Public transport in and about the parish

It is a perilous enterprise to write about public transport, since there are so many enthusiasts and minutely-detailed websites out there, but it's part of the story of the parish past and present - affecting where people live and work, and increasingly house prices - so here goes.

Of course, for most of the history of the parish people walked everywhere - to work, for leisure, to visit family and friends - often covering long distances. Many continued to do so even when cheap transport, on trains (with workmen's tickets) and trams and buses, became available, to save a halfpenny or a penny fare. But, as other pages on this site show, for parish trips and outings to the country or the seaside, the possibilities of public transport were enthusiastically embraced.

So was the bicycle, in a flat area; and this means of transport is increasingly popular today. In preparation for the Olympics, Cable Street became part of CS3, a Cycle Super Highway from Tower Gateway to Alfred's Way (A13) in Barking, linking with other routes [map right]. The route was painted bright blue, rather than the friendlier and traditional green, at the behest of Barclays, the sponsors, who have also underwritten a cycle hire scheme. But the blue has faded, there are currently issues about future sponsorship of the scheme, and concerns about the safety of the network where it runs at the edge of major roads and junctions.

The Commercial Road - which eventually became a main artery for trams and buses - was constructed between 1802-06 by the Commercial Road Company, originally from Backchurch Lane and later extended to Aldgate, to link the West and East India Docks with the City. With ruthless Roman-style planning it cut a straight line through the East End. It was originally a turnpike road (though was excepted from some of the general legislation on turnpikes), the Company collecting tolls at several gates and bars [two shown left]. Income from these fell with the coming of the railways, but they became an anomaly and an increasing nuisance, slowing up traffic, and from the 1850s there were national campaigns for their abolition: left is part of the map from the Illustrated London News of 1857 accompanying one such campaign. In the event, across the land most tolls were phased out through the non-renewal of the various local parliamentary acts; responsibility for the upkeep of the Commercial Road passed to the new local authority in 1871.

London and Blackwall Railway; London, Tilbury & Southend Railway

As early as 1836, Parliament gave authority -  despite considerable local opposition - for the construction of 'The Commercial Railway', to run 3½ miles on viaducts from Minories to Blackwall, bisecting the parish from from west to east.  Robert Stephenson (son of George) became the engineer; he had to follow the route, and the eccentric 5' ½" gauge, of his predecessor, but opted for a cable-hauled system with stationary engines at Minories [left]: a 7-mile hemp (later steel) rope slipped off carriages at each station on the outward run and picked them up on return. Because of the fare for the full journey it became known as the 'Fourpenny Rope'. It opened in 1840; when a new terminus at Fenchurch Street was built the following year, its name was changed to the London and Blackwall Railway. But the cable system failed; in 1849 the line was converted to standard gauge with steam engines, lighter than the normal suburban stock, making possible extensions to Bow and to the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. See here for the later history of the Minories station site.

The London, Tilbury & Southend Railway was a joint venture between the London & Blackwall Railway and the Eastern Counties Railway, authorised in 1852 with the first section opened two years later; it initially ran into Fenchurch Street and Bishopsgate stations, but the Bishopsgate service was withdrawn in 1858 when the Bow connection was opened. In the 1880s they constructed a large goods depot on Commercial Road, between Gower's Walk and Lambeth Street, displacing among others Gower's Walk Free School and Mill Yard Seventh-Day Baptists. The LT&SR was purchased by the Midland Railway in 1912, and at the 1923 grouping became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (and hence London Midland Region under British Railways). However, the Great Eastern Railway (of which the ECR had become part in 1862) joined the London and North Eastern Railway grouping (so was part of LNER under British Railways). In 1923 a London to Tilbury train came off the rails, crashed into a parapet of the Cannon Street Road bridge and fell 30 feet.

There were three stations in the parish - Leman Street (1877-1941) [left], replacing Cannon Street Road (1842-48), of which no trace remains, and Shadwell & St George-in-the-East (1840-1941) [right], by Sutton Street, a few hundred yards east of the present DLR station. The railway arches came to house a variety of workshops and other uses - including, as described here, schools, and houses were built right up against the viaduct, which had metal railings rather than a brick wall, as this was deemed to be quieter for passengers and adjacent properties. In 1893 the line from Fenchurch Street to Stepney [now Limehouse] was widened to four tracks, though soon after traffic declined.

The lucrative freight market also dictated routes, and there were many railway warehouses in or on the edge of the parish. A Royal Commission on Railways, which reported in 1867, considered grievances from the local sugar trade over what they regarded as inequitable and monopolistic tariffs, disadvantaging trade in the capital - see here for details. This had been an issue for the parish Vestry for many years; and, as noted here, in 1867 the Workmen's National Executive for the Abolition of Foreign Sugar Bounties met at Cooper's Hall, off Commercial Road, to continue local protest.

