OPINION: I was just thinking... about Royston bus station and 19th century infrastructure

Royston bus station is a relic of a past era Royston bus station is a relic of a past era

Sunday, June 8, 2014
3:03 PM

I WAS JUST THINKING ABOUT … the status of nineteenth and twentieth century infrastructure.

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I am prompted so to do by a little flicker of complaint on a local social media site that may yet fan into a great conflagration of protest. Though I doubt it. Royston’s Bus Station appears to be in a parlous state. I am told that it is little more than a relic of a past era. The building is unused with the taxi office no longer operating and the toilets mothballed. A contributor to the site grumbles that the poor benighted Bus Station is moribund. The whole thing should be consigned to the great, big terminus in the sky. All that is need nowadays, apparently, is a shelter beneath which the few remaining travellers can escape from the precipitation that heaves itself vertically downwards from the vengeful heavens.

When first musing about the poor relation status of the humble Bus Station my focus turned to London’s Victoria. The district is home to many things, some too lacking in salubriousness upon which to dwell for any length of time. The Bus Station, as opposed to the Coach Station which is to be found round the corner, is rammed onto the forecourt of the turn of the century railway station. It is one of London’s major bus termini but has all the hallmarks of a site built for another purpose, namely horse-drawn carriages, now having been dragooned into servicing the Clapham and other omnibus. It is small, cramped and awkward and surprisingly free of any other facilities except those needed to catch a bus.

Contrast this with the railway station which has relative space, light, air, retail opportunity and capital investment. The same is more demonstrably the case much nearer home at Kings Cross and particularly at St Pancras. In both of these stations investment has turned the respective concourses into shopping as well as travelling destinations. Time and money have been spent making them into cared-for spaces.

Not so for the poor unloved Bus Station in Royston. Nor indeed any Bus Station that I know of. They are all rather dismal places, which if they are redolent of anything, are relics of a bygone era. Was there ever a ‘golden age’ for the charabanc I wonder? Does anyone have memories of halcyon days chugging through a golden tinged countryside in a gloriously romantic fashion? There do not seem to be such recollections ingrained in our popular culture or collective consciousness. I have been racking my brain. The only example that comes to mind is when Laurie Lee wrote in ‘Cider with Rosie’ of one rather wonderfully bucolic trip from the Slad Valley to Weston Super Mare. But buses, their excursions and their destinations pale into insignificance beside the remembered glory of the railways and the terminus temples erected to honour them.

Like Lidos and single screen cinemas, Bus Stations, as conceived by our parents and by their parents before them, are in the process of becoming obsolete. I sense no particular outcry about it. The erosion of a previous generation’s infrastructure is not to be regretted if what replaces it is an improvement on what has gone before.

And that is the point towards to which I seem to be meandering. Though we may not like it, Royston’s Lido and its Cinema, having been subsumed by the need for new housing, have been replaced by twenty-first century versions. They may not be as evocative as their predecessors, though nostalgia is never to be trusted, but they are functional and appropriate for twenty-first century usage.

In a world of ever decreasing bus services, especially rural ones, it is perhaps no wonder that the fairly Spartan facilities that were constructed to offer temporary respite and comfort to the weary traveller are in decline. No doubt Royston’s terminus will shortly disappear under a sea of yet more housing. Should we be stamping our feet in anger or bowing our heads in the face of the inevitable? I wonder if many people care about the present state of the building or if any will rue its passing.

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