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The story of 155-157 London Road, Kingston

The present site of Wickes Superstore was previously Norbiton Bus Garage and before that the site of Snapper’s Castle. Snapper’s Castle wasn’t actually a castle, but its history was really interesting, and Snapper wasn’t a king, dragon or monster, but a man called Michael who sold antiques. The failure of Norbiton Garage is linked directly with the move towards privatisation of public bus services, a move which was not welcomed by passengers or staff at the time and had to be semi-reversed in London at least when it failed to deliver. The following story is one of opportunity lost, of destruction both of material heritage and the livelihoods of some local bus workers.

Hertingtoncombe Manor House

The origin of two semidetached houses on London Road, Nos.155 and 157, with their Gothic facade and roof crenelations date back to the 17th century. In 1644 it was the residence of Sir Robert Wood, a Cromwellian supporter. Later, John Rous resided there – he was sugar plantation owner and a Quaker who was imprisoned and publicly flogged for his beliefs. Later still, a resident called Edward Belitha left money to Kingston Corporation to education “20 poor persons’ daughters”; the chief clark of the House of Commons, Nicholas Hardynge resided there and so too for a time the Reverend Richard Wooddesson, Head of Kingston Grammar School. From 1774 to 1839 it was the Parish Workhouse, extolling virtue, sobriety, obedience, industry and labour upon its residents.

In 1841 it underwent extensive alterations made by Charles Molloy Westmacott, a publisher, art critic and historian who came from a family of sculptors, artists and architects. He installed wood paneling formerly used in Kensington Palace, whilst incorporating many of the earlier buildings’ features and fittings. The ground floor was 2 main rooms split by sliding doors, its facade had oriel windows, elaborately carved oak doors, corner turrets, and 4 tall ecclesiastical windows;. It was successfully listed Grade II in 1975 for architectural and historic interest.

In its final years it was affectionately known as Snapper’s Castle due to the distinctive nature of Michael Snapper’s antiques shop. Meanwhile, next door a local firm of automotive suppliers Derrington’s ploughed their trade.

 

Norbiton Bus Garage

The garage originally opened in May 1952 on a site behind the Car and Antiques shops on London Road. Its opening wasn’t covered in the local press, but it was big enough for 75 buses and included a maintenance area. Routes 65,131,201, 206, 213 and 264 were based there.

By 1973, the London Transport Executive believed that the only solution to improving bus operations in the Kingston was by expanding Norbiton Garage, for which a Transport Act was granted in 1975. This gave them compulsory purchase powers among other things and they wished to use these powers to demolish Hertingtoncombe Manor. There was local opposition so a public enquiry took place, London Transport versus Kingston Council, Kingston Society, Kingston upon Thames Archaeology Society, Surrey Archaeology Society, and the Ancient Monuments Society, with the additional backing of the Greater London Council. The arguing was extensively covered in the local press, but in the end, London Transport won out. In giving permission for the demolition,  Mr John Eyre, Inspector for the Department of the Environment who conducted the public enquiry stated that “the public good would best be served by a better transport system”. The site was eventually cleared in 1978, but then in 1980 plans for the garage were shelved and the site left derelict.

Eventually, Norbiton Garage extension was built and opened officially on 13th January 1984 (and for operations the following day). It had accommodation for a fleet of 115 vehicles, and 400 staff over three areas – an operating block with workshops, administration, lockers, WCs, a games room and canteen (for 56 people at a time), a dock area and ancillary block. Kingston  Garage remained in use as a station for passengers. It had cost £4.6 million and the Brick Bulletin No.1 of 1985 wrote that is featured “a textured facade of considerable dignity”, it was also described as ‘the jewel in the crown of the London Bus Service’. Grade II listing hadn’t saved the Manor House but interestingly, 3 tree preservation orders had to be adhered to and water mains to the south of the site had to be left accessible, severely limiting the layout of the design.

Sadly, Norbiton Garage was shortlived. Everything changed in 1987 when the  Conservative government decided to privatise London’s bus services, creating London Bus Ltd, a process of deregulation which is against my own political standpoint and seems to involve running a fairly efficient public service into failure through a lack of investment and by disenfranchising your dedicated workforce (nobody is in the public sector for the money!), offering privatisation up as salvation, a process which I see repeated elsewhere today. London Bus Ltd tendered operations at Norbiton as a lower rate of pay which led to a reduction in drivers wages by £37 per week (equating to -25%) and increased working hours, plus a worsened pension deal. If the workers didn’t agree to contract changes then they would be made redundant at the end of June 1987 without redundancy pay, affecting drivers, mechanics, cleaners and other staff. Staff naturally went on strike, with disruption to services and graffiti appearing throughout Kingston at bus stops, and regional television coverage. Watch this video which explains the changes to contracts in 1987, and follow the links to other exerts including interviews with affected drivers. One of those was Graham Burnell who said:

I was a driver at Kingston and Norbiton garages from 1975 until 1990 … Unfortunately in June 1987 Norbiton became the first London bus garage to become a low cost unit where all routes were put out to tender and were won by reducing the drivers’ pensionable pay to £3.20 per hour whilst the London fleet rate was £4.17 per hour. We were also given decrepit vehicles to drive and the 39 hours week became 45 hours. Instead of the economical operation of a garage each end of the route i.e. Sutton and Norbiton, the tender trap meant all buses must come from one operator and consequently Norbiton ran empty buses to and from Sutton and West Croydon as positioning journeys whereas previously all buses ran in service. Our pay cut helped pay for this uneconomic operation.

