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 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 (later renumbered to Service 115, and then Service 130). 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 on Saturday 7th May 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
200Long Distance services (unchanged)
234Bromsgrove and Redditch
259Worcester, Malvern and Evesham
380Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon
430Rugby and Coventry
504Coalville and Ashby
554Atherstone and Tamworth
572Rugeley, Cannock and Stafford
620Oakengates and Wellington

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. In early 1928, the network was again renumbered, mostly into the same geographical groups as before but with each group getting a larger allocation of number.

The exact date of the renumbering varies depending on what source material your read, but all agree it took place between Sunday 1st January 1928, and Saturday 11th February 1928. It is possible the changed was phased-in with some areas getting their new route numbers before others.

route number100and aboveBirmingham and Black Country
200Long Distance and Coach services (unchanged)
318Bromsgrove and Redditch
352Worcester, Malvern and Evesham
513Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon
576Rugby and Coventry
601Leicester, Coalville and Ashby
776Atherstone and Tamworth
821Rugeley, Cannock and Stafford
898Oakengates and Wellington

From the 1920s, and throughout the 1930s, newly built buses were fitted with three-digit stencil boxes for displaying route numbers. However, each vehicle was only allocated two examples of each digit and thus it was not possible to display route number that had three matching digits, such as “111”, “222”, etc. This fact had been overlooked in the 1925 renumbering, but when routes were again renumbered in 1928 these numbers were not used. As three-digit roller blinds became established this problem was reduced, but despite this no matching-digit route numbers were used until Saturday 25th November 1961, about a year after the last pre-war bus was withdrawn, when new Service 111 was introduced for revised services in Sutton Coldfield.

As the network continued to expand the company again ran out of available route numbers. Within a few years, new routes in Hereford, for example, were using numbers that had been allocated to Neighbouring areas, such as Service 415 and Service 416 from the Worcester area allocation, and Service 479 from the Banbury area allocation.

Prefix Letters (pre-NBC)

On Friday 1st June 1928, as part of the Worcester Agreement, BMMO started operation of a new network of local bus services in the City of Worcester to replace the tram network, which fully closed from that date. The new bus 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, some new and some renumbered from existing networks, to use a prefix letter. This practice thus freed up more numbers in the main sequence, and many were immediately reused for new routes.

route numberA1and aboveAustin Works ServicesJan 1934
A10Other Works Services1966
B1Banbury local servicesJul 1933
B20Bromsgrove local servicesSep 1952
B39*4Brierley Hill local serviceNov 1963
B80*1BirminghamOct 1939
B90Bridgenorth local servicesby 1961
C?Tamworth colliery services
C76Coalville local servicesc. 1938
D1Dudley local services
D50*5Droitwich Spa local servicesNov 1958
E1Evesham local servicesc. 1946
H1Hereford City local servicesc. 1933
H21Hinckley local servicesc. 1937
K1Kidderminster local services1932
K?Kenilworth local services
L1Leicester City local servicesby 1938
L41*3Leamington and Warwick local servicesOct 1937
M10*2Malvern local servicesJan 1935
N30Nuneaton local servicesc. 1938
O?Ordnance Factories serviceswartime only
R1Redditch local servicesc. 1939
R72Rugby local services
S1Shrewsbury local servicesc. 1936
S33Stourbridge local services1936
S?Solihull local services
S60Sutton Coldfield local servicesc. 1938
S77Stafford local servicesc. 1946
S?School Services in certain areas.
W1Worcester City local servicesJun 1928
W40Wellington local servicesc. 1946
X20*6Coach services and Express servicesFeb 1929
ME1Motorway Express servicesNov 1959

*1 From the end of trading on Saturday 30th September 1939, trams were withdrawn from the Dudley Road route between Birmingham and Dudley. A new network of bus routes were introduced to replace them, being operated jointly by Birmingham City Transport (BCT), and Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services). Surprisingly, when you consider BCT involvement, these new routes were given route numbers with a “B”-prefix, in common with BMMO's local area networks, however as part of the “Dudley Road agreement” they were treated as local routes by Birmingham Corporation and were therefore able to charge the same fares as equivalent local services. See Service B87 for more information about these routes.

