I lived in the Shropshire New Town of Telford from 1977-1985 and developed very much a love/hate relationship with the place, as I’m very much an urban creature and the Telford of that period was far from my idea of urban! In fact, I remember during English Literature lessons during my fourth year at the Abraham Darby school (more on that name in a bit!), we were studying the decidedly rural novels of Thomas Hardy (in my opinion the most boring author ever to exist! Sorry literary fans but I really wasn’t impressed!) our teacher Mr Caser expressed the opinion that Telford was neither rural nor urban but possessed the disadvantages of both! His words and, at the time, my feelings!
A bit of background! Like most of Shropshire, the area that would become Telford was predominantly rural, although ironically, the south western corner of the area was actually the birthplace of the industrial revolution, where the industrialisation of iron smelting was perfected in Coalbrookdale by the Quaker Abraham Darby (yep, my school was named after him, although there was actually four Abraham Darby’s, the later three carrying on the work of the original. My school’s other claim to fame was that, in the days when it was known as Madeley Modern and was half the size I would knew it to be, it had a somewhat prim and proper art teacher by the name of……Mary Whitehouse!) The most visible demonstration of this in the area was the first bridge to be built solely with iron, constructed across the River Severn, where it would be ultimately be surrounded by the village that was named after it, Ironbridge! In time, the local resources that had caused the establishment of industry became exhausted and the industry moved to other areas such as the Black Country, allowing the Ironbridge area to revert to it’s rural status. Now, many of the sites are museums which I visited when learning all about the industrial revolution at school, these being the days before the National curriculum when schools could, to a degree, choose what they taught us kids and local history was a big feature (at our school anyhow!)
The other “local” subject that my school’s Humanities Department taught us was the development of the New Towns. I remember the introduction to this subject in the second year really well! We were told that the industrial revolution (neatly linking into the birthplace subject) created quickly built industrial towns, with people living very close to the factories they worked in “very badly” built houses. Most of these houses were demolished in slum clearance programmes from the thirties onwards, which saw the construction of the suburbs, a process helped by the development of tram and bus services. But after the Second World War, planners decided that, to cope with an ever increasing population, a series of New Town’s would be constructed. These would be developed with industry and housing segregated from each other, all in pleasant, tree lined surroundings, with plenty of green spaces for the residents to enjoy! Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? To a degree, I suppose it was!
Telford (named after highways and canal builder Thomas Telford) was one of these, although the original intended name was Dawley New Town, after the large village that was roughly at it’s centre! Most of the new housing estates to be constructed would be to the south of the town, as the north side was already pretty urbanised, with the market town of Wellington to the west and the urban area heading eastwards, a triangle of urban development being formed between two of the main roads out of Wellington, the Trench Road to Hadley & Donnington (home of a large Central Ordinance Depot, which was responsible for a lot of the urban development in the area) and the A5 Watling Street to Oakengates. This is where the bus industry comes in, as the twenties saw this area served by a plethora of small, independent operators, some of whom were only one man bands, whilst others would grow larger, often by acquisition. Competition was intense, not only with each other but also with the large and growing, British Electric Traction subsidiary Midland Red (more on them latter), especially on the two main road routes. With the 1930 Road Traffic Act looming on the horizon, bringing regulation to the industry, the independents decided to work together to protect their licences!
The Shropshire Bus Association (SOA) was formed and two rotas were created, Donnington for the Trench Road and Wrockwardine for the Oakengates. Each operator was allocated shares in the rota (the number of shares depending on the size of the existing operations) and a firm of accountants was employed to devise a rota, which would see each duty allocated to a share per week, so for example, operator one, would operate duty one on one day, then operator two the next and so on. This rather complex system worked! Gradually, the larger operators took over the one man bands and increased their share on the rota. Midland Red originally wasn’t part of the rota but operated services alongside it (899/900 on Wrockwardine, 913/914/915 on Donnington) so, despite the regulated timetable, the high frequency meant that competition was quite intense!
Away from the two rota served main roads, various independents built up their own services. The Donnington & Oakengates ends of the rota routes were linked together by various services operated by H Brown of Donnington Wood, who also had shares on the Donnington rota. Three independents also reached as far south of Dawley, with two operators running two different services to Oakengates-Hoggins & Smiths Britannia, alongside Ashley’s of Dawley, who ran to Wellington via Overdale. Hoggins also operated Sunday Hospital services, to the various Shrewsbury Hospitals and the New Cross & Royal Hospitals in Wolverhampton. More irregular rural work constituted H Brown’s Wellington-Humbers Roundabout via Preston service, as well as two market day services, on Wednesdays from Oakengates-Market Drayton and on Fridays from Hinstock to Newport, whilst Ashleys ran a Thursday only service from the village of Cressage into Wellington.
