Huntingdon Street Bus Station - Part Two

Huntingdon Street Bus Station - Part Two

Not seen the beginning of this article click here.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Nottingham's Central Bus Station was in much the same condition as when it was built ten years earlier. There were still no shelters or seating on the eight platforms, and the only undercover accommodation for passengers was to be found at the south-eastern end, directly across from Platform 4. This area had a makeshift shelter (albeit on the only paved area in the bus station which had no departures!), a waiting room, some fairly disgusting toilets, and two phone boxes. This lack of any civilised facilities created good business for the two cafes adjacent to the bus station, and despite its exposure to the elements the ten year old site was already well over capacity. This was in part the City council's fault as it continued to insist that all non-municipal services had to use the bus station, whether they actually wanted to or not. Street termini were to be the exclusive right of corporation vehicles.

Mount Street

The war might have been expected to ease the capacity problem, given that stage carriage services were slashed by 30% or more, but the missing timings on the traditional routes gave way to a host of vehicles provided for the military and for workers in local industries crucial to the war effort. Something had to be done and Nottingham City Council came up with a plan to establish a second bus station. This opened on a totally unsuitable hillside site at Mount Street in October 1944 and consisted of three platforms, curiously designated as 4, 5, and 6 - perhaps it was originally intended to be twice as large and nobody could be bothered to change the plans. On the positive side it had bus shelters on every platform. On the negative side the shelters' canopies were made out of asbestos, seen as a perfectly acceptable material at that time.

As a result of this new competition the Central Bus Station became Huntingdon Street Bus Station. Services which left the city centre in a quadrant from the Hucknall road to the north to the River Trent in the west were transferred to Mount Street. The services which moved included Barton's mainline routes to Castle Donington (3), Swadlincote (3C), Derby (5), Loughborough (10), and Coalville (11), Trent's service 8 to Derby and their 60/61 to Hucknall and Mansfield, and Midland General's B1 to Ripley, B2 to Cotmanhay, B3 to Alfreton, B4 to South Normanton, C5 to Alfreton, and C8 to Ilkeston. A further migrant was Midland Red's X99 to Birmingham.

These services in total amounted to around 35% of Huntingdon Street's traffic and their transfer made things far more manageable. But, as they say, nature abhors a vacuum and the return of peace in 1945 brought new problems. After six years of misery the general public wanted to travel and the space vacated by the Mount Street refugees was quickly commandeered by massive numbers of duplicates on the express services to the east and west coasts. In the early pre-war era Platform 1 was wholly occupied by Nottingham City Transport. Originally this area had played host to NCT services 19/22/25/25A, but the 19 to Lenton Abbey had been transferred to a street terminus on the Old Market Square (or "Slab Square" as it is universally known by locals) and the 22 to Hucknall had been eliminated at an early stage by an agreement with Trent. The remaining 25/25A circulars to Thackeray's Lane were frequent but hardly justified their own platform.

Meanwhile Platform 2 was severely over-crowded at times of peak leisure travel. The problem was that Barton's own high frequency 7/7A/8 to Epperstone/Calverton/Oxton had a continuous presence on the platform, which was also used by Barton's twice daily service 9 to Skegness. A photograph taken in 1947 and used in several books shows a row of five brand-new Barton PD1A/Duple L55F double-deckers, all bound for Skegness on a single departure, completely blocking the platform with no local service vehicles in sight. Barton's allocated platforms after the mass departure to Mount Street were numbers 2 and 3 (with the other independents using Platform 4), and Platform 3 could provide little relief as it was already full of Barton services heading across Trent Bridge to Melton Mowbray (2), Keyworth (6), Leicester (12), Ruddington (14), and the Vale of Belvoir villages (22/23/24/26). The northern half of the bus station could offer no alternative accommodation as it was already full of Midland General and Trent services along with a plethora of express routes.

