Service 144 is a historic bus service originally operated by Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services) from the First World War period, linking Birmingham, Bromsgrove, Droitwich Spa, Worcester and The Malverns. The section of the route between Worcester and The Malverns was withdrawn with cutbacks in the 1970s, but otherwise the route had remained largely unchanged when the company closed and operation was taken over by Midland Red (West) Limited in 1981.
At the end of services on Saturday 5th September 1981, Midland “Red” Motor Service (officially called Midland Red Omnibus Company Limited by this time) ceased trading as a bus and coach operator. From the following day, all stage carriage bus services were divided between four new operating companies, with the operation of all Service 144 journeys, with the depots, staff and vehicles etc to operate them, passing to the newly formed Midland Red (West) Limited.
The route, timetable and vehicles were initially unchanged from those of Midland Red Omnibus Company Limited (MROC), with most journeys being operated by either Worcester depot or Bromsgrove depot, with one journey every 30-minutes in each direction throughout the day between Birmingham, Bromsgrove and Worcester. Service 143 continued to be interworked over a similar route between Birmingham and Bromsgrove giving a 15-minute frequency on most of that section of the route. On Friday 16th September 1983, Midland Red (West) Limited closed Bromsgrove depot and from this time most journeys of Service 144 were operated by Worcester depot. However, some journeys that had previously been operated by Bromsgrove depot passed to Kidderminster depot, but these were mostly short-working journeys that started or finished in Bromsgrove or Marlbrook.
The original Service 144 had been fully converted to one-man operation by MROC in October 1976, and from this time all journeys were operated using Leyland National singe-deck buses, although there were still a number of Leyland Leopard dual-purpose buses in the fleet so I imagine some of those found their way on to the 144 at times. Midland Red (West) Limited was owned by National Bus Company (NBC) throughout this period and vehicle livery was NBC “Poppy Red” with a white band above the windows to show the NBC logo and “Midland Red West” company name, although adoption of the word “West” was a bit slow so initially many vehicles still just showed the name “Midland Red”.
MROC had introduced their “Severnlink” MAP scheme on Saturday 13th January 1979, and vehicles operated on Service 144 operated with Severnlink branding shown in the white band above the windows. The branding was also used on ticketing and timetables, and this was initially continued by Midland Red (West) Limited but was phased out from July 1984.
|August||1986||Birmingham ↔ Bromsgrove ↔ Worcester|
On Monday 22nd December 1986, the business and operations of Midland Red (West) Limited were privatised when they were sold by the National Bus Company (NBC) to a team of managers led by the late Mr Ken Mills. The newly privatised company was known as Midland Red West Limited (without brackets around the word “West”) and a new company livery was introduced of Ayre's Red and Off-White, with a Wyvern logo. The NBC logo was quickly removed from all vehicles and the “Poppy Red” livery was phased out over the next few years.
Midland Red Coaches Limited became part of Midland Red West at the same time, and with that company came the lease of Birmingham (Digbeth) depot. A small number of journeys were operated from there, although there were strong demands on Digbeth for Birmingham and Black Country services so these were mostly only short-working journeys between Birmingham and Bromsgrove, with the large majority of working remaining with Worcester depot. At times, Redditch depot also operated off-peak short-working journeys.
The majority of journeys continued to be operated using Leyland National single-deck buses, but certain off-peak journeys were interworked with the X41–X44 group of “Motorway Express” services between Birmingham and The Malverns, so were operated using Leyland Leopard coaches or dual-purpose buses.
On Sunday 1st September 1996, Service 144 was once again extended to provide a direct link between Birmingham and The Malverns, but only on Sundays. The Sunday extension to the service ran over the same route as Service 44, but then continued past Great Malvern to British Camp. From Sunday 29th June 1997, a connection was available with Service 244 operated by Boomerang Bus Company (Warner) of Tewkesbury to provide links to Rye Cross and Ledbury.
1 Certain journeys continued to Great Malvern or British Camp on Sundays only.
|September||1991||Birmingham ↔ Bromsgrove ↔ Worcester|
Service 144 had remained largely unchanged while operated by Midland Red West. However, on Sunday 20th June 1999, shortly after the company became First Midland Red Buses Limited, the Birmingham Bull Ring Bus Station was closed and the terminus moved to Smallbrook Queensway.
From 2004, First Midland Red Buses Limited made a series of changes to Service 144. The first of these came on Sunday 1st February 2004 when the Sundays only extension to The Malverns was withdrawn with all Sunday journeys once again terminating at Worcester. The section of the route between Worcester and The Malverns was replaced by additional Service 44 journeys.
On Sunday 18th April 2004, First Midland Red re-routed Service 144 in Bromsgrove to run through Catshill, running via Stourbridge Road, Meadow Road and Golden Cross Lane, with Birmingham Road no longer being served. On Sunday 4th September 2005, the frequency was increased to run every 20-minutes in each direction, with short-working journeys between Worcester and Droitwich Spa only as Service 244 from Tuesday 1st September 2009.
The frequency of Service 144 was increased to run every 15-minutes in each direction between Worcester, Droitwich Spa, Bromsgrove, and Catshill on Monday 6th September 2010, with every second journey continuing to Birmingham with a 30-minute frequency on that section of the route. Service 244 between Worcester and Droitwich Spa was withdrawn at this time.
The short-working journeys that terminated at Catshill additionally served the Princess of Wales Hospital grounds in Bromsgrove. From Monday 3rd June 2013 these short journeys were renumbered to Service 144A and also operated via the grounds of Webbs Garden Centre near Wychbold.
From September 2014, certain journeys of Service 144A were extended to Halesowen as Service 147, but this was short-lived and Service 147 was withdrawn on Sunday 10th April 2016. From the same time, Service 144A no longer ran via the Princess of Wales Hospital when all journeys were diverted via Broad Street.
From Sunday 4th September 2016, First Midland Red Buses Limited changed the bus stops served in Birmingham, with some historic but lightly used stops being removed, and a few new stops being added.
1 Certain journeys continued to Great Malvern or British Camp on Sundays only.
2 Short-working journeys start/finish at Green Lane, Catshill, and run via Princess of Wales Hospital grounds. These journeys are renumbered to Service 144A from 3rd June 2013.
|September||2009||Birmingham ↔ Bromsgrove ↔ Worcester|
|September||2015||Birmingham ↔ Bromsgrove ↔ Worcester|
|April||2016||Birmingham ↔ Bromsgrove ↔ Worcester|
On Saturday 9th June 2018, at a launch event in Birmingham City Center, First Midland Red Buses Limited re-branded their historic Service 144 to “Salt Road”, and stated that the route number 144 would be phased out. The name of Salt Road was chosen in recognition of the route used since Roman times to transport salt from the brine springs at Droitwich Spa to the Roman Market Town at Worcester to the south, and to Metchley Fort (near modern-day Edgbaston) to the north.
The announcement about the phasing out of the route number was not very popular with either staff or enthusiasts, and even representatives of Centro expressed concerns that their road-side route information would not work with route numbers longer than four digits. It is unclear if First Midland Red still intend to phase out the route number, but over two years later the historic 144 number is still in use.
As part of the re-brand to “Salt Road”, First Midlands moved a number of Volvo single-deck buses to First Midland Red's Worcester depot, and these were refurbished inside and out, receiving an overall green livery with Salt Road branding. The following year, the buses were all named after Roman Goddesses.
Shortly after the buses were named, Service 144 we cut back, with the Birmingham to Bromsgrove section of the route now only running every hour.