion has evidently changed in an attempt to improve cycling connectivity. Many riders have leapt at the opportunity, but some have been mugged along the less accessible bits, and I personally wouldn't risk any of it on foot after dark.

After the flurry of international events held here in the summer, it's good to see that the temporary barriers surrounding Stadium Island have been taken away and access to the podium and surrounding slopes is (mostly) restored. This means anyone can walk freely all the way around the stadium, admiring the West Ham branding if that's their thing, and gawping up at the never-donging-again Olympic bell. Of the World Cup statue WHFC hoped to bring from Upton Park there is no sign. As for the smartly-branded trucks and trailers parked round the rim which open up on match days, including @streetfoodkitchen, Malt & Barley (est 2008) and the Pulled Pork Co, a bit of Googling suggests their provenance is entirely fictional.

Carpenters Road Lock was reopened in the summer with a special day of festivities. Britain's only lock with double radial gates had been derelict for years, then hidden beneath a spotty walkway during the Olympics, and only now has the fully restored link been revealed. The Canal & River Trust are very proud. It all looks impressive, if perhaps a bit too modern, in its slot below the mirrored bridge. The reopening brings additional connectivity to the canal network, breathing life back into the Bow Back Rivers, although boaters have to give at least seven days advance notice if they want to pass through which must explain why I've never yet seen the counterweights in action.

Olympic Park boat tours are now suspended for the winter, so you won't be able to hop on and take a return trip aboard these former Water Chariots until March. But the fleet of boats is still moored up by the Aquatic Centre, in case anyone fancies private hire, along with the Ware to Hertford waterbus which it seems also overwinters here. Those in search of value for money should be aware that the Ware ride costs £1 less and lasts twice as long, if lacking somewhat in its view of national stadia.

A recent intervention in the Olympic Park has been the re-emergence of those famous magenta signs. They've been used to show the direction of step-free routes, which are often quite convoluted but also very important in a multi-level environment like QEOP.
The swinging bench in the Great British Garden, which had been vandalised and removed, has returned fresh and well. I love that bench.
• The Canal & River Trust has opened up a tiny Welcome Station in the hut beside Old Ford Lock.
The two paths south from the Orbit lawn to Stratford High Street remain closed.
No sign of any daffodils poking through yet.

 Friday, November 17, 2017

TfL's annual fare rise was announced yesterday.

It wasn't announced very loudly, because fare increases are no longer news, because fares are frozen. But not everyone's fares are frozen, so while many people will get away with paying nothing extra from 2nd January 2018, others will be paying over 3% more.

To add a historical context, TfL fare rises were 7% in 2012, 3% in 2014, 2.5% in 2015, 1% in 2016 and 0% in 2017. Next year, in the second year of Sadiq's four year freeze, the official increase is again zero.

Here are some of the newly unchanged fares on the tube and on the buses.

Cost of a single central London tube journey

The Zone 1 Oyster tube fare remains at £2.40. That's a 14% increase on five years ago, and a massive 60% increase on ten years ago, which perhaps helps to explain why the fare freeze has so been popular. Meanwhile anyone still paying by cash is forking out twice as much as they would if only they joined the modern world and waved their contactless.

Cost of a tube journey from Green Park to Heathrow
Oyster (peak)£3.50£3.80£4.20£4.50£4.80£5.00£5.00£5.10£5.10£5.10
Oyster (off-peak)£2.00£2.20£2.40£2.70£2.90£3.00£3.00£3.10£3.10£3.10

Journeys beyond zone 1 have barely risen in price since 2013, and Sadiq's freeze means the Z1-6 fare rise between 2013 and 2020 will be an amazingly small 10p. Meanwhile all off-peak London tube journeys avoiding zone 1 remain at the rock-bottom fare of £1.50, which is damned good value.

Cost of a single central London bus journey

The pay-as-you-go bus fare also remains unchanged in January, still £1.50. What's more, "in the first quarter of 2018" the Hopper is being extended to permit unlimited free transfers within an hour of a first paid-for journey. No longer restricted to two buses, the updated Hopper will allow you to catch as many as you like for £1.50, even if you catch a train inbetween. That's cracking news.

So who's losing out?

Fares will still rise on the majority of National Rail suburban services because they're not run by TfL, so the Mayor's freeze doesn't apply. These fares will be rising by inflation, or an average of 3.6%, which is a lot more than the 1.9% they rose last time.

