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Hobbies are interesting things, but rarely are they the same as making it a day to day occupation - so here we have precious little time for other hobbies, but we are involved in the bus preservation world - one of the several threads on which the original Wheels concept was based. We have decided to develop this thread where interested people can share their hobby together, but in an organised manner.
One of the originators of Wheels is Ashley and one of his main interests is the History of Midland Red - he is a bit of a Midland Red historian, and has in the past given several talks on the subject. The bus which sparked off the original Wheels idea was an original Midland Red designed and built vehicle, it is still in preservation, and is the S22 vehicle shown below. Many happy hours have been spent in the 1980's attending the autumn rallies held at Kidderminster station and also at Woburn Abbey, all with the obligatory sales stand in front of the bus. Ashley is also extremely keen on vehicles of Bristol manufacture. Over the years his interest has developed and at most times he has owned one or more of either make of bus. He is a member of The British Bus Preservation Group and has various associations with other groups and museums and has gained much valuable experience from these.
In 1998 Ashley formed a small interest group known as Preservabus. Formed for like-minded people, it has developed into a group assisting in looking after an increasing number of vehicles and has become the driving force behind a new and exciting heritage project. In 1999, Wheels hosted the Preservabus web pages on its web site telling its own story of bus preservation, now this story is developing. Founder member George Pittam has become Secretary of Preservabus. George is an enthusiastic member who has experience of other charitable organisations. Storage of our vehicles is an increasing cost and the very special vehicles need added care and attention and this is taking much of our resources.
We are collecting artifacts and items of historical interest from past Midland Red years - in fact anything from the era the Company was known as BMMO - (Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company) -so from 1904 until 1973 or thereabouts. We are gathering many types of items, from uniform and badges, paperwork items from coach and bus tickets to office paperwork, items from the Engineering section of the company and of the Traffic Department and all garage details, we are especially looking for Films showing any part of Midland Reds activities, it could be from a Midland Red Holiday film or photographs, it could be from films shot for a totally different reason which shows Midland Red buses and staff over the years. We also would like to hear from anyone who can help us with any information or details of The Midland Red Concert Orchestra, and The Midland Red Choir. Please contact us if can help or know anyone who may be able to help us.
We will eventually be able to show varied contents that will tell the story of public transport as well as painting a wider picture involving local businesses, social history, a useful educational facility, a research library, and use some of the items when we provide talks on the once empire-like Midland Red company.
Preservabus, our small window on the preservation of buses and coaches in the Midlands is widening its boundaries.
We are always looking for help in various areas to speed our restoration along. If you have a preserved vehicle or have some time to spare and can offer a skill to our small group, especially with ENGINEERING SKILLS please contact us for more information on how you can help us. We are also looking for an auto-electrician, and a vehicle painter.
From our own experiences we would like to offer a remember to anyone contemplating buying a bus or coach, keeping preserved buses and coaches is a big responsibility and commitment. Buying the vehicle is the easy bit. Keeping buses outdoors can only be seen as temporary as in just a few seasons any work that has been undertaken will be undone by the elements and in no time, a vehicle can be beyond economic repair. Always line-up secure storage before making the commitment. Help with storage facilities is available to members of The British Bus Preservation Group - see their web site or contact us on 0773388 4914 10am-5pm and leave us details. Good Luck!
This page shows some of the vehicles Ashley has been involved with over the years and describes some of the problems encountered along the way. Most of these involved the difficulty of finding secure and reliable storage space with good facilities.
The first vehicle Ashley bought was a Bedford OB coach in the very early 1970's. Parking problems and lack of facilities meant that within 2 years the bus was swapped for a leather jacket! Since this time, Ashley has purchased and been the prime mover in the initial preservation of a number of very rare and interesting vehicles including BMMO vehicles CM6T 5656 and the last BMMO S16 5545, and later would see ownership of one of just a few operational D9's.
|Later the BMMO S22 5901 became available and was purchased
from the West Midlands Preservation
Society. This bus attended numerous rallies and was
regularly mot'd at UCOC. (United Counties Omnibus Company) at
Northampton. You'll also find it featured in
our history pages. The vehicle was subsequently cared for by the Midland Red Worcester
Group and was regularly seen at rallies.
