All Aboard for Stockwell

All Aboard for Stockwell focused on the inspiring architecture of Stockwell bus garage and the important part it plays in the transport infrastructure of London. The building is local to us and this was the first Our Hut project to be funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It ran from 2011 – 2013 and aimed to raise the profile of the building, to bring the Stockwell community together and to help improve the image of Stockwell both locally and throughout London.

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The project consisted of a whole range of activities – from school and community-group based design projects, volunteer opportunities to work in schools and collect oral histories, a soundscape music project and architectural bus tours on Routemaster buses. All Aboard for Stockwell culminated in an exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in 2013 about the history of the bus garage and showcasing the work of participants. The oral history project is archived at the London Transport Museum and the interviews are detailed below.

Stockwell Bus Garage – A brief history

Stockwell Bus Garage was built to accommodate buses after the change to buses from trams in the 1950’s. The garage sits on what was a partial bomb site and is between Lansdowne Way and Binfield Road, Stockwell, London.

This Grade II* listed building was designed by Adie Button and Partners, in partnership with Thomas Bilbow, Architect of the London Transport Executive and with the consulting engineer A.E. Beer. The contractors were Wilson Lovatt and Sons Ltd and the building was commissioned in 1949 and opened in 1952.

The design took the concept of a bus garage into a new realm of modernity and invention, even today influencing the construction of the West Ham Garage built alongside the 2012 Olympic Park. The acoustics, ventilation and routes in and out of the garage have all been elegantly factored into the overall design, making a working bus garage an asset to Stockwell.

The building collects rainwater from the roof and this is used to wash the buses, such is the careful attention to detail.

The outstanding feature of Stockwell Bus Garage is the use of reinforced concrete for the roof. At the time of construction, it was the largest column free area under one roof in Europe and provides 6,184 square metres of unobstructed parking space for 212 buses. The ‘gull-wing’ portal frame structure is supported by ten shallow ribs that span 120 metres; these are intersected by smaller ribs in order to prevent torsion. The vast space achieved is naturally lit by a sequence of large skylights. From the exterior, the main arches are visible as outward-leaning buttresses, with a segmental curve to each bay. They form a multi-arched roofline and appear as a continuous wave each topped by a rooflight. The Stockwell Bus Garage is now run by Go-Ahead London and employs over 750 staff running 11 daytime routes and 6 night-time routes all over London.

Archive Sound Loops

Below are excerpts from the longer oral histories that are now housed in their entirety at the London Transport Museum. There is also the soundscape based on the Stockwell Bus garage created by children from Allen Edwards school and Duncan Chapman. The excerpts were originally created for the All Aboard exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall. 

Stockwell Bus Garage Context 

Elain Harwood, architectural adviser from English Heritage discusses how she was involved in getting the Stockwell Bus Garage Grade 2* listed building status. (Running time: 1:48)

Will Self, author and local resident talks about the public and private space and visiting the bus garage. (Running time: 2:09)

Tricia McNama, local resident describes visiting the bus garage as a child, how her mother didn’t like at as a building and how she herself likes the building. (Running time: 0:58)

George Wright, local resident, bus enthusiast and transport strategist for Lambeth Council recalls waiting for the old 77A Routemaster bus service, improved pay and working conditions for bus drivers under Ken Livingstone and the best place to sit on a Routemaster bus. (Running time: 3:03)

Total running time 8:03

Working at Stockwell Bus Garage

Colin Opher, General Manager of Stockwell Bus Garage, discusses his love of buses, the multicultural and family atmosphere of the bus garage and the famous Routemaster bus route 11. (Running time: 1.40)

Paul Britnell, Bus Driver, talks about the success of the bus garage being based on good teamwork and how much he enjoys his work. (Running time: 1:23)

Olga Headlam, Former Bus Conductress, describes coming over from the West Indies to come and work on the buses, the mutual respect of working at Stockwell Bus Garage and keeping control of the children when doing the ‘school run’. (Running time: 2:03)

Andrew John, Bus Driver, talks about the beauty and the great working atmosphere of the bus garage in the summer. (Running time: 1.02)

Carlie Ambury, Engineering Clark, describes her working day and her memories as a child of playing in the bus garage. (Running time: 1.12)

David Shekoni, Former Bus Driver, talks about the role of the shunters, the people who park the buses in the garage, the tremendous sense of responsibility that bus drives have for the lives of their passengers and tells a story of when the garage had to close in the summer because of snow. (Running time: 2.41)

Total running time: 10 minutes 17 seconds

The Construction of Stockwell Bus Garage

Mervyn Rodrigues, Engineer and Specialist in concrete structures, discusses the the high level of design detail for an industrial building, the ‘monstrous’ size of the building, what makes it an iconic building structurally and architecturally, how the Clerk of Works dealt with problems on site and adapted the design. (Running time: 2:14)

Malcolm McGregor, Architect, describes the influence of Stockwell Bus Garage as a design on the West Ham Bus Garage, its iconic shape and sustainable design features, and the importance of having transport infrastructure integrated into the city. (Running time: 1:31)

Catherine Croft, Director of the Twentieth Century Society, describes the presence of Stockwell Bus Garage on the street and the contrast of its interior space, the functional and technical significance, the concrete finish and the fact it is still used for buses. (Running time: 1:55)

Roger Button, Retired Architect and son of Frederic Button of Adie Button and Partners the architects of Stockwell Bus Garage, talks about the conversion of the tram depots into bus garages after the war, the history of the architectural practice and visiting the bus garage as a building site with his father. (Running time: 1:41)

Victor Smith, Retired Partner of A.E. Beer Engineers describes designing the curve of the arch. (Running time: 0:45)

Total Running time 7:27

Stockwell Bus Garage Soundscape

A series of short pieces composed by students at Allen Edwards primary school working with composer Duncan Chapman for Lambeth CLC.

All of these have been created from field recordings made at the Stockwell bus garage which have been mixed with voices and electronic processing to create five original pieces.

  1. 01. At The Garage - 1:40 ambient sounds of the bus garage mixed with the sound of going through the automatic bus washing machine

  2. 02. Garage 2 - 1:53 sounds focusing on the particular acoustic of the space 

  3. 03. Hoot - 2:10 horns and voices 

  4. 04. Numbers - 2:06 a vocal piece that combines the numbers and destinations of buses that start at Stockwell

  5. 05. Voice and Guitar - 1:15 over a gentle loop of guitar (played by Anna Papadimitriou) a reflective series of memories of the trip to the garage

Total Running Time: 8 mins 13 secs