Cromwell Road – A new bus station for Kingston
Once upon a time, Kingston had its very own bus garage and station, with a covered area for buses and a waiting room for passengers. This station was on Clarence Street as it curved to approach Kingston Railway Station and Cromwell Road. Built in 1922, the building was unfortunately always a bit small for the number of vehicles needing to use it.
Traffic congestion in Kingston was unbearable mid-20th century and it was recognised that the reconfiguration of the road system would also lead to changes in the way buses operated. A garage at Norbiton was proposed in 1973 by London Transport (see future blog post K06: Gordon Road), but it only opened in 1984 and was already out of use in 1992 when a new replacement for Kingston Garage was proposed on Cromwell Road.
Development of Cromwell Road Bus Station
Cromwell Road, formerly Tills Road was taken over by Kingston Corporation in 1884. In the 1920s, one of it’s most prominent features was Austin’s jam and fruit pressing factory which employed 100 in 1929 and processed 10-12 tons of fruit daily. The site of the future bus station was a coal wharf, but buses would use this stretch of road to wait on if Kingston Garage was overfull before entering it by a side road behind the Bentall’s Depository.
Kingston Bus Station was actually the first Cromwell Road Bus Station, in that it was built on Cromwell Road, on land which had formed part of Canbury Lodge gardens. Built by the London General Omnibus Company in 1922, the frontage onto Clarence Street was only added during expansion in December 1928. At that time it served 18 routes and a total fleet of 40.
A new bus station for Cromwell Road was proposed by Kingston Council to replace Kingston and Norbiton Garages and to alleviate problems at Fairfield Bus Station which was attracting a large number of complaints due to its small size and poor facilities (basically, it was serving too many routes, but had only been built in 1990). The new station was to include such luxuries as covered seating for 175 passengers and information offices at either end of the station, as reported to the Development Committee June 24th 1992. It was designed by London Buses to include access ways, a bus garage, workshop, vehicle wash and underground fuels tanks – but a basic visual assessment would suggest that the actual development has none of these! However, they did build a small bus stand at the Queen Elizabeth Road end of the station. Due originally to open in October 1994, the Station was delayed to April 1995 and again to September (SWLB&TM, M43). However, temporary bus stops were in operation on Cromwell Road during 1995 before the Station itself was complete.
The station has had its own operational problems. The design of the chevron bays and the tendency for vehicles to pull up against the rear wall meant that often passengers were set down in the middle of the road, and therefore susceptible to being squished by reversing vehicles (!), and/or slips on oil spills. This was actually against protocol, but a survey conducted by Katalogue found only 1 in 10 London United Buses dropping passengers at the kerbside as they ought to!
The South West London Bus and Tram Magazine reports in 1994 that: ‘Clarence Street bus station will close for good: it is probably the most old fashioned bus station in London, in some ways little changed since the 1930s’ (M41). The lease ended in January 1996, but the site was still used to stand buses at night and only vacated on May 17, 2000 after a sudden sale of the land by TfL and the removal of operations to the newly completed Tolworth Garage. It was demolished the same year to make way for the Rotunda complex
A Cinema on the corner of Clarence Street, a story spanning 90 years
The Rotunda leisure complex was built upon the site of Kingston Garage and what had been Kingston Kinema, then Studio 7 cinema and eventually Pine World furniture store. The Kinema opened as the Kingston Picture Theatre in 1910. With 350 seats, and tea and biscuits served during matinees, the cinema was modernised in 1930. In 1970 it closed for two weeks to reopen as Studio 7, before closing again in 1983 to become a furniture shop. It was demolished in 2000.
The Rotunda is a £30 million leisure complex developed by Clearwater. It includes a 13 screen Odeon cinema (the largest cinema in the UK when completed), a health club, bowling alley, restaurants and themed bars. Original plans for the 3rd floor included a ‘virtual reality centre’ but I don’t think that came to fruition, and the 4th floor was to have a members only restaurant. The cinema incorporates the listed Bentall’s Depository, which dates from 1936. It had been ravaged by fire in the 1980s with flames engulfing the 4th and 5th floors for 30 hours, destroying thousands of pounds worth of stock losses to over 600 Bentall’s customers – indeed the fire took 100 firemen and women using 25 engines to extinguish. Refurbishment of the Depository was completed in October 2002, and I personally think this has been a really successful reuse of a listed building for modern purposes.
K+20: A new vision for Kingston’s Buses
The K+20 plan was a strategic development proposal for Kingston, drafted in 2004. Part of this plan was for a new Station as Wheatfield Way (the rear of the Old Post Office site). This was to replace Fairfield Bus Station and serve 13 routes and would have been delivered by 2012. It was also set to enable pedestrianisation of Eden Street and Brook Streeet, and the whole development was dubbed the Eden Quarter. However, the proposal was never truly serious as the site is considered too small by London Buses to allow for the large number of bus movements required of it, including an estimated 30% increase in bus travel from 2008 to 2020 and the need for 270 bus movements per hour through the site at its peak. Katalogue suggested possible names for the new station: Wheatfield Bus Station (obvious); Olympics Bus Station (due to date of opening); KATA Bus Station or my favourite the Livingston Bus Station (after the bendy-bus Mayor of London). The station, and the whole plan never came to anything.
The following warning was written by Adams (author of Katalogue) in 2007, and I think it holds true today.
If proper provision of bus movements is not made at this stage then people will not switch from cars to buses. Pollution will rise and bus travel will become 2nd class travel. The opportunity is now to do things properly
(Katalogue No.63, p7 )
The development of provision for bus users within the town of Kingston has been piecemeal at best. I tend to blame the ringroad as is was clearly designed only for car users in mind and makes navigating Kingston’s centre almost impossible for everyone! Situating the bus stations outside of the ring road leads to longer journeys for passenger, who must navigate a whole network of crossings and is hard for vehicle movements too – leading to the use of piddly little contraflow lanes, dangerous lane crossings and pulling out into fast moving traffic. But I wonder what (if anything) can be done to improve matters whilst the world, and Kingston in particular, remain so car dependent.
FUN FACT #1
Kingston gained its first bus lane in 1994, when a lane was installed on London Road, running from Park Road to Queen Elizabeth Road.
FUN FACT #2
The Contraflow on Cromwell Road running beside the Rotunda was opened on 23rd January 2003. As Adams points out in Katalogue No.45, p.3 this meant ‘saving over two minutes on the following routes 111, 216, 285, 411, 416, 451, 461, 513 & N285’ (!)
KATAlogue (The Kingston Area Travellers’ Association journal): No. 43, 45, 53, 59, 63, 64
Sampson, J (2006) The Kingston Book London: Historical Publications Ltd
South West London Bus and Tram Magazine: (No. M35, p.13; M41 p.9-10; M43 p.7)
Surrey Comet: 22/10/1990 p.1; 5/6/1992 p.5; 7/4/1995 p.18-19; 6/12/1996 p.1; 12/5/2000 p.7