A few weeks ago we had a look at some interesting bus shelters which had something to say about their local environs. I compared them unfavourably to the metal and Perspex shelters, or cheap wooden ones, which otherwise fail to either blend into the local streetscape, or offer somewhere nice to wait for a bus, thereby being doubly useless. One commentator pointed out that what I was saying was that I liked a set of old bus shelters and didn’t like modern ones. This was true, but entirely unintentional. Actually I was vaguely horrified that I’d presented the article like that. I thoroughly disagree with the idea that old transport infrastructure is pretty and nice, and recent transport infrastructure is ugly and horrible (a fallacy put about even by transport ministers who ought to know better).
If anything I tend towards the neophilic end of the spectrum, and I love really good modern bus shelters, like this one by Peter Eisenman. Eisenman’s shelter is well suited to an urban environment, but would clearly make little aesthetic sense in a small village or the countryside, where most of the vernacular bus shelters we looked at last time were located. This week though, I have two examples of bus shelters installed in two different English villages. They’re unique and have their roots firmly in their locality, sitting happily in their surroundings. Most importantly, they’re quite new, just to prove the point.
Firstly, to Cross Houses in Shropshire. The closure and partial demolition of a local workhouse-turned-hospital provided the impetus for the construction of two new bus shelters in the village. The shelters were constructed as the result of a local arts project called Benchart. Following on from some other local artworks, the artists on the project worked with villagers and local partners like Berrington Parish Council on the design of the new bus shelters, with additional funding from local transport authority Shropshire County Council for the first shelter.
The shelters draw on the heritage of the old workhouse while remaking it as something new. They use reclaimed materials from the demolished parts of the workhouse/hospital, and take architectural cues from it too. They were also designed more generally to reflect the local vernacular. The reclaimed bricks give them real character.
The first shelter features pointed arches lined with pale bricks and an intricate window set into the gable wall. The roof is made of reclaimed slate tiles. It was installed around 2007 and was soon followed a second, smaller shelter.
It takes an unusual and intriguing form that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen used anywhere else for a bus shelter. Square in plan, it has a roof ridge which is at an angle, rather than being horizontal, and is supported at the higher end by a wooden post. It has two rear walls, set an angle, and an open front. Again, materials have been recycled from the workhouse/hospital. Clay paviers, designed by local people during art workshops, have been incorporated into the rear walls of the shelter.
Next up, a location recommended by a commentator on a previous article (thank you Julian Walker): the spectacularly named village of Fairy Cross in Devon. There, a pair of fairy tale shelters gives a memorable experience to passengers waiting for buses on Stagecoach’s Route 319, a long route between Hartland and Barnstaple.
Made of the red sandstone rubble walls which characterise traditional local buildings (and also seen on the listed bus shelter in Broadclyst), these are hexagonal buildings which appear to owe a considerable debt to ecclesiastical architecture. Their pointed roofs resemble church spires (there are even wind vanes on the top, though they feature decidedly un-ecclesiastical silhouettes of faerie folk), and there’s also something very church-like about the detailing around the pointed arch windows and doorways. They appear to draw on the general feel of St Anne’s Church in Bucks Mills, about four miles down the A39.
According to author Nicky Gardner (2016) the shelters were the idea of local residents, who wanted to make their village more noticeable. Most of Fairy Cross’s buildings are set back from the bus route, and bus passengers ignorant of the village’s existence might not otherwise notice it. They certainly do now, and the shelters are accompanied by engraved stone signs giving the name of the village. The north-eastbound bus shelter was completed first, in the mid-2000s. For a while, the old south-westbound shelter stood alongside the new one as a complete contrast, and a reminder that too many rural bus shelters are neither pleasant to use nor appealing to the eye, a concrete block carbuncle if ever I saw one:
After a while, that one too was replaced, and the two shelters are now virtually identical. The one significant difference is that on the inside, the north-westbound shelter is painted orange, and the south-westbound shelter is painted blue. The south-westbound shelter is dedicated to the memory of a local farm manager. Gardner relates the story that other nearby villages were inspired to copy Fairy Cross’s example, and give their villages more street-presence through the construction of bespoke bus shelters. However, the threatened bus shelter design wars never broke out (Gardner found the locals reluctant to elaborate, which does sound like the sort of reticence an out-of-towner would come up against in rural Devon), and Fairy Cross’s pair of shelters remains a singular example.
So, there you are, proof that attractive bus shelters reflecting the local built environment aren’t necessarily lingering survivors from the distant past. Some villages are demonstrating that even today, you can do better than a shabby shed or a concrete clunker. These shelters enhance their environment rather than detract from it, and provide little moments of delight for local bus passengers.
Bibliography and Further Reading
The website of Berrington Parish Council (who kindly allowed me to reproduce the photos of their splendid bus shelters), here
The Cross Houses Benchart project page, via the Internet Archive, here
Gardner, Nicky / Kries, Susanne / Locke, Tim (editors) (2016): Bus Pass Britain. Chalfont St Peter, Bradt Travel Guides