All aboard, ding, ding, we’re going on a trip today: Santa Monica to Chicago; a meander through Andalusia; Amalfi’s coastline; and Clapham High Street. Don’t say I don’t spirit you away to the world’s scenic spots. Much of today’s journey will be with the accompaniment of the passenger on the Clapham Omnibus: The Passenger.
I introduced you to The Passenger when we went for a Burton. The Passenger has been stuck on the Clapham Omnibus since Victorian times. Sure, public transport can be slow, but that really is taking the (Bourbon) biscuit. Who is The Passenger? Why are they significant? Will The Passenger ever reach their destination?
The Passenger is a reasonable person, not subject to outbursts of irrational behaviour. Educated, though not necessarily to a university level. Understanding of the ways of the world, though no expert. If asked to describe The Passenger, grey would immediately spring to mind. As do featureless, no distinguishing marks or mannerisms. Just an ordinary person, going about their ordinary business in their ordinary world. Having been stuck on this omnibus for nearly 150 years, this passenger accepts plenty without complaint, gazing across their windowed city.
I engaged The Passenger to interrogate their knowledge of Burton and rhyming words. They were most helpful before putting their head down back in to a newspaper. My request for help didn’t even force The Passenger to break sweat. The Passenger is happy to be used as a benchmark in conversation, as a barometer, as a bellwether. The Passenger, called to action untold times, is content to be used by proxy and have words put into their mouth. However, the calling The Passenger patiently waits for, and is more than prepared to discharge their duty for, is when the learned (pronounced this way) silks of the bench need to ascertain whether a party in a court case has acted in a reasonable and responsible manner.
The English legal system is a wonderful thing, though that depends entirely on what side of it you are on. Steeped in tradition with a foundation of precedent. With Queen Victoria on the throne, The Passenger debuted for the jury. Called upon as the standard mark against which all future such marks could be measured. Being of unremarkable, yet common traits, our omnibus travelling passenger could be used by the legal profession to determine appropriate behaviour if a standard was applied against them. The Passenger never leaving the comfort and safety of the back seat of the omnibus. That’s where Walter Bagehot glimpsed The Passenger adding:
I don’t doubt that this passenger could solely represent the whole of public opinion. A description, you ask? He may have been bald-headed, that’s all I can say. There lies his beauty, he is so non-descript that he creeps amongst us without restriction, imposition or interruption. Sucking up the word on the street, the thought of the bar, the discussion of the drawing room, the flavours of the kitchen and the, how can I put this delicately, the peccadillos of the bedroom.
He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and when called upon in times of need is there without hesitation, without complaint, without prejudice. As well rounded a fellow as ever I have met.
A lust for life, you ask? He rides and he rides looking through his window, riding through the city’s backsides. All of it yours and all of it his, he sees the things he knows are his. La, la, la, la, lalalala…
He existed then. Or did he? The advertisers of the late 19th century briefly identified The Passenger as sitting on the Clapham Omnibus: a horse-drawn vehicle operating between Clapham and Knightsbridge.
Perhaps The Passenger, if they ever stepped off the omnibus, worked in Harrods. Indeed, if they stepped off the omnibus, they may well have put their foot in the ‘exhaust’ of the horse: turds. Towards the end of the Victorian era, with so many horse-drawn omnibuses operating in London, the streets were rapidly drowning in the brown stuff. Luckily, by the 1890s electric power became more viable, as did the development of the internal combustion engine. So averting a mass drowning, the horse-drawn omnibus was replaced by new alternatives: the electric tram and the motor driven bus. The Passenger welcomes change: a smoother journey, a quicker journey, and longer single journeys.
