Both the Bus Station itself and the politics surrounding it have played a major part in the lives of Stroud residents from even before its initial opening in 1960, its part-rebuilding in 1972 and its temporary closure in 1992. To get a flavour if its ups and downs, read on... 1960-1970: centralisation... an end to on street running One of Bristol Omnibus’ series of terminal improvements was at Stroud. It opened in 1960 on Merrywalks, replacing a collection of scattered on-street stops. For its first eight years, buses would enter and leave at the same point, causing some traffic congestion on Merrywalks. A separate exit was built in 1968 and it was from that point that there was no further need for buses to reverse onto passenger stands and buses therefore began to pull in nose-first. Most buses had become front- rather than rear-entrance at this time, anyway.Buses were also parked overnight in the Bus Station, as well as at London Road depot. From the mid- to late-sixties, the Council pressed on with plans for developing the area immediately behind the bus station. A number of options were assessed from 1967. 1970 onwards: rebuilding... and improvement Planning permission for the Merrywalks Shopping Centre's preferred option was granted in 1970, when building commenced. As a result, the passenger platform had to be moved slightly in a north westerly direction towards what became a reduced reversing and layover area. The revised Bus Station opened in 1972 and was acclaimed as being among the most modern of its kind with more space for passengers, a canopy, lighting, lavatories, illuminated bay departure signs and grouping of departure stands. An escalator, subsequently deactivated and boxed in and replaced by two lifts, ran from the Bus Station platform to Merrywalks Shopping Centre above. The office block constructed for 1960 remained unaltered. The “new” bus station was hailed as a success for Stroud and was very much seen as integral to the success of the new shopping centre. 1992: On-street Running... Returns Following disputes over running costs at the site, the Cheltenham & Gloucester Omnibus Company (who by this time had succeeded the Bristol Omnibus Company) withdrew general passenger services from the Bus Station in February 1992. Services commenced on-street operation once again, as they had till 1960. The exception to all this was for students who, at the appropriate times, continued to use the Bus Station. They required the reservoir space available to marshal and change buses safely but, in reality, many used on street stops instead. The bus station was also still used to park vehicles. There were complaints from many in the town following on-street running. Stroud District Council purchased the site and buses returned from 1997. 1997: council era... towards re-redevelopment Buses returned in 1997. Changes made during the late nineties were relatively few. In Stroud District Council's ownership, the former lay-over area has become a short-stay car park. This caused few operational problems as the numbers of buses at
Stroud progressively reduced. The number of passenger bays diminished but only marginally and some were marked out at an angle to the passenger platform rather than perpendicular to it.Throughout this period of council ownership, there had been talk of redevelopment of the site. This and the reduced number of buses and passengers was undoubtedly one of the reasons why the bus station continued to have an air of neglect about it, for it must have seemed wasteful to spend large amounts of money other than on patching on a site whose time had come. 2001 and on: station or just roadside stops?Protesters mounted a strong campaign against the interim measures and, indeed, the bus station's closure. This campaign, the last minute nature of the proposals and the fact that the interim measures were unsatisfactory to Stagecoach resulted in a reprieve for the bus station, which was due to close in July 2003. The bus station finally closed again in March 2004. As work began on the site, so passengers faced “temporary” bus stops on Merrywalks itself... with the A46 to cross between stops. To assist, the developer built a footbridge.Details of a much talked about transport interchange at the railway station were published in 2001 but are now officially dead. The “interim” measures at Merrywalks are therefore now permanent, on the fringe of the town and a complete contrast to the ideals of the 1960s bus station.
Merrywalks—Stroud enters the modern shopping era Before it was built in 1972, Stroud had nothing like Merrywalks. Other towns were developing along these lines and it was inevitable that Stroud should follow. Often referred to as “the precinct”, Merrywalks Shopping Centre altered the focus of the town in the Bus Station’s direction. At that time, the High Street was trafficked, a number of its shops empty and its environment less attractive than it is today. With its multi-storey car park adjacent as part of the redevelopment, Merrywalks attracted nationally known companies such as Atkinson (a then well established electrical goods retailer), H Samuel, Hodges, Granada, and Dorothy Perkins. One of two anchor stores was Key Markets (which became Gateway). The other was Fine Fare, opened in 1972 by no less a celebrity than Ronny Corbett. Both stores have gone.Other more local shops included the Gorge Café, a card shop, popular independent bakers which in the early days always seemed busy, a vegetable shop, florist and the Lite Bite bakers and café. Woolworths opened an entrance on to Merrywalks (at the time, the store traded on two floors). None of these remain.After a period of being empty, Fine Fare became Argos. In spite of a minor facelift in the 1980s and 1990s, there are still a number of vacant units. Pedestrianisation of the High Street, a small development around John Street and lower passenger numbers passing through Merrywalks to the Bus Station have all conspired to weaken the Shopping Centre’s position and therefore its role in the town. It is about to see a further refurb.