|Looking west along Catford Road|
|South Circular Road|
|From:||Woolwich Ferry (TQ431792)|
|To:||Chiswick Roundabout (TQ193783)|
|Distance:||21.5 miles (34.6 km)|
|Meets:||A206, A2204, A207, A208, A2, A210, A20, A2212, A21, A212, A2216, A2199, A215, A204, A23, A24, A3, A219, A306, A305, A316, A307, A315, A3000, A4, A406|
|Former Number(s):||see History below|
|Route outline (key)|
Welcome to the A205, the largest collection of signposts in the country. London's South Circular Road, unlike its northern counterpart, is not so much a coherent through route, more an intricate series of one way systems linked by lengths of suburban streets. Route-finding is a nightmare, with odd turnings down unlikely-looking side streets occurring when you least expect them. Very few people attempt (still less achieve) the journey end-to-end – it is usually quicker, despite the extra distance, to use the North Circular Road, or just to go straight through the middle of London! Most regular drivers in South London have go-arounds using quiet back streets to avoid the worst stretches – most of these (including mine!) are jealously guarded secrets.
Section 1: Woolwich Ferry to Tulse Hill
And it all starts so promisingly! Coming off the Woolwich Free Ferry, which was opened in 1889 and was still one of the lowest crossings of the Thames when the road numbering system was devised in 1922, the A205 sets off in fine style on a dual carriageway up the hill to the Royal Artillery barracks on Woolwich Common. However, the dual carriageway ends here, where we join the original line of the A205 coming up from Woolwich town centre on Grand Depot Road (and still numbered as a spur of the A205). The fact that the A205 did not originally lead directly to the ferry explains why the pierhead has its own number – A2204. The direct route was opened in about 1960.
Continuing over the common, we pass various military establishments and the improbably named Ha-Ha Road. On the far side of the common we cross Shooter's Hill (the old Roman Watling Street, and now the A207).
Passing through Eltham, dual carriageway resumes where we cross a previous incarnation of the A2 – the unclassified Rochester Way – and then the present version, which includes a flyover for the A2. This is one of only two grade-separated junctions on the entire route of the South Circular, neither of which operates in the road's favour.
Two more roundabouts in quick succession get us across the A210 and the A20, and things seem to be going well, until we reach the junction with Burnt Ash Hill (A2212) in Lee where the dual carriageway ends for good.
Less than a mile from here, on the other side of Hither Green's extensive railway sidings, is the start of a three mile dual carriageway, partially unclassified and partially numbered A2218, which leads all the way to Sydenham and seems to have no purpose other than as part of a grander scheme. Indeed, other intermittent traces of a possible route for the "C-Ring", first proposed in 1943 and which would have complemented the North Circular Road, can be discerned looping through the outer suburbs in several places between here and Wandsworth, notably Trinity Road in Wandsworth itself. However, nothing ever came of it, so we are now consigned to a tedious succession of inner suburb town centres.
The first of these is Catford, where we cross the A21 in a simple "squareabout" one-way system. This is one of the more notorious hold-ups on the route, usually thick with traffic late into the night when the streets of South London are mostly empty. Shortly after passing Catford's twin railway stations, we encounter the first of many points on the South Circular where it is necessary to turn off the main road to stay on the required route (a TOTSO in SABRE parlance). Failing to spot this one will take you up Perry Hill (A212) towards Sydenham. A little further on, near Forest Hill railway station, it happens again. Once more Sydenham (via the A2216) would be the likely result of inattention here. However, if we turn right here, we pass the Horniman museum, an interesting and eclectic collection of a keen 19th Century anthropologist and, mirabile dictu, a whole quarter mile of dual carriageway. We reach yet another (easily missable) TOTSO, again with the A2216, which here goes straight on as Lordship Lane, towards Dulwich Village and Camberwell. This time we turn left, to pass between Dulwich Park (on the right) and Dulwich Golf Course. At the next junction, for a change, we don't turn off – to do so would incur a toll for this is the private road owned by Dulwich College.
Section 2: Tulse Hill to Chiswick Roundabout
We now come to the Tulse Hill one-way system, junction with the A215 to Camberwell and Norwood, and the A204 to Brixton. This marks a significant point in our progress, as we pass from "SE" postcodes to "SW". Up the hill now, to cross the A23 at the top of Brixton Hill, and then a couple of hundred yards of dual carriageway take us to the next TOTSO: the main line ahead would take us into Balham – "Gateway to the South" in Peter Sellers’ famous sketch.