The routes were re-tendered in 1990 and all but the 57, 71 and X71 were lost by London United to operators based at other garages. Subsequently, it was uneconomic to keep Norbiton Garage open and the last service ran just after midnight on 6th September 1991. The Surrey Comet described it as “the most visible casualty of privatisation” (6/9/1991), for the 100 staff still based there in 1991, it probably felt pretty personal. London Transport went on to sell the site for redevelopment, and Wickes opened there in 1995, “the finale to a sorry story of instransigence and needless loss” (June Sampson, in Surrey Comet, 7/4/1995).

Sources:

  • Brick Bulletin: ‘Norbiton Bus Garage’ No.1/85 p.9-13
  • Burnell, G (July 2013) personal correspondence
  • Butters, S (2013) “That Famous Place”: A history of Kingston upon Thames Kingston:Kingston University Press
  • Surrey Comet: ‘Buses: Just who is thoughtless?’ 8/5/1987 p.2; ‘Bus Service attacked by Chief’ 17/7/1987 p.3; ‘A Crazy Plan on the Buses’ 31/7/1987 p.2; 16/7/1977; ‘Castle loses fight against bus invasion’ 11/2/1978; 20/1/1984 p.13; ‘Bus Garage to close in autumn’, 28/6/1991 p.1; ‘Snappers Castle loss still rankles’ 7/4/1995 p.18

 

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Becoming the 213 bus

My  life has become the bus. This project has been on my mind for the last 7 months, and there has been no escape because I have to use the 213 bus every day to get to work and back again. On Tuesday I have to hand something in for my MA degree at Kingston. It’ll be ready, but I’ve got the sort of work ethic which makes me want to go right up to the wire, even if that isn’t entirely necessary.

One of the earliest memory fliers that I received was from my course mate Pirrko and this is what she wrote:

My bus stop is NA

I’ve been using the 213 bus for – years

I walk past the Fairfield Bus Station on my way to University of Kingston and often see the 213 bus, which makes me think of Amy who is doing a creative project on that bus route. In a sense, the bus has become to symbolise Amy – her creativeness and love for quirky things.

You may remember from a previous post that I did joke about dressing up in a cardboard bus costume at Malden Fortnight. Unfortunately, with one thing and another I didn’t quite get it finished in time. However, it is finished and last week I went on the bus as the bus…You might ask why, and to be honest, if I’d been asked that on the bus I don’t quite know what I would have said.

The essay component of my project is all about the everyday, and how we should find more joy in our daily lives – bus travel can be joyful if you look at it the right way. Yes, waiting at the stop in the cold and rain is rubbish, and the stink of stale alcohol and wee on some late-night journeys can be really unpleasant. But looking out the window, you are bombarded with endless images, some of which are incredibly beautiful: the sunset, daffodils in bloom, pouring rain which makes everything glimmer. The buzzing of the air con relaxes me so much I tend to fall asleep, and eavesdropped conversations can be so funny, or thought-provoking, or utterly bizarre.

On the bus, you are with a whole load of strangers who you might never meet in another aspect of you life. This is important for social equality, if you sit in a car all day you might feel safe, but you are also isolated from the world and other people. On the bus you have to be with people who you might totally disagree with, or you might meet a future husband or wife. The bus is a place of possibilities.

I became the bus because I wanted people to think about the bus for once, I wanted people to be intrigued or amused, I wanted to intervene in the everyday lives of a few unsuspecting bus users. Secondly, I felt the need to possess the bus – I’ve invested so much of my life in this project, I’ve often felt totally consumed by it, becoming the bus is kind of taking it over, making it mine. Thirdly, I’ve got an epic fancy dress costume for Halloween and a great talking piece in the form of a bus costume-bedside cabinet!

A lot of people simply won’t get the point of this project. And it may mean absolutely nothing in the long run to anyone but me. On the other hand, we all have a 213 bus: it might be the bus or train you get to work or school everyday, or even the route you walk to get to your local shops. It’s a time and place where you live most of your lives – I hope my project inspires someone somewhere to re-imagine their 213 as joyful, something worth paying attention to, as you simply don’t know what will be revealed.

It is worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours if you learn only some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and provocations

Jane Bennett (2001) The Enchantment of Modern Life. Woodstock: Princeton University Press. p.95. Originally from Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

P.s. Next week the local history starts in earnest with Fairfield Bus Station (K1)  – a history of the Cattle Market Car Park in Kingston. Bet you can’t wait?!

Watery problems

Last week was hell on the bus due to a pot hole appearing in the middle of the road at Worcester Park Station. Workmen discovered a burst water main and emergency repairs had to be carried out. This caused delays of one and half hours during a heatwave. I felt so sorry for the poor bus drivers and don’t know how they didn’t go mad. Thankfully, it’s all been sorted now but I thought I’d share this photo (provided by Ron and Julia – see previous post) which shows flooding at Worcester Park in 2007. The road had to be lowered and widened to allow double deck buses to pass under it and to deal with increased road usage. From the looks of it, the solution for providing adequate drainage at this crucial part of the road still hasn’t been found!

Flooding at Worcester Park