The Mayor's press release is very keen to point out that this 3.6% fare rise is not his fault. Instead the evil Train Operating Companies are to blame, because they want the full whack the government permits so weren't willing to follow Sadiq's example and make a hole in their budgets. The phrase "mandated by the TOCs" appears as many as sixteen times in the text of the Mayoral Decision announcing next year's fares, just in case any journalist might miss the significance. If only Sadiq had shouted this loudly during his election campaign, perhaps voters wouldn't have been quite so surprised when his fare freeze turned out not to be a fare freeze for all.

Rail travellers are amongst those who'll be paying more. From January rail fares within Greater London are to increase by another 10p per journey, while the equivalent tube fares remain the same. For peak journeys between zones 1 and 6, the increase is actually 20p.

Years of differential increases mean rail fares are generally more expensive than tube fares, as this table shows.

Cost of a single train journey (Oyster, 2018)
Z1-2£2.90£2.90 £2.40£2.40
Z1-3£3.30£3.60 £2.80£2.70
Z1-4£3.90£4.10 £2.80£3.00
Z1-5£4.70£5.20 £3.10£3.40
Z1-6£5.10£6.40 £3.10£4.00

The difference in fares is fairly small in inner London, but rises more steeply towards the outskirts. If you live in zone 6, for example, at peak times it's 25% dearer to travel to central London by rail than the equivalent journey would be by tube. Off-peak from zone 3, oddly, it's 10p cheaper. And for journeys that stay outside zone 1, the differential is even worse. All off-peak tube journeys in zones 2 to 6 cost £1.50 off peak, but equivalent rail journeys cost anywhere from £2.00 to £2.90. While one set of fares remains the same but the other rises, this gap can only widen.

As for Travelcards, these are funded assuming you might travel by tube or you might travel by rail, so if rail fares rise then Travelcard prices have to rise too. Everyone with a Travelcard will end up paying more next year, in the order of 3.6%, be that weekly, monthly or annual. No fare freeze here.

And as for those daily and weekly caps which TfL like to trumpet because they save you money, more bad news. These are directly linked to Travelcard prices, so they're rising too. Individual bus and tube fares might not be rising next year, but the point at which the cap kicks in is being raised, so you could end up paying more anyway.

Rise in the one-day cap
Zones travelledIncrease
Any day's travel venturing into zone 6+50p
Any day's travel within zones 1-5+40p
Any day's travel within zones 1-4+30p
Any day's travel within zones 1-2+20p
Any day's travel solely on buses and trams  +0p

Rise in the weekly cap
Zones travelledIncrease
12 or 2345 or 3456+£1.10
234 or 345 or 456+90p
23 or 34 or 45 or 56+80p

Totted up over a full year, London commuters who rely on capping could be paying over £100 more in 2018 than they did in 2017. Sadiq's supposed fare freeze is no such thing if you're a regularly-capped traveller.

According to the Mayoral Decision, "continuing the TfL fares freeze will not have an adverse impact on TfL’s ability to run and invest in the transport services that London needs to remain successful." That's rich, given recent cutbacks in bus services and the cancellation of planned rolling stock upgrades. The worst of both worlds, surely, is that millions of Londoners end up paying more, but getting less.

 Thursday, November 16, 2017

Where is London's steepest hill?

...a hill a car can drive up or down
...officially marked with a road sign
...within Greater London

I think it's Downe Road in Cudham, which I blogged about yesterday.

Having scoured an Ordnance Survey map of the capital, it seems to be the only hill inside the Greater London boundary to be marked with a double chevron.
<< means gradient steeper than 20% (1 in 5)
  < means gradient 14% to 20% (1 in 7 to 1 in 5)
But OS maps only show chevrons on 'important' roads, so triangular warning signs are probably a better indication of a steep hill. Official guidance states that these signs should only be used where the gradient is 10% or more.

Here's my attempt at a list of the steepest roads in London. I've found a 1 in 4, a 1 in 5 and a 1 in 6, each with a sign. Can you help me find some more?

