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”.
There are many terrible things going on in south-east London right now. The rise in the number of people forced to use food banks. People young and old are being forced out of our area because of a lack of affordable housing. Stupidly-priced, ugly speculative housing developments appearing everywhere to line the profits of a select few. The politicians who’ll happily sacrifice communities’ health and well-being to drive new roads though our neighbourhoods, instead of delivering the public transport we sorely need.
But according to The Guardian, the worst thing going on in south-east London right now is the name of a pub.
The Job Centre opened at the beginning of June. I popped in on its first night – in its first half-hour, as it happened. The staff were still figuring out how to work the tills, a spark was sorting out a final bit of work with the electrics and some brick dust still sat on the tables.
I only planned to pop in for one, but I soon gained good company and stayed for a bit longer. By the time we left, the place was doing a healthy trade – hey, some dancing had even broken out. It had the kind of mixed crowd you’d expect from somewhere in Deptford, with a dog curled up on one of the chairs. It felt like the place had been open for years. This’ll be a hit, I thought.
My only worry was the place had barely been decorated. And from the upstairs gents’ toilets, people in the flats opposite had a view right into the cubicle. Awkward.
I tweeted a few thoughts about the pub, and somebody asked me if I thought the name was offensive. At first, I had my doubts about the name. The place was a job centre until 2010, and was then was squatted on and off – it looked like it was having a riotous party the day of the royal wedding in 2011. Pub firm Antic agreed to take on the site in January 2013, under the name “The Job Centre”.
Antic had clearly based the pub’s logo on the 70s/80s Job Centre design… but nobody did anything naff like making cocktails named after benefits. There’s a little pin board up where people could advertise local vacancies – but essentially, it’s just a boozer.
Maybe I’d have called it the Mercury (after the newspaper once based upstairs), but Antic names its new pubs after the buildings they used to be. (Coming soon: The Woolwich Equitable.) It’s common for new pubs to be called after their buildings’ former uses, and a job centre is part of the urban landscape. And anyway, if they’d called it something else, plenty of locals would have just called it “the old job centre” anyway. If you were looking to piss people off, you’d call it the Moustache and Ukelele.
(Indeed, if there’s an Antic pub I’ve found a teensy bit dodgy, it’s the Effra Social in Brixton – a former Conservative club which is a fine place for a drink, but still has pictures of the old club’s members on the walls. If that was my Tory grandad’s picture left up for the amusement of guffawing drinkers, I’d want to have a few words with the owners.)
Scroll forward five weeks, and the Guardian’s Comment is Free ran this on Wednesday morning from Jane Elliott, “senior lecturer in contemporary literature and culture at King’s College London and a resident of Deptford”.
Gentrification? Irony? Behave, it’s a bloody pub, and one whose name has been known for 18 months. Brockley Central has dealt with this piece’s failings better than I could, although it’s worth emphasising this line from Elliott:
“Many of those moving into neighbourhoods such as Deptford – myself included – would prefer not to see themselves as part of the wave of displacement…”
Yeah, right. Some well-paid incomers are more worthy than others, eh?
Anyway, there was some sound and fury on social media, largely generated by people who’d never visted the place, branding the Job Centre some kind of hipster hell. Which it certainly wasn’t the night I visited. Nowhere on Deptford High Street is like that.
Someone at the Guardian didn’t want this to blow over, though. On Wednesday evening, a news story appeared.
So, five weeks after the pub opened to a packed crowd of locals, it faced a backlash over a name that’d been known for 18 months. Eh? Something smelt fishy about this (and it wasn’t the whiff from the other end of the high street).
Strangely, the story didn’t refer back to the Guardian piece that kicked it all off. Instead, it referred to an “open letter” written by one… Jane Elliott.
So Jane Elliott is actually from Lewisham People Before Profit, the political party which tried to take over the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign earlier this year.
Funny, though, because back when the Job Centre pub opened, Ray was wishing them luck:
Thanks to tweeter @Chimpman for the screengrab.
So if the whole thing was a publicity stunt from People Before Profit, what about the local outrage? Well, the report didn’t come from a Guardian news reporter, but carried the byline of culture reporter Hannah Ellis-Petersen. I asked her on Twitter if she’d visited the pub, and she didn’t respond.
I wonder, though if she approached the story with an open mind…
It also carried the byline of Helena Horton, the editor of a student newspaper in York. She did answer my questions, saying she interviewed locals “around the area outside the pub”. Like this one:
How many job centres look like this?
While the Job Centre row is a decent publicity coup for Lewisham People Before Profit, pointing fingers at a pub’s name isn’t going to find people homes they can afford to live in, or jobs that pay a decent wage. Indeed, Woolford appeared to be hoping the pub would close – adding to the dole queue.
