Going Inside Stockwell Bus Garage

As mentioned yesterday, I found myself on a rather special double-decker bus on a trip to a mystery location, described as an overlooked piece of post-war architecture.

The location, suitably enough for a trip on a bus, was a bus garage – but not just any bus garage. This was a trip to, and inside Stockwell bus garage – which contains what was at the time of construction – Europe’s largest unsupported roof span.

Our trip in the 60-year old bus took us down the same side street used by modern buses, and into the courtyard outside the bus station for a look at the ribbed concrete roof. One of the volunteers on the bus gave a brief talk about the bus, and the bus station, but admitted his knowledge was more bus than building oriented.

Stockwell bus station

However, we then drove inside the bus garage, which took our guide slightly by surprise and he noted that he had himself never been inside, so treats all round this time.

Inside, stop for a bit, a loop around the station and then back out to return back to the South Bank.

Stockwell bus station

No chance to get off – I suspect that would have strained the permission to dart in and out again – and all the photos were taken through the windows. Photos incidentally, that I wasn’t expecting to take, so I only had a cameraphone instead of my usual big camera on me. Sorry!

Stockwell bus station

The bus we were in was built in 1950, and so is older than the bus garage, which was built in 1952, during the post-war shortage of steel. Hence, the architects, Adie, Button and Partners, with the engineer A E Beer, chose to build the roof out of concrete instead of the usual steel supports.

The 120 metre long roof structure is supported by ten very shallow “two-hinged” arched ribs which make up the distinctive shape of the structure.

Since 1988 the garage has been a Grade II* listed building reflecting its importance in post-war architectural and engineering history. Google satellite view.

As a building, I like it a lot, and it has somehow escaped the worst ravages of time that afflicted concrete housing of the same era, probably in part due to not having residents despoiling the structure. I am not alone in liking it, as self-described flâneur, Will Self has been on a mission to educate people about this architectural gem hidden from casual observers behind a residential street.

I also liked not just the architecture, but also how the shiny red buses, all out of service were lined up in marked contrast to the grey concrete ceiling arching down over their heads.

I’ve long planned to take photos of it if and when I am in the area – never expected to be able to go inside though!

Stockwell bus station

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10 Comments

  1. The largest unsupported roof span in the US was the Kingdome in Seattle, which was also made of concrete. The building got imploded a few years ago, against the protests of architectural preservationists, though there were few OTHER reasons to keep the building around.

  2. Andrew

    This reminds me of the dome of the Poultry Market building at Smithfield – the replacement built in 1961-63 after the disastrous fire in 1958 – has a concrete shell roof which spans 68.6m by 38.1m. It is an elliptical paraboloid, mostly only 3 inches thick, supported by pre-stressed edge beams, and seems to balance on its corners. It is claimed to be the largest concrete shell structure ever built.

    See http://www.c20society.org.uk/botm/archive/2003/smithfield-poultry-market-london-ec1.html

    The bus garage would appear to have been built a bit earlier, in 1950-54.

  3. Jo

    I live overlooking this depot, and from my bedroom window the view across the garage rooftop at sunset when it reflects the pinks of the sky is one of my favourite views in London.

  4. peter king

    my farther use to drive a bus from stocwell in the 1950s we lived in gilford road untill 1962

  5. Michael Dorgan

    I worked as a bus driver in Stockwell bus garage, from 1959 till 1972.Have great memories of the place.

    • Bob Russell

      Between 1960 and 1968 my Dad also Bob Russell drove the 77a out of Stockwell as well as the 2, 2b, 88 and 37. He was a well known charector and was the garage snooker champion for many years. I have fond memories of supporting him at snooker matches at Stockwell and many other garages around London. I also remember riding on his bus from Clapham Junction (were we lived) to Raynes Park then to Kings Cross and back. Sports and social club Sunday trip to the seaside. Brilliant.

  6. Grant Pirie

    I worked in this garage as a mechanic from 2001-2008 and never took a second look or thought at the roof. To the people working there it was just a structure of no great meaning but paid the wages. Many more great memories of working there with the boys and the banter rather than the building itself

  7. Rob

    I thought the Stockwell garage had the largest unsupported roof in the world, not just Europe, until the Astro Dome was built in Houston, Texas?

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