The 53. Everybody loves the 53. It finds the parts of south-east London other links with the centre of town can’t reach – even if it isn’t allowed too near any fun spots any more (Routemasters ran to Camden until 1988, it last reached Oxford Circus in 2003).
The Plumstead to Whitehall service is also a vital connection for those who can’t or won’t pay expensive rail fares – from London’s army of service workers to those who simply appreciate a door-to-door connection with a view from the window.
It’s these people who’ve borne the brunt of fare rises under the current mayor – up from 90p in 2008 to £1.50 today. And for them, it’s about to get worse still. Travelling on the 53 yesterday, I noticed this message…
“From 17th Jan, route 53 will terminate at Lambeth North.”
Being cut to Lambeth North? From Saturday? No consultation, no notice, no explanation? I fired off a few tweets to see if anyone could work out what was going on.
It turns out things aren’t as bad as the scrolling message would indicate – the cut is a temporary one to facilitate roadworks at Parliament Square. I’m indebted to transport expert Paul Corfield, who passed on this from TfL this morning:
BRIDGE STREET/PARLIAMENT STREET, SW1 ROUTE 53: from 0415 Saturday 17th of January until Sunday 29th March, buses terminate and start at Lambeth Palace due to closure of Bridge Street SW1 for utilities work and carriageway resurfacing.
It’d nice if TfL had given us a bit more warning, of course, and maybe even talked it over with local representatives. At least it’s a temporary cut, but it’s going to be a painful one for many – especially with other connections with central London in turmoil.
But it’s worth watching this like a hawk. London Transport tried to cut the 53 back to the Elephant & Castle in the late 1990s, arguing that the new Jubilee Line extension meant it was no longer needed. I’m sure TfL would love to try that again if it knew it could get away with it. It helped that back then, local MP Nick Raynsford was a regular on the 53, as it provided a near-door to door link from his home to Parliament. In the end, express buses were axed – heaven knows they’d be useful now.
Indeed, the often-packed 53 really needs a modern-day champion. Frequencies were cut when the 453 was introduced in 2003 and haven’t been improved since, with successive mayors concentrating on the other service. The big groups of passengers changing from the 453 to the 53 at Deptford Bridge tell their own story.
So the news isn’t as bad as it first appears. But if you value a bus to central London, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.
5.25pm update: Thanks to Neil for sharing the email he had from TfL in the comments below – the curtailment won’t apply overnight, so from midnight to 6am buses will still depart from Whitehall. The arrangements, worryingly, are “until further notice”.
Its existence goes almost unnoticed by most locals, but you’ve a rare – if expensive – chance to travel along the historic Angerstein Wharf branch line to the Thames this November.
The single-track line, which branches off the North Kent route just west of Charlton station, was built by local landowner John Angerstein and opened in 1852.
It’s served as a freight line for all its existence, linking to riverfront industries in both Greenwich and Charlton, which the line acts as a boundary between. As well as running to Angerstein Wharf, it also ran deep into the old East Greenwich gas works. I can certainly remember the screech the slow-moving goods trains made during the early ’80s.
The line had a revival in the 1990s, and is still used to carry aggregates, in particular from Bardon Hill Quarry in Leicestershire.
Proposals for passenger services – from a planned ferry in Victorian times to a service to the Millennium Dome in the 1990s – have all come to nothing, and only a handful of special passenger trains have made the trip up the line.
Now details of one of them have emerged. So if you’ve always wondered what it’d be like to ride along the line, now’s your chance – although it’ll be part of a punishingly-long day on the rails.
It’s part of a railtour called Doctor Hoo, which departs from Waterloo at 8.15am on Saturday 8 November. It’ll take the old Eurostar tracks to head towards Lewisham and Slade Green before turning back to Charlton and up the Angerstein line. It’ll then turn back to head towards Gravesend and a line through the Isle of Grain, before exploring a branch line to Dungeness and returning to Waterloo at 7.05pm.
