Midland Red

Midland Red

Preserved BMMO S22s
Founded July 1905
Ceased operation 5 September 1981
Headquarters Edgbaston
Service area The Midlands
Service type Bus operator
Bus manufacturer
Depots 23 (September 1981)
Fleet 838 (September 1981)

Midland Red[1] was a bus company that operated in The Midlands from 1905 until 1981. It was one of the largest English bus companies, operating over a large area between Gloucester in the south and Derby in the north, and from Northampton to the Welsh border. The company also manufactured buses.


Preserved BMMO S16
Preserved BMMO S23
Preserved BMMO C5
Preserved BMMO CM6
Preserved BMMO D9
Preserved Leyland National with Chaserider branding


In 1899 the British Electric Traction (BET) company acquired the assets of the Birmingham General Omnibus Company, which had been formed three years earlier to acquire a number of horse bus operations in Birmingham. When BET ordered new buses for Birmingham the next year, they were painted red to make them stand out. In 1902 BET acquired the City of Birmingham Tramways Company, which operated horse buses as well as trams.[2]

The Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Company was formed by local businessmen in November 1904 to operate motor bus services in Birmingham.[1] When the directors failed to attract sufficient investors, BET acquired control of the new company, and in 1905 transferred its local horse bus operations to it. The company also acquired a motor bus company which had started in 1903. BMMO started operations under its own name in July 1905. However, the company experienced problems with its motor buses, and in 1907 reverted all its motor bus services to horse bus operation.[2][3]

In 1912 the company purchased some Tilling-Stevens petrol-electric buses. Further motor buses followed, and by June 1913 only 17 horse buses remained. The company adopted for its motor buses the red livery used by Birmingham General, and the buses carried the fleetname "Midland".[2] They soon acquired the nickname Midland Red.

Expansion outside Birmingham

By 1912 the Birmingham Corporation Tramways had used its statutory powers to acquire the city's tramways which it did not already own, and wanted to consolidate the operation of bus and tram operations in the city. Since it was going to be difficult for BMMO to expand in the city, it reached agreement with the corporation to operate services from outside Birmingham into the city and transfer its services within the city to the corporation. The company then expanded outside Birmingham, and moved its headquarters to Bearwood in Smethwick.[2]

During World War I, the company took over BET operations in Worcester and elsewhere, and after the war opened depots in Walsall, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Hereford, Stafford, Banbury, Bromsgrove, Shrewsbury, Nuneaton, Leamington Spa and Leicester. During the 1920s the tramways owned by BET in the Black Country were gradually replaced by Midland Red buses.[2]

In 1930, the Great Western Railway and the London Midland & Scottish Railway together acquired 50% of the company. The few GWR bus services in the area were transferred to Midland Red.[2]

Coach services

Midland Red started express coach services in 1921 with routes to Weston-super-Mare and Llandudno.[2] Coach services expanded, and in 1934 Midland Red became a founder member of the Associated Motorways consortium.

Coach services were heavily reduced during World War II, but expanded again after the war. When the M1 motorway opened in 1959, Midland Red started non-stop express services between Birmingham and London, and later between Coventry and London.[4][5] The opening of the M5 motorway enabled the operation of express services between Birmingham and Worcester.[2]


When the railways were nationalised forming in 1947 under the Transport Act 1947, Midland Red became 50% state-owned. In 1968, BET sold its UK bus interests to the government, and on 1 January 1969 the company became the largest subsidiary of the National Bus Company (NBC). The livery was later changed from a deep red to the NBC corporate poppy red.

In 1973 the garages (with the exception of Digbeth Coach Station, Bearwood and Cradley Heath) and routes within the West Midlands county were transferred to the control of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, leaving Midland Red with country and local routes mainly in Derbyshire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire and express services.[6]


From 1977 onwards, after extensive passenger research the company was rebranded into local area names under the Viable Network Project, something that was soon renamed as the Market Analysis Project and widely adopted throughout NBC and elsewhere in the bus industry. Each new network spawned a localised brand, as follows:


On 6 September 1981, Midland Red was split into six new companies:[7]


As part of the privatisation of the National Bus Company, the companies were sold:

Bus manufacture

In 1912 the company bought its first Tilling-Stevens petrol-electric vehicles. Tilling-Stevens became the main supplier of bus chassis to the company which, under its Chief Engineer LG Wyndham Shire, adapted and developed the designs to its own requirements, finally designing a vehicle it intended to construct itself.

