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When Midland Red was king of the road in Stafford

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: July 20, 2014

  • WORKERS' BUS . . . Builders Fletchers purchased this bus for use by its workers.

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TUCKED away off Newport Road in Stafford is a thoroughfare labelled Pilgrim Place, and for more than 80 years the main enterprise on this tiny road served the public transport needs of the travelling public.

Pilgrim Place was the location of the Midland Red garage, from where its large fleet of buses conveyed people to and from Stafford from the day it opened in 1921 until the night of February 2, 1992.

On that night, fire ripped through the premises and destroyed all 20 vehicles garaged there.

And although a new depot was opened on Silkmore Lane a year later, the phoenix which rose from the ashes never seem to be the same again.

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Midland Red had its birth in Birmingham and the Black Country and was properly known as the Birmingham and Midland motor omnibus company (BMMO), with garages throughout the whole of the West Midlands.

Not surprisingly, the bright red colour of its fleet of vehicles manufactured by the company provided the nickname by which it was widely known by the millions of passengers carried in its lifetime.

Midland Red coaches had chassis designated SOS, abbreviations rumoured to stand for Shire’s Omnibus Specification, a reference to the company’s chief engineer L G Wyndham Shire, who first suggested the company should make its own vehicles.

In 1937, the original Pilgrim Place garage was extended and it was extensively rebuilt in 1962. By 1974, 64 vehicles were housed in the garage, which also served as headquarters for its 161 staff members.

Passengers may have believed that the Midland Red would go on forever, but nothing is certain in the commercial world and in 1977 the company’s various networks were localised, Midland Red buses being rebranded Chaserider - a reference to Cannock Chase.

Within four years, the company was divided into six new companies and the Stafford section became part of Midland Red North, taking in Shropshire, South Staffordshire and the northern West Midlands.

Over the years, familiar locations in the Stafford area were chosen for major picking-up spots by the old Midland Red buses including the Old Market Square, complete with its bus shelters, Pitcher Bank on Eastgate Street and the site adjacent to the town’s railway station, now a multi-storey car park.

Bus operators have had to adjust to what would be regarded as major inconveniences, such as the pedestrianisation of the main road through Stafford town centre and the consequent moves of major bus stops.

In recent years, bus services in Stafford have been operated by Arriva and although the days of the old Midland Red are now history, memories of the services provided are still recalled.

Midland Red buses were kings of the road; their successors have never quite reached that status in the regard of the diminished numbers of bus users.

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