Sunday, 28 April 2013

Stourbridge Beer Festival - Buses, Trams & Trains in Stourbridge

This weekend has seen the 16th Stourbridge Beer Festival take place, organised by my good friends at Stourbridge CAMRA. Every year, there is a "theme", with this year focusing on "Buses, Trains & Trams in Stourbridge".
I was asked to write the article for the Festival Programme, and I arranged for the Black Country Living Museum's wonderful preserved Midland Red D9 to be posed for photographs, which made it onto the front cover and onto the commemorative glass.
A few people who couldn't make it to the Festival have asked if I could blog the article, so here it is. If you spot any inaccuracies, do please get in touch!

Early public transport in Stourbridge was predominantly of the railed variety.
The railways first came to the town in 1852, with the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway running between Stourbridge and Evesham (not reaching Cradley Heath until 1863, and Birmingham in 1867). The Stourbridge branch line to the Town opened in 1879, with the current Stourbridge Junction opening in 1901 (the original “Stourbridge Station” was located nearer to the where the current line bends right towards Lye).
Steam trams started running from the Amblecote side of the River Stour, through Coalbournbrook, up Brettell Lane, serving Brierley Hill and on to Dudley Market Place from 1884. These were operated every 30 minutes by the Dudley & Stourbridge Steam Tramway.
Electricity was rapidly advancing, and by 1898, the company had sold out to the newly-formed British Electric Traction Co (BET)., who re-laid the track and installed new equipment. By the following year, a new subsidiary company of BET – the Dudley, Stourbridge & District Electric Traction Company Ltd – had been formed and was operating the service, which was extended in Dudley to and from the Railway Station at the foot of Castle Hill. Frequency was also much improved, with trams operating every 5-15 minutes.
Other local lines rapidly followed, including;
·         Dudley – Netherton – Cradley Heath (5-Ways) in 1900
·         Dudley – Pensnett – Kingswinford in 1900
·         Kingswinford – Wordsley – Stourbridge in 1900
·         Stourbridge Mill St – Stourbridge Hagley Road in 1901
·         Stourbridge Foster St – Lye in 1902
·         Stourbridge – Enville St – Wollaston in 1902
·         Old Hill – Blackheath in 1904
The Kinver Light Railway, running from The Fish Inn (now the Ruby Cantonese restaurant) opened on Good Friday 1901, where over 14,000 people sampled the ride, despite the pouring rain!
By the mid 1920s, however, circumstances had changed. The tramway company had financial problems and struggled to fund track renewals. Motorbuses were emerging as alternative transport and were much more flexible, given that they didn’t have to worry about running on rails!
Between 1925-1930, all the local tramways were withdrawn.
The Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Company (more affectionately known as the “Midland Red”) had been making rapid advances across large parts of the Midlands area. It had been running buses from Birmingham into Stourbridge since 1914 and opened its first garage in the town in 1926. Other garages opened in Brierley Hill (Harts Hill) in 1925 (although part of this had been a power station for the electric tramway earlier), Dudley in 1929, Oldbury in 1937 and Cradley Heath in 1939.
The bus was now the dominant mode of road transport and many people fondly remember the halcyon days of the “friendly Midland Red”.
By the 1970s, however, bus travel was in decline. The advance of mass-made family cars meant that private transport was within the means of many more people.
Midland Red had been state-owned since 1968. The Transport Act of the same year had established the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive. The PTE was required to have control of all services within its area, and following lengthy negotiations, in December 1973, all services operating within what was the West Midlands County area transferred to WMPTE, with the most visible effect being buses painted from red into the new blue/cream livery.
Midland Red as a company continued to operate outside of the area, in the Shire counties, but was eventually split up in 1981 into separate North, South, West, East and Express companies.
Stourbridge bus garage – by this time owned by WMPTE – closed in 1985 with operations in the town being provided by other local bus garages.
The 1986 Transport Act saw bus services mainly privatised and deregulated. This meant that companies were free to compete with each other, and set their own routes, times and fares.
The cream and blue WMPTE buses became West Midlands Travel, which was sold eventually to its employees and then merged with National Express. During the 1990s it changed its name to Travel West Midlands and, more recently, to National Express West Midlands. Buses operated by the company now serve Stourbridge from garages in Pensnett Trading Estate and Wolverhampton.
This era of private bus operation has also seen several other bus companies serve Stourbridge.
Hansons is a small company that has built up a local network in the area. It was originally a coach operator and driver training company before concentrating on local bus services in recent years. Diamond has its origins in Pete’s Travel and the Birmingham Coach Company – two companies that began operating following deregulation of the industry in 1986. Arriva is now owned by the German state railway company DB, but many of its local origins can be traced back to Midland Red days, as they are the direct descendants of “Red” operations in Cannock, Stafford and Shrewsbury.
Midland Red as a company is of course no more. The “North” part (Cannock / Shrewsbury / Stafford)  eventually became Arriva, the “West” section (Kidderminster / Worcester / Redditch) is now in the hands of FirstGroup, The “South” (Stratford / Leamington / Rugby) now belongs to Stagecoach, the “East” (Leicester) is Arriva-owned, whilst the “Express” (coaches) became absorbed into today’s National Express coach network.
Following the Transport Act 1986, West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive took on a much revised role. No longer responsible for directly operating buses (this had been transferred to the new “West Midlands Travel” operation), the PTE had responsibility for maintaining infrastructure (such as stops, shelters and bus stations) and funding (through public money) bus journeys that the new private companies thought unprofitable, but were deemed “socially necessary”. These mainly evening and Sunday journeys were tendered out to the private companies to operate. The PTE later renamed itself as Centro and its policies are set by Councillors delegated from the 7 Districts that make up the West Midlands area (Birmingham, Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Solihull & Coventry). Centro also promotes public transport in the area and more recently has worked in partnership with the private bus operators on large-scale local bus network reviews.
It also promotes the Midland Metro light rail tram system between Birmingham & Wolverhampton, and eventually plans to extend it down to the Merry Hill Centre.

I am grateful to Dr. Paul Collins, author of “The Kinver Light Railway”, for details of early tram operations, and to Stan Letts of the Black Country Living Museum Transport Group for making available their preserved 1963 Midland Red D9 double decker for pictures.


  1. Hi Phil! I believe that Harts Hill garage was used as a tram garage prior to being taken over by BMMO. Midland Express (coaches) was actually absorbed by Midland Red West, and probably operated coaches under contract to National Express, rather than being absorbed by them. At one time National Express owned only a couple of coaches, all vehicles being operated by other companies under a franchise arrangement. This may well still be true on the coaching side. Redditch bus garage is now owned by the Diamond bus operation, having been sold to Diamond by First Bus (ex Midland Red West.

  2. Hello David - thanks for getting in touch!
    Yes, the Harts Hill depot was used as a tram depot before the buses came.
    You're right about Midland Red (Express) - I recall it did end up under the wing of Midland Red (West). Must have been on the cooking sherry when I wrote the article!
    My excuse about Redditch is that I wrote the article before the operation there transferred to Diamond!
    Hope you're well! Any new Midland Red DVDs coming up? :)