In the spring of 1999, Midland Red West Limited had recently acquired a fleet of 64 new Mercedes-Benz O.814 Vario minibuses at Worcester and, being part of the newly formed FirstBus, renamed to First Midland Red Buses Limited. One morning in that spring I found myself in Droitwich with fellow minibus driver, Dennis Humphries, sat in one of those minibuses talking about the internet. Dennis had just bought himself a new digital camera and was interested in finding out how to post photographs on the net, while I had experimented a little with writing web pages and wished to expand my knowledge but I didn’t really have any interesting subject matter. Dennis also noted that he had recently searched the net for information about our new minibuses but had found nothing.
So it was decided, Dennis would take some photographs of the new minibuses and I would write a simple website to display them. At the time, neither of us had any interest in, or knowledge of the bus enthusiasts movement, but we figured there must be someone out there who’d be interested. We’d both seen enthusiasts in bus stations and as these people were called bus spotters by the drivers, the name BusSpotter.com1 was duly purchased and registered. A simple website was written with red and dark blue colours to match the FirstBus style, and the content featured about 20 photographs, a simple fleet list, a guestbook page and a discussion forum. Initially take up was slow, but by mid-2000 we had a regular number of repeat visitors.
By the end of 2000, it became clear that there was a strong demand for more, and soon photographs of the Lances were posted, and later the Coaches and Leyland Nationals. As these types were operated by other garages, we soon found ourselves covering the fleet at other depots, which in turn bought us on to other types such as the Mercedes-Benz L608D and 609D minibuses, and Leyland Lynxs etc.
As mentioned above, we had no knowledge of the bus preservation movement, and much of the early information posted on the site was generated from simply asking around the garage, and our own memory. Needless to say, in the early days we had many emails from people pointing out the mistakes! However, all these emails were very helpful and some regular correspondents, such as Guy Craddock, have made a massive contribution to the content and accuracy of the site.
One such email came from Chris Sampson and it that was to change the course of the website forever. Chris has been a lifelong bus enthusiast and, although he now lives in Colchester, he grew up in Worcester and worked for Midland Red West in the early 1990s. Best of all, he is also a keen amateur photographer and as a former member of the Worcester Bus Preservation Society he knows where to look and who to speak to find out the information we needed.
Chris’s first email contained a number of small low-res photographs that he’d taken during his time with Midland Red West which alas were not really suitable for publishing. However, during subsequent emails we established that we had a number of mutual acquaintances and Chris kindly agreed to re-scan his entire collection and post them to me on a CD. Since then, Chris has established connections with many enthusiasts around the county, gaining permission to use their photographs, and in doing so has compiled a huge library of photographs for the website. Chris has also proved himself invaluable in conducting research, and he continues to make a significant contribution towards the financial cost of running the site. Without his hard work and help, this site would simply not exist anymore.
When this site was first created we had no idea of the direction it would take, it was just simply a couple of bus drivers posting photos of the buses they saw each day, which included vehicles from other operators in the area. I decided that a clear definition of the purpose of the website needed to be made as the random nature of the site was only creating confusion for the visitors and myself. At about this time, Dennis left First Midland Red for another job and the main contributions for the website were now coming from Chris, Guy and other bus enthusiasts such as Ben Morroll from Birmingham and Carl and Lee Wigmore from Hereford.
In 2002, the decision was made to focus the website on Midland Red, or to give its correct name, the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited, or BMMO for short. This seemed a natural decision to make as the site had been expanding to include older vehicles, many of which had been inherited from Midland Red when the company closed in 1981. Also, at the suggestion of Chris I had visited the Transport Museum, Wythall and discovered a whole new world of Midland Red, and the buses they built. This fascinated me and I knew it would be a subject I would enjoy researching and writing about.
The name MidlandRed.net was bought, and the site was rebranded under the new name with red and gold colours designed to represent the old BMMO livery. As I had already done a lot of work on Midland Red West it seemed stupid to discard this, so it was decided the website would cover both companies. Midland Red Express, or Midland Red Coaches as it was later called, had strong links with Midland Red West so that was also included, and finally it seemed a little unfair to ignore the other Midland Red companies, so they were included too!
Although the fragmented parts of Midland Red have now become subsidiaries of First, Arriva and Stagecoach, it was felt that we had probably already bitten off more that we could chew, so the site would only cover the parts of these groups that were directly descendant from Midland Red. For this reason, First Leicester and First Northampton for example, would not be included even though they have very close ties to First Midland Red.
Under this remit, the site has continued to expand over the years and I’d like to repeat my thanks to all those who have made contributions. I am currently updating the site to comply with newer standards, which (hopefully) will see it become compatible with many more browsers and thus open up the site to a much wider audience. You may experience a few problems while the work is underway, but please accept my apologies… it should be worth it in the end!
Adam Harber (Webmaster).
1 Please note, the name BusSpotter.com has now been taken up by another website. This new website has no connections with MidlandRed.net