Whilst it was owned by Ashley, it returned on occasions to its birthplace - Carlyle Works in Birmingham, for both routine work and major jobs like the renewal of all its BMMO rubber suspension units.
|The rare Bristol VRL was a preservation
coup, but its open barn storage was a problem when arson
on an adjacent vehicle caused minimal damage to the VRL. It
was sold soon afterwards as no other safer storage was
available locally. This is a significantly important vehicle to be
saved for the future, and now the vehicle resides in its home area -
with the Ribble Enthusiasts Group. We eagerly await its return
to the open roads.
Ashley's first association with the Bristol VRL was at the 1968 Earls Court Motor Show. It was there that the prototype was exhibited, then only 13yrs old it made a significant impact on him as did the Bristol REMH Scottish motorway express coach which was also exhibited. It is interesting to see how things developed as later he was lucky enough to own both types !
|Ashley and his "Coaching at Wheels"
project owned some 14 buses and coaches, mainly Bristol RE's. An
exception was the BMMO D9 (the last in 'real' psv use and
always causing a stir) won the best in-service PSV cup in
the Birmingham Outer Circle event for 1995. When a move was made to a
single deck garage only, the D9 was sold into preservation - Happily, 5415
was repainted in full Midland Red livery and was
regularly seen at many local events especailly those held at Aston Manor
Wheels launched the D9 in 1:50 model form and one of the examples is based on this particular vehicle.
We are now very pleased that after five years of negotiations, our D9 has once again re-joined us. Being re-trimmed it is now available for special private hire duties and weddings.
|Leyland Leopard PSU4 1971 Willowbrook body
TKG518J ex Red and White service bus. It was later
converted and used as a tow-bus, withdrawn by Stagecoach,
sold to West Kent Coach Sales To Preservabus 6/00. It was never used and
passed to 60/60 coaches in Merthyr Tydfil - so it returned to its home
The British Bus and Coach market has over the years been more or less self sufficient as far as vehicles and their designs are concerned, and indeed the UK was a major exporter of Buses and Coaches until recent times. In days gone by, buses were exported in both kit-form and as complete vehicles. Bristol, Leyland and AEC vehicles were sold in large numbers to Australia and New Zealand; Guy, Daimler, MCW and Leyland went to China, Hong Kong, South Africa, Iran, Iraq, Shrilanka, Jamaica, Canada and many more countries.
The stable of British names was once extensive: AEC, Albion, Bristol, BMMO, Commer, Daimler, Dennis, Foden, Guy, Leyland, MCW. These are just a few of the chassis manufacturers, which cover almost every letter of the alphabet. Then there are body builders, engine manufacturers, and the many small independent component suppliers too. We had the great ability and versatility in our skilled workforce to fulfill orders to these many worldwide customers, with many differences in specification, and in right and left hand driver versions too. Yet from just the small selection of once familiar manufacturer names listed above only Dennis survives as a trading name, although it has passed through various ownerships before settling with the Alexander Dennis Group of Companies.
The seventies and eighties were turbulent times for the bus industry, but looking back it is clear that the formation of the British Leyland empire was not on secure foundations and did not have clear direction. What happened to British Leyland has happened to the industry again many times since, and in fact to other concerns outside of the bus industry in the UK too.
The Leyland name was foremost in the British Leyland group and other famous and well respected names taken over by the group were subsequently discontinued. For example, AEC by this time formed part of the Leyland group. The AEC Reliance coach was a firm favourite with many operators both large and small, and had been for many years. Not that the Reliance was old fashioned - it had a continued development throughout its life. A popular version of the AEC Reliance had a six speed ZF manual gearbox. Leyland wanted to discontinue the AEC models but Leyland's equivalent model, the Leopard didn't offer this choice and so they had to introduce a manual gearbox version for old AEC customers. Of course only some of those customers took what was offered - others looked at overseas manufacturers with more modern offerings altogether. This along with other similar occurrences added to the general decline in British bus and coach manufacturing brought about by lack of choice and lack of design advancement.
