Urban bus routes tend not to serve a distinct ‘town centre’. Overlapping journeys are made for many purposes, to several destinations, at different times of day. Few passengers travel the whole route, and they may know little about ‘the other end’ of the route.
My employment has included making public transport information available through print and new technology. This project allowed an opportunity to link people and places and past and present.
I chose route 47 as one largely unchanged for nearly 100 years, and familiar from my native South-East London.
Route 47’s links include main line stations with City offices, and suburban homes with stations and shops. Today’s cleaners and security officers, yesterday’s ‘char-ladies’ and ‘night-watchmen’, travel from the suburbs to The City. For many early Downham residents, it was the link to work (e.g. docks and factories) and family in their former neighbourhood in Bermondsey.
Practical and Technical Issues
Google Maps made designing the trail quite easy, satellite view allowing me to trace the course of many streets since pedestrianised or altered streets, abandoned railways and the outlines of now demolished buildings.
It became apparent quickly that the potential is almost endless. Every site or building, workplace, pub, street and housing estate holds history, sometimes in layers as buildings change use or are redeveloped.
Even not touching some themes, the quantity of markers became too many for a single page on ‘Google Maps’, so the map is currently split into three, with some overlap for now.
Each colour / shaped marker represents a theme, and a simple WordPress website introduces and explains the map. Ideally, users could select specific theme/s to follow.
Markers (colour coded by theme) have been added at points of interest, often with a link to a relevant local or specialist history web page. Adding photographs to the ‘balloons’ tended to make them cumbersome – I may try this again in future.
As a result of splitting the map, I have created a ‘blank’ version showing just the bus route shown – other Google Maps users are welcome to import this and create their own trail, with what the route means to them.
The sheer volume of history on the internet surprised me, including ‘blogs’ with historic articles and local discussion forums. The internet has enabled individuals to publish history in a way that would not have been foreseeable to a past generation of historians.
The disadvantage of this is that some ‘facts’ published informally are questionable, although forums and ‘comments’ fields allow debate and clarification. Some ‘official’ archives (which shall remain nameless) are fallible, e.g. photographs captioned with dates which can be proved to be incorrect.
Many markers (mainly ‘industry / workplace’) currently have no information. Outlines of the Surrey Docks (many now filled in and built over) would add perspective. More aspects or locations deserve detailed articles.
I have not touched some areas or aspects at all, including the many Churches (and Synagogues, Mosques and other places of worship), partly because they tend to be well documented already.
The City of London’s ‘Square Mile’ is also well documented, and I have concentrated for now more on other areas. Also, while (for example) number 11 buses seem entirely at home in the City, carrying tourists past St Paul’s, the 47 seems to pass rapidly through from a brief break at Shoreditch towards Bermondsey, all points south-east and home (the opposite view might be held by a Shoreditch resident.)
I did not have the opportunity to undertake any original oral history recordings for this project, but have included some from the ‘London Voices’ project and a project at the St Hilda’s East Community Centre in Shoreditch. I have also included a few links to sound recordings and archive news films along the route.
The trail is more suitable for use from a computer, but could be adapted for smart phones, perhaps allowing selection by theme to follow on the move. GPS tags could trigger pages, images (e.g. archive photographs), or audio tracks at the right location. Separate walking trails (mine or other peoples’) could offer ‘interchanges’.
The ‘Lewisham’s Lost Cinemas‘ web page includes a number of street scenes where images of now-demolished buildings have been carefully placed in contemporary street scenes. I would like to add further similar images, but this is beyond my current abilities!
Public art (official and otherwise) and architecture along the route could be expanded as future themes. Several locations along the route have been film or TV locations. Famous local residents could be included, although this raises the question of where the dividing line is between ‘history’ and ‘trivia’.
I have added a brief playlist of music with local connections or (to open and close) to London’s buses.