Bus Station Demolition

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Newton Abbot, Devon – 1992

I have many memories of Newton Abbot bus station spread over some decades and, like many townspeople over a certain age I still regret its passing. The irony is that the phenomenally ugly four-storey office block built on the site lasted just 25 years. It is still standing in 2020 but has been empty (or almost empty) for quite a while now and should have been demolished but by some curious twist of fate or idiocy (or both?) would appear to have been reprieved. It seems someone thinks it would make an ideal health and fitness centre; that someone presumably wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from thinking people who cling to the notion, no matter how tenuously, that Newton Abbot could once again be quite a nice town.

I think I must have started using the bus station daily from about the age of 8. In 1964 my family had extended itself from four to five and we finally moved out of our 2-room basement slum in the town centre to our first council house at the top of Buckland Estate. We were a working class family on the rise! (Literally and metaphorically, have you ever walked up Buckland Estate from Penn Inn to Moorland View?!) A council house no less, with indoor toilet -s and hot water on tap! I was looking forward to my first bath in four years.

In those days there were three double-decker buses every hour on three different routes through the estate – the 108, 109 and 110 if my memory is working right (can’t guarantee that these days). The bus station was a great place to hang out. There was a cafe, a newsagent, toilets and a Devon General office crammed with information about travelling on buses. Red buses were for the urban routes and mainly double deckers. Even in those days the 12 took you to Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. Other red buses took you out to the suburbs (is Buckland a suburb? I suppose it is) or Exeter. Green buses were normally single deckers and they went to all sorts of exotic country places: Chagford, Moretonhampstead, Okehampton, Lustleigh, Ilsington, Chudleigh – as a kid I’d never heard of most of the destinations listed on each of the bus bays. Just imagine, a bus every hour to Moretonhampstead! Seems unimaginable today.

As I grew up and went to secondary modern school I learned of the importance of the Cider Bar as a place to get tanked up before getting on the 12 to Torquay. Kids from Torquay even used to get the bus to Newton Abbot for the same purpose, only to return to Torquay for the same reason. The answer is simple: the Cider Bar was cheap and clubs in Torquay were expensive. Not only were they expensive but on a scale of piss-upedness (the spell checker didn’t like that; I’m going to assume its not actually a word) one pint in the Cider Bar was worth nearly two in a club. It’s just dawned on me that the modern term for piss-upedness is, I think, ‘units of alcohol’, but let’s not get bogged down in semantics. Now, getting the 12 back to Newton Abbot could be a bit tricky….

After it was demolished I think the idea must have been for bus users to stop using buses. Or perhaps it was more of a hope than an idea. In any event, no attempt was made to come up with alternative arrangements. I think this was a time when you didn’t even need a CSE to become a Town Planner. I’m not even sure that being able to speak coherently was a qualification, but it did help if you were poor and had delusions of grandeur, as the back-handers came in very handy. Eventually the pitiful bus lane sandwiched between the multi-storey car park and the Great Wall of Wilko became the new bus ghetto. I have on certain dull and grey days overheard certain dull and grey people refer to this as a ‘bus station’. To be fair to them they probably were not carrying a Thesaurus and so resorted to the only phrase they could think of that vaguely described the abomination before them. To which I reply: demolish the tax office and replace it with a bus station! Now that is such a good idea it has no chance of actually happening…

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