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All aboard for the early days of the Midland Red bus

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: April 25, 2014

By Dan Shaw

A Midland Red bus from around the end of the First World War

A Midland Red bus from around the end of the First World War

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WE think you may be hard pressed to recognise this Black Country scene, so much has it changed in the 95 years since this picture was taken.

The photograph has been loaned to us by John Taylor of Kidderminster and the location is the junction of Summer Hill and Hagley Street in Halesowen, in around 1919. The pub on the left, long ago demolished, is the Bull's Head Inn and at that time Thomas Clews was the landlord.

In the last 40 years these streets have been redeveloped more than once and if the occupants of the bus were whisked forward in time they would struggle to know the place.

As you can see, the junction was a stop for the Midland Red bus service. The conductor leans on the front wing while a smart gentleman in overcoat and bowler boards the bus, under the watchful gaze of a pinafored girl. The sign on the side of the bus reads "New Street, Bearwood and Halesowen", while that on the rear reads "Halesowen and Harborne."

While few readers will recall buses of this vintage many readers will have fond memories of the Midland Red, its depots and buses being such a familiar sight on Black Country streets.

The company had its origins in the city of Birmingham and it was founded in November 1904 as the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company. However, it struggled to attract investors and in 1905 it was taken over by British Electric Traction Company. The BET operated many tram services in the region and at the time it was expanding into bus services. In 1899 it had acquired the Birmingham General Omnibus Company, which had been founded just three years earlier. It operated horse-drawn bus services in Birmingham and its omnibuses were painted red. In 1902 the BET had also taken control of the City of Birmingham Tramways Company, which also ran horse buses.

The BET transferred all its bus services in and around Birmingham to the BMMO, which started operating in July 1905. However, it experienced problems with its fleet of motor buses so in 1907 it reverted all its routes to traditional horse power.

1912 was a year of great change for the company. Not only did the BMMO start reintroducing motor buses but that year Birmingham Corporation Tramways used its statutory powers to take over all the trams routes in the city. The corporation had plans to consolidate all the bus routes in the city, which would have made it impossible for the BMMO to expand.

So a deal was struck whereby it gave up all its routes in the city to the corporation and instead ran services from outside of Birmingham and into the city. The company would then be free to expand out of Birmingham and moved its headquarters to Bearwood.

From 1912 the BMMO painted its buses in the red livery of the Birmingham and General Omnibus Company and they carried the fleet name "Midland" and it was from this they acquired the nickname Midland Red.

In the First World War the company began to extend its services through the Black Country and on to Worcester. After the war depots were opened in Banbury, Bromsgrove, Coventry, Hereford, Leamington, Leicester, Nuneaton, Shrewsbury, Stafford, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Later there would be depots at Brierley Hill, Bromsgrove, Cannock, Cradley Heath, Dudley, Kidderminster, Oldbury, Redditch and Stourbridge, among many more.

In 1921 Midland Red began operating coach services and in 1923 they began to manufacture their own buses.

In 1930 the Great Western Railway and the London Midland and Scottish Railway combined to acquired 50% of the company. In 1947 the railways were nationalised and so the BMMO became 50% state owned. In 1968 the BET sold its bus interest to the government and the BMMO became a subsidiary of the National Bus Company.

In 1973 the BMMO's routes in the West Midlands county were transferred to the new West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, leaving the BMMO with routes in the wider Midlands and renaming itself Midland Red Omnibus Company. In 1981 Midland Red was divided into six new companies in preparation for privatisation.

Have you any transport memorabilia to share with readers? We are always keen to see pictures of Black Country buses, trains and trams. Contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or drop us a line at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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