As a partial solution Barton's Skegness service was allowed on to Corporation turf at the rear end of Platform 1, with duplicates queuing alongside (but facing in the opposite direction) along Huntingdon Street itself. This proved to be a wise move as traffic soared to even greater heights in the late 1940s and early 1950s with Barton's line-up of Skegness duplicates often reaching the northern end of the bus station with further vehicles waiting to emerge from the parking area next to Lammas Lodge. All of this traffic must have been good for the municipal coffers as shelters were finally erected on Huntingdon Street's platforms in early 1949.

Two of South Notts' Northern Counties bodied Lowlanders (82/82 SVO and 87 /FRR 87D) are seen here, driverless and completely blocking Platform 4. Parking discipline was never very good at Huntingdon Street! (John J Holmes)

Broad Marsh

An even bigger change was on the way. The Council had decided that two bus stations were no longer enough, especially in light of its decision to build a major new housing estate at Clifton to the south of the city. This would require many more new bus services and as these were to be operated jointly by NCT, West Bridgford UDC, and a privately owned operator (South Notts), the use of the Corporation's carefully guarded street termini was unthinkable. On the other hand Huntingdon Street was now almost as full as it had been before the opening of Mount Street (which was also full and had overflowed into neighbouring side streets), so the Council bit the bullet and authorised the opening of a third bus station at Broad Marsh, to the south of the city centre.

It was ordained that this new development would accommodate all bus services leaving the city via Trent Bridge, but this soon caused rumblings of discontent from all concerned. The mass eviction to Mount Street had taken place during wartime, and it would have been unpatriotic to make too much of a fuss, but this was peacetime and there was talk of possible legal action by Barton and others if the Council attempted to send them to Broad Marsh against their will. A compromise was reached, with each operator being allowed to choose one service crossing Trent Bridge which could continue to be served from Huntingdon Street. Short workings and variations of those routes were also to be allowed to stay. Gash nominated both of their services to Newark, South Notts their workings towards Loughborough, Trent the 65/66 to Bunny and Loughborough, and Barton the 12 to Leicester. In the case of the latter three operators there was a reason for their choice of routes. Huntingdon Street was to the north of the city centre, and only 5 minutes walk away from Nottingham Victoria railway station. Regular train services connected this station to both Loughborough and Leicester, and if the competing bus services had been forced to move to Broad Marsh they would undoubtedly have lost some traffic to the trains.

The new Broad Marsh bus station opened in January 1952, and in addition to the entirely new services from the Clifton Estate became a haven for Barton's services to Melton Mowbray, Keyworth, and the Vale of Belvoir, although for some unknown reason the Belvoir routes had a brief stay at Mount Street before transferring to Broad Marsh. A brand-new Barton service to Clifton via Ruddington (54) also used Broad Marsh, but their existing route to Ruddington (14) was allowed to stay at Huntingdon Street as it competed with Trent's 65/66. After all of the departures Trent became the largest operator at Huntingdon Street, with Barton departures limited to the 7/7A/8 local services, the 12 to Leicester, the 14 to Ruddington, and the express routes to Skegness (9) and Llandudno (34). Despite this statistical fact, at any given time there were still far more Barton vehicles on the bus station than Trent ones. This anomaly was accounted for by the limitations of Huntingdon Street garage, across the road, which had no parking area of its own and used the bus station as a turn-out and layover facility. Most of the services transferred to Broad Marsh were still worked by Nottingham garage, either wholly or in part, and vehicles showing route numbers for the Vale of Belvoir cluster of routes could often be found alongside Lammas Lodge as late as the 1970s.

The Gash route to Newark via the main road was usually operated by double-deckers well into the 1970s, but here is their 36ft Leopard/Willowbrook saloon LO7 (YNN 650H) at Huntingdon Street to provide a little variety. (John J Holmes)