At the junction with Cavendish Road, (a TOTSO in the reverse direction) we turn right to reach Clapham Common. The triangular common is bounded by the A24, A3 and A205, and we cross the A24 at the southernmost corner before passing along the west side to meet the A3 at the western corner. Most of Clapham Common's avenues and roadways have been press-ganged into service as part of its unfathomable network of gyratories and one-way systems, all of which have the distinct style of complex junctions made by painting lines on existing streets.
We now come to the busiest part of the route, as for the next two miles the A205 shares the roadway with the main A3 London to Portsmouth road. (The A1 and North Circular "multiplex" in a similar way, but only for half a mile - and they have three lanes each way, not just one). And so we crawl down Battersea Rise, and up the other side, and through the one way complex at Wandsworth Common, around the Trinity Road underpass (only the second grade separated junction we have encountered) to descend East Hill into the notorious Wandsworth one-way system. Three or four lanes of traffic circulate Wandsworth town centre here - sometimes marked out clearly, sometimes just imaginary lanes on a broad racetrack. It carries us past Young's brewery and the Arndale Centre, and eventually up West Hill to the parting of the ways – and of course South Circular traffic has to turn off as the A3 continues up West Hill and the A205 turns off along the Upper Richmond Road.
The Upper Richmond Road now takes us three miles in a reasonably direct straight line through Putney, Barnes Common, and East Sheen. Then, just when you are lulled into a false sense of security it springs another surprise on you. At the junction with Clifford Avenue, the A305 goes straight on. We, of course, want the confusingly similarly numbered A205, which turns abruptly right. How many people make that mistake?
As we go up Clifford Avenue, we cross the bridge over the railway. This is a very busy road as all the nearby crossings over the railway are on the level, and it is a very busy line, making this the most attractive crossing point between Richmond and Putney. Shortly we get to Chalker's Corner, and the junction with the busy A316, which is the main road leading to the M3. Beyond here, we pass through Kew, passing the Public Records Office on our right, before merging with the A307 at Kew Green, near the entrance to the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Kew Green and Kew Bridge were the scene of a mercifully short-lived experimental bus-lane: it was removed very quickly when the bus companies themselves complained that any gains they made on the bus lane itself were far outweighed by the consequential delays on the Kew Road caused to all traffic (including the buses) approaching the site of the bus lane. The bridge, which sports "Welcome to Middlesex" signs, is now two lanes each way again.
There is some debate as to where the A205 actually ends. At the north end of Kew Bridge, it meets the A315 at a set of traffic lights, and the A315 clearly continues a long way eastwards, as far as Knightsbridge. However, at the Chiswick roundabout, where it meets the A4 and the North Circular Road, the A205 is signposted without brackets, suggesting that the section between Kew Bridge and the Chiswick roundabout is a "multiplex", with the A205 actually ending in the multiplex section.
This last section is a dual carriageway - praise be! - but it's little more than a cruel joke. Less than quarter of a mile of half-decent road is all that remains us. Beneath the Chiswick Flyover we can now see the North Circular Road, heading purposefully north in all its multi-lane glory, but that is another road.
The A205 was originally planned to be a new purpose built arterial road, and it wasn't until the late 1930s that it was rerouted onto existing roads in places. The original classification for what became the A205 between Woolwich and Clapham was:
• A208 to the Well Hall Roundabout (the northern section of this was later bypassed by the current John Wilson Street)
• New road to junction with what's now the A2212.
• B221 to Catford (A21)
• A212 and B226 to Forest Hill
• A2216 to Dulwich Common
• B228 to Clapham Common (A3); a short section in Tulse Hill was the A204
• B308 from Clapham Common (A3) to Battersea (A3205)
• A3206, over Battersea Bridge, to Chelsea (A3212)
• B310 to Westfield Park (A3217)
• B315 to Brompton Cemetery (A304)
• unclassified to Olympia (A4, now A315)
• B407 to Holland Park (A40)
This section was later renumbered as the A3220. It still carries that number.
In the late 50s the A205 was diverted to Chiswick to form a continuous North and South Circular Road. The original numbering for this section was:
• A3 multiplex (as now) to west of Wandsworth
• A305 to junction with Clifford Avenue
• Unclassified (Clifford Avenue) to Mortlake
• B356 to Kew
• A307 over Kew Bridge
• A315 to what's now the Chiswick Roundabout (A4)
|0||Woolwich Ferry Approach||A117 A206 A2204|
|2||Well Hall Roundabout||A208|
|12||Tulse Hill||A204 A215|
|16||Wandsworth||A3 A217 A218|
|22||Chiswick roundabout||M4 A315 A406|