My Commute through London

Don’t worry. The title isn’t an oblique reference to something technical so I’m not going to let you get halfway down the page and then start writing some indecipherable computer code.
Also, if you happen to be my Dad, some of what follows may be familiar as you grew up around here.
If you’re not then you’re not obliged to laugh at any gags I’ve worked in because they’re mainly for his benefit.

We’re going to go on a quick (pre-lockdown) tour through history and legend, following the route of what, until fairly recently, was my daily commute across London before catching the train to Milton Keynes. More or less.
Look, to be completely honest we may be taking a couple of detours along the way. If your searching for the quickest route from Canary Wharf to Euston, well this may not be it.
Neither will we be paying too much attention to of some of the more famous landmarks that London has to offer.
Instead, we’ll be using the Tube Network to bounce back and forth through the centuries like a joyride in a TARDIS, taking a look at some of the City’s less obvious historical sites along the way.
Incidentally, if that idea does take your fancy, there’s a TARDIS parked in Earl’s Court Road.

Docklands

Our journey begins in the East of the City.
30 years ago, London’s Docklands were just a another post-industrial wasteland. Since then, a new Financial District has arisen phoenix-like from the ruins. Canary Wharf now contains the UK Headquarters of a number of Financial institutions.

At it’s centre stands the skyscraper known as Canary Wharf Tower, or One Canada Square to give it it’s proper title.
Until the Shard came along, it was the tallest building in the United Kingdom.

A large erection in the middle of the Financial District. Who’d have thought ?

From here, we need to head west. We could opt to descend into the bowels of the earth and catch a Jubilee Line tube into the centre of the City.
Alternatively, we could wander over to the Crossrail Terminal and get there even quicker on the Elizabeth Line…well, maybe next year we can.
The Terminal itself is built and contains numerous shops, restaurants and even a roof garden. All that’s missing are the trains. They’ll be along soon. Well, soonish.

End on, the Terminal looks a bit like something that Thunderbird 2 would carry. You can just imagine the lower half opening to form a ramp for Thunderbird 4 to slide down silently into the murky waters of West India Quay…

THUNDERBIRDS ARE…running a replacement bus service

For now however, we’ll need to make use of an elevated section of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to carry us into the heart of the “Old” City.

The first calling point of note is Limehouse, which once formed part of the Parliamentary Constituency represented by Clement Attlee – Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951.
Attlee is remembered as one of (if not the) greatest peacetime Prime Ministers, largely due to his government’s creation of the Welfare State. Indeed, the National Health Service created in 1948 is one of the few things that Brits can still agree on as being a rather good idea.

One station further up the line we shift back about a decade into the midst of the Depression…

Just around the corner from Shadwell Station is Cable Street. The Legend of The Battle of Cable Street is that the working class residents of the area banded together and fought a battle which caused the Fascists to abandon their provocative plans to march through the heart of the East End.
The Battle of Cable Street has become a touchstone event in the history of British Socialism. Soon after the event, the support for the British Union of Fascists dissipated and they were never a force in British politics.
In Cable Street itself, there is now a mural depicting the event :

At this point in our journey, we have a choice of two termini. Given we’re not in any particular hurry, we can have a look at both. Let’s start with Tower Gateway.

Tower Hill

As you come out of the station, you find yourself in the middle of an awful lot of History.
Standing next to the iconic Tower Bridge, is the Tower of London – built by William the Conqueror as a none-too-subtle reminder to his new subjects that he wasn’t known as William the Bastard for nothing.

Through the crowds of tourists, it may be possible to spot more TV historians than you’d find on a Friday night on BBC4, all vying to do their piece-to-camera about events taking place here in their particular period of interest.
Yes, that may well be Dan Snow and David Starkey playing rock-paper-scissors to find out who gets to film once Lucy Worsley has finished her bit about the fate of some runner-up in a Tudor power struggle.
You may not spot Mary Beard because she’s wisely avoided the crush and has popped to the pub to meet up with David Olusoga. We’ll be following in Mary’s footsteps shortly.

First though, we should pay a quick visit to what is, for the moment at least, the City’s only public “statue” of a rather notable Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher.
Statue is stretching it a bit. Maggie was always someone who polarised opinion, a fact which gives some context to this depiction of her on the Tower Hill Sundial

There is a salutary lesson here and one that will be re-enforced later in our odyssey through the City. If you want to be commemorated in statuary, then good PR is more important than good (or even notable) deeds.

