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How Norwich bus station brought about major change to public transport in the 1930s

PUBLISHED: 12:18 05 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:18 05 January 2020

Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: Archant

Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: Archant

Archant

It was goodbye to the trams and hello to the buses in Norwich of the 1930s.

An archive picture of the ticket office for Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: ArchantAn archive picture of the ticket office for Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: Archant

The trams had been running since 1900, the first proper public transport system across the city, but then it was the people who decided they should go.

Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: Keith WhitmoreNorwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: Keith Whitmore

Back in the 1890s around 23,500 people had signed a petition calling for electric trams rather than a light railway. By 1932 the Corporation asked the people whether or not they wanted it to buy the tram company. They was little support for the idea.

An archive picture of Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: ArchantAn archive picture of Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: Archant

This was the signal for the tram lines to be removed and for a new bus station and garage to be built.

The inside of the Norwich bus station cafe, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, pictured in 1958. Picture: ArchantThe inside of the Norwich bus station cafe, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, pictured in 1958. Picture: Archant

Large crowds gathered to watch the last tram trundle though the city at the end of 1935 and the following year the brand new bus station opened off Surrey Street on the site where the station we have today stands.

The outside of the cafe at Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: ArchantThe outside of the cafe at Norwich bus station, between Surrey Street and Bull Lane, which opened in 1936. Picture: Archant

It was in April of 1934 when land between Surrey Street and Bull Lane was bought by the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company and building began.

The huge garage and station were designed by architect H J Starkey and it was opened in 1936 by the Lord Mayor Walter Riley.

The garage had the biggest unsupported roof span in the country with no pillars or supports in the 52,000 sq ft of floor space.

The garage structure was said to have weighed 220 tonnes and 650,000 bricks and nine miles of electric cable went into its construction.

Fuel was pumped directory from the old Victoria Station off Queen's Road to save having to transport it.

So everything was hunky-dory. Not quite.

The busmen were not happy. Those who had worked on the trams or for the old United Bus Company found their pay and conditions were not so good with Eastern Counties...and walked out.

There was a great deal of sympathy and public support for the strike with people organising fund-raising events to help the men. In fact they raised more than £1,200 for the people on strike, A considerable amount in those days.

After 17 days they returned to work with the promise of immediate negotiations on better pay.

When the station opened, it catered for 170 buses but, at its peak, more than 230 vehicles were based there.

And who remembers that wonderful old cafeteria? I still remember the tasty snacks.

Times changed over the years. With the arrival of the war more female clippies came along but by the end of the 1960s Eastern Counties stepped up the number of driver-only buses describing it as an "economy measure."

The buses went off to be based at new sites on Vulcan Road and Roundtree Way, the old building was crumbling, then in 2005 a brand new "state-of-the-art" bus station opened.

In 2009 I was delighted to report how a reunion for former Eastern Counties Omnibus Workers was a great success. "We were proud to work for Eastern Counties," said former driver Dennis Hartree.

And then there is the story of the driver like no other who is still one of the greatest and best-loved characters in the city. More of him coming up soon.

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