From horses pulling stagecoaches then omnibuses, petrol and electric, trams and charabancs, open top double deckers to closed top double deckers, Routemaster buses, The Passenger sat on them all. I too have lived in London, but not in The Passenger’s neck of the woods. For a period I commuted to work by Routemaster. Down the Finchley Road, turning left into Oxford Street and on towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. I may even have passed The Passenger along Oxford Street. The Passenger now sits comfortably on the new Routemasters with his route somewhat changed. London bus route 88 covers much of the initial horse-drawn omnibus route that ran between Clapham and Knightsbridge.
Route 88 is perhaps not the most famous bus route in the world, let alone in London. The first bus route in London began in the 1820s, running between Paddington and the Bank (of England). Since then, many more routes have taken to the roads. These days, the lower numbered bus routes, running through the heart of the city, are perhaps the most popular with tourists with routes 9, 14 and 15 offering reasonably priced views of many of London’s famous landmarks. However, running from glamorous Clapham to even more glamorous Parliament Hill, Route 88 cuts a straight north/south line between those two areas and passes through much of the heart of London too.
To boost the popularity of the route I give you my guide to Route 88. (Another guide of the 88 (and other routes) has been published by the ‘ladies on the bus’). My guide will be in four parts (part 1 below and the others will follow upon completion and perhaps, like London buses, two may arrive at once). I’ll leave the tourist hotspots en route to the Lonely Planets of the world. At each stop, I’ve tried to find something interesting in the locale, that perhaps the Lonely Planet missed. There may be times when you may need to leave the comfort of the bus and the companionship of The Passenger. So arm yourself with a hop-on/hop-off travel-card and let’s depart.
Our first leg, from Clapham to Vauxhall, starts at Wingate Square. The 1000 year common land nearby is Clapham Common. The four ponds, found within boundaries of the common, were the setting for science experiments and trickery conducted by one of the United States’ founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. The English painter, J. M. W. Turner, who we will catch up again with later on our journey, painted a landscape of the common at the turn of the 19th century. The church at the north of the common, Holy Trinity, opened in 1776 - same year as Ben Franklin’s founding father work came to fruition. No wonder he visited the area. The church was also the chosen venue for worship of the Clapham Sect. William Wilberforce was a member of the sect and most remembered for pushing through Parliament the Act to Abolish the Slave Trade.
Turning in to Clapham High Street, the next stop is Clapham Common underground station. Being one of the first deep undergrounds in the world, the station today is one of two stations on the network that has maintained its hold on a single island platform serving both the northbound and southbound lines. It gets rather crowded (and dangerous) at peak travel times. The other station is Clapham North, the next station on the line and two stops along our route.
At our next stop, Nelson’s Row, on the site of where now stands a Sainsbury’s supermarket used to be the Clapham tram depot. As technology advanced and trams were replaced, the depot became the Museum of British Transport between 1963 and 1972. The museum is now in Covent Garden. Also nearby this stop is Mary Seacole Centre. The eponymous lady being a nurse of the same era as the much more famous Florence Nightingale. Plenty of recent controversy surrounds the two, and certainly a lady worth a little more of my (and your) time to investigate.
The next stop serves as an interchange for both underground and overground railway services. Clapham North on the underground we mentioned earlier. The railway station of Clapham High Street is the lesser known of the Clapham railway stations. The train-spotter paradise of Clapham Junction being the more famous. But we go deep at this stop. During the Second World War, the government built eight deep level air-raid shelters underneath existing underground stations. After the war, they planned to link them up for a new underground railway service. With work starting as the first Blitz hit, it took two years to complete. By which time, their need was less critical. The new train line never materialised after the war and the shelters became storage areas. Four of the shelters were in the Clapham area. Perhaps the German bombers felt that this part of London held secrets that needed destroying. Though none are currently open to the public, you can view a documented inspection of the shelter at Clapham North in 2006 here. The northern entrance of the shelter being close to our next stop at Bedford Road.
