Midland Red: History of the bus in Banbury

Service 514 rounds the Cross before heading for Bourton and Claydon NNL-190603-170710001
Service 514 rounds the Cross before heading for Bourton and Claydon NNL-190603-170710001

In the Birmingham Gazette for September 12 1949, Derick Goodman contributed a fascinating article entitled Midland Red: Fifty years of movement. It traced the history of The Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited from when they commenced a horse bus service in 1899.

In October 1919 Banbury was one of six towns to become a company outpost when temporary headquarters were found at the Cherwell works, near Canal Street, followed in 1920 by the construction of a permanent garage.

On November 15, 1919 the mayor and Corporation of Banbury were wined and dined by the bus company. Especially perceptive were some remarks made by RJ Howley, Midland Motor Omnibus chairman. He concluded his observations with the forecast that ‘business around Banbury can be developed to an extent which perhaps none of you at present anticipate’.

An interesting feature recorded by Goodman is that since 1924 Midland Red had been the only omnibus company in Britain to design and manufacture its own buses for its own use according to its particular requirements. In that same year all the services operated by their fleet were made known by means of an attractive booklet with a two-page map showing routes fanning out from Banbury and their destination villages and a fare structure which reflected availability of discount tickets.

The earliest buses of the 1920s were promoted as having distinctive characteristics – pneumatic tyres, high seating capacity, lightweight construction and above all exceptional reliability.

These buses connected the market town with most Banburyshire villages. As for urban services these developed as suburbs took shape and grew. B1 went to Easington and the B3 to Neithrop.

By the 1930s some routes from Banbury had a special and seasonal popularity due to the fact comparatively few people had cars. During the summer and on Sundays, charabancs ran to Edge Hill. An evening service to Chipping Norton made it possible to go for a drink in Bloxham or at the Masons Arms beyond South Newington.

Banbury Fair was an occasion for service specials. These brought people in from the villages and took them home at set times. Certain Christmas attractions encouraged extra provision by Midland Red.

Works specials were busy especially those destined for the Northern Aluminium Company and Alcan. These served all shifts even people who clocked in at 5am.

Periodically new services were introduced which had special significance for the Banbury area. In February 1950, B14 route was opened up linking Banbury with Overthorpe via Grimsbury’s the Causeway. Five buses ran each way on Thursdays and Saturdays but equally significant was a chance for people to attend first house at the cinemas and then go home on the 8.21pm service. Twenty-six years later Banbury became a stopping point on an X59 service which linked Oxford and Coventry.

It was about this same time Leyland Nationals were introduced into North Oxfordshire; a far cry from those ground-breaking vehicles of the early years. These nationals were a joint development by Leyland and the National Bus Company and they replaced the double-deckers that had been a familiar sight in Banbury since the early 1960s.

The year 1971 saw the withdrawal of buses from some rural destinations. Williamscott, Upper Wardington, Wardington and Chipping Warden disappeared from the published timetables.

In the 1930s drivers had to be aged at least 25 whereas the collection of fares could be carried out by over 21s. At the outset of the 70s KV Sheasby of West Street Grimsbury retired from the Midland Red company after 46 years. He received an award courtesy of the mayor, councillor Heath who remarked, ‘Banbury is exceedingly pleased and proud to have bus crews with such fine records’. My thanks to Eddie Turvey for the photo.