Midland “Red” History: Route Numbers

Before Route Numbers (1905–1913)

From the start of operations in 1905, horse and motor omnibus operated by the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services) were not given route numbers, and the route being operated was only identified on the vehicle by the name of the destination. This was displayed on the front, sides, and rear of the omnibus using removable white wooden boards with black lettering, fitted to brackets on the bodywork. Within a few years, more information was being shown on the sides of vehicles using longer destination boards, often fixed above the windows, that listed all of the key places served on the route, similar to route branding used on modern buses well over 100 years later.

Early Route Number Sequence (1913–1925)

Route numbers were first introduced by BMMO towards the end of 1913, with all services being numbered in sequence, starting with Service 2. It is believed Service 1 had originally been intended for the Hagley Road route, but on Friday 5th September 1913 the Birmingham Corporation opened a new electric tram service on the route, and as the Birmingham Corporation Municipal Transport Watch Committee ruled that omnibuses were not permitted to compete with trams, BMMO was required to withdraw from this route. The motor omnibuses previously used on the Hagley Road route were transferred to other routes allowing the company to withdraw the last of their remaining horse omnibuses, and therefore route numbers arrived too late to be displayed on BMMO's horse omnibuses.

Initially the route number was only displayed on the sides of vehicle as part of the longer route list board, and it would be another fifteen years before the number was regularly displayed at the front of the vehicle.

In October 1914, Birmingham Corporation Tramways acquired BMMO's Birmingham (Tennant Street) depot and all of the routes operated wholly within the Birmingham Corporation territory. At this time the remaining BMMO cross-boundary services were transferred to the former horse omnibus facility near at Bearwood depot near Smethwick. To avoid route number clashes with Birmingham Corporation, and to give the Corporation room to later expand their network, BMMO renumber some of their routes so that the lowest route number in their network was Service 15, for the Birmingham, Quinton, Halesowen, Stourbridge route. Presumably BMMO didn't expect the Corporation network to expand very much!

Initially, any new route introduced was allocated the next available route number in sequence in strict chronological order, but from around 1918 the company started to leave gaps in the numbering sequence to allow later routes in the same area to have adjacent route numbers. The most notable gap in the numbering sequence was when BMMO introduced their first long distance service in 1921, between Birmingham and Weston-super-Mare, as Service 200. All subsequent long distance services were numbered from 200 upwards.

Suffix letters were also used to group related routes, typically for Market Day services that only operated on one or two days each week. An example of this was Service 91 operated by Hereford (Black Lion) depot from May 1920 between Hereford and Ledbury, with Service 91A, Service 91B, and Service 91C all running between Ledbury and nearby villages on Tuesdays only for Ledbury Market Day.

One odd exception to this practice was Service 48 operated from Worcester (St John's) depot and later Worcester (East Street) depot. This route number was allocated to BMMO's first local Malvern area service in April 1916, running between Great Malvern and West Malvern. However, when the local Malvern network was expanded to other destinations the company did not allocate any new route numbers, and as a result by 1924 there were eight different local Malvern routes all operating as Service 48.

During this period vehicles could be working more than one service at any given time, which probably wasn't as confusing as it sounds when a route number isn't being displayed. An example of this is Service 35A from Worcester to Birmingham, via Evesham and Bidford-On-Avon. Between Evesham and Birmingham the route was identical to Service 17A so the vehicle would be working both services at the same time, and between Evesham and Bidford-On-Avon the vehicle would also be working Service 17C too.

Simplified Route Number Sequence (1925–1928)

By the mid 1920s, the BMMO network was expanding rapidly and the established numbering system had become quite chaotic. Therefore, on Saturday 16th May 1925, the company renumbered their network with route numbers being grouped into geographical areas, starting with Service 101 for routes in the Birmingham area. Only long distance routes were unaffected by these changes, and they retained their original route numbers, starting from Service 200.

Route numbers 1 to 100 were left unused to allow the Birmingham Corporation more generous expansion options than those given in 1914, and the use of suffix letters was discontinued, thus all BMMO route numbers from this time were 3-digits without using any letters. The geographical groups used by BMMO from this time were as follows…

route number101and aboveBirmingham and Black Country
〃   〃   〃200〃   〃Long Distance services (unchanged)
〃   〃   〃211〃   〃Kidderminster
〃   〃   〃234〃   〃Bromsgrove and Redditch
〃   〃   〃259〃   〃Worcester, Malvern and Evesham
〃   〃   〃302〃   〃Hereford
〃   〃   〃350〃   〃Banbury
〃   〃   〃380〃   〃Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon
〃   〃   〃430〃   〃Rugby and Coventry
〃   〃   〃450〃   〃Leicester
〃   〃   〃504〃   〃Coalville and Ashby
〃   〃   〃525〃   〃Nuneaton
〃   〃   〃554〃   〃Atherstone and Tamworth
〃   〃   〃572〃   〃Rugeley, Cannock and Stafford
〃   〃   〃600〃   〃Wolverhampton
〃   〃   〃620〃   〃Oakengates and Wellington
〃   〃   〃640〃   〃Shrewsbury

Expanded Route Number Sequence (1928–1974)

Although the principal of grouping routes by geographical area was successful, the network was still expanding rapidly and by the end of 1927 several areas had already outgrown their allocation. On Saturday 11th February 1928, the network was again renumbered, mostly into the same geographical groups as before, but with each group getting a larger allocation of number, as follows…

route number100and aboveBirmingham and Black Country
〃   〃   〃200〃   〃Long Distance and Coach services (unchanged)
〃   〃   〃288〃   〃Kidderminster
〃   〃   〃318〃   〃Bromsgrove and Redditch
〃   〃   〃352〃   〃Worcester, Malvern and Evesham
〃   〃   〃422〃   〃Hereford
〃   〃   〃479〃   〃Banbury
〃   〃   〃513〃   〃Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon
〃   〃   〃576〃   〃Rugby and Coventry
〃   〃   〃601〃   〃Leicester, Coalville and Ashby
〃   〃   〃725〃   〃Nuneaton
〃   〃   〃776〃   〃Atherstone and Tamworth
〃   〃   〃821〃   〃Rugeley, Cannock and Stafford
〃   〃   〃879〃   〃Wolverhampton
〃   〃   〃898〃   〃Oakengates and Wellington
〃   〃   〃926〃   〃Shrewsbury

Prefix Letters

On Friday 1st June 1928, BMMO started operation of a new network of local bus services in the City of Worcester, to replace the existing tram network as part of the Worcester Agreement. These new routes had “W”-prefix route numbers in their own sequence, in the range from W1 to W14. This would be the first of many local area networks to use a prefix letter and thus free up more numbers in the main sequence.

The following year BMMO removed Long Distance stage carriage services and Coach Services from the main route number sequence. These routes were renumbered in to their own sequence with “X”-prefix route numbers, and then in 1930 the coach services were again renumbered using single-digit letters in the range from A to R.

In the renumbering of Febuary 1928, local Malvern area services had been allocted route numbers in the range 366–376, with later additions to the network recieving a random selection of route numbers between 369 and 384. On Monday 7th January 1935, the local Malvern area network was renumbered with “M”-prefix route numbers in the range M10–M30, with the exception of route numbers M13 and M28. It is unclear why those two numbers were not initially used, but on Sunday 3rd July 1938, Service 378 between Great Malvern and Upper Welland was renumbered to Service M28, and Service M13 finally arrived some 30-years late on Saturday 26th June 1965 for a new hourly circular service.