This week marks 50 years since construction started on what would become the largest bus terminal in the UK. James Graves looks back at the birth of Preston Bus Station
It has faced numerous threats of demolition, became a listed building in 2013 and has gained a love or hate reputation; Preston’s bus station has been a talking point in the city for many years.
This month marks 50 years since construction started on what has become one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
At the time, the Lancashire Evening Post reported there would be “traffic upheaval” in Preston due to construction starting on the new building while demolition work would begin on the same day for the new inner ring road.
Up to 600 drivers who normally parked in the area on Tithebarn Street had to find alternative arrangements due to the land being closed for construction.
Back then, the building project was expected to cost more than £1m and was scheduled to take only 18 months to be completed by contractors, John Laing Construction Ltd (JLC).
JLC said at the time that 18 months was not long for a building of the size planned, with most of the construction comprising the putting into place of pre-cast
sections.A works was set up on site to cast the tailor-made concrete parts.
Using glass-reinforced polyester moulds, all 2,800 sections were produced in less than a year.
Building work started on March 11 and the completed bus station was officially opened on October 12, 1969.It is more than 170 metres in length, making it longer than Blackpool Tower is tall. The multi-storey car park has four levels on the western side and five levels on the eastern side with 1,100 parking places.
JLC also boasted the 600 ft long enclosed concourse for passengers would provide facilities of an “airport standard”.
Designed by Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson of Preston-based Building Design Partnership (BDP), the building is built in the Brutalist architectural style popular of the period.
Ingham said his design aim was to give ordinary people something of the luxury of air travel, which at the time was expensive and still in its infancy.
It was reported that delays caused by buses getting caught up in the congested town would be reduced with the new building by providing direct access to the new ring road, which was completed before the bus station.
The station was created to replace four smaller bus interchanges which were located around the town centre.
There were two on Tithebarn Street: Ribble Bus Station, which is where the Guild Hall is now located, and Preston Coach Station, which is partly where the current station stands.
The other two were Starch House Square Bus Station, where part of Ringway and JD Gym now stand, and Fishwicks Bus Station at the bottom of Fox Street, where the Premier Inn is situated.
When it was built, it was the UK’s largest bus station and had 80 bus stands serving numerous operators, including the Preston Corporation, Fishwicks and Ribble.
The station was accessed by two subways, one on Tithebarn Street leading to the entrance of the then new St John’s Shopping Centre and the other on Lord’s Walk.
An additional subway was later created to access the Guild Hall, which was opened in 1973. The stands were halved to 40 following substantial
reconstruction last year, which also resulted in the three subways being closed and filled with concrete due to lack of use in later years.
Once opened the bus station provided cafes as well as information and ticket offices, which ran down the centre of the building.
The designers also created custom fittings to furnish the inside such as oiled iroko wood seats, doors and barrier rails. The unique signage and clocks also exist to this day.
Other features of the station include the distinctive vertical white tiles with black grout, made by Shaws of Darwen. They feature both internally and externally.
Also, the black floor is constructed from ribbed rubber tiles made by Pirelli, more famous for making the tyres for Formula One cars.
Prior to the station being built, more than 200 houses occupied the land, as well as several businesses.
Everton Gardens, Spring Gardens, Fell Street, Alfred Street and Edgar Street were terraced residential streets which made way for the new building.
Tithebarn Fire Station, formerly situated on Tithebarn Street, was built in 1852 and demolished in the mid-1960s following the relocation to Blackpool Road.
Other notable businesses on Tithebarn Street which were knocked down included Johnson’s Pie Shop, the Market Hotel and the Borough of Preston Weights and Measures Office.
North Road also ran straight through where the station stands today and part of it still exists as Church Row, which joins Church Street.
With such a high profile, the architecture has long divided public opinion.
A survey conducted by the LEP in 2010 found the building was Preston people’s favourite in the city.
While preservation charity, Twentieth Century Society, described it as “one of the most significant Brutalist buildings in the UK”.
It does have its detractors as well, with John Rentoul describing it as a “concrete lasagne” and fellow journalist Paul Routledge calling the station “an ugly, dirty, draughty concrete monstrosity”, adding that it is “easily the most unpleasant bus experience around”.
It also has a twin bus terminal in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Situated in the southern part of the city, the terminal was designed by Keith Ingham, the architect for Preston’s station.
In 2009 Mr Ingham’s son, Simon Ingham, told the LEP: “The terminal out in Tehran is built from the same design with the car park up above it and the bays facing outwards, which is something not a lot of people know about. It is quite pleasing to drive past the Preston one and think there is only one other like it in the world. It is described as ‘brutish architecture’ and that is replicated in Tehran.”
The Tehran terminal features the same curved concrete pattern but rather than being a replica of Preston’s it is built in a circular shape.
Preston’s station has had a controversial history and has faced the threat of demolition numerous times since the millennium.
English Heritage applied for the structure to have listed status in both 2000 and 2010, however, these bids were unsuccessful.
Preston City Council wanted the station to be knocked down to make way for the ill-fated Preston Tithebarn redevelopment project, which would have included a new bus station alongside new department stores, a market and more than 100 shops. The £700m project was abandoned in 2011 after one of the key partners, John Lewis, pulled out.
Despite this, the council still wanted to press ahead with the demolition of the bus station and announced in 2012 that it would be demolished.
At the time Preston City Council leader Peter Rankin said the building costs £297,000 a year to maintain and it would not be able to continue to afford the repair costs that it needs.
Coun Rankin said: “We do understand that many people are passionate about the bus station and there is no doubt that it is a striking building, so it is very much a heart and a head dilemma that we face.”
Lancashire County Council (LCC) cabinet agreed to take over the station and car park from Preston City Council in December 2013.
The decision was taken as LCC said it would be positioned to be able to provide the necessary funds in order for the station to be redeveloped. English Heritage once again applied for listed status in 2013, which was successful, and the bus station became a Grade II listed building.
The station is currently undergoing a multi-million pound extensive renovation, which will see the western side of the station become pedestrianised and a new youth centre built where the existing bus stands are.
This is due to be completed in 2019 – 50 years after the station was opened.