25% (1 in 4)  Downe Road, Cudham (Bromley) [map]

Downe Road careers downhill from Cudham Lane, specifically from the road junction nearest the parish church. It drops sharply to a second junction (with Church Hill) before bending left and heading down the steepest hill in London. A further right-hand bend aids the descent to the valley bottom, the road now narrow enough to make the speed limit of 40mph look somewhat unwise. One of yesterday's commenters, BCW, describes the act of cycling in the opposite direction...
Cycling from Downe to Cudham is 'fun' - a long, winding downhill run into the valley, then lots of uphill, steadily getting steeper up to that killer 1 in 4 section at the end where, if you aren't careful, your front wheel can come off the ground!
Church Hill is also steep enough to merit a chevron on the Ordnance Survey map, but only one, not two. Indeed if you stand above the road junction (pictured above) it's plain to see that Downe Road (right) descends faster than the 'gentler' lane to Berry's Green (left).

20% (1 in 5)  Fox Hill, Crystal Palace (Bromley/Croydon) [map]

This one's not on the Ordnance Survey map because the road is too minor, but Fox Hill is definitely steep because a sign at the bottom says so. It's also a historic track, and was immortalised in oils in 1870 by the French impressionist Camille Pissarro (who was living in Norwood at the time). The road rises gently at first, past some fine Victorian villas and a small recreation ground, before gaining in oomph up a steep, intense climb. Most residents in the houses alongside park facing downwards for an easier getaway. At the top of the 1 in 5 bit is a old parish boundary marker, then Fox Hill peters out at Church Road, atop the heights of Crystal Palace.

17% (1 in 6)  Ena Road, Pollards Hill (Croydon) [map]

Pollards Hill is an actual hill on the boundary of Merton and Croydon, with panoramic views over parts of south London from the park at the summit. Most of the surrounding slopes have been built upon, including a grid of suburban avenues on the northern flank, one of which is Ena Road. Drive in at one end at it doesn't look too bad, but approach via Norbury Cross and a triangular sign warns of a very steep gradient just round the bend. What follows doesn't disappoint, if somewhat innocuous in its setting. White-fronted semi-detached homesteads rise to either side, the gable of one at first floor window height for its neighbour. Within 100 metres you've ascended 17 metre (which should be obvious given how gradients work), and can now gaze back across the vast vista now opened up above the rooftoops below. Beyond a flat summit Ena Road then dips more gently down... but all the finest freewheel/skateboard action must surely be on that western side, so long as you mind the sharp right-hand bend at the bottom!

Other London roads with a confirmed gradient of at least 15%
Plum Lane, Woolwich (20%)
Tormount Road, Plumstead (20%)
Canonbie Road, Forest Hill (18%)
Braeside, Beckenham (17%)
Hartfield Crescent, Hayes Common (17%)
Milestone Road, Crystal Palace (17%)
Spout Hill, Addington (17%)
Vanbrugh Hill, Greenwich (17%)
Waddington Avenue, Old Coulsdon (16%)
Bencombe Road, Purley (15%)
Hartley Hill, Purley (15%)
Granville Park, Blackheath (15%)

Other London roads with a chevron on an Ordnance Survey map
< Jewels Hill AND Saltbox Hill (on the road between New Addington and Biggin Hill) (15%) (15%)
< Polesteeple Hill (between Biggin Hill and Tatsfield) (20%)
< Hangrove Hill (also on the road between Downe and Cudham)
< Church Hill (between Cudham and Berry's Green)

Remember, this is an empirical list... so if you can't provide proof (e.g. a chevron on a map, or a snapshot of a sign) then it doesn't count.

Remember, only roads with a triangular sign are eligible... so, for example, Swains Lane past Highgate Cemetery is infamous as a steep climb for cyclists, and has a maximum gradient of 14%, 18% or 20% depending on who you believe, but it doesn't have an official sign at the bottom, so it doesn't count.

Remember, only roads in Greater London are eligible... so, for example Succombs Hill in Warlingham is infamous as a steep climb for cyclists, and has a maximum gradient of 25% according to the sign at the top, but Warlingham's just outside Greater London, so it doesn't count.

Remember, these are official gradients... so, for example, a bike app or GPX file which shows a gradient of 23% may only apply to a very brief section of road, so isn't what a triangular sign would say, so doesn't count.

 Wednesday, November 15, 2017

2 Chislehurst & Sidcup/Orpington
This would have been the largest London borough, had the Herbert Commission had its way, comprising most of what's now Bromley and a bit of Bexley. The chief reason for its size was the extent of Orpington Urban District, which despite its name was mostly countryside, and whose boundaries dragged several villages and tiny hamlets kicking and screaming into Greater London. I've been out to explore three of these, a trio of rural retreats which probably ought to be in Kent, and likely wish they still were.