Jumping further ahead, when privatisations and takeovers were rife, in 1988 Volvo bought the Leyland Bus and Truck business and made Leyland, probably the most famous commercial vehicle name in the land, just a memory in our public transport and commercial vehicle history.
Looking at the position of our bus and coach manufacturing industry at the end of the first decade of the twenty first century (yet only 60 years since our industry was in full capacity and thriving), the leaders of our once proud bus industry would be turning in their graves to see us importing buses and coaches from Turkey and China. These offerings are sold on price and as yet it is too early to be sure of longevity in service, reliability of spare parts supply, and resale values.
One thing however is certain. Our traditional buses can be seen nowadays as being over engineered, but with long lives; and interestingly today they are also seen as very economical in their operation both for simplicity in design and fuel economy - but not all of us like to dwell on some of these facts.
Since the sixties there had been just a handful of imported coach bodies going to independent operators. The biggest provider of these was probably Caetano in the seventies, on mainly lightweight Bedford and Ford chassis. Slightly later, Van Hool also went for the same market. Imported chassis were a different story however, and Mercedes made numerous attempts to gain a foothold with rear engined integral coaches - they didn't have much luck as they were not seen as good value by most operators, and there was still some resistance to buying ' foreign'.
MAN also was a quiet operator making good inroads with a quite sophisticated vehicle. Volvo then introduced the B58 model chassis. This was a very orthodox vehicle but in the late 70's sales increased well and in 1981 air suspension was introduced, and many British bodymakers could provide their standard offerings to fit the foreign chassis. Then followed Volvo's B10M model and, well, history was written. The Volvo B58 and B10 chassis ranges were thought to be their most successful models.
In the early 1980s the two major British coachbuilders' offerings, Duple's 'Dominant' and Plaxton's 'Supreme' models were looking dated and rapidly losing share of the upper end of the market to overseas bodybuilders. Plaxton responded with the Paramount and this was enough for them to hold on to their position as market leader, but Duple's new models (Laser, Carribean and Calypso, 320 and 340 and even the more stylish and streamlined 425) failed to capture the imaginations of operators and the company sold out to Plaxton in face of an overall decline in the market.
The Leyland 'Leopard' produced in various forms since the early 60's was rugged and reliable but was seen as old fashioned by 1981, and production ceased a year later. The announcement was made to re-introduce the 1950's 'Tiger' name to Leyland's new model - surprisingly compared to the competition it was another underfloor engined coach but with the new TL11 power unit. Most of the foreign competition was rear engined.
Finally it was realised that things were not working. A year later the Leyland 'Royal Tiger' - a rear engined version - was designed to meet the continental competition head-on, and it was a good competitor in the market too. The 'Royal' Tiger (another model name from better times - the 1950's), was a modern high specification coach with many common parts to the basic Tiger model and indeed other Leyland products too. But this Royal Tiger was integral in its standard form, built with open-frame “space-cage” construction with massive underfloor luggage lockers, rather than with a conventional chassis.
An outside design specialist John Heffernan was brought on-board with a clean piece of paper to produce this creative new model. The result created quite a stir. The coach had features only then available on the top of the range imports. The frontal design was a dramatic change from all previous models from any UK producer. The black surround heightened the effect of the already massive windscreen, and the headlight units were quite literally “Rolls Royce”, being taken from their 'Cornishe' model. The Royal Tiger Doyen model was built to the then maximum dimensions of 40' long, and due to its large rear overhang and rear engine there has been a long-standing, humourous jibe that the ornate and oversized badge on the front radiator grille was made so big to assist weight distribution to the front axle! The badge is now a sought after piece of collectors' memorabilia.
The bodies (named Doyen) were built at the Leyland owned Charles H. Roe factory in Leeds. This company previously built high quality 'bus' bodies - mainly double deckers especially for council run corporation transport departments - and had done so for many years. The Doyen body however was another story.