Tickets start from £72.50 – so if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, block a day out and shell out…
Proof that not everything’s a done deal – and if you speak up, you can change things. Back in March, this website featured plans by the Port of London Authority to rename Bugsby’s Reach, the stretch of the Thames that passes Greenwich and Charlton, as Watermen’s Reach.
Well, thanks to people getting off their backsides and opposing it, the plan’s been scrapped. Bugsby’s Reach will stay Bugsby’s Reach.
There were a total of 47 responses to the consultation, breaking down as follows:
– 10 in favour
– 34 against
– 3 neutral
Those for the change cited the proposal as: ‘fitting commemoration of the river’s past, present and future working life.’
Those against the proposal felt that: ‘historic names should be left alone’; ‘Bugsby’s Reach is a local name reflected landward in Bugsby’s Way’; and ‘The lack of information about Bugsby’s background should not be a reason to remove his name.’
Having considered the balance and nature of consultation responses, we have decided not to proceed with the proposal to rename Bugsby’s Reach.
So it is worth responding to these things. And the PLA’s U-turn means the grisly history of Bugsby’s Hole will continue to be commenmorated, the debate over who Bugsby actually was can go on for many years to come.
With smog levels high in London this week, you might think that anyone proposing major new road schemes for the capital would be laughed out of town.
But Transport for London is considering reviving long-dead proposals for new orbital roads around the capital – raising the spectre of decades-old plans which threatened Blackheath Village and other parts of SE London.
The transport authority is already planning a new road tunnel under the Thames to feed into the A102 at the Greenwich Peninsula. But the plans don’t stop with the Silvertown Tunnel or possible plans for a bridge at Gallions Reach, near Thamesmead.
City Hall is currently consulting on proposals to change the capital’s planning guidance, The London Plan. These include taking on board the recommendations of the Roads Task Force as planning policy.
The Roads Task Force was set up in 2012, after Boris Johnson’s second election win “to tackle the challenges facing London’s streets and roads”. Dubbed an independent body, it includes representatives of haulage, transport and motoring groups as well as the London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets. Its first report was published last summer, and recommended a “feasibility study of tunnelling to remove ‘strategic’ traffic from surface and free-up space for other uses”.
This month, a progress report has appeared, where this has become…
TfL’s enthusiasm for digging tunnels hasn’t just been sparked by Silvertown – Boris Johnson is backing proposals by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to build a Hammersmith Flyunder, which would replace the existing flyover.
While the plan’s being sold on revitalising Hammersmith town centre, options being pushed by the council involve effectively creating a buried urban motorway from Chiswick to Kensington.
So what’s meant by the “orbital tunnel”?
As both the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach/ Thames Gateway Bridge are, essentially, revived versions of long-dead transport plans, this could well mean the resurrection of Ringway 1.
Here’s the leaflet which sold the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach to locals when construction started in 1967. (Thanks to The Greenwich Phantom for the scans.) The BTSA was originally planned to be part of Ringway 1, which would have featured an interchange at Kidbrooke, roughly where the current A2 junction is now.
A new road, the South Cross Route, would have continued at Kidbrooke, following the railway line and ploughing through the Blackheath Cator Estate and tunnelling under Blackheath Village, through Lewisham town centre and featuring an interchange roughly where St John’s station is for a slip road to New Cross. It would then have follow the railway line through Brockley, Nunhead and Peckham and on a flyover through Brixton, where the famous “Barrier Block” of flats was built in anticipation of a motorway which, thankfully, never came.
The Ringways project would have been Britain’s biggest ever construction project. They were proposed by Conservative politicians on the Greater London Council and tacitly backed by Labour opponents – sound familiar? The GLC also planned Ringway 2 – which threatened Oxleas Woods, and still does today in the form of the Gallions Reach Bridge proposal.
But the Ringways caused such public outrage that they never happened. It led to an upsurge in local activism, such as this community group in Grove Park, channelled through the Homes Before Roads group. The Tory GLC considered burying the roads to pacify locals. But when Labour won the 1973 GLC election, it scrapped the Ringways – public protest and oil price hikes were too much.