Three Orpington villages


Where? Three miles southwest of Orpington, across the fields from Biggin Hill. [map]
How did it get its name? Probably the old English word "dun", meaning hill. The spelling's changed a lot over the years, and was Down in the 19th century. Allegedly the Royal Mail requested the extra 'e' to avoid confusion with County Down, Northern Ireland.
What's on the village sign? A lime tree, the parish church, the white horse of Kent (because residents won't let it go) and a bearded man who changed the world.
How to get there? The 146 hourly from Bromley, or the R8 every 90 minutes from Orpington (or most likely drive).

What's the village like? Quiet, and sprawled, but with a central focus at the road junction by the church. Many of the houses are on the large side, but there are also several cottages, plus some more modern infill safely tucked out of sight of the richer residents. Country lanes hereabouts are narrow, and the farmland often paddocky. A few years ago the government proposed making the local area a World Heritage Site, for historical environmental reasons, but the idea remains on UNESCO's tentative list.
Population? A few hundred.
What's the big news? Fast broadband has arrived for those on the 01689 exchange. The willow tree in the pond has been removed after taking a battering in a summer storm. Nigel Andrews won the Apple Day bake-off.

Church? That'll be St Mary's, which retains one 13th century window and a 16th century steeple. A sundial on the flint tower is dedicated to Charles Darwin, long-term resident of the village, along with a somewhat passive-aggressive comment that he's buried in Westminster Abbey rather than here.
Pub? Two pubs, no less. The Queen's Head is named after Elizabeth I, who once came to the village to attend a christening. As well as Jackie's range of home made soups, it has four CAMRA-friendly real ales on tap. The George and Dragon is more half-timbered and hanging-baskety, again with real ales, and Nigel Farage (who lives in nearby Single Street) is supposedly a regular.
Village shop? Heavens no, that's long gone. But there is an Indian restaurant called the Rajdoot of Downe, and also a teashop called The Teashop. Tripadvisor rates the cake over the curry, but residents are probably onto a winner with both.

#1 tourist attraction? Down House, which for 40 years was home to the naturalist and evolutionary mastermind Charles Darwin. He moved here because of the botanic variety of the surrounding chalk grassland, and would take daily strolls amid this 'natural laboratory' to test his theories. His house is now owned by English Heritage, and is very much worth a look round (but it's weekends only in winter, and some of the rooms are closed, so now's not the best time to come).
#2 tourist attraction? Christmas Tree Farm, which as well as being a non-drop Nordman Fir distributor is also a favourite menagerie for those with small children. Meet the llamas and the "quite naughty" goats, feed the donkeys and maybe get licked by the cows, all before washing your hands and tucking in at the tea room. The farm has a low-key hands-on charm, but OMG the website looks like a jiggery-pokery relic from 15 years ago.
#3 tourist attraction? Downe Bank, the first nature reserve to be purchased by Kent Wildlife Trust, on account of it being Charles Darwin's favourite place to study. He was particularly interested in the abundance of orchids, so named one section of the slope Orchis Bank, and these flowers inspired a seminal treatise on pollination. Today's visitors are restricted to a single steep-stepped path dipping across the dry valley, which opens out only at Orchis Bank itself, where a handful of sheep graze to keep the habitat in check. I've pencilled in to return in summer, and/or in spring for the bluebells, as part of a more in-depth exploration of the area.


Where? Four miles south of Orpington, two miles east of Biggin Hill. [map]
How did it get its name? It was Cowdham at the time of the Norman Conquest, and has since been Codeham and Coldham before settling on Cudham.
What's on the village sign? The church, the pub, the Domesday book (because the village is proud of its age) and some hilly rural bumps. Erected at the millennium, alas the sign had to be taken down in the summer as its tiles kept falling off, and is now awaiting repair.
How to get there? The R10 every 150 minutes from Orpington (or most likely drive).

What's the village like? A motley collection of mostly 19th century houses, with no particular focus, spread out along Cudham Lane facing a steep escarpment. Some of the cottages are a delight, others a bit more municipal. The footpath is intermittent. A lot of people live in (or behind) what used to be Cudham Hall, previously an engineering college, since converted into plush apartments. A large mid-village sports ground is the home of Cudham Wyse cricket club and Cudham United Football Club.
Population: A couple of hundred in the village centre, a few hundred more scattered across the parish in numerous hamlets.
What's the big news? The Christmas Tree Festival launches on 24th November. Pine Media are making a hash of the broadband upgrade. Sarah Elston's Zumba demo at the Cudham Fete went down a treat.