The Rise of the Shopping Centres

In the mid-1960s drastic changes came again. The City council decided that all of its bus stations should be situated next to shopping centres and sites were earmarked as an integral part of new city centre retail developments. The first of these schemes to be approved, Victoria Centre, was an ambitious plan to redevelop the site of Nottingham's Victoria Railway Station. The station had been opened in 1900, jointly financed by the Great Central and Great Northern companies, and became the Nottingham halt for the GCR's express services from Manchester and Sheffield to London (Marylebone). These lines competed directly with the Midland Railway's services from their station at Carrington Street, to the south of the city centre, and by the 1960s the old GCR routes were seen as ripe for elimination by the infamous Dr Beeching. The London expresses came to an end in 1966, leaving only a six times daily service to Rugby operated by DMUs. It was a pitiful end for a station with 12 platforms, and the facility closed completely in September 1967. Demolition was swift, although the station clock tower on Milton Street survived, and work began almost immediately on the construction of the new shopping mall. The scale of the development was certainly impressive. As well as the retail units there were 26 storey flats above the centre, providing more than 400 homes, vast multi-level car parks, and a new (completely undercover) bus station.

Those of us who loved Huntingdon Street watched the new shopping centre rising from the ashes of the railway station with great trepidation, as its completion would surely spell the end of the neighbouring site. Fortunately I was spared the final rites as by 1970 I was the singer in a (semi-professional!) rock band, and musical commitments in Manchester at the weekends made visits to Nottingham, or anywhere else, few and far between. Huntingdon Street closed, without me to mourn it, in early 1972 (does anybody know the exact date?). My next journey to Nottingham, later in the same year, deposited me at the new Victoria Bus Station. It was horrible, in a Digbeth Coach Station sort of way but without the primitive charm, and was made even worse by the creeping advance of NBC poppy red and leaf green. I decided to take a look at the old site and was happy to discover that the parking ground by Lammas Lodge was still full of Barton vehicles. Barton rented this area from the City council until 1977 when their lease was terminated so that the site could be used as an enlarged surface car park. This was rather ironic as a much smaller surface parking area had previously existed at the northern end of the power station and alongside Platform 8. Despite having room for no more than 25 vehicles this had been supervised by a man in a hut. The development of a new Platform 9 in the late 1960s (and an increasing need for bus parking) had finally eliminated this facility. The Barton garage across the road survived until 1980 when most of its vehicles were moved back to Chilwell (from whence their predecessors had come way back in 1939).

The other two bus stations suffered similar fates. Redevelopment at Mount Street began in 1965 and the "traditional" bus station (I'm trying to be kind about it!) closed in 1968. For two years its services were scattered onto Maid Marian Way and other local thoroughfares before the completion of the new facility, another piece of nasty concrete modernism with no soul. More embarrassingly the shopping development adjacent to the new Mount Street Bus Station found it hard to find tenants (being separated from the rest of the city centre by a dual carriageway) and the entire place had that kind of virtually deserted futuristic look that made you expect an attack by Daleks. The bus companies didn't like it much either. Barton gave it short shrift, moving their services to the new Broad Marsh within two years. Trent were next to go (in 1973), taking Midland Red's X99 with them to Victoria. Mount Street became a Midland General mono-culture and closed in 1980, only ten years after its opening. It was not replaced and the remaining services went to Victoria. The new version of Broad Marsh (now attached to a shopping centre of the same name) opened in October 1971 and was an improvement for everyone except bus photographers, the previous pleasing skyline in the background of their Broad Marsh shots having been replaced by artificial lighting and a multi-storey car park where the sky should be. My fondness for the new Broad Marsh might have been influenced by events in my own life. In September 1973 I moved to Nottingham to be the singer in a new band, and a year later met my first wife in the city. We married in November (eight weeks after our first meeting) and - being impoverished - used a South Notts Lowlander on the Clifton Estate service to transport the wedding party from the registry office to our cheap and cheerful reception at a friend's flat in Wilford. Well-wishers ensured that there was an abundance of confetti on Broad Marsh Bus Station.

As always seems to happen with my articles, this one has run well beyond its originally intended length. Part Three will draw this reminiscence to a close with a platform-by-platform survey of Huntingdon Street's attractions between 1964 and 1972. If you have any good quality photographs taken at the bus station during those years I'd be delighted to see them and include them.

Neville Mercer
09/2015

 

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