The Early Days
The preservation of old buses and coaches in the Midlands began in 1964. The veterans were kept in factory and farm yards, wherever a kindly soul could be found. Unfortunately, kindly souls would move on or local authorities turn unfriendly and the search would begin again for another home. Every so often ideas ran out and a vintage bus, priceless today, would have to be scrapped. The Birmingham Omnibus Preservation Society, formed in 1973, originally had to use such sites for its vehicles but realised it was no way to carry on.
Restructuring Brings Real Progress
Following two years of hard work, the society became in November 1977 a legal trust, known as the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Trust, which was soon accepted as a registered charity by the Charity Commissioners.
In its new form, the Trust was able to conclude its most important move forward yet. This was the acquisition of a 1.17 acre site at Wythall to be developed as the 'Midland Bus Museum'. The Trust took possession of the land on 1st February 1978 and from this totally derelict site grew the Transport Museum of today.
The first bus to attempt to reach the site got bogged down in the mud on the entrance 'drive'. There was plenty of rubble about and, with the minimum of equipment but plenty of enthusiasm, volunteers basically laid a roadway by hand. A hard area on the site was similarly constructed for the buses to stand on. More rubble had to be laid before each vehicle could be received!
Dreams really began to come true in June 1980 when the first stage of the first building was completed. Doors and a solid base may have been missing but a dozen buses - including double-deckers - had a roof over their heads. The site was open for public inspection for the first time in September 1980 when a Preview Day was held.
Since then it has been steady progress. At first all efforts were concentrated into the Museum buildings. It was not sensible to restore vehicles and then keep them outdoors! It was clear that the Museum meant business and it began to attract grants. In 1984 the first building was improved and trebled in size with half the cost being covered by a generous grant from the now defunct West Midlands County Council. Other grants have been received from the Museums and Galleries Commission, the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, Bromsgrove District Council, and Industry. The Museum project also benefitted considerably from the Manpower Services Commission Community Programme Scheme for the long term unemployed and its Employee Training successor. We are extremely grateful for these sources of help and are most pleased to acknowledge them.
With the vehicles reasonably accommodated, resources were next directed towards a small exhibits hall. This is part of the educational role of the Museum and eventually a library and archive will be featured at Wythall. A disused single storey building was purchased and reconstructed at the Museum by volunteers early in 1985. The much appreciated cafeteria also took up residence in this building, having previously been accommodated in an old Midland Red bus bought for spares.
During the 1990's the museum site was expanded to 3.5 acres, with a further large display hall being erected. This superb building was constructed with the financial assistance of Scania whose contribution is commemorated in the name of the hall. Attached is a smaller hall for the Museum's collection of battery electric road vehicles
A substantial car park was opened in 1995, whilst in the following year, a miniature, passenger carrying, railway began operation around part of the museum grounds.
Since the millennium, the Museum has concentrated on improving the appearance of the vehicle collection. Many buses have been repainted, including accurate signwriting. This may seem strange to owners of smaller vehicles where conservation of the existing paintwork is important. Buses, however, are repainted every three years or so, often with updating of livery - sometimes a complete change of appearance. There is, therefore, no original paint to conserve. Furthermore buses are clad in panels covered by panel strips. It is essential that these panel joints are kept watertight and repainting helps in this respect.
In 2005 a programme of improvements at the Museum was supported by the award from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £911,920, bringing the total project to over a million pounds.
The project was completed on time and within budget, supported by a terrific amount of volunteer work from our members. The new hall was fully open to visitors for the first time on May 6th 2007.
A further grant from the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) enabled refurbishments to the cafe to be carried out in time for the start of the 2007 season.