'£1m inferno' - remembering the day Bournemouth's bus station was wrecked by fire (From Bournemouth Echo)
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'£1m inferno' - remembering the day Bournemouth's bus station was wrecked by fire
IT is almost four decades since Bournemouth’s bus station was wrecked by fire.
The question of what should happen to the site where it once stood has been making headlines ever since – but the drama of that July night remains in the memory of everyone who was around then.
Built between 1929 and 1931 out of Portland stone, the first incarnation of the Omnibus and Coach Station on Exeter Road was one of the town’s striking art deco structures.
A £300,000 rebuilding project in 1959 perhaps made it less attractive as architecture, but enabled the station to handle more than 2,000 vehicles and almost 100,000 passengers a day. There was a parade of shops and restaurants on the upper level, around the edge of the new open air bus area.
The early hours of Sunday July 25 1976 saw what the next day’s Echo would call a “£1m inferno”.
A passing ship in Poole bay sent a radio alert in the early hours: “We can see a red glow”.
Sixty firemen, in 12 engines, were on the scene.
Exeter Road was sealed off at 2.45am as the fire crews fought their way into the station, where clouds of smoke were billowing from a burning tyre store. A cylinder, believed to contain acetylene, was carried off and put into a flooded pit.
PC Peter Owen, 32, inched his way through dense smoke to save a London couple who had been sleeping in a coach. He led them through the fumes to safety.
Meanwhile, a number of buses on the upper level were driven to safety.
Bournemouth Corporation bus driver Barry Siviers, of Withermoor Road, Winton – who was on his way back from a party when he saw the fire – drove around 20 buses away.
“Explosions were going on in the coach station below as I drove buses out,” he told the Echo.
“There was an awful moment when we thought the ground was going to give away – I got out fast.
“I must have fallen unconscious afterwards after being overcome by smoke … I’m feeling a lot better today.”
Part-time fireman Tony Blackmoor, of St Mary’s Road, Ferndown, had never driven a coach before, but moved one to safety at the height of the fire.
He recalled trying every button in sight to start the motor. As he drove, he was wondering whether the floor – which had a hollowed-out working bay underneath – could support the coach’s weight.
As the firemen hosed the seat of the fire among the coaches, cracks started appearing in the walls. The blaze was under control shortly after 6am, but the heat remained unbearable.
In all, 16 coaches, two cars and a minibus were destroyed. There were four casualties, including a constable and a fireman, but miraculously, no one was badly hurt.
Hants and Dorset’s general manager Peter Hunt was on the scene at 4am and quickly began planning the next day’s travel arrangements. He learned later that his new Austin Princess was one of the cars destroyed.
The buses moved to a temporary base at the Triangle, while National Coaches went to the Shamrock and Rambler site in Holdenhurst Road.
An investigation soon identified one coach as the likely seat of the fire. The blaze could have started from an electrical fault or discarded smoking materials. But Bournemouth’s fire chief Ken Malpass told the Echo that the exact cause might never be established.
l Do you have pictures or memories of Bournemouth bus station? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Darren Slade, Echoes, Daily Echo, Richmond Hill, Bournemouth BH2 6HH.
WHAT'S HAPPENED IN THE LAST 37 YEARS
When Hants and Dorset’s buses moved to the Triangle on July 26 1976, general manager Peter Hunt told the Echo they might be there for “some months”.
On July 29, an Echo headline reported: “Write-off bus station – no new one before ‘78’.”
The damaged bus station remained standing, with H&D offices still based there. The open-air part of the station was used to a limited extent by H&D and some Yellow Buses. In September 1979, the valuable site was put up for sale.
“We don’t feel in the present circumstances we can justify remaining there,” said Mr Hunt.
The last bus left the station on November 29 1980, which was also the last day of conductors on H&D buses. The company’s 50 office staff moved to the National Coach depot in Oxford Road in 1981, finally ending its connection with the bus station. The station was demolished in 1982, amid talk of a new shopping centre, restaurants and car park.
But today, it remains a car park. The site is owned by NCP, which is signed up to the developer Licet’s plans for a cinema and restaurants. Bournemouth council, however, intends to push through a £10million compulsory order and finally create a new bus station – only 37 years late.
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