But now the plans are back. In January, Transport for London’s managing director of planning, Michele Dix, gave a presentation to the Institution of Engineering and Technology. She discussed TfL’s plans to extend tolling on London’s roads, and how this may be applied to the Blackwall Tunnel and Silvertown Tunnel (if built).
Whereas the proceeds from Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge went into public transport, these new TfL tolls would pay for… more roads. Which could include, she said, orbital tunnels.
Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
Essentially, TfL is looking at using the A102 through Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath – and a Silvertown Tunnel – as part of a resurrected Ringway. And areas such as Blackheath, Lee, Lewisham, Brockley and Catford would be in the firing line for a tunnel.
Even if we bury the damn thing, the traffic has to come off the roads somewhere – and London simply can’t cope with the number of vehicles as it is. Any more would be a disaster. Why a road? Why not an orbital rail line?
New roads fill up as soon as they’re built. The last major road to be built in London, the A12 through Leytonstone, is the UK’s ninth most congested road, 15 years after it opened.
This is why opposing the Silvertown Tunnel is so important. It’s the thin end of a very dirty wedge. And it’s why Greenwich Council’s decision to endorse an Ikea next to the Blackwall Tunnel approach is so dangerous – because the last thing we need is extra traffic, even on grounds of congestion alone.
But it’s on health grounds where this also counts. Paris is also suffering from high pollution at the moment, so is making public transport free to all this weekend. London’s politicians, led by its mayor along with its footsoldiers like Greenwich’s councillors, just seem to want to encourage even more people to get in their cars. Choked, congested and polluted – is this really the sort of city we want to live in?
There’s been some baffling stuff happening on the Greenwich Peninsula, but none quite as head-scratching as a plan to rename part of the River Thames.
The Port of London Authority wants to rename Bugsby’s Reach, the stretch of the river along the east side of the Greenwich Peninsula towards Charlton. It plans to call it Watermen’s Reach, to commemorate 500 years since an act of parliament began to regulate those who worked on the river.
The plans are currently out to consultation – you’ll see these notices on the Thames Path:
As far as is known, Bugsby’s Reach was so named originally, because Mr Bugsby, believed to be a market gardener in the mid 1800s, owned land
which touched the river bank where the stream turns to the northwest. What does seem clear is that other than the coincidence of owning land adjacent to the river, Bugsby’s overall contribution to the River Thames since the mid-1800s is markedly less than that given by watermen, wherrymen and bargemen over the past 500 years and more.
Local councillor and historian Mary Mills is less than impressed.
In the days when the river was the River and had real ships on it, Bugsby’s Reach was a place name which sailors worldwide would have recognised and it appears in a great deal of maritime literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“It more properly refers to ‘Bugsby’s Hole’. Those of you who knew Greenwich Peninsula before 2000 will remember that The Pilot Inn once stood in a road which went down to the river. Going out into the river was a long jetty and basically the road and the jetty were going to Bugsby’s Hole. So what was all that about?? There are a number of ‘holes’ in the river and it is a traditional term meaning ‘an anchorage’. So we are looking for someone called Bugsby who had an anchorage somewhere off the Greenwich Peninsula.”
But nobody knows who Mr Bugsby was (or if he really existed). What we do know is that Bugsby’s Hole had a grisly history – “used as a site for gibbeting the bodies of pirates who had been hung, with due ceremony, at Execution Dock in Wapping”.
So while Mr Bugsby may not have been very significant, the land he left behind was – so the name really honours the past of the Greenwich Peninsula, one that’s slowly being wiped out by new development.
But instead, the PLA wants to wipe this out too – an evocative old name swapped for something which sounds like a bad theme pub.
