Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2011/14 posted by hidden europe on

We were having difficulty being enthusiastic about Enfield. Jack, an amiable octogenarian who is Enfield born and bred, is more positive. "Heavens," he exclaims. "You've no idea. Enfield has been important for centuries. Do you remember the Lee Enfield, for example?" asks Jack. Actually we don't, but Jack tells a plausible tale about how the rifle that was for sixty years standard issue to British troops was made in Enfield. Throw in the Hotpoint dishwasher and the cashpoint machine and we begin to appreciate Enfield as a hub of technological innovation.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

We were having difficulty being enthusiastic about Enfield. Jack, an amiable octogenarian who is Enfield born and bred, is more positive. "Heavens," he exclaims. "You've no idea. Enfield has been important for centuries."

"Remember the Lee Enfield?" asks Jack. Actually we don't, but Jack tells a plausible tale about how the rifle that was for sixty years standard issue to British troops was made in Enfield. Throw in the Hotpoint dishwasher and the cashpoint machine and we begin to appreciate Enfield as a hub of technological innovation.

The first ATM in Europe

Yes, Europe's very first ATM was unveiled in Enfield in 1967. We've already made a note in our diaries to be outside Barclays Bank in Enfield on 27 June 2017, when no doubt there will be high frolics to commemorate half a century of successful cash dispensing. Bank tellers, increasingly a profession of yesteryear, will probably not be among the jubilant crowds.

"I bet you have no idea who opened the cashpoint," says Jack. We are a tad uncertain. Surely only thieves and bank staff open cashpoints. It transpires that Jack is taking a more figurative interpretation of 'open' and that the man who ceremonially made the first withdrawal from Europe's first ATM was Reg Varney. Reg was an East Ender who moved to Enfield and made a name for himself as an actor in TV sitcoms in the 1960s.

Any Brit of a certain age knows of Reg Varney, who is remembered particularly for his role in a sitcom series called On the Buses. "Enfield has always been big on buses," explains Jack, somehow inferring that Reg only got the TV part because his chosen home town of Enfield happily lay at the intersection of so many interesting local bus routes. Jack knows his Enfield buses, having worked for twenty years as a bus conductor.

We ponder which bus to take out of Enfield, and rather randomly opt for a bright red Arriva double-decker to Enfield Island Village. It is an uninspiring meander through suburbia to an old armaments factory on the River Lee where once the Lee-Enfield rifle was made. The original buildings have been converted to posh studio apartments.

Off to Botany Bay

Next day we take Jack's advice. "Take the 313 to Botany Bay," he says. The 313 turns out to be an Enfield classic. It is the bus that Jack rode with his friends as a kid. It is the route on which he worked as a bus conductor. "In those days the 313 ran right out to Whipsnade Zoo," says Jack in a tone which suggests that Whipsnade might be at the far end of the planet.

We are grateful that the route has been sensibly curtailed, yet bus 313 still trundles from Enfield to Botany Bay, just as it did when Jack was a lad. So many London bus routes hardly change for decades, and the 313 to Botany Bay is a fine legacy route dating back to before the Second World War. Some routes nearer the centre of the city (such as the 16 from Cricklewood to Victoria) are unchanged for more than a century.

So we hop on the 313, another red double-decker, and buy our tickets to Botany Bay from a cheerful bus driver. No other passengers aboard and we enjoy the ride to Botany Bay. Front seats on the top deck. You can't do better than that. On the way we pass a sign to World's End. Botany Bay is clearly even more remote than World's End. So remote that it is named after an Australian penal colony. This is London's outer limit. One step further and you could fall over the frontier and be lost for ever in rural Hertfordshire. We don't want to risk that, so we cross the road and take the first southbound 313 back to Enfield.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.