Church? That'll be St Peter and St Paul, which is of 11th century origin, and sits at the highest point hereabouts. Two of the yew trees in the churchyard are believed to be around 1500 years old, suggesting that the site has a much longer history. Repairs to the top of the steeple are currently being actioned via a very long ladder resting across the clockface.
Pub? The Blacksmith's Arms is an archetypal country pub, whitefaced and stepped, and dates back to 1628. Originally a farm building, then a smithy, the owner started selling ale in 1729. Outdoor options include tables out front or the beer garden out back ("Please do not pour drinks on flowers as it kills them"), the latter ideally located for cricket ground refreshment. Nigel Farage is again known to be a regular, and this may be why in 2014 the kitchen started serving a 'UKIP pie'.
Village shop? Heavens no. If you want bread or milk, or anything, best drive to Biggin Hill. But you can get your car serviced, or your MOT sorted, at Humphreys garage.

#1 tourist attraction? The Blacksmith's Arms was the childhood home of Harry Relph, better known as music hall star Little Tich. Born in 1867 with an additional finger on each hand, he stopped growing taller at the age of 10, and eventually worked his way up the showbiz ladder from local curiosity to theatrical impressionist. One of the first visual comedians to be captured on film, his most famous act involved dancing on the tips of 28-inch boots. A small exhibition of Little Tich memorabilia can be found inside the pub.
#2 tourist attraction? The Cudham Circular Walk is a 7.5 mile waymarked trail across ideal walking country, and takes in Downe and High Elms - leaflet here.
#3 tourist attraction? If you fancy giving your car's brakes a good tryout, or want to cycle down a really sharp incline, the lane down the escarpment from Cudham Lane may be the steepest hill in Greater London. Church Hill looks bad enough, but the sign at the top of Downe Road warns of a 25% gradient (or 1 in 4 in old money) which is quite some descent.


Where? Two miles southeast of Orpington, just south of Chelsfield. [map]
How did it get its name? With a name like that, good question... but it turns out to be nothing smutty. Stephen Prat was a 14th century landowner, and the village is low-lying at the foot of a hill.
What's on the village sign? The coat of arms of the Diocese of Rochester, propped up by two white horses (they took leaving Kent really badly here), plus a squat building I think must be the local tollgate cottage (which was demolished in the 1930s).
How to get there? The R5 every 150 minutes from Orpington, or walk a mile to Knockholt station (or most likely drive - the busy A21 road passes through the valley at the foot of the village).

What's the village like? The original village nestles around a triangular common, overlooked by a converted oast house, the pub and the village hall. To the south are some fine weatherboarded cottages and a nautical-themed playground, before the road up Rushmore Hill disappears into a leafy tunnel. Much suburban infill has taken place, most notably the avenues squeezed up onto the escarpment, some of which are lucky/unlucky enough to be in Kent rather than London. Villagey ambience is almost entirely absent along the arterial Sevenoaks Road.
Population? A couple of thousand.
What's the big news? The Christmas tree on the green is already up, with a warning to council staff not to strim underneath for fear of chopping the fairy lights. High on the agenda at the recent AGM of the Pratts Bottom Residents Association was "the dreadful bus service". The next Model Railway Show in the Village Hall is on the weekend of 13th/14th January, but the date for the village panto is not yet set.

Church? That'll be All Souls, a simple chapel-like affair built when the population grew rapidly at the end of the 19th century. Accessed up a steep footpath, the bench out front has fine views over undulating arable fields.
Pub? The Bull's Head (or The Bulls Head, depending) has stood on its current site for roughly 400 years, a short trot uphill from the Sevenoaks Road. Dick Turpin is said to have drunk here, and to have crept in and out via a secret tunnel, but dozens of pubs across the country claim much the same thing. Having survived a spell as a wine bar, then a down-at-heel dive, these days it's a pleasant all-round hub with an open fire for addled overwintering.
Village shop? The Rushmore Store on the main street reopened last year, selling newspapers, groceries and sandwiches, but appears to have succumbed to market pressures and is now very much blinds-down. I suspect the Spar minimart at the Esso garage on the main road sealed its doom. But if it's something more specialist you're after, try the parade across the road. World of Sewing is rammed with craft fabrics, sewing machines and haberdashery, and the nice ladies within will happily demonstrate their overlockers. The next niche retailer is The Christian Bookshop, then a Chinese takeaway, then The Kitchen Doctor offering made-to-measure worktop upgrades, but the intermediate off-licence has alas long since bottled up.