Of course, there is one place where Bugsby’s name would linger – naming an ugly dual carriageway after a place where dead pirates where displayed as a warning seems rather apt. But hopefully enough people will contact the PLA and tell it to commemorate the watermen in another way, and keep Bugsby’s Reach as it is. If you want to keep a bit of riverside history alive, the consultation’s open until 21 April.
Friday update: Charlie Connelly writes…
“I did a bit of rummaging and have found a couple of 18th century Bugsbys who might have had connections to the area.
“First off there’s a ‘Richard Bughsby’ of Deptford who married in Lewisham in February 1714.
“Secondly I found a ‘John Buggbsy’ who married a Grace Clark in Stepney in 1732. No immediate link to the area from that but he is described as a ‘mariner’ and Stepney back then was home to a number of well-to-do seamen (I had an ancestor who was a captain in the East India Company who lived there at the turn of that century) so maybe he was associated with that part of the river, or came to some mishap there or something.”
Lots happening but not a lot of time to write anything here, so go and look at what someone else has written instead. Posts on From The Murky Depths are few and far between, but when they appear, they’re great. And this one about Greenwich Council and poor public spaces is great, as it reminds me that it’s not just me that despairs at how great areas of the borough I live in look like a dump, frankly, with badly-designed, cheaply-treated and poorly-maintained streets. Or “public realm”, to use the lingo.
“Street furniture is almost always installed with minimal thought or care, it is almost always the cheapest and most utilitarian, and maintenance poor. Often thousands will be spent on bizarre schemes that place guardrails across paving in areas with broken walls, bent street furniture etc which are not treated.”
The nicely-done squares in Woolwich are the exceptions which prove the rule – paid for and designed in association with other bodies such as TfL. Otherwise, everywhere else is a mess. Why can’t Greenwich do street design?
I took the picture above for something else, but it actually sums up the point quite nicely. Last year, some of the local bigwigs here in Charlton were patting themselves on the back for having got the council to install some flower containers to prettify the ugly metal railings outside Charlton station.
Once the summer went, so did the flowers… but the empty containers stayed for some reason. Now we have containers full of crap, and the idea’s backfired. It was a nice idea, but nobody really thought it through properly. This kind of thing’s typical, unfortunately.
When I visit areas across Greenwich borough I often hear people putting down their areas, and even appearing quite ashamed of them. Visitors are the same. And you can’t blame them given the state of many areas.
It may seem a small thing, but having to traipse through clogged-up, poorly-looked after streets day in, day out affects people’s well-being and sense of pride in the area, and makes them less inclined to put effort in to pitch in to help sort things out. Two years on, the borough’s regal status looks like a hollow joke when you see the state of the streets in some parts of the “royal borough”. Try Floyd Road in Charlton.
Maybe they’re counting on people being to docile and depressed to complain. But the local politician who has the brains and the guts to seize the issue and do something about filthy and cluttered streets will do more for Greenwich borough’s well-being than any number of tall ships parades or royal borough banners ever will.
There’s a new owner at Charlton Athletic – but the scale of the rebuilding job facing Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet became apparent yesterday when the team’s match against Barnsley was postponed less than two hours before kick-off due to ongoing problems with The Valley pitch.
But Charlton fans should be vigilant that the current problems with the pitch aren’t used as a pretext to move the club out of its historic home.
Last year, it was reported that the club was in talks with Greenwich Council about moving out of The Valley for a new stadium, to be built at Morden Wharf on the west side of Greenwich Peninsula, on land currently owned by developer Cathedral Homes. The club’s old site would become social housing, under this scheme.
What’s been unclear, though is where the impetus for the scheme has come from – whether it came from within the club, or from outside.
But what is known is that Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts was a frequent visitor at matches under the ownership of Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, where he could be seen enjoying hospitality in the directors’ box.
Slater and Jimenez took over at Charlton at the end of 2010. They installed Chris Powell as manager, and secured the funds to secure promotion back to the Championship in 2012. But after that the funds dried up.
The pitch problems at The Valley are a symptom of that trouble. The club admits part of the drainage system has collapsed, and this can’t be rectified until the end of the season. No significant work has taken place on the pitch for years – and the end result of that neglect was Saturday’s fiasco.
