They don’t make them like they used to. When it comes to tram and bus shelters of the British Isles, I’m afraid that on the whole it’s true. There’s the occasional bespoke example which is more interesting, but those are unfortunately rare. Standard modern bus shelters are usually effective (despite the fact that the advertising contracts which often pay for the installation of bus shelters sometimes leads to poster walls blocking the view of oncoming buses…), but they tend to be lacking in character. Sometimes, they’re almost defiantly unstylish. The same goes for their larger brethren at tram stops.
Some time ago, we looked at some British Art Deco tram stop survivors. This time, we’re going slightly further back into the past to look at some Edwardian tram shelters which have effortlessly survived the transition (in most cases, anyway) to bus transport. They are still providing shelter, whilst the sheer level of care and attention which went into their design ensures that they remain positive additions to the urban scene, despite their advanced years. These are grand old ladies who retain a certain style.
The common theme amongst them all is cast iron, at the time a popular material for building civic structures. These shelters are also to a greater or lesser degree ornate, in precisely the kind of fussy way the Modernists would soon be railing against, and designing Streamline Moderne shelters instead. Today’s examples are shelters from the final flowering of the intricate Victorian cast iron work which can be found on buildings as small as municipal bandstands through to the interiors of Bazalgette’s cathedrals of sewage at Abbey Mills, Crossness, Deptford and Pimlico in London.
First up then, the south coast town of Dover, where a lone survivor of the local tram network (which closed in 1936) stands at the junction of Folkestone Road and Elms Vale Road. It’s just glorious, and rather more pleasing on the eye than most modern shelters.
Its beautiful appearance is testament to the restoration prowess of specialist building maintenance and refurbishment company Redec, which restored the shelter in 2013 after years of vandalism (see here). Though it’s not immediately apparent from this photo, the glass toplights are etched in Victorian style, and the lower panels are cast with a decorative design too (there are some closer views here). There’s a wrought iron crest running along the roof ridge. Grade II listed by statutory heritage body English Heritage in 1988, it was the work of Dover Corporation Tramways.
Next up is the northern town of Preston, Lancashire. It’s hard to reconcile with the recently listed Brutalist monster which is Preston Bus Station, but this delightful little former tram shelter can be found on Black Bull Lane at the junction with Lytham Road.
Just look at the crest running along the top of the shelter, not to mention those ornate Prussian helmet-style finials. Quite super. Local newspaper the Lancashire Evening Post demonstrates that Lancashire County Council appreciates this piece of high quality heritage design (see here).
It’s not all good news. The only British town to retain its original tram network, Blackpool, used to have rather appealing cast iron shelters until just a few years ago, although they became very neglected towards the end of their working lives. Of slightly later construction than the others shelters in this entry, so far as I can ascertain they have all now disappeared from the streets. This picture shows what we’re missing out on. Though badly vandalised, the detailing on the lower panels of these lost beauties was wonderful, and the whole thing exuded style.
Meanwhile, here’s an example of the sort of shelters that replaced the cast iron ones:
Oh dear. That’s a Beastly Transport if ever there was one.
I’ve been saving the best two locations until last though. Another Grade II listed tram shelter can be found in Hyde, Cheshire. It survives, well cared for, and still happily serving bus passengers. And the passengers, assuming they’re potential readers of this blog and they notice at all, must be pretty happy too. It is big and it is clever.
Grade II listed in 1986, English Heritage is a big fan of the, “moulded braces, crocket capitals, and naturalistic enrichment to the pierced spandrels which support the canopy.” I don’t think it’s alone.
It’s actually one of two local survivors. The other (not listed) is smaller but of very similar design, and now finds itself in the middle of a pedestrianised street. It’s still giving shelter, but not for public transport passengers. As a one-time tram shelter, it deserves a bit of the attention usually lavished on its bigger brother, so here it is (and there’s a better view of the pierced spandrels with naturalistic enhancement as well).
Finally, outside of Britain (and indeed the UK) but within the British Isles, is St Peter Port bus station. Located on the small Channel Islands isle of Guernsey, it’s a bus station quite in keeping with the scale of Guernsey as a whole. And anyway, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in substance and design.
Guernsey did have a tram system which closed in the 1930s, and I strongly suspect this shelter dates from that operation, but it is also quite possible that it was a public shelter which has become used as the bus station. In the summer it is festooned with flowers, though the plastic hanging baskets aren’t strictly in keeping with the design.
This beautiful hexagonal shelter (one of three at the same location) is a loud condemnation from our ancestors of the dull and utilitarian public transport shelters we insist on building today. It’s not rocket science to build a bus or tram shelter which is attractive as well as practical. We know this because the shelters above were designed by people who had never built a rocket. Yet we cleave to dull and uninspired designs today for reasons of cost, or to avoid controversy. At some other time, we’ll take a look at some of the bus and tram shelters over recent years which are the exceptions to the rule. But for the most part, we could, and should, do better.
National Heritage List for England listing record for Dover bus/tram shelter, here.
National Heritage List for England listing record for Hyde bus/tram shelter, here
How to find (some of) the shelters
The green arrows on the following maps mark the approximate locations.
The shelter in Dover:
The shelter in Preston:
The shelter in Hyde:
The shelter in St Peter Port: