A Love Letter To Preston's Brutalist Bus Station

The crumbling bus station may have concrete cancer and be an eyesore to many, but the sights the eerie landmark have witnessed make it too precious for Preston to lose...
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Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn – C. S. Lewis

Life’s experiences, eh? I’ve had a few of those over the years.

Brutalism: be’ton brut. Raw structures cast in-situ out of rough, finish concrete between the 1950’s and mid- 70s. 

These constructions range from vast educational facilities to towering residential blocks and bus stations. In Sheffield city centre there's the Park Hill ‘streets in the sky’ council housing scheme nicknamed ‘San Quentin’ by some residents. I’ve walked past the estate many a time on the way to Bramall Lane. Luckily, I’ve never had the pleasure of being chased through the maze of pathways by the BBC and encircled in a multitude dead-ends. 

Down that London, there’s Thamesmead, Tavy Bridge Estate – a futurist flagship project back in the day along with its shopping centre; which are both featured in A Clockwork Orange. Thamesmead is awash with Cubist/Brutalist/Modernist buildings and high-rise social flats that contain a labyrinth of dark underpasses, elevated walkways and sinister subways. 

There was also Trinity Square shopping centre and multi-storey car park situated in Gateshead that featured in the film Get Carter, which is sadly no-more, recently demolished. On my doorstep however is Preston Bus Station.

Preston Bus Station was built in the late 60’s, and is the largest bus station in the UK. The station also incorporates a multi-storey car park which has distinctive curved walls, due to being cheaper to make than vertical ones. Sadly, many a heart rendering successful suicide has taken place off the highest level of the car park. Someone even tried to drive off the exit ramp once in a vain attempt to end their life – he bounced off a lower ramp and survived. Also, over the past 40 odd years, several pensioners have been rundown and killed by buses reversing after taking a shortcut across the apron because they feared for their lives if they used the connecting subways. The station has been plagued by muggings, alcoholics and drug dealers as well.

I’m walking home tonight, I only walk where there’s lots of lights, In alleys and the doorways, Some throw a bottle right in your face... - The Specials

The concrete bus terminus could have featured in a Stanley Kubrick films due to its eerie, awesome magnitude. Lurking in shadows, behind its slick corners, or lying in wait down one of its dimly lit subways, or stairwells, could be Droogs, waiting to dish out a bit of ‘ultra-violence.’ Fact fans may know, Anthony Burgess, the writer of the famous novel Clockwork Orange, taught at Bamber Bridge Teacher Training College following WW II – Bamber Bridge is situated less than three miles south of where the bus station was later constructed.

I’ve had several experiences on the busie over the period of its existence too: I titted-up one of my first girlfriend as I threw my tongue down her throat at the tender age of 12/13 while we waited for different last buses home at 11pm. This after attending an under eighteen disco at the adjoined Guild Hall by overhead walkway and subway. I’d umpteen scraps with lads from different parts of town while waiting for buses too – years later we would become mates at the match. You had also to be on your guard for a group of guys of varying ages who would dish out beatings if they didn’t like the look of you or you wouldn’t ‘lend’ them 10p. The station also had a connecting late night black cab taxi rank too, which is now closed. And if anyone dared to jump the queue at three in the morning at the taxi rank, there would usually be a drunken mass brawl, whether this be lads in shirt and tie, or girls in miniskirts. It didn’t half make good viewing in the moonlit sky, through one eye, as you tried not to drop your takeaway as the early hours entertainment ensued all around you.

Over the years the station has suffered with concrete cancer – the reinforcing iron bars would have expanded due to rust setting in after water penetration through weak concrete batches when constructed - which has been rectified and a new coating added to the main structural frame. Plus other internal remedial work is taking place, though nothing too major and there have always been issues with access to the station too. Though the main aim over recent years has been to create better access, which the council have, this leaves the stations facade looking rather shabby and in a sad state, to say the least.

Redevelopment plans were submitted for the centre of Preston which would have seen the bulldozers erase the landmark from the heart of the city, but the structure was eventually granted Grade II listed status. 

What will happen to Preston Bus Station in the future? I cannot comment, but boy did I have some life changing experiences in and around that place.