Now Slater and Jimenez are on their way out, to be replaced by Roland Duchâtelet, owner of Belgian sides Standard Liege and Sint-Truidense, one-time East German giants FC Carl-Zeiss Jena and Spanish second division team AD Alcorcón. Quite a collection of clubs. He also fronts a small liberal political party in Belgium.
Duchâtelet has installed aide Katrien Meire onto Charlton’s board, but before they could get their feet under the table, a little charm offensive was launched from Greenwich Council.
“Royal Borough welcomes new Charlton Athletic owners,” trilled a press release on 3 January, adding ominously: “The borough will work with the new owners to further strengthen the Club.”
Oddly, Chris Roberts seems to be in a very small band of people who believes that Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez helped Charlton “progress”.
Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “The Council would like to welcome the new owners of Charlton Athletic Football Club to the Borough. At the same time, we would also like to place on record our thanks to the previous owners for the progress made by the Club during their tenure in which they secured promotion to the Championship.”
It’s a very, very odd statement – yes, Slater and Jimenez helped Charlton return to its natural level in the Championship. But the club haemorrhaged senior staff under their regime, and by all accounts was facing serious financial problems before its sale. Hopefully yesterday’s events will encourage football journalists to investigate their record a little more thoroughly.
So what exactly was Roberts thanking Slater and Jimenez for? For being receptive to a proposal to move ground, perhaps? We don’t know, but previous chairman Richard Murray (who returns to his role under Duchâtelet) didn’t get that kind of herogram when he sold up, despite all his achievements.
Neither did the council make any noise when it declared The Valley an asset of community value last November, which would put a six-month block on any sale. Why was that?
If Roberts is putting pressure on Charlton to move, then he’s now got to start again with Roland Duchâtelet and Katrien Meire. Will they be receptive? Nobody knows, but Duchâtelet did refer to The Valley as “a cherished stadium” in a statement to fans last week.
Greenwich Council has denied any formal discussions have taken place over a move. An answer to a Freedom of Information Act request made last year would only say:
“Occasional discussions have taken place between representatives of the Council and CAFC going back over many years. These discussions have included reference to the Club’s aspiration to stay in, or return to the Premiership, and as a result have included reference to the size and capacity of the existing stands and constraints on expansion posed by the physical limitations of the existing site. The discussions have been informal and conversational in nature, and have not been of a substantive nature.”
It’s very easy to make an educated guess that Greenwich Council is encouraging Charlton to move under the pretext that the ground is knackered. It then gets a high-profile occupant for a stadium on the peninsula, while social housing which would otherwise have been built up there gets shunted into Charlton. It’s a conspiracy theory, but with the lack of anything on the record, it’s one which makes sense.
Typically, not even those connected with Greenwich Labour know quite what Roberts’ intentions are towards Charlton. Even those who support the club seem hazy on the plans.
But a conversation I had with one yesterday worried me. “If there’s a continuing sense The Valley is awful, it makes the argument to move easier,” I was told.
Yet there is nothing wrong with The Valley. The pitch hasn’t been maintained properly, but that’s a management failure, not a failure of location. Indeed, The Valley was known as one of the best pitches in the country a decade ago. And it can be that way again.
If there’s an argument for moving, it surrounds the The Valley’s limited room for expansion. But with The Valley not even two-thirds full at present – and Greenwich Council having previously backed past expansion plans – that isn’t an issue.
Fixing the pitch should be relatively cheap. But perhaps the embarrassment of the postponement, and the way it was mishandled by the club might prompt Duchâtelet to show his hand on the long-term future of Charlton Athletic.
It’s 24 years since Charlton fans formed the Valley Party to fight Greenwich Council on the issue of the club playing at its traditional home. Nearly a quarter of a century on, it may well be time for a new generation to become just as vigilant and proactive towards the council’s intentions for Floyd Road.