Having a history traced back to the 1890s, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) has its headquarters next to our Bedford Road stop. Trade unions were a natural consequence of Britain’s 18th century rapid industrialisation, gaining particular prominence during the major economic expansion of the 19th century. The growth of the Labour party during the early 20th century moved trade union politics to a more formal and effective platform. However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, trade unions were causing economic impacts leading to successive government failures. At their peak during this time, around 12 million workers were trade union members. Their time had passed, and with a last hurrah during the 1980s coal miners’ strikes, trade union membership and influence waned. BECTU’s headquarters look a long way from the 19th century scenes of the industrialising north of Britain, I wonder what the elders of the trade union movement would think of these buildings for their headquarters?
Speaking of unions, next up we have Union Road and another trailblazing lady from the medical profession: Annie McCall. Born in Manchester and educated around Europe, she entered the London School of Medicine for Women. Graduating in 1885 as one of the first of fifty female doctors, she opened the Clapham Maternity Hospital in 1889 at nearby Jeffreys Road (numbers 39-43) and made tremendous advances in the care and attention in childbirth practises - both for mother and child.
The bus is taking us now in to Stockwell. When Wikipedia has Stockwell Bus Garage as top of the places of interest then who am I to argue. So skipping two stops and alighting at Landsdowne Way, we are yards from the garage. If you can look inside the garage, then gaze up. Upon completion of the garage in 1952, the roof was the largest unsupported roof span in Europe. The architects of the garage were also the architects of the rather more luxurious Park Lane Hotel. Running beneath the garage is the River Effra. Now, like so many central London tributaries of the River Thames, she is in a culvert for much of her course. One myth would have us believe that when the River Effra ran uncovered, Queen Elizabeth I sailed her royal barge along it, to visit Sir Walter Raleigh at his Brixton home.
Next up from Stockwell Garage is Thorne Road. To the east of this stop lies London’s real Albert Square. Do not confuse this square with its fictional namesake from the BBC’s Eastenders soap opera. There are street signs to have the obligatory tourist photograph taken at, and behind an iron fence is a large open grassed area. Beneath which, the underground runs. So put your ear to the ground and hear the trains rumble through.
We come across the name Tate twice on our journey. The Tate Library stop will land you near to the South Lambeth Library. Whilst also called the Tate South Lambeth Library and originally the Tate Free Library, the grander Tate Library is in Brixton, 3 km south of where we currently are. The Brixton library (and the South Lambeth Library) were a gift from Sir Henry Tate. More about him when we reach his more well-known gift to the nation, the Tate Gallery.
As you travel towards the next stop, you pass over the new extension lines of the underground, which go out towards Battersea. At the Wheatsheaf Lane stop you could either head west towards the redeveloped area of Nine Elms and a view of the new US Embassy. Otherwise heading east and behind the more modern hotel was the site of the Beaufoy's Vinegar Works. In 1810 the company moved to this site, on part of Noel de Caron's estate. Noel de Caron was a 16-17th century Dutch Anglophile. Having reached England in 1585 as an envoy for negotiations between the Dutch and Elizabeth I. In 1591 he became the Dutch ambassador to the English Court and remained in the country. He bought lands in the area in the early 1600s. Caron Place and Carroun Road still bear his name. There is much more history to this area, unfortunately modern development makes viewing off limits. The Beaufoy family's connection with vinegar production ended in 1941 when George Maurice Beaufoy died because of ‘enemy action in the yard’ i.e. a German bomber scored a direct hit. Beaufoy’s passed to British Vinegars Ltd in the 1930s, which is now part of the Japanese company Mizkan.