In recent times, two of the tracks between Tower Gateway and Limehouse have been used for the Docklands Light Railway with a new station at Shadwell.

East London Line / London Overground

Running underground along the eastern boundary of the parish, with a station at Shadwell, is the former East London Line, which has been variously designated on tube maps over the years (with a variety of line colours, latterly orange) since it became part of London Underground in 1933. As a separate line, it was only 5 miles long, with just 8 stations (plus Canada Water when this was added in 1999) and the only one not to enter Zone 1.

It began as the East London Railway, run from 1869 by a consortium of six companies who took over Brunel's Thames Tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe (built between 1825 and 1843), so it incorporates the oldest cross-river tunnels on the underground network. A triumph of civil engineering, designed for horse-drawn traffic, Brunel's tunnel proved a commercial flop and was only used by pedestrians; but it was strategically placed to provide a rail service, without the expense of a new river crossing,

It was originally worked by steam – hence the large open ventilation shafts at Shadwell and other stations. See here for its local impact on slum clearance.

The line has been twice closed for extensive rebuilding work in recent times, but reopened in 2010 as part of London Overground. New stations have been built at Shoreditch (unfortunately not connecting with the Central Line, which runs directly beneath) and beyond, via a new viaduct to connect with the old Broad Street lines, and now connects directly to the Overground network at Highbury and Islington in the north. In late 2012 the 'Outer Circle' was completed with trains running to Clapham Junction.

Left is the old Shadwell ticket hall on Watney Street on Goad's 1899 insurance map (note another exit to the north); in 1910, 1925 and 1934; before demolition in the summer of 2010; and old rolling stock.

Right is The Cable Street entrance before the most recent closure; the new ticket hall (which has entrances on Cable Street and Chapman Street); old and current rolling stock. Although transfer on the same ticket between Overground and DLR at Shadwell is possible, the two stations, though adjacent, remain separate. It is a pity that the opportunity to construct a proper interchange was not taken, especially as the DLR station has also recently been remodelled (see below). Nor was full disabled access between the lifts and the platforms achieved, at Shadwell, Wapping and Rotherhithe, because (it is claimed) of the constraints of space. There are no lifts at Whitechapel, and because of its proximity to the Royal London Hospital there is a campaign to advance the planned future upgrading of this station to provide step-free access which forms part of the Crossrail scheme.

Sarah McMenemy's art work - enamelled panels of local scenes - remains on the platforms at Shadwell. The picture of our church is here, and more examples of her work can be seen here.

With the re-opening of the line, one pub quiz question came back to life, and one new one was created [answers at the foot of the page]

Which London Transport station has no letters in common with the word 'lobster'?
At which station does London Overground run beneath London Underground?

Trams, trolleybuses and buses

Old water troughs at road junctions are a sure sign of historic horse-drawn routes, some of which are little-changed today. There are none locally, but long-established routes through the parish nevertheless remain. They go along Commercial Road, its northern boundary. Although The Highway is now an extremely busy road, used by many airport and other coaches, this has only been the case since the opening of the Limehouse Link tunnel [western entrance right], built between 1989-93 to link the City to Docklands, and the only TfL bus route to run along it (apart from short stretches of the D3 and 100) is night bus N551, from Trafalgar Square to Gallions Reach. This, it is said, is one of several reasons why the conversion of Tobacco Dock into a shopping centre failed.

tramstopElectric trams were introduced to London at the start of the 20th century and became popular – by 1914 it was the largest network in Europe, though the First World War, and legal restrictions, halted further significant growth. Two routes ran from Aldgate along Commercial Road, the 65 from Bloomsbury to Poplar [despite the tram-blind far right] and the 67 from Aldgate to Barking. Another route, the 47, ran north-south, from Stamford Hill to London Docks, running down Leman Street to a 'grim and desolate' terminus in Dock Street, and was well-used by dock workers. First right is the laying of tracks by Gardiner's Corner, at the junction of Whitechapel and Commercial Roads, in 1907.

trolleybusstopA Royal Commission in 1931 recommended replacing trams with trolleybuses, mainly because tramlines and stops in the middle of narrow London streets added to the increasing traffic congestion. By 1940 half the trams had been scrapped (compare maps for 1934 and 1940). So the 47 tram became the 647 trolleybus [two views right at Stamford Hill, plus a preserved vehicle at the East Anglia Transport Museum], the 65 tram the 665 trolleybus, and the 67 tram the 567 trolleybus, in line with the numbering system:

