The history of Stratford-upon-Avon Blue Motors Limited can be linked with the development of the Leamington and Warwick Tramways and Omnibus Company Limited, which was first registered on the 18th February 1880.
Just over a year later, on the 21st November 1881, the Company opened a horse tramway between the two towns, constructed under the Leamington Tramways Order of 1879.
In 1900 the BET acquired the controlling interest and, in 1902, changed the Company’s name to the Leamington and Warwick Electrical Company Limited.
It was intended to use the Company as an electrical supplier to consumers other than the tramways, and a power station was built at the Company’s tram depot at Emscote for this purpose.
The Warwick Tramways Order of 1900 (and the Leamington Tramways Order of 1901) provided for the electrification of the tramways, although it was not until February 1905 that work actually started.
The horse tramway was closed and a temporary service maintained by horse omnibus until the tramway re-opened on 12th July 1905.
Just prior to the opening of the new electric tramway, the Leamington Motor Omnibus Company Limited, owned by Lyon Clark, McNeill and Company of Leamington, appeared on the scene.
They commenced operations with a half-hourly service between Leamington and Warwick, using two double-deck Milnes-Daimler vehicles.
Shortly afterwards, a single-deck Milnes-Daimler bus with luggage accommodation on the roof began plying twice daily between Kenilworth and Stratford-upon-Avon. By the end of the year, however, the Company had ceased trading.
In March 1908, three Brush, open-top, double-deck, motor omnibuses were hired from the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO), finally being acquired by the Leamington Company in 1910.
The vehicles were subsequently converted to single-deck. By 1911 the bus fleet stood at five vehicles.
The British Automobile Traction Company Limited (BAT) acquired the motor omnibus section of the Company in November 1912 and later in the year the tramway section was sold to Balfour Beatty and Company Limited.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the fleet numbered nine vehicles, but several were requisitioned and the BAT decided to discontinue the omnibus services in the Leamington area, leaving the tramway system unopposed.
In 1927, however, a new company, trading as the Stratford-upon-Avon Motor Services, was granted a licence to operate between Stratford and Leamington in direct competition with the tramway.
In order to compete with this new threat the Leamington and Warwick Company initially reduced their fares and then, in February 1928, introduced their own buses along the route. These were four Tilling-Stevens vehicles hired from the Midland General Omnibus Company Limited.
In 1928 the Leamington and Warwick Traction Act proposed the abandonment of the tramway in favour of motorbuses, giving the Leamington and Warwick Electrical Company a monopoly of services.
As a consequence, on March 15th 1929, Stratford-upon-Avon Motor Services was purchased by the Leamington and Warwick Company, remaining as a separate operating concern until May 1931, when it was registered as a limited company under the name of Stratford-upon-Avon Blue Motors Limited.
At the same time the operating links with the Leamington and Warwick were severed and the new Stratford Blue Company began operations in its own right, although the Balfour Beatty Group held the majority shareholding.
The operating routes of the former Stratford-upon-Avon Motor Services had been registered in the new Company name as required by the 1930 Road Traffic Act and a new route from Cheltenham to Evesham was acquired.
The first major acquisition of the new Company was the purchase of the Reliance Bus Company of Bidford-upon-Avon on 6th June 1932, which brought with it four small vehicles, two Willowbrook-bodied Star VB4’s and two all-Guy OND’s.
The two Guy vehicles were immediately transferred to the Cheltenham and District Company.
Around this time the BMMO Company were also active in the area and it was necessary to reach an operating agreement to protect the Company’s services.
On the 10th September 1932 the BMMO withdrew from the Cheltenham to Evesham service in favour of pooling the receipts from the Stratford to Leamington and the Stratford to Shipston-on-Stour services.
Although the Stratford Blue Company tried out two demonstrators (an Albion Valiant PV70 with Harrington bodywork in 1932, and, in 1933, an AEC Regal 662, again with Harrington bodywork), finance for new vehicles was not forthcoming from the Balfour Beatty Group, and the fleet continued to be made up of second-hand vehicles.
In 1935 control passed into the hands of the British Electric Traction Group, with the purchase of the Company by the BMMO, although Stratford Blue continued to operate as a subsidiary for the next 35 years.
On the 1st January 1937 the Stratford Blue Company acquired a local competitor, Kineton Green Bus Services, which operated a fleet of eleven vehicles, although none were involved in the purchase.
The garage at Kineton, which had only been built in 1934, was also acquired, along with the services, which included a route into Banbury, expanding the Stratford Blue operating area.
The outbreak of World War II, in 1939, brought with it an increase in passenger traffic in the form of military personnel en route to local camps and in March 1940 the first double-decker was purchased.
Again this was a second-hand vehicle, an ex-City of Oxford Motor Services, 1931, AEC Regent. At the end of the war a joint service between Oxford and Stratford, with the City of Oxford Motor Services was introduced and extra vehicles were hired to cater for the increased traffic.
A change of policy in 1947, resulted in the ordering of new buses to be put into the hands of the Stratford Blue management and as a result eighteen new buses were ordered for delivery in 1948.
Eight were to be all-Leyland double-deck PD2/1’s, with the remainder being Northern Coach Builders bodied Leyland PS1’s. In 1950 a further twelve buses arