Roll Out the Barrel (Newbury Park bus station, London, UK)

Once upon a time I was moving house in east London, and on what was otherwise a rather stressful and difficult day, I had one unexpected moment of surprise and delight as I swept along the A12 through Newbury Park. Public transport had made my day – ever so slightly – more beautiful.

The cause was Newbury Park bus station. It’s quite simply one of the most extraordinary bus-related structures I’ve ever seen (there are some other contenders, of which more anon). Here it is:

Newbury Park bus station, London
Newbury Park bus station, London. September 2001. ©Daniel Wright

Gorgeous, eh? Slightly spoilt by the unsympathetic roadsigns, but there you go. Fans of postboxes will meanwhile be pleased to see that the whole place is further enhanced by a nice pillar box.

Luckily, Newbury Park bus station is listed – Grade II, though the listing record calls it “Newbury Park station bus shelter”. Bus shelter? You what? That thing’s as much a bus shelter as the Queen Mary is a ‘ferry’. It was designed by Oliver Hill in 1937, but not constructed until after the end of the war. The listing record says it is a, “High arched open structure with copper clad barrel vault roof 150 ft long and 30 ft high with 7 concrete arches spanning 60 ft. A plaque records that it received a 1951 Festival of Britain Award.”

Yes, well, I should think so too.

The bus station/shelter is actually an orphan, which explains why it stands in such stark contrast to its immediate surroundings. It’s immediately adjacent to Newbury Park tube station, and there was originally a much larger plan to rebuild the tube station to form an integrated modernist interchange with the bus station. But it never happened, presumably because the money wasn’t there in a time of austerity, leaving the bus structure standing in splendid architectural isolation. The Royal Institute of British Architects’ website has some lovely black and white photos of the bus station when built, and a copy of the artist’s impression of the original design for the interchange. RIBA says I can reuse the tiny versions of the pictures for educational purposes, so here goes:

Newbury Park as built (RIBA Library Drawings Collection)
Newbury Park interchange design. Artist’s impression by John Dean Monroe Harvey (RIBA Library Drawings Collection)

I love it. It’s a little slice of the future, as imagined in the middle of the 20th century and surviving well into the 21st. It’s a reminder of the days when transport in London looked forwards. Today, due to confusion on the part of the London Mayor as to whether public transport is a service or a tourist attraction, the latest thinking is exemplified by an embarrassing plastic attempt to build a new Routemaster bus, replicating many of the deficiencies of a design which had come to a timely end.

Oh well, we can still sit at Newbury Park bus station, and dream dreams of the future…

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