Midland Red first served the area in 1922, with a service running along the A5 from Shrewsbury-Wellington, being run from the garage in the county town. A garage in Wellington opened on 9th July 1926. Expansion saw the original Mansell Road garage closed and replaced by a larger garage in Chorlton Street. This was totally rebuilt with a larger still structure opening in September 1953. This served the area well, not closing until Arriva opened a replacement garage on the Stafford Park industrial estate on 15th April 2012! The Shrewsbury service was extended across Wellington in two directions. One headed up the Trench Road through Donnington and onto Newport, eventually reaching the village of Edgmond. This route would become the 917. The other leg headed to Wolverhampton via Oakengates, Shifnal & Albrighton. I’m unsure of the number this route carried in the twenties but, in 1930, it was absorbed into what was Midland Red’s longest stage carriage service, the X96 from Shrewsbury-Northampton via Wellington, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Birmingham, Coventry & Rugby. For many years, three journeys a day operated throughout on this mammoth service, operated by three garages, Shrewsbury, Digbeth (Birmingham) & Rugby. Wellington’s participation in the X96 only consisted of duplicates when needed, though a few shorts between Wellington & Wolverhampton were operated by the garage, numbered 895. Whilst the X96 remained at it’s three times a day frequency until May 1974 (more on that latter), with a minimum fare being charged on sections where the route ran alongside more local services, the 917 gradually built up to an hourly service, with certain journeys extended beyond Edgmond to the village of Tibberton. It was operated jointly by Shrewsbury & Wellington garages.
Midland Red developed other services from Wellington, consisting of local services to compete with the independents which, once the 1930 Road Traffic Act bought regulation to the industry, had to work at an integrated frequency with the SOA independents, though in practice, that frequency was so high that they were effectively still in competition with each other! The other main corridor out of Wellington was the main road to Dawley, exclusively served by Midland Red and distinctly more rural than the two SOA rota corridors. The main service along here became the 909 to Bridgnorth and, ultimately Kidderminster until the early seventies, running via Dawley, Madeley, Ironbridge & Broseley. Short workings of this were the 897 to Ironbridge and 898 to Madeley. The other main trunk via Dawley was the 904 to Much Wenlock, which ran via Horsehay & Coalbrookdale between Dawley & Ironbridge before following the 909 to Broseley where they split to reach their ultimate destinations. Services 920 & 921 also followed this corridor, serving the more local areas around Dawley.
Less regular rural routes were the 941 to Little Wenlock as well as a less frequent but slightly more direct service to Bridgnorth, in the form of the 919 via Sutton Madoc & Norton, along the main A442. There was also a group of routes to the north of Wellington, through Admaston and onto the villages beyond, like the 922 to High Ercall & Ellerdine Heath. Midland Red also developed a small network of W prefixed Wellington Town services, the W prefix being introduced on 30th June 1947. Although Wellington only ran duplicates on the X96, the garage did participate in other services to Wolverhampton. In 1949, Midland Red took over Ironbridge based independent Carter, which ran a market day service from Ironbridge-Wolverhampton. This was expanded into daily service 892, with some journeys linked with Shrewsbury Garage’s service from Ironbridge-Shrewsbury via Buildwas, these journeys becoming 893. Another, rather restricted service started in the late fities, this being the 891 from Wellington-Wolverhampton. This differed from the X96/895 route between Shifnal & Albrighton by serving Tong & Cosford, villages mainly served by Wolverhampton Corporation’s 49 group of services, and was hence heavily restricted.
This then, was basically the area’s bus network before the New Town came into being. The late sixties would begin a period of rapid change in connection with the construction of the New Town’s estates. The first major change took place on 2nd September 1967 and saw the introduction of a group of Limited Stop services that would replace the Wolverhampton services and supplement the X96 which, itself would change from it’s Minimum Fare status to Limited Stop on the sections where the route was also covered by local services. Whilst the X96 itself would remain crew operated for the time being (at that time using LS20 Willowbrook bodied Leyland Leopards & BMMO S21 “semi coaches”) , the new services would be one man operated, eventually using brand new Dual Purpose BMMO S22’s from 1968 onwards.
The new routes consisted of the X93, operated by Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury Garages, which basically replaced the 893 from Shrewsbury-Wolverhampton via Ironbridge, then carried onto Birmingham via the X96 route through Dudley. The other main new route was the Wellington operated X94, which followed the route of the 904 from Wellington-Ironbridge via Dawley & Coalbrookdale before following the X93 (basically absorbing the 892) to Birmingham, then continuing onwards along the X96 route to Coventry. Finally, filling in a gap to create a combined hourly service from Birmingham-Telford, was the X95, basically a short of the X96 from Coventry-Wellington (which would ultimately take that number), which replaced the 895, these odd trips being operated by Wellington.
