Stockwell garage celebrates its 70th

Tuesday 14th June 2022

There’s nothing better than a well organised bus garage open day to attract a curious local community to come and take a look behind the scenes as well as generate huge goodwill among bus industry supporters and passionate enthusiasts.

And last Saturday there was nothing better than the well organised open day at Go-Ahead London’s iconic Stockwell bus garage.

And I don’t use the word ‘iconic’ lightly. Famed for its 392 feet long, 194 feet wide single span concrete roof the building rightly gained Grade II* listed building status in 1988 – the only bus garage in the country to have such an accolade in recognition of it being “one of the finest examples of post war modernist design”.

When the garage opened in 1952 it was the largest unsupported area under one roof in Europe with an uninterrupted floor area of 73,350 square feet, enough to accommodate 200 buses. And not have to worry about pillars and walls jumping out and scratching buses as they’re being parked up; as can happen in other garages. I know.

It took some years to reach its capacity potential after opening with just 12 vehicles on route 178 and shortly after another 16 on route 171. The allocation increased to 160 once nearby Clapham garage closed after the long bus strike in 1958.

Today it’s part of Go-Ahead London’s (GAL) empire of 17 garages mainly across the south and east of the capital with Stockwell being home to 185 buses operating on 13 routes. 600 staff are employed at SW making it one of the largest local employers.

The garage runs 24 hours a day with engineering facilities which also oversee fleets at other GAL bases as the substantial maintenance facilities include ten pits and four hoists as well as a rolling road brake test facility.

Upstairs in the administrative area there’s a canteen and a control room, one of six that looks after all GAL’s London bus routes, using information provided by i-bus and telematics. It’s a busy room with twelve work stations each with a controller looking after two routes to ensure the best headway and timekeeping is maintained taking account of the ever variable road conditions.

As we were shown around the facility on Saturday morning, as part of a guided tour, there was constant dialogue going with controllers talking to drivers on the radio as events unfolded including a road closure that had happened just before we arrived.

In these circumstances GAL staff enact what they think is the best mitigation with TfL’s central control staff who monitor everything across the capital coming in with an overview of how the situation might impact all bus routes in an area irrespective of operator.

I was assured everything is done to minimise “the destination of this bus has changed” scenario which London’s bus passengers become all too familiar with; and I’m sure that is the case.

In the garage itself there was a splendid line up of both RT and RM buses, types which were long associated with the garage.

Also on display was TA1 the only BCI Enterprise tri-axle bus that’s seen service on TfL bus routes. It’s mega capacity has been trialled on route 12.

It’s perhaps telling no follow up orders have come forward as a result if this trial perhaps indicating the capacity was for a pre-pandemic era.

Another interesting bus on site was fleet no EP3, a BYD/ADL Enviro400EV City which has the facility for opportunity charging of its batteries through an overhead pantograph (Harrogate bus station style) with equipment currently being installed at GAL’s Bexleyheath garage and for use on route 132.

Guest buses had also come from fellow Go-Ahead companies Metrobus and Carousel as well as Sevenoaks based Go-Coach.

There were also many stalls selling books, models and memorabilia which always attract great interest and a popular refreshment area.

Also ever popular at bus garage open days were drives through the bus wash …

…. and trips recreating some famous original routes of years gone by.

Money was being raised for two local charities – Housing for Women and Community Trust including from the price of the guided garage tours with knowledgable staff giving up their time to tell the story of the garage and show much more behind the scenes.

My good friend Ray Stenning and I were on the first tour of the morning which was hosted by the experienced and hugely knowledgeable GAL Executive Support Officer Eugene Clarke who did a magnificent job showing us around and imparting a veritable compendium of Stockwell’s history and fascinating facts.

We also had a chance to catch up with GAL’s much respected and long standing managing director John Trayner who was on site helping his team put on a great show.

I know how much extensive work is involved in putting on bus garage open days of this kind especially in today’s risk management and health and safety conscious world so huge credit and thanks to the Go-Ahead London staff – and there were a huge number involved – for all their efforts and hard work.

Stockwell’s 70th anniversary was certainly marked in fine style.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

12 thoughts on “Stockwell garage celebrates its 70th

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  1. With the proposed London service reductions in the pipeline, I am not so sure more high-capacity vehicles such as TA1 may yet appear. Probably useful for the 507, where inexplicably, both the 11 and 211 disappear from Victoria!

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  2. I agree with Terence on a future role for TA1. Put a pantograph on its roof, as with EP3 and hey presto – we are halfway to the ultimate objective – an electric trolleybus. London cannot ignore this option for much longer. The smaller the battery, the less dependence on rare earths and environmental degradation in future.

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    1. Batteries are both heavy and bulky and a fire risk, Most TfL routes are now short so using a pantograph and using it to charge the batteries at each end makes a lot of sense

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  3. Sadly depot tours are very rare these days. I love the fact that it was well received.

    As GoAhead is to be bought I wonder if the new owners will be as keen on them?

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    1. I find the interest in taking over bus companies strange. They must see some value that I cannot

      If you take Go-Ahead every single Go-ahead UK bus company except London made a loss

      The London bus market at least at present is shrinking. Outside of London what happens in October when the Covid support stops who knows. Without more funding it looks like significant cuts to an already inadequate bus network

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  4. Property? It’s not a repeat of the 1970s, but perhaps it’s a familiar rhythm. Whether the busmen can get a fair share of the cake, maybe even survive, is something we’ll have to wait and see.

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    1. Now that’s a possibility. Not sure if they own or lease the garages but most are in prime London location

      They could build blocks of flats over the garages

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      1. It’s bad enough when flats are built near a bus garage, with new residents not realising or understanding that garages are busy and noisy overnight so therefore complaining to the council. This would only be worse if the garage was directly underneath!

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  5. As a Member of GAL staff based at SW I have often tried to find out who actually owns the Garage and I was reliably informed a while ago it is actually GAL, I had often wondered if it was TfL as SW hosted an open day in the year of the bus (2014) and I understood that it was only TfL garages that did indeed host them but that was not obviously the case.

    The listing status as grade 11* ( buildings of national importance of more than special interest) is interesting as no money seems to have been spent on the structure via English heritage and one wonders what the future will hold once Route 11 departs SW, I believe that is future as a listed structure is safe but as a bus Garage I have my reservations given the affluence of the surrounding area, I hope I am wrong but only time will tell.

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    1. Grade II means it cannot be demolished or altered externally in generally so that rules out any major redevelopment

      It could probably be used as a Supermarket or something g similar

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    2. London Transport privatisation was different from NBC privatisation; LT Garages were sold to the company purchasers, subject to a 10 year “clawback” agreement, in that LT could reclaim the properties if closed within 10 years . . . NBC companies were often sold without title to the properties, which could be (and were) sold separately.

      In re the sudden interest in purchasing bus and train companies (and I admit I hadn’t understood this until today) . . . a train company effectively now has pretty much guaranteed income, as Government will pay a fee for providing a service, so if the service is provided, then the income is guaranteed.
      London bus companies already work under this basis . . . the income doesn’t vary with the passenger numbers; if costs are controlled and the services run to time, the income is also guaranteed.
      If (when) bus franchising is implemented elsewhere . . . the same arrangements will apply. A commercial network may fail and the operator will also fail. In a franchised network . . . the risk stays with the franchiser . . . the operator may not earn huge profits, but said profits are fairly safe.

      It’s going to be a different world . . . safe but boring!!

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  6. I remember seeing it in an architectural magazine at the time and may even have the cutting.
    It was “famous” even when built
    Sorry away last week so could not comment in time.

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