#1 tourist attraction? Other than standing in front of the village sign for a grinning selfie, nothing. But that's no reason to never visit...

 Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The big new viral thing in the world of social media is the World Cup Of.

Richard Osman kicked it off, with his World Cup of Chocolate and World Cup of Biscuits and World Cup of Crisps and most recently a book called The World Cup of Everything.

More recently there's been a World Cup of Cathedrals (won by Lincoln), Geoff has been running the World Cup of lines on the Tube Map (the final is today), Martin is running a Victoria Line World Cup (seeded into four pots) and there's also a World Cup of Zone 1 Stations (currently in its early rounds).

Not to be left behind, I'm excited to be launching several World Cups of my own on this blog. The first knockout matches in each competition are listed below. Simply make your choice and click to vote in each battle, and the current result will pop up on the screen. I'm sure the associated social media buzz will launch me into the media stratosphere, and along the way we'll discover what the UK definitely thinks!

Budgens  Co-Op

February 23rd  October 17th

Jasmine Shimmer  Dusted Fondant

M48  M275

Texel  North Country Cheviot

rhenium  krypton

MacFarlane  McInally

Milhouse Van Houten  Edna Krabappel

Banana  Butterscotch

A4  Foolscap

Jalapeños  Monterey Jack

Diane-Louise  Barney

Red, White and Blue Brexit  Cliff Edge Brexit

😍  😂

a  aardvark

Mexico 1986  South Africa 2010

Best of all there are precisely 16 World Cups, so at the end of the process I'm going to run an extra four-stage knockout to discover which of these competitions is the British public's favourite World Cup, in the Absolutely Official World Cup of World Cups.

Join me now on the World Cup bandwagon, while it lasts, and let's bring that jumped-up football competition down a notch or two.

 Monday, November 13, 2017

Today I'm going to answer the question "Which is the northernmost bus stop served by a TfL bus?"

I'm asking because the answer has just changed. Today it's this bus stop at Potters Bar station.

But last Friday it was this bus stop on a nearby industrial estate.

And yes, budget cutbacks are the reason why. Here's the story.

The bus route we're interested in is the 298 from Arnos Grove to Potters Bar. Evenings and weekends it ran from station to station, but before 8pm on weekdays it continued to the Cranborne Road Industrial Estate on the northwestern edge of town.

It's this extension which TfL have just chopped off following a cut in funding from Hertfordshire County Council, so all buses will now terminate at the station. In last year's public consultation local residents complained about increasing isolation, unsafe walking routes, the disappearance of a step-free connection and having to pay more on other buses, but TfL replied by saying Hertfordshire isn't our problem, sorry, and you're lucky we don't turn buses round at the border. The route is still being run with the same number of vehicles "to improve reliability", but is now about a mile shorter, which must at least save on fuel.

Route 298 runs every 20 minutes and is contracted to Sullivan Buses, an independent operator based at South Mimms. Here's a quick history of the route, as posted up inside the vehicles, because bus companies run by enthusiasts like to do this kind of thing.

Last week I headed to Arnos Grove and took a ride to London's northernmost bus stop, back when it still was London's northernmost bus stop. From one architecturally-renowned underground station the driver led us to another at Southgate, then skipped on to a third at Cockfosters. From here the 298 goes it alone, past the gates of Trent Park and several quite large houses, before speeding through a mile of undulating open country. The border with Hertfordshire came just before junction 24 of the M25, and then it was into Potters Bar proper, via Potty Pancakes, Tesco and Mutton Lane.

It had taken just over half an hour to reach the new, permanent end of the route at Potters Bar station. Only one other TfL bus gets this far - the 313 from Chingford - while other multicoloured services disperse to St Albans, Luton and Waltham Cross. The forecourt acts as a large turning circle, with four bus stops around the edge and a taxi stand in the centre. We pulled into a bus stop none of the posters said we would, where not quite everyone got off and a couple of people got on. The presence of a big Sainsburys by the station had been the draw for one elderly passenger who'd be lugging her provisions home via the soon-to-be-doomed section.