For now though, if you’ve worked up a thirst with all this history, I know just the place. Just around the corner from the sundial is The Hung Drawn and Quartered.
Apart from the name, the pub is unusual in that it has this excerpt from Samuel Pepys’ diary on one of it’s outside walls :

Whilst we’re sitting outside the pub, enjoying our drinks in the uncharacteristic sunshine, we may reflect on the unusual shape of the skyline. Indeed, there seems to have been a shortage of spirit-levels in recent years as none of the newer skyscrapers seem to have straight sides that are the same height.
They do however, all have nicknames. There’s The Shard, The Cheese Grater, and the one that people are unaccountably relieved to learn, is known as The Pepper Pot.
From our current vantage point we can see another of this new breed – The Walkie-Talkie. Maybe architects frequent this pub as well as historians ? If so, we might form an alternative hypothesis to the spirit-level shortage theory…

looksh shtrait to me !

Before we get too comfortable – this is Central London after all and at these prices we can’t afford to make a night of it – we need to return to Shadwell. This time, we’ll try the other leg of the DLR, which takes us down to the deepest platforms on the tube network – Platforms 9 and 10 at Bank Station.

Bank

Bank is named after The Bank of England. Indeed, the station’s Central Line platforms are full of commuters at rush hour, most of whom are unaware that they are standing next to (and partially under) the Bank’s vaults.

Rather than speculating just how much gold is almost within touching distance, we’re going to a different tube line in the station.

The Waterloo and City line is probably the easiest railway line you to navigate as you’ll have to try quite hard to miss your stop.

Since 1898 this line has transported commuters between London’s traditional financial district and it’s busiest station.
Once at Waterloo, you may be tempted to pop out and take a quick glance at The London Eye – a giant ferris wheel that was built for the Millennium and is the first landmark to be destroyed in any disaster movie in which London appears, however briefly.
I’ve got no time for that however, I need to jump on the Jubilee Line and get across The River to…

Westminster

We emerge from Westminster Station at the North end of Westminster Bridge. We’re right next to the Houses of Parliament in fact. But hey, it’s not like we’re tourists or anything so rather than checking our watches against Big Ben, we can focus on the ladies in the chariot at the end of the bridge.
Here we have an object lesson in the value of positive public perception when it comes to being immortalised in bronze.
Boudicca – for she is the Charioteer in question – is famous for leading a rebellion against the Romans. She also left something of a mark when she last visited London.
In fact, archaeologists have found a layer of burnt debris from 62 A.D. when Boudicca went for an epic night on the town…and burned it to the bedrock.

From this formidable lady, we’re going to pop round the corner, sauntering past another individual who has benefited from centuries of positive spin.
King Richard (the Lionheart), is sitting there on his horse, right outside Parliament.
Richard spent only six months of his eleven year reign in England itself. The rest of the time was spent fighting costly foreign wars and being held for ransom on the way home by people he’d upset on the way to said wars. Essentially, his reign seems to have been a twelfth century version of lads on tour – go abroad somewhere hot, smash the place up and then get your relatives back home to stump up your bail money.

Eventually we arrive at one of the few public statues in the City that is probably more famous for the artist than the subject – Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.

Now, if you were so inclined, you might continue your journey up Whitehall, to Trafalgar Square, where Nelson sits atop his column and surveys the city. But some of us have a train to catch.
Returning to Westminster Station, we’re back on the Jubilee Line for a couple of stops until we alight at…

Baker Street

Baker Street Station is one of the oldest on the tube network, opening in 1863 as part of the then Metropolitan Railway.
221b Baker Street is, of course, the residence of Sherlock Holmes and references to the famous literary detective are prominent in the decor.
There are excerpts from some of the Sherlock Holmes stories on the Jubilee Line platforms…

…as well as some rather unusual decoration on the Bakerloo Line…

But wait – there is no 221b Baker Street and what’s more, there never has been. Some sleuthing is required to track down the actual whereabouts of the Great Man’s abode. Fortunately, it’s on of our way…

Euston

The last leg of our journey takes us on the Hammersmith and City line to Euston Square, from where it’s a short walk to the main Euston Station and the train home to Milton Keynes.
But if we take a short detour down Gower Street we come across a familiar site…

Cup of tea, Watson ?

This is the building that was used as 221b Baker Street in the Sherlock TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s actually in North Gower Street.
As the blue plaque proclaims, it was once the home of Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini.

All that remains now is to wander into Euston Station itself and hope that the trains are running OK.

Acknowledgements

Most of the photos I used here were taken by me at various times. There are a couple I got from Wikimedia Commons.
They are :

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2 thoughts on “My Commute through London

  1. Brilliantly fascinating trip around the city which would do credit to any .London tour guide. The humour is a bonus. Most enjoyable. Thank you

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  2. brilliant Mike! What a lovely ride round. Brought memories flooding back into my fading brain. So glad you reminded me where Maggie was dumped on Her broomstick. Makes me feel warm inside , as I’m sure she still is-only more so.yes it really brought me out of my retired lethargy,where everything seems so comgested..I can now see it all so clearly.what I’ll do ,as soon as I’m out of “house arrest”, is I ‘ll get a cab to Canary Wharf and follow your route and then I’ll pop down and see you in MILTON KEYNES. Love Dad

    Like

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