The X93 & X94 served the new towns first two estates, Sutton Hill and Woodside, which were built either side of the village of Madeley, which was designated the District Centre. These estates would also be served by more local services. Sutton Hill was served by the 942 from Wellington via Arleston (a council estate on the edge of Wellington, with the 942 absorbing most of local route W42), Dawley & Madeley. The larger estate of Woodside, meanwhile, would be served by the rerouting of certain 897 journeys via the estate, these being numbered 898 (the Madeley shorts using this number having disappeared by this time). Eventually, all 897’s would be rerouted as 898’s, seeing the former service disappear. Another, more short lived service would be the extension of the 920 (Wellington-Little Dawley via Dawley) through Doseley & Lightmoor onto Woodside. Obviously, this service was unsuccessful as it didn’t last, the whole service being withdrawn in the early seventies.
The new decade saw construction begin on more new estates, with the 942 being rerouted around the first of these, Brookside, but other services to these estates would be influenced by the construction of the new Telford Town Centre, a large shopping centre near the small village of Priorslee, complete with purpose built Bus Station (though car parking received a higher priority) and a Carrefour Hypermarket.
Just before it’s construction, Midland Red withdrew the 938 (Wellington-Coalport) a service introduced to replace the Wellington-Coalport East branch line. But the company quickly reinstated the route when they realised that it was actually the only bus service to traverse the country lanes where the Town Centre was about to be built! This gave Midland Red the prime rights to serve the new centre. The 938 soon became the 948, the final section of the route being diverted away from Coalport to terminate at Sutton Hill.
The new centre opened in 1973, featuring a Bus Station and, despite Midland Red having the licensing rights to serve it, agreements were made for the independents to also serve it. The two Oakengates-Dawley services (Smiths Britannia’s 41 & Hoggins 51) were rerouted to serve the Town Centre, as was Ashley’s 31 from Wellington-Dawley. Extensions to the Town Centre were also made to certain journeys on the SOA’s Wrockwardine rota, as well as H Brown’s Donnington-Oakengates services (these being numbered in a D prefixed series and also included a new direct Donnington-Town Centre service via St Georges). An operator new to stage carriage service was Archways of Shifnal, who took advantage of the fact that Midland Red failed to reroute the X96 to serve the new centre to gain a licence for the Shifnal flyer from its home town to the Town Centre, this being the first bus service to serve Shifnal’s Admirals Estate. Midland Red, meanwhile split the 948 at the Town Centre, with the Sutton Hill section becoming the 947, whilst a new 946 ran from the Town Centre-Ironbridge via Dawley, Brookside, Madeley & Woodside.
1974 would see Midland Red’s presence in the town strengthen when it purchased independents Coopers & Hoggins. The Coopers purchase gave Midland Red a presence on the SOA rota, although the company would use numbers in it’s own series for the journeys it would operate (for example, the new Town Centre services would become the 949 & 950), whilst Hoggins 51 was absorbed into an extended 946 to Oakengates. At the same time, the 947 & 948 were re-joined together, now known as the 947, which was also rerouted via the new estates at Stirchley, Randley & Hollinswood. The later estate was one of two that were close to the Town Centre, with the other, at Malinslee, (named after a small hamlet that had a station on the Coalport branch) being served by the 946. Midland Red also took over Hoggins Hospital services, the Wolverhampton service becoming the 894 and the two Shrewsbury runs the 923 & 924. Midland Red also took over some buses from both operators, mostly Ford and Bedford coaches which didn’t last long with Midland Red. Hoggins though, had a Plaxton Derwent bodied Ford service which the company had bought new in April 1972. This was virtually identical (though featuring a red, as opposed to green interior) to the 120 buses bought by Midland Red between 1970 & 1972, several of which were allocated to Wellington. The Hoggins bus (XUX 417K, given Midland Red fleet number 2181) was kept by the company but, perhaps surprisingly, was never allocated to Wellington, being sent to Heath Hayes (ex Harper Brothers Garage), then with spells at Kidderminster & Redditch before it’s 1979 withdrawal, though it returned to the Telford area when bought by local independent Britannia International Travel, more of which in Part Two.
May 1974 saw major changes to the Limited Stop services. The X93 & X94 were both withdrawn, with the 893 reinstated as a replacement for the X93, with hourly shorts to Ironbridge covering the gap left by the X94’s demise, plus catering for new demand in the new town, with Brookside also added to the route. The 893 was also rerouted via the former 891 route through Cosford & Tong, replacing the short lived 882 & 883, taken over from West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive in December 1973 (when they were ex Wolverhamton Corporations 39 & 49. The peak 884 to Donnington-not the Telford example but a small hamlet to the north of Albrighton and previously Wolverhampton’s 89-survivied until November 1979). The 891, meanwhile, was rerouted via the former 893 (and X96 etc) route, direct from Albrighton-Shifnal. With hourly shorts to Albrighton (making a half hourly service with the 893) the 891 ran every two hours through to Shifnal, Telford Town Centre, Oakengates & Wellington before supplementing Wellington Town services W47 & W48 to Dothill & Admaston to the north of the market town. The 891 was operated by Cradley Heath Garage, which was re-opened in December 1973 to cover the ex Wolverhampton routes out of the county boundary, that Midland Red had taken over as part of the deal to sell it’s West Midlands based routes to WMPTE.
