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A Century of Transport - Stratford Blue
Midland Red took over many smaller bus operators in its growth to become England's largest bus company. A few were maintained as subsidiaries for a short time but one, Stratford-upon-Avon Blue Motors, retained its separate identity from 1935 until the first day of 1971 when it was finally absorbed into the parent company. By this time, the Stratford Blue fleet of around 40 buses ran not only town services and country routes into the rural hinterland but also longer services as far as Birmingham, Cheltenham and Oxford.
Stratford Blue exhibited negligible evidence of its Midland Red parentage. None of the vehicles purchased new were built by Midland Red and it retained a smart blue and cream livery, with the double-deckers topped off by gleaming silver painted roofs until the mid-1960s.
Stratford Blue fleet renewals until 1946 took the form of secondhand buses, largely Tilling-Stevens vehicles. Replacement of the old Tilling-Stevens buses came in 1948-50 with a fleet of new Leylands, in the form of PS1 and PS2 single-deckers and PD2 double-deckers.
The Leyland single-deckers unfortunately became obsolete as manufacturers developed underfloor-engined single-deckers which, in due course, proved much more suitable for driver only operation, a vital economy on rural routes as the 1960s opened. The PS1 models were sold to new owners, one (GUE 247) eventually finding its way to the Transport Museum, Wythall. The PS2 chassis with their big O600 engines were generously engineered and, in 1961, one received a new double-deck body by Roe. The builder chose to use body parts intended for the AEC Bridgemaster so the proportions could have been better. Setting aside appearance, the experiment was successful and four more PS2 Tigers re-entered service in 1963 with double-deck bodies, this time by Northern Counties and much better looking. One of the Northern Counties rebuilds, JUE 349, is preserved at Wythall.
Replacements for the PS1s and PS2s in the single-deck fleet were Leyland Tiger Cubs, delivered in three batches between 1959 and 1962. The bodies were built by Willowbrook, Park Royal and Marshall to standard BET specification.
BET was then the owners of half the company buses in England and Wales, including Midland Red and thus Stratford Blue. BET favoured keeping small subsidiary bus companies to give managers experience before moving on to a larger company. Stratford Blue did not survive long after BET sold its bus interests to the state and was absorbed by parent company Midland Red on 1st January 1971.
Stratford Blue built up a fleet of fifteen 73-seat Leyland PD3 Titans between 1960 and 1966. Eleven had Willowbrook bodies, the other four being bodied by Northern Counties. All fifteen were sold to a very grateful Isle of Man Road Services soon after the 1971 Midland Red takeover.
Stratford Blue also kept a small fleet of coaches, usually Leylands but including for a time a Bedford and a Ford.
The last double-deckers received by Stratford Blue were three Leyland Atlanteans with Northern Counties bodies, introducing rear engines to the fleet. The trio would be highly non-standard in the Midland Red fleet and were quickly sold in 1971 to City of Oxford Motor Services. By the end of 1972 Midland Red had sold virtually all Stratford Blue's fine Leylands, plus a batch of Leyland Panther rear-engined single-deckers delivered around the time of takeover.
The fullest history of Stratford's buses is 'Stratford Blue' by Robert L. Telfer, published in 2003 by Tempus Publishing Ltd., The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 2QG, England.
©Copyright 2020 Malcolm Keeley for the Transport Museum, Chapel Lane, Wythall, Worcestershire B47 6JA, England.
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