Time for stretching the legs. Get off the bus at the Vauxhall Park stop and on the other side of the road is Vauxhall Park. Most of the freehold land in this area was, by the beginning of the 16th century, held by our good friend Noel de Caron, Lord of Schoonewale in Flanders. By the late 19th century, pressure in the area for housing introduces us to local developer John Cobeldick. However, strong local resistance in the area to such wholesale redevelopment forced Mr. Cobeldick to sell a parcel of land to a group of local sources (including a member of our vinegar brewing family, Mark Beaufoy MP) which would become what we now see as Vauxhall Park. The initial impetus for keeping the land green and pleasant came from another MP, Henry Fawcett. He lived in a house sited within the now park, the Fawcett Statue now marks its location. Although becoming blind at 25, this did not prevent Fawcett from becoming Postmaster General. During his tenure in the post, he introduced the parcel post. He also did much to encourage the Post Office to employ women. This may (or may not) have been at the behest of his wife, Millicent. She was a leading member of the Suffragette movement, though not being as militant as her more remembered colleague Emmeline Pankhurst. After Henry’s death in 1884, he specially hoped to form a park on the site of his home. They granted his wish. The park is worth a walk round and once completed, let’s furtively move on to our next stop.
I’d recommend you stay on the bus at Vauxhall bus station. The building of note in the area will not let you inside. It’s probably best viewed from the bus and the other side of the River Thames, which you’ll shortly traverse. That building of note is the headquarters of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, more commonly known as MI6. So the building has at least two formal names: SIS Building or MI6 Building. It has many unofficial names, including Vauxhall Trollop. Make up your own mind as to its beauty as you gaze back over the river. The building is on a small pocket of land that once was the site of the area’s old manor house. Nothing unusual in that other than this house and its history gives us the name Vauxhall for the area we are in (and the motor car manufacturer). In the early 13th century, the De Redvers family held lands in the area. In 1216 the widow of Baldwin de Redvers, Margaret, was forced to marry a notorious Gascon mercenary named Falkes de Breauté. Falkes gained possession of some of that land and built a hall which became known as Falkes Hall. Subsequently, the hall and the surrounding area have been known at various times as Fulke’s Hall, Faukeshall, Fawkyhall, Foxhall, Faux Well, and eventually Vauxhall. Also on this site over the years has been oil works, a cement wharf and Sir Robert Burnett’s Gin and Vinegar distillery.
We leave the route guide at this spot. I hope you enjoyed the virtual journey and took time to explore some sites via the internet. If you ever find yourself in that part of London with time to kill, then why not pop on the 88, find The Passenger and engage in some conversation. He may give you even more history, he’s seen the changes on the route every day for the last 150 years.
As a group, London bus routes are up there with some other great routes of the world. The one that immediately sprang to my mind was Route 66 in Benjamin Franklin’s country of birth. However, the route itself no longer exists. Chuck Berry, Dr. Feelgood, Depeche Mode and the Rolling Stones have all done versions of the Bobby Troup written and Nat King Cole original recording of the famous song. Less well known (to me) was Billy Bragg’s version, putting Britain’s A13 to the same music. One to hunt down.
A second route that came to mind was from the Spanish cycling race, Ruta del Sol. An early calendar European stage race, it gives the cyclists their first touch of warmth after the long winter training sessions. Competed over five days, each stage takes you, I guess, closer to the sun. Being held in Spain, the Spanish cyclists have most wins. Over its last two runnings, though, a Danish cyclist has prevailed. After enduring the dark skies of a winter in Denmark, no wonder he was in a hurry to reach the sun.
Those first two routes, though sticking in my brain, are not routes I particularly want to follow. However, UNESCO’s World Heritage Site the Amalfi Coast is one I would. Preferably in a vintage Ferrari with a budget for fine dining and accommodation en route thrown in. Until then, the best I can expect is the budget option of purchasing a copy of Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 4 or YouTube. The coastline is an 80 km picturesque drive, assuming you like water on one side and steep cliffs on the other. Talking of assumptions, I need to yet again right one of mine. I assumed Amalfi was bottom right of Italy’s ‘leg’. It’s on the other side and close to Naples. In 1860, a certain Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was born in Nice, captured the city which ultimately lead to the fall of the house of Bourbon of the area. One sentence: three biscuit references. That should have The Passenger nodding with appreciation.