The X96, meanwhile, was rerouted via the A5 & M6 in lieu of Wolverhampton. The route no longer extended to Northampton (replaced by 595 & 597) but interworked at Coventry with the new X66 to Leicester via Lutterworth & the M1, with Leicester being shown as the ultimate destination (Shrewsbury in the reverse) and with passengers being able to travel throughout. The route through Telford was also revised, to give maximum coverage of the new town, running from Shifnal (which was the first stop from Birmingham!) calling at Halesfield Industrial Estate, Sutton Hill, Madeley, Brookside (actually the Britannia stop in the much older Aquaduct Village, just to the south of the estate) and Dawley before re-joining the original route at Wellington and heading onwards to Shrewsbury with one further stop, in the village of Atcham. The revised service ran every two hours, with buses supplied by Shrewsbury, Digbeth & Leicester (Southgates) Garages.
This was basically the Telford bus scene when my family moved there in June 1977. My Parents had decided that a fresh start would be good for the family and, as my Mom’s cousin and her husband and son already lived on Woodside, we made enquiries about getting a house in the Town. I remember going with my Mom to Malinslee House, the main offices of Telford Development Corporation, the government body set up to develop Telford, including building and renting out houses on the various estates. This was near the Town Centre and we travelled there and back on Marshall bodied Leyland Leopards on the 891. I must admit, I was amazed at the sight of all the independents operating from the Bus Station, which compensated for the lack of double deckers that the area had-several low bridges plague the area and, even though Midland Red’s Wellington garage was constructed with sufficient headroom, no double deckers were allocated until much latter!
We got a house on Woodside-which wasn’t served by the interesting independents!-and I must confess, after being used to the frequent buses of the West Midlands, the Telford bus network was a bit of a culture shock, especially the comparatively high fares! In contrast to most of the people I knew back in Smethwick, where car ownership was then low, Telford seemed to be a place where having a car was deemed essential, rather awkward, as we hadn’t got one! Nevertheless, we managed, though mostly with a great deal of shanks pony! Buses were used to occasionally reach the Town Centre on the 946 or Wellington on the 898-a mixture of Plaxton bodied Ford’s, older BMMO S17 & S23 saloons as well as dual purpose Willowbrook & Marshall bodied Leyland Leopards (class’s S24, S27 & S28) though the later were more commonly used on the 893 to Wolverhampton, which we used fairly often to visit relatives back in Smethwick, catching the train from Wolverhampton onto Smethwick Rolfe Street. I fondly remember becoming interested in railways during the half hour waits we had on Wolverhampton station for the then hourly Birmingham stopper. The other method for reaching my Grand Parents and others, involved walking to Madeley and catching the X96 to Birmingham. This was mostly operated by newer, Plaxton bodied Leyland Leopards, although the Marshalls were regular stand in’s. As time passed, it was a trip that I was allowed to do by myself! Not long after our move, the Digbeth workings would pass to Shrewsbury & Leicester.
The independents may not have run stage carriage to Woodside but nearby was local coach operator Elcocks, who ran a school service to my school before it was cut after my first term! This brief period saw me reaching school on some very elderly Bedfords! Elcocks also operated a free Park & Ride service at summer weekends from a car park in Madeley around the various Ironbridge Gorge Museum’s, sponsored by the museum’s, which we used quite frequently in our first two years there. A descendent of this service is now operated by Arriva.
Other, peak only services operating around Woodside (the buses all served the Perimeter Road, which encircled the estate, with various cul de sacs heading in from it, designed to create a traffic free environment within the estate itself), these being the 895/896 circular, which operated from Wellington-Ironbridge via the 898 route, then back to Wellington via the 904 through Coalbrookdale or vice versa and the A93 works service to Halesfield, which my Dad sometimes used to reach his new job.
This then, was basically the Telford bus scene for the first year that we lived there. There was one change during that first year, wben new service 948 was introduced from Town Centre-Brookside to supplement the 947 in serving the growing Stirchley, Randley & Hollinswood Estates.
But April 1st 1978 would see Midland Red’s Market Analysis Project come to Telford, with the network receiving the local fleetname Tellus. This would also involve the majority of the independent operators selling their stage operations to Midland Red and the arrival of Wellington Garage’s first Leyland Nationals. Change was on it’s way!