The manufacturing jigs and expensive paint spraying booths were installed in the factory in Leeds, but production was not smooth. The body plant was not accustomed to making coaches with small detail differences in specification for individual customers. But the workforce had a great track record for overcoming problems in production of all their previous models - sometimes with ingenious methods. However Leyland's dictate for the Doyen bodywork was rigid, and gave no opportunity to deviate from the original drawings (even when the drawings were not always right)! And more amazingly there was no direct Engineering Management resident on site for such eventualities either. Vehicles due for delivery in Spring sometimes didn't arrive until August and consequently missed a revenue earning season for their new prospective owners. Leyland had to loan standard (underfloor engined) Tigers for long periods to customers who had ordered the delayed Doyen models.
Early promotion of the Doyen model was a disaster. The launch of the model itself missed the 1982 Coach Show by a couple of weeks, lost its sales impact and never really recovered. Neither did it receive the support it undoubtedly deserved from the press.
In efforts to stem the mounting production delays another facility was introduced for the Doyen at the old Leyland National plant at Workington. This meant more jigs being built, and another large seven bay paint facility being installed (at a cost of over £600,000 at that time). Doyen production was later moved there, and assistance with rectification work was carried out at ECW (Eastern Coach Works) at Lowestoft, leaving the Leeds plant to concentrate on smaller orders.
However, this move was not enough to stave off further cutbacks, and shortly afterwards in the September of 1984 the Charles H. Roe body plant in Leeds was closed, leaving Workington to continue with Leyland products. It is generally thought that the Leyland (Workington) built Doyens were better in many respects than the early models, but this was no reflection on the workforce at Leeds.
Production of the Doyen lasted until the Volvo takeover of Leyland in 1988, when the Doyen model was immediately abandoned. Then customers had no choice but to buy the very 'foreign' products that the Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen had hoped to keep at bay.
The Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen, despite its catalogue of production problems, is certain to be remembered as one of those classic designs which somehow remains dateless in appearance. Today, the Doyen looks as imposing as it did well over a quarter of a century ago! You can park a Doyen next to one of todays 'foreign' models and it looks as good as it always has. Sadly, the type never overcame its disasterous early production problems where many operators who had hoped to have the Doyen operating their flagship holiday and tours programmes were let down with missed delivery dates. the Roe bodied vehicles were not as good or long lived as the later "Workington" built models, but our two are testimony to the design some thirty years on.
A year after the Charles H. Roe factory in Leeds was closed, bus builder OPTARE started production there (and are still in business) which has seen innovative designs in both small and large buses.
The Leyland Royal Tiger underframe was also bodied by Plaxton and Van Hool but over 60% were the Doyen - the totally Leyland built model.
Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft (another of the British Manufacturers which fell into the British Leyland fold), who built some of the best quality bodies over the years, mainly on Bristol built vehicles, and who were also involved in some rectification work on the Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen, also suffered closure - although this did not enjoy the same future as the Leeds plant.
There were just over 100 Doyens made. The design and development costs were £2m - a considerable cost for the early 1980's - and with their high selling price of well over £50k they were in a similar league to that of the Setra in later times. However, no one seems sure of the exact number of Royal Tiger Doyens actually completed. Production was ceased prematurely by Volvo so one assumes that Leyland may have appeared something of a threat.
Today, there are only a handfull of Leyland Royal Tiger coaches existing and even less working. One of the last coaches bought new was a Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen for Midland Red Coaches operating from Digbeth Coach Station in Birmingham, so it is fitting that the Doyen should be represented in the classic Midland Red Coach fleet of today. We have two - They are both from the last year that these were made so from the very last built. They have had mixed histories - 6100 was originally one of a pair purchased by the coach unit of Nottingham City Transport. In its later years it served in the Midlands with Elkin of Sutton Coldfield, but it was approaching twenty years old when it reached the height of its career when it was bought by Mark Self of Roadliner fame of Poole. Here the coach was refurbished to a high standard and its image was so good it could undertake any work that a brand new front-line coach could. It operated Holiday Tours for a leading tour operator, and was seen regularly in mainland Europe. Fleet number 6150 was new to West Riding of Yorkshire, before operating in Wales, then with Quantock near Taunton before joining our heritage fleet. We are proud to own two great examples of the last of a Great British Breed - The Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen.
