White-painted Wonders (Streamline Moderne bus shelters, England)

It’s good news for lovers of geometric white buildings this week as we return to the topic of Art Deco / Streamline Moderne / Modernist (take your pick of your preferred term) transport shelters. In previous entries we’ve looked at Art Deco tram shelters, some now surviving to serve buses, while the last time we rounded up some bus shelters they were cast-iron Victorian examples dating from the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

So let’s move the bus shelter story on a bit to catch up with the Art Deco tram shelters, by looking at some examples of  Art Deco / Streamline Moderne shelters designed to serve buses.

At least, that’s what I’m hoping this first example was designed for. In seaside towns, on the promenade in particular, it can be very difficult to tell whether a shelter was designed for buses, or whether it was designed for general seafront use with buses taking advantage of it later.

This shelter is on Weston Shore near Southampton, and is one of four along this stretch of Southampton Water, where it currently serves two, admittedly not very frequent, bus services. The fact that its open side is towards the road suggests it was designed with bus passengers in mind, but it might just be that having the open side towards the water would have been a guarantee of a soaking for those inside on windy days. Further confusing matters is that there appear to be no marked bus stops on this section of the bus route. But isn’t this just splendid?

Photo by Steve [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
Shelter at Weston Park bus stop on Weston Parade, Southampton. Photo by Steve [CC BY-NC 2.0] via this flickr page

Google Maps says it’s a bus stop (Weston Park, north-westbound, to be precise), and that’s good enough for me to include it, not to mention that a sensitive coloured lighting scheme makes this little gem as stylish now as it was when it was built. On the other hand, if I’m wrong, it’s just a beach-side shelter a bit like this one in Deal, Kent, which I really wanted to be a bus shelter, but just plain well isn’t.

Let’s move on to another curvy splendour which is most definitely a bus shelter. This one is in Barnard’s Green, Great Malvern. It’s a very 1930s-looking building. In fact, with its fin-sporting square clock tower it looks like a miniaturised version of Surbiton Station in London:

Barnard Green memorial shelter. Bob Embleton [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Barnard’s Green memorial shelter. Photo by Bob Embleton [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite appearances, it’s actually a 1940s building, and not only is it a very finely designed bus shelter, it’s also a war memorial to the fallen of the Second World War. Statutory heritage organisation Historic England describes it as, “a well-proportioned and balanced composition and a successful interpretation of the 1930s art deco style.”¹ Its interior contains a brass plaque with a poppy design as well as the inscription which explains its role as a war memorial. The Town Outside blog’s author said (in this entry) it was, “The best bus shelter I think I have ever seen.”

That’s obviously a matter of personal taste, but it’s certainly one of the most stylish older bus shelters you’ll find in Britain.

In Norfolk, there’s another curvaceous bus shelter about which considerably less information is readily available. Right next to the North Norfolk Steam Railway’s station in Sheringham is this:

© Copyright Robin Stott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Bus shelter on Railway Approach, Sheringham. © Copyright Robin Stott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. From this page on geograph.org.uk

Unusually for a Streamline Moderne building, it’s finished in unadorned brick rather than being rendered and/or painted white, so it bears more than a passing resemblance to the great Southern Railway signal boxes of the same style. But that’s about all I can tell you apart from the obvious fact that this shelter also has a mural inside, a piece of railway art. It’s not listed, I don’t know who the architect is, and I don’t know when it was built. I do wonder if originally it would have had Crittall windows; had it done so it would look more considered, and resemble the tram/bus shelters in Old Steine, Brighton.

London is the obvious place to look for good examples of transport architecture, and its Modernist tube stations by Charles Holden (and others) remain a highlight. You’d think it might not be too hard to turn up something similar when it came to bus shelters. After all, Wallis, Gilbert and Partners did a splendid Streamline Moderne job on the London Country bus garages (which we looked at here and here). But bus shelters haven’t been well served by London Transport or its successor, Transport for London. They have saved all their energies for the railway networks of London, it seems.

Charles Holden did design a rectangular bus shelter for London Transport (see his design here), which was competent and neat, but no more than that, and it doesn’t really stand out from other bus shelters in the way his tube stations do from ones which preceded his work on the Piccadilly Line’s northern extension of 1931-33. Holden also produced a circular version of his bus shelter (you can see a picture here) which was more interesting, but again lacking the bravura Modernist stylings of his tube stations. I’d suggest that perhaps bus shelters represent too small a canvas to deliver something with aspirations to match the best Modernist tube/railway stations, except that the three examples which started this article prove that they don’t.

That leaves us with Holden’s “mushroom shelters”, circular shelters outside some of his tube stations, the purpose of which is now maddeningly unclear. This one at Oakwood, for instance, is on the wrong side of the station forecourt to act easily as a bus shelter.

© Copyright Christine Matthews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Mushroom shelter at Oakwood London Underground station, London. © Copyright Christine Matthews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. From this page on geograph.org.uk

The one at Queensbury, meanwhile, is in the middle of a roundabout outside the station, making it useless for getting into buses (the doors of which would have been on the far side of the vehicles). It’s not even clear why you would want to cross the roadway of a busy roundabout, with the attendant risk that involves, to reach the shelter.

But if not to wait for buses, or maybe taxis, why would you build shelters outside a tube station? Just so that people could watch the world go by? You can’t even see the trains from them. It’s all very puzzling, but they’re rather wonderful pieces of architecture nonetheless.

Let’s instead head to the north-east of England for what is either a very small bus station, or a pair of very large bus shelters, depending on your point of view. Seaton Carew in County Durham isn’t somewhere you’d necessarily expect to find some stunning bus architecture given its small size. Nevertheless, this is its seafront Grade II listed bus station:

2008. By JohnYeadon (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Seaton Carew bus station in 2008. Photo by JohnYeadon (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a classic Modernist silhouette reinterpreted for buses. The central clock tower flanked by two lower, symmetrical wings is a blueprint used in countless Modernist offices and factories of the inter-war era. Yet here it is in miniature, in use for buses.

The clock tower and service building immediately behind used to back onto a large sea-facing shelter, which was demolished in the late 1990s due to its poor condition. The bus station was also looking pretty tatty by that point but was sensitively restored a few years later. The shelters either side of the clock feature tiny pavilion buildings at each end with convex fronts, and a projecting cornice which runs right round all sides (even the back). Historic England doesn’t seem to know who the architect was, or exactly when it was built, but given its Streamline Moderne outline, the interwar period is the most likely date.

2008 By JohnYeadon (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Seaton Carew bus station in 2008. Photo by JohnYeadon (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While today Seaton Carew bus station is served only by a single Stagecoach bus route to Middlesbrough (though it runs every 10 minutes, which isn’t bad at all), Seaton Carew was at one point a very popular seaside resort, and the bus station would have catered for numerous buses carrying tourists. Like many English seaside resorts Seaton Carew is no longer as popular with holidaymakers as it once was, but its bus station is a reminder of those past glories, as well as being a wonderful piece of bus infrastructure in its own right, and a remarkable survivor.

how to find these bus shelters

For a map showing the location of the Weston Park shelter, click here

For a map showing the location of the Barnard’s Green shelter, click here

For a map showing the location of the Sheringham bus shelter, click here

For a map showing the location of the mushroom shelter at Oakwood station, click here

For a map showing the location of the Seaton Carew bus station, click here

bibliography and further reading

Ovenden, Mark (2013): London Underground by Design. London, Penguin Books.

¹ Historic England’s listing citation for Barnard’s Green bus shelter, here

Historic England’s listing citation for Seaton Carew bus station, here

 

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