The sad thing is that there is a debate to be had about gentrification – from the absurdity of places like Peckham’s “Bellenden Village” enclave to the local politicians who appear to resist nice things in their wards out of fear of attracting middle-class incomers. It’s a debate with many grey areas and one bound to reveal your own personal prejudices.
Maybe we can have a chat about it some day – at the Guardian’s own hipster coffee bar…
6pm update: “It’s great to have a new local…” Crosswhatfields’ take on the Job Centre, including the curious case of the Lewisham Council-subsidised supper club…
There’s much to be proud of in Deptford these days. A thriving creative community, one of London’s most distinctive street markets, a rich naval heritage and the feistiest community spirit this side of the Thames. Or, indeed, on their side of Deptford Creek, which is what divides Deptford from its eastern neighbour, Greenwich. I’ve been doing a bit of work alongside the Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart campaign lately and been hugely impressed with their tenacity and determination to defend their neighbourhood. What’s not to like?
One oddity, though, is that Deptford has long been split between between two boroughs. In 1900, the parish of Deptford St Paul went to form the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford, while the parish of Deptford St Nicholas became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. In the 1960s those boroughs became Lewisham and Greenwich, and in 1994 the boundary was moved slightly to the east, shifting Convoys Wharf – the old royal dockyard – into Lewisham borough.
Despite all this change, the creek has always been the boundary between Deptford, SE8, and Greenwich, SE10. But despite living in a unique and rather special part of London, some residents want out. They want to be considered part of Greenwich.
They’re clearly confused.
Sorry chum, the border down Watergate Street is the Lewisham/Greenwich borough boundary. The border goes just past the SE8 delivery office for Royal Mail, funnily enough. Just like it runs down the middle of Blackheath Village, too – and they’re not demanding to be called “Greenwich”.
But who are the culprits? Estate agents, who’ve sold properties in SE8 as being in “Greenwich” for years, and the highways department of Greenwich Council, who stuck a sign outside Sainsbury’s in Deptford a couple of years ago bearing the legend “West Greenwich”. Mind you, it originally said “East Greenwich”, so what do they know?
And then there are bits that as as wrong as the petitioners’ geography. Greenwich charges a lower rate of council tax than Lewisham – the average Band D in Greenwich is £1,283.91, in Lewisham it’s £1,363.35. I’m not really sure another £1.50 a week on your council tax will have an impact on your house price.
Another falsehood. Your postcode alone cannot affect your credit score.
But if you live in Deptford, the nearest town to you would be… Deptford.
Is that legally possible?
I live in Charlton. Can I have an SE10 postcode, please? And so on.
Ah-ha! Here’s Dave to put ’em right.
Of course, we all know postal areas have their quirks – ask residents of SE13 who pay council tax to Greenwich and SE10-dwellers who pay to Lewisham. And Royal Mail almost always refuses these requests anyway. So maybe the ideal solution to this was proposed over two decades ago, when Deptford Power Station was still standing and Greenwich borough extended up Evelyn Street, and the boundaries were being reviewed.
Now you see, if only the boundary commission had taken up Lewisham’s suggestion – our friends wouldn’t be so confused today. As it stands, they’ll just have to move house if they want to live in Greenwich – just like everybody else.
Sunday update: Also worth seeing Transpontine’s take on this.
It’s a development which will have massive implications for Greenwich, yet there remains surprisingly little concern east of the creek about the enormous plans for Deptford’s Convoys Wharf, which will tower over the views from Greenwich Park and Cutty Sark Gardens (above).
With three enormous towers of 26, 32 and 40 storeys, the plans would change the skyline forever; and by squeezing 3,500 homes onto the site (3,000 likely to be sold abroad, just 12% going to the local community), riverside Deptford would be transformed. Into what, though, nobody quite knows.
Furthermore, this isn’t just any old patch of derelict land – this is the site of the first royal dockyard, founded in 1513, and arguably the beginning of Greenwich’s links with royalty. The site’s now on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list.
So, it was right and proper that Lewisham Council took its time on the scheme. Until Hong Kong-based developer Hutchison Whampoa threw a wobbly and went running to Boris Johnson, that is.
Now the mayor has decided to call in the application himself, taking the decision away from Lewisham Council and putting it in his hands. Considering Johnson’s track record in backing big developers, and his recent trip to China, you could forgive those who think this one of the more whiffy decisions to come out of City Hall.
It’s not as if critics don’t have alternative ideas for the site. Diarist John Evelyn once kept a legendary garden here. Campaigners want the site to include a recreation of Sayes Court Garden. Most excitingly of all, the Build The Lenox project wants to have a visitor attraction here, centred around building a Tudor era warship in the old dockyard.
At the moment the historic dockyard at Deptford has no working links with its wonderful history. Building a ship which was a significant part of the dockyard’s past would regenerate the area and help restore the eminence Deptford once enjoyed. It would also help bridge the maritime cultural gap with Greenwich. For a modest entrance fee, visitors would be able to see the ship being built and some of the traditional skills used to build her. They would experience all this in close proximity to structures that were contemporary to her construction, such as the Master Shipwright’s house and other surviving buildings.
While locals were hoping Lewisham Council could force Hutchison Whampoa to incorporate these ideas into the Convoys development, Johnson’s intervention puts all this at risk.
As well as the Lenox site, there’s also an excellent analysis of the issue at Deptford Is…. Anyone who cares about Greenwich should be caring about this issue too – because the consequences of what happens at Convoys Wharf will be felt far beyond a small corner of riverside Deptford.
New plans to redevelop Convoys Wharf in Deptford are about to be submitted to Lewisham Council, so London’s monopoly evening newspaper very kindly copied and pasted one of the developers’ press releases.
Why would London want another Shoreditch, for heaven’s sake?
(Cliche watch: It’s nine years since the Standard called New Cross “the new Hoxton“.)
Anyone on the east side of Deptford Creek who hasn’t been keeping up with the Convoys story should be brushing up on it now. With 46-storey towers looming over the riverfront, and 3,500 new flats – with the only new transport infrastructure being diverted bus and river bus routes – this makes recent plans for Greenwich and Woolwich look like child’s play.
It’ll have a huge impact on the Greenwich town centre heritage site, but the wider effect on the local infrastructure threatens to be even more damaging than some of the other poorly thought-through developments in this area. See the Deptford Dame for more.
But hey, new Shoreditch!
“Not kept pace with those of other riverside areas,” eh? Silly Deptford for being Chelsea Harbour. Well, not yet.
Deptford Is… has much more informed Convoys commentary than I could ever provide, while for imaginative ideas of what to do with the Convoys site, take a look at the Sayes Court Garden project (which wants to recreate John Evelyn’s 17th Century garden) and Build the Lenox – a scheme to get the old dockyard building a ship again. Both ideas aim to build on the tourist appeal of Greenwich, and deserve support.
Apologies for the short notice, but if you use Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich or Deptford stations you should know about this – there’s a meeting on Tuesday at Davy’s Wine Bar, Greenwich High Road (7pm) about the possibility of setting up a rail users’ group for the Greenwich line, following the success of the Charlton Rail Users’ Group just down the line.
A rep from Southeastern will be there, along with someone from the Charlton group to explain how they did it. The initiative comes from the Westcombe Society (Westcombe Park and Maze Hill) and is supported by the Greenwich Society (er, Greenwich); where Deptford fits into this is unclear, but issues with the new station there suggest SE8-ers should be represented too.
The impetus for this is the disruption that rebuilding works at London Bridge station will cause (with many trains not stopping there for a couple of years) – to find out more, pop along if you can.
It hasn’t been the best of weekends to enjoy it, but the Thames Path is one of the best things about this part of London. If you take the borough as a whole, Greenwich borough has the longest riverfront in London, and as well as a walking route, it’s a designated cycle route too.
A scrutiny panel of councillors has been looking into ways of improving it as a cycle route, and officers have come up with a report – you can read it here (4MB PDF). It features some good ideas, such as sorting out the irritating cobbles at Greenwich Millennium Village, changing signs so they read “North Greenwich” rather than “Blackwall Point”, and (yes!) installing cycle stands outside the Pelton Arms pub.
Councillors are meeting on Tuesday night to discuss it – and the public’s welcome to come along and ask questions if they want. A lot of attention will be on plugging the gap between the Thames Barrier in Charlton and King Henry’s Wharf in Woolwich, something which would dramatically change the way the path is seen – as well as helping people access the fantastic Second Floor Arts facility at Warspite Road.
That said, hopefully there’ll be room for my own gripe to be addressed – sticking some signs up to get pedestrians out of the cycle path by the cable car (and cyclists out of the pedestrian bits), where markings were worn away by the cable car contractors and not reinstated, while the pedestrian bit was never marked.
I’ve seen some sights commuting along the path over recent months, and sooner or later someone is going to come a cropper – or prompt someone else to come to grief – some day for paying more attention to their iPad than their surroundings.
My other gripe is that it doesn’t do much about improving access to the path – but this seems like an encouraging start.