*2 In the renumbering of early 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.

*3 On Sunday 30th June 1935, BMMO bought a controlling interest in Leamington and Warwick Transport Company Limited, which they operated as a subsidiary for just over two years. On Friday 1st October 1937, all of the subsidiary operations were absorbed by the parent company, and a new network of local services were introduced with “L”-prefix route numbers.

*4 Introduced on Monday 4th November 1963, Service B39 was the only Brierley Hill local bus route to carry a “B”-prefix route number. The route ran an infrequent timetable between Brierley Hill to Upper Pensnet Estate. Operation of this route passed to WMPTE on Monday 3rd December 1973, and was renumbered by them to Service 267 in 1975.

*5 Service D50 and Service D51 were introduced as local Droitwich Spa services on Saturday 29th November 1958, each running an hourly frequency on Saturdays only. These routes did not appear in future timetables, so it can only be assumed they were withdrawn or sold to another operator soon after introduction.

*6 Express Services (‘X’-prefix)

On Monday 25th February 1929, BMMO removed Long Distance and Coach service from the main route number sequence and rebranded them as “Express Services” with ‘X’-prefix route numbers. These new route numbers were not allocated in any meaningful sequence but, where practical, had numbers based on their existing number in the main sequence established the year before, so for example Service 200 became Service X20, and Service 196 became Service X96, etc. Because the coach services had been allocated numbers in their own sequence in 1925 (and unchanged in the 1928 sequence), these were all grouped together nicely in the range X20–X26, but other Express Services were numbered randomly between X68 and X99.

For the 1930 season, BMMO redefined their definition of an Express Service and removed all the long distance coach services, giving these routes a single letter. These were allocated in sequence so Service X20 became Service A, and Service X21 became Service B, etc. By the mid-1960s, BMMO had run out of letters so some coach routes used two letter, and the Motorway Express services to London introduced from 1963 used ‘ME’-prefix route numbers.

As new ‘X’-prefix Express Services were added, gaps in the sequence were filled so the numbering sequence eventually started at X1, but originally the lowest number in the sequence was X20. In 1966, BMMO again redefined their definition of an Express Service, and from this time ‘X’-prefix route numbers were only used for Limited Stop services. This resulted in some long distance routes that were not limited stop, such as Service X90 between Coventry, Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon, being renumbered back into the main sequence.

Prefix Letters (post-NBC)

This system of using prefix letters successful remained unchanged for many years. However, by the 1970s, BMMO was under the control of the National Bus Company (NBC) and the previously well-defined groups of route numbers started to get a little chaotic, especially when the VNP and MAP schemes were introduced by MROC in the late 1970s. In some areas, rural routes received prefix route numbers that corresponded to nearby local town networks, so for example, all rural routes in Herefordshire received “H”-prefix route number for the Hereford City local network. This required the Hereford network to use route numbers that had previously been allocated to the Hinckley network.

Use of “M”-prefix route numbers in Malvern came to an end with the closure of Malvern (Spring Lane) depot on Friday 1st October 1976. All local services were withdrawn and replaced with a new network operated by Worcester (Padmore Street) depot. However, “M”-prefix route numbers made a return to the town from Saturday 13th January 1979, with the introduction of the “Serverlink” MAP scheme, and this also included routes over the Malvern Hills into Ledbury. As Ledbury is in Herefordshire, route in the town operated by Hereford (Friars Street) depot already had “H”-prefix route number, so the town now had both “H”-prefix and “M”-prefix local route numbers at the same time. This situation was short-lived as almost all rural Herefordshire routes were withdrawn by the end of 1980, and the “H”-prefix numbers were once again restricted to the local City network.