Written by Ashley Wakelin
Midland Red Coaches
Our Big Red Double Decker - the Midland Red BMMO D9 was 40 years old in 2006. We carefully planned a birthday trip to celebrate this momentous occasions - after all, these vehicles were only built to provide a bus service for around 10 - 15 years at most. Our bus has lasted almost twice as long in "preservation" as it did in actual Midland Red service, and that's a real reason for a party!
The journey started in Coventry at 1330hrs on Sunday April 9th .
The journey had photo-breaks at locations en route where a few surprises were in store.
A special D9 Birthday Cake was cut to celebrate the occasion by an ex wartime clippie
An visit inclusive of a guided tour of the Midland Bus Museum guided by Ashley and Bus Museum's Malcolm Keeley was a great success followed by a tasty afternoon tea prepared by Liz Potts.
Ironically 40 passengers to celebrate 40 year! Passengers from as far afield as London, Shrewsbury, Nottingham, Sheffield, Hertford, Wolverhampton, Swadlincote, and other parts of the Midland Red territory.
Midland Red D9, 5415 was be used for the trip
What is the story behind the growth of the local bus company whose buses and coaches in their familiar colours that were so well known throughout "Shakespeare Country"? That livery of deep blue and off white was shared with another associated company - that of Midland General in Derbyshire.
On April 1st 1927 two local residents, Messrs. Grail and Joyne inaugurated a service with one 14-seater Chevrolet Bus between Stratford-upon-Avon and. the village of Shottery. Within three years this small undertaking had increased its fleet to nine 20-seater Thornycroft vehicles, and had extended its operation to include services to Tiddington, Alveston, Bidford-on-Avon, Evesham, Snitterfield, Learnington and Shipston-on-Stour. It had office accommodation in Wood Street Stratford-upon-Avon, and its buses were housed in the Cattle Market. The possibilities of providing a connecting service between Leamington, Stratford, Evesham and Cheltenham were visualised at this time, and late in 1930 a service between Evesham and Cheltenham was purchased from another operator - a Mr. Martin of Cheltenham.
Around this time many routes/operators were controlled by Messrs. Balfour, Beatty and Company Ltd, and in May 1931 that Company acquired Messrs. Grail and Joyner's interest in Stratford-upon-Avon Blue Motors Ltd. The business then included a Petrol Filling Station at Bridgetown, and the acquisition arrangements also included a number of adjacent residential properties where the tenants used to pop into the enquiry office at the depot to pay their rents each week.
The Stratford Company continued to grow. In February 1932 it acquired the assets and eight buses of the Reliance Bus Company of Bidfordon-Avon, who operated services between Stratford, Welford, Bidford and Evesham. And other routes between Evesham, Fladbury, Pershore, Cropthorne and Tewkesbury by arrangement were transferred to the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Ltd who paid £1000 for the goodwill for these routes. In January 1933 a site in Warwick Road on which the headquarters of the Stratford Blue Company once stood was purchased, Garage and Office buildings being erected and occupied early in 1934.
In 1932, control of Stratford-upon-Avon Blue Motors Ltd passed from Messrs. Balfour, Beatty and Company Ltd to the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Ltd. On 28th June 1935, BMMO bought all of the issued share capital of Stratford Blue Motor Services for just over £15,000. It was then decided that the Stratford Company should continue to operate as a totally separate undertaking.
Further progress continued to be made. On the last day of 1936 Stratford Blue acquired the Kineton Green Bus Company, including the small garage premises in the old Warwickshire town which lies about ten miles away from Stratford to the south-east.
Services operated by the Kineton Company between Kineton and Stratford, Leamington, Banbury etc., were taken over and operated from the beginning of 1937 by Stratford Blue. The Stratford Company's next acquisition was the business of Bennett's Bus Service of Ilmington in February 1953, which included two small services between Ilmington and Stratford, and Ilmington and Shipston-on-Stour. In the following year new garage premises and offices were built at Brookhampton Road, Kineton. This garage and offices closely resembled depots being built by Midland Red at the time.