The 1924 London Traffic Act had created a system of route numbering, called the Bassom Scheme, after the chief constable of the Metropolitan Police, whereby letters were added after the number to denote part-routes. When London Transport was formed in 1934, the system was changed again, though letter suffixes continued. Routes 1-199 were central-area red double decker buses, 200-299 single decker and night routes, 300-499 country buses south and north of the river, 500-699 trolleybuses and 700-899 Green Line coaches and routes in new towns. 'London Transport' has continued under various names and organisational guises ever since. (There was reluctance, led by teetotal members of the London County Council, to allow pub names on bus blinds, so less-familiar street names appeared instead. Churches, however, do figure.)

Trolleybuses were silent, and could accelerate quickly - both of which were seen by some as dangerous! Despite their good performance, from 1959-92 trolleybuses were in turn phased out, and replaced by large numbers of new Routemaster buses.

The 567 and 665 routes went in December 1959, replaced by a new 5 and 5A bus service (later confined to the eastern parts of the route) and the strengthening of existing routes 15, 23 and 40. The 647 lasted a further two years, before being replaced by a new 67 bus route, from the Docks via Leman Street, Aldgate and Shoreditch up to Stamford Hill and beyond. For a time it was run by green-painted class XA vehicles [left, running to London Docks], and was extended to Wapping Station. The 67 route still exists, but now runs only to and from Aldgate.

The 15 bus has run from west to east London through the City and along Commercial Road since 1908, though both ends of the route have changed many times. Blackwall is now its eastern terminus, and from August 2010 the western terminus is Piccadilly Circus. Its route through the City was changed in 1985 to serve the Tower of London, and this central section is now also run as a heritage route, with the now-iconic Routemasters [left]. Route 115, from Aldgate to East Ham, is a 'variant' route of the 15: both are operated by the East London Bus Group. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has pressed for a new-style Routemaster to replace the single-decker bendy buses, which he abhors; some of these are now in operation [right].

There are now two local, single-decker, buses running through the parish, plus a third starting just outside, on circuitous but useful routes.

100vintagebusThe 100 runs from Shadwell (Cable Street, outside St George's Town Hall) via Wapping, Aldgate, London Wall and St Paul's to Elephant and Castle. The original 100 route, until 1972, was a workmen's bus from Barking to Beckton Gasworks [right]. It then became the number of various vintage bus routes through the City and West End. The current service is run by Abellio.

The D3 [left] runs from Crossharbour on the Isle of Dogs, via Canary Wharf, Limehouse and Wapping and along Cannon Street Road, stopping near the Royal London Hospital and then via Bethnal Green to the London Chest Hospital. It is one of a series of 'Docklands' routes and is run by the East London Bus Group.The 339 [right] runs from Shadwell DLR station through Stepney and Mile End via Fish Island, Old Ford, and extended to Stratford at the time of the Olympics, and is operated by First Capital. (The original 339 was a 'country' bus between Harlow and Warley.)

Docklands Light Railway

When Docklands was redeveloped, the search was on a transport system to link it to the City, and the London Docklands Development Corporation chose a 'cheap and cheeerful' light metro system, with driverless trains. Opened in 1987, the original routes of the DLR were from Tower Gateway in the west, using two elevated tracks of the former London and Blackwall Railway, with stations at Shadwell, Limehouse [formerly Stepney] - connecting to the Fenchurch Street lines - and Westferry, where the line split on new concrete viaducts to Stratford via Poplar, and through Canary Wharf to Island Gardens (Isle of Dogs). A western link to the Underground network at Bank was then created, and there have been several eastern extensions and new lines. Further western extensions, although tunnels exist beyond Bank, seem unlikely.

Demand quickly outstripped provision: originally run by single-car units, two-car trains were introduced, and in 2009, to deal with overcrowding, all platforms were lengthened for the introduction of three-car trains [above], and stations were upgraded in other ways. Left are the platforms and the façade at Shadwell. The system is run by Serco Docklands Ltd, under a concession from Transport for London, and is part of the Oyster network, providing through travel on other TfL lines, now including London Overground.

The future: Crossrail

Crossrail is a major scheme for an additional underground rail route crossing central London to relieve congestion on existing lines, and extending above ground to the east and west. At Whitechapel (interchanging with existing lines) it will diverge to Stratford and beyond to the north, and via Canary Wharf to Abbey Wood and beyond in the south. It will not therefore pass through the parish, but when completed will certainly have a major impact on local infrastructures.

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