One mile to go, first back underneath the railway bridge, then back onto Mutton Lane heading west. Residents at these next couple of stops aren't going to be left bereft, they'll still have the frequent 84 which heads to Barnet, and the 398 which occasionally goes to Watford. But what they will now face is paying full market price for their journey, no longer cushioned by TfL's fares, which their council no longer subsidises. Last week they enjoyed a bus which heads into London for £1.50, this week it's £2.60... or they can jolly well walk to the station and catch the cheaper option from there.

Only when the 298 turns off up Cranborne Road does redundancy truly kick in. There's only one more stop, half a mile distant, past a run of Thirties semis and dipping down into the valley of a minor brook before entering the industrial estate proper. What struck me first was the sheer number of cars ahead, both parked alongside the kerb but also on the forecourts outside various auto-related businesses. One multi-storey block is actually a Bentley service centre, its stock of scrubbed-up motors so exclusive that an employee was taking repeated selfies next to one of them. London's northernmost bus stop is bang outside.

In fact there are two northermost bus stops, immediately opposite one another, and one is where the driver turfed me off. This particular stop had lost its flag - I found it later lying abandoned in the road beside a distant traffic island. Thankfully the bus stop on the opposite side of the road was intact. This being Hertfordshire there's no roundel or route number, but there is a message on the timetable panel warning that the 298 is being withdrawn. It's been stuck to the glass using sellotape, and looks like it's been churned off an office printer, then chopped up into strips. Something similar is stuck to all the other doomed bus stops, if not at such a jaunty angle. I reckon two sheets of A4 were probably sufficient.

The Timetable Removal Team can never resist going round early when a route is due to change, so the current 298 timetable has already been removed. Posted up instead is Hertfordshire's replacement, an extension of route 242, which reveals a startling drop in service. From today the Cranborne Industrial Estate will only be served by a single bus arriving at half past seven in the morning, and another departing at just after five in the evening. If these two services don't fit your working day, bad luck, you'll have to walk in, or maybe throw in the towel and commute by car. TfL's consultation suggested around sixty commuters would be disadvantaged, but remember this is Hertfordshire's problem now, and money no longer grows on trees.

Technically there is/was a bus stop slightly further north, namely the bus stand where the drivers on route 298 waited up between departures. It's only a short distance ahead, on a scrappy verge beneath the East Coast Mainline, where a forbidding passageway leads off along the foot of the embankment. Sullivan Buses appear to use the area as a bus park, ideal for storing schoolbuses between the peaks as well as 298s not currently out in service. Numerous light industrial units are swirled around the neighbouring loop of access roads, from flooring consultants to skip hire depots and specialist vinyl distributors to plumbers merchants. It's easy to question what a London bus was ever doing out here in the first place, let alone running 83 times a day, but some legacy networks take decades to decay.

So that's why London's northernmost bus stop has changed, why it used to be on an industrial estate and is now outside Potters Bar station. When a council outside the capital stops funding London buses it no longer has any say over how TfL chooses to cut them back, and Hertfordshire can probably count itself lucky that no other routes have been curtailed so far. The 292's excursion to the outposts of Borehamwood looks potentially vulnerable, and I'm sure TfL's accountants would rather the 142 and 258 didn't both venture up to Watford Junction. Sadiq's budget squeeze means a lot of TfL bus services are seeing frequency reductions these days, but it's London's links to its surrounding counties which are most at risk from fare freeze pruning.

A pedant writes: It may not appear on any map, but there is one TfL bus service in Potters Bar which still runs fractionally further north. The 313 normally runs between Chingford and Potters Bar station, but during termtime one additional service continues to Dame Alice Owens School in the morning and another returns in the afternoon. If you count this one-off academybus, then the northernmost bus stop on the TfL network is now at the top of Dugdale Hill Lane, but I choose not to because you'd have to be the laziest schoolkid imaginable to alight so close to where you got on.

For completeness
Northernmost bus stop: Potters Bar station [298, 313]
Easternmost bus stop: Brentwood High Street [498]
Southernmost bus stop: Townfield Court, Dorking [465]
Westernmost bus stop: Queensmere Centre, Slough [81]

 Sunday, November 12, 2017

Yesterday the country paused for two minutes to remember its war dead. Today we'll do it again. But why?