On April 1st 1962 the Stratford Blue Company made its most recent acquisition when it purchased the coach business of the Warwickshire County Garage Ltd of Stratford-upon-Avon and one of that firm's coaches.
Such, briefly, is the history of the Stratford Blue Company. Let us now take a look at the Company as it was in its closing days; and it will perhaps be appropriate first to say something of the Company's omnibuses and coaches since they are the most obvious items of the "stock-in-trade" of every operator of public service vehicles. During the period from 1931 until 1948, the Stratford Blue fleet consisted mainly of Tilling Stevens vehicles. After 1948 these were replaced with new single-deck and double-dock omnibuses of Leyland manufacture. Considering its ownership by Midland Red it is perhaps surprising that SOS/BMMO vehicles were not operated. Although there was one SOS SON dating from 1937 which was used by Stratford Blue - but not before it had been converted into a tree-cutter - that vehicle lasted until 1964. Latterly a couple of D9's were used for short periods.
Stage carriage services are operated on 415 miles of route in Warwickshire and parts of north Worcestershire Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. In addition, a comprehensive programme of day and half-day tours was provided to local places of local interest and especially the Cotswolds. Most of the fleet was regularly based at the Company's headquarters in Warwick Road, Stratford, but almost a dozen were stabled at the Kineton garage, where only running repairs are effected, all major maintenance work being done at Stratford.
In its heyday, Stratford Blue employed over one hundred and twenty staff, many clocking up more than twenty-five years' service. They were the days !
On January 1st 1969 Stratford Blue became part of National Bus Company, as a result of the same happening to Midland Red. Exactly two years later to the day, Stratford Blue was totally absorbed into Midland Red, and when in 1981 Midland Red was split up and Midland Red South company was formed, that company inherited the property staff and vehicles of what was once Stratford Blue. However, what appears to be a slimming down exercise (or should we call it asset stripping) took place and the prime site Warwick Road depot was sold along with the Kineton depot. Stratford's buses were now run from a discarded council depot.
The British Road Transport Stamp Group organised an interesting souvenir cover to mark the passing of Stratford Blue. Bus tickets were stuck onto the covers and the letters did a return bus route before being posted. This of course marks another interesting service which many of the old bus companies offered - that of the posting of letters and parcels services. In fact, Stratford's Red Lion Bus Station was once not only a busy bus station, but a busy interchange point for parcels going far and wide by Midland Red Parcels Express.
The Stratford Blue fleet had operated in what was virtually an international showplace. During the theatre season visitors from all parts of the world converge on the town in their thousands. In such circumstances, courtesy and consideration on the part of drivers and conductors, well maintained vehicles and efficiency of services were of great importance. Stratford Blue Motors Limited endeavored to provide for both the multitude of visitors and the growing resident population of the town, who were glad to have an undertaking like "The Blue" to cater for their transport needs.
Sadly those once familiar Warwickshire registration plate letters "AC" "NX" and "UE" are no longer seen on the equally once familiar blue and off-white liveried Leyland buses of Stratford Blue.
More recently, Midland Red (now Stagecoach) pulled out of Stratford operations altogether. Some services went to tourist operator "Guide Friday" and in the more recent past- a revival of the Stratford Blue name was made by ex Midland Red Manager, Alan Newland who operated using the name as a trading name of the operator Newmark Coaches which itself was formed out of Anthonys Coaches. If anyone has any photographs or cine film of Stratford Blue or Midland Red or other films with scenes of Stratford Blue or Midland Red subjects, please contact us.
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to visit the excellent Dick Gilbert's Classic Buses Website.
If you are serious about bus and coach preservation, please join us and you may also like to read the magazine BUS & COACH PRESERVATION. Until recently it was edited by our friend Nick Larkin, but has now joined the Ian Allan empire. We hope it will continue to be an up to date quality monthly publication. At WHEELS some back copies are also available.
MIDLAND RED COACHES (Postal Office)
23, Broad Street, Brinklow,
Warwickshire. CV23 0LS
Contact us by email if you have specific requirements - much of the proceeds go to the heritage project and the upkeep of our rare vehicles. Your support is very welcome.
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