Between 1923 and 1969, the BMMO built most of the buses it operated: up to 1940 these were called SOS (rumoured to stand for Shires Own Specification), and some models were supplied to other bus companies associated within the British Electric Traction (BET) group, namely Trent, PMT and Northern General. After 1940, the vehicles were identified by the company's initials, BMMO, and supplied solely for the BMMO company's own use. Codes later used for buses were FEDD (Front Entrance Double Decker), REDD (Rear Entrance Double Decker), Coaches were initially classified "ONC", but later used a prefix of "C" - or "CM" for Motorway coaches.[3]

Single Decker models after the war were numbered S6, then S8 through S23, Double Decker models D1 through D10. The D10 was, in some opinions, the pinnacle of BMMO bus design - a double decker with front entrance/rear exit and an underfloor engine, but only two were produced. AD2, GD6 and LD8 were exceptions to the normal designation system - these codes referred to batches of respectively AEC, Guy and Leyland vehicles acquired when the manufacturing operation could not meet the heavy demand. Individual buses were numbered from (around) 2000 to 5900 - registrations (usually) incorporated the last three numbers of the serial, and a letter prefix of three letters ending in "HA" ( a Smethwick origin registration mark). This relationship did not apply to the limited number of buses gained as a result of acquisition of other operators.

Bus manufacture, overhaul and accident repair was carried out at Carlyle Works, adjacent to the Rotton Park Reservoir in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Nearby to the works was BMMO's head office, in Vernon Road, Edgbaston.

Historical list of Midland Red garages


See also


  1. 1 2 Companies House extract company no 82681 Midland Red Omnibus Company Limited formerly Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company (Midland Red) Made in Birmingham
  3. 1 2 Sixty Years of Midland Red Commercial Motor 27 November 1964
  4. Midland Red Get Motorway Services Commercial Motor 27 March 1959
  5. Coventry-London services along M1 Commercial Motor 9 September 1960
  6. PTA to get Red services Commercial Motor 1 December 1972
  7. The Reds regroup Commercial Motor 11 April 1981
  8. Companies House extract company no 1556557 Foxhound Limited formerly Midland Fox Limited formerly Midland Red (East) Limited
  9. Bold NBC move Commercial Motor 21 January 1984
  10. Companies House extract company no 1556305 Arriva Midlands North Limited formerly Midland Rd (North) Limited
  11. Companies House extract company no 1556310 Midland Red (South) Limited
  12. Companies House extract company no 1556327 First Midland Red Buses Limited formerly Midland Red West Limited
  13. Companies House extract company no 1556325 Bristol Bus Station Limited formerly Midland Red Coaches Limited formerly Midland Red (Express) Limited
  14. Another NBC shake-up Commercial Motor 21 April 1984
  15. Companies House extract company no 213817 Frontsource (1) Limited formerly Carlyle Works Limited
  16. 1 2 History - Midlands Arriva
  17. News Commercial Motor 25 February 1988
  18. 6m payment renews fat-cat row The Independent 27 November 1995
  19. Cowie Group plc and British Bus Group Limited: A report on the merger situation Competition Commission 31 October 1996
  20. Companies House extract company no 2041677 Stagecoach West Limited formerly Western Travel Limited
  21. Companies House extract company no 2059633 FirstBus Group Limited formerly FirstGroup Holdings Limited formerly Midland Red West Holdings Limited
  22. NBC sells more Commercial Motor 10 January 1987
  23. Companies House extract company no 2059335 Frontsource Limited
  24. Buyer sought for failed Carlyle Commercial Motor 22 October 1991

Further reading

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