Monday 11th November 1918
The Great War ends at 11am on 11th November - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month - following the signing of the Armistice in a railway carriage earlier that morning. Soldiers and citizens across Europe celebrate, and reflect. [newsreel]
Tuesday 11th November 1919
In May an Australian journalist called Edward George Honey* writes a letter to the London Evening News proposing a national silence on the first anniversary of the Armistice. In October his idea is passed to King George V, who announces "for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities… so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead." The Manchester Guardian reports "Everyone stood very still… The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain… And the spirit of memory brooded over it all." [newsreel]
* Edward dies in 1922 at the age of 37. You can see his grave in Northwood Cemetery, Hillingdon.
Thursday 11th November 1920
The Cenotaph is unveiled in Whitehall. An unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield is buried in Westminster Abbey in The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior. [newsreel]
The two minute silence on Armistice Day is now an annual commemoration. 
Friday 11th November 1938
The official national commemoration is held on a weekday for the last time. [newsreel]
 Sunday 12th November 1939
Following the outbreak of World War Two, the government chooses to move the Two Minute Silence to the Sunday closest to 11th November. This is a practical measure to ensure that the nationwide pause does not interfere with factory production. Acts of remembrance are scaled down and no service is held at the Cenotaph.
 Sunday 10th November 1940
Sunday 9th November 1941
Sunday 8th November 1942
Sunday 14th November 1943
Sunday 12th November 1944
 Sunday 11th November 1945
The first "second Sunday in November" following World War Two, by coincidence, is also Armistice Day. National commemorations at the Cenotaph resume, now to remember the dead of two world wars. [newsreel]
 Sunday 10th November 1946
Rather than reverting to 11th November the Two Minute Silence remains on the closest Sunday, which is officially named Remembrance Sunday. [newsreel]
Many citizens continue to pause for two minutes on 11th November, because this is the actual anniversary.The monarch, armed forces and politicians continue to gather reverently on Whitehall on the second Sunday in November, and the official Two Minute Silence takes place at 11am.
Saturday 11th November 1995
For the 50th anniversary of the end of WW2, the British Legion campaigns for the reinstatement of a Two Minute Silence on Armistice Day. Capturing the national mood, millions do indeed fall silent, and the double-commemoration is up and running.
Sunday 12th November 1995
The following day, the official Two Minute Silence takes place as usual.
The British Legion's Two Minute Silence now takes place on 11th November. "As the national custodian of Remembrance, the Legion believes that when 11 November falls on days other than Sundays, Remembrance should be brought into the everyday life of the nation on those days as well." Only in 2001, 2007 and 2012 have the two days coincided, with a single Two Minute Silence rather than two.The National Service of Remembrance is still held on the second Sunday in November at the Cenotaph on Whitehall, London to "commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women involved in the two World Wars and later conflicts." Only in 2001, 2007 and 2012 have the two days coincided, with a single Two Minute Silence rather than two.
Saturday 11th November 2017
The British Legion organises wreath-laying ceremonies at war memorials across the country, holds a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum, and encourages the nation to pause for two minutes at 11am... which much of it does.
Sunday 12th November 2017
Services and ceremonies are held across the country, with the national focus at the Cenotaph where the royal family, leading politicians and members of the Armed Forces lay wreaths. The nation pauses for two minutes at 11am.
Sunday 11th November 2018
Thanks to a 1-in-7 quirk, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One actually falls on a Sunday, focusing everyone's thoughts on a single day rather than Remembrance Sunday looking like a calendar oddity.
Monday 11th November 2019
But the 100th Armistice Day falls on a Monday.
Sunday 10th November 2019
Here we go again, off-kilter, remembering twice.

So the answer to the question "Why do we stop for two minutes twice?" is twofold. Firstly, a wartime economic measure shifted the commemoration from 11th November to a moveable Sunday, and nobody's ever moved it back. And secondly the British Legion believes that a Sunday isn't good enough, pausing on the actual anniversary is best, and if that interrupts the flow of working life all the better.

In short, the church and government believe it's important to remember, and the British Legion believes it's important to be seen to remember.

I wish we could settle on one date or the other, and stop this unnecessary repetition. Doubling the Two Minute Silence merely dilutes and downplays our reflection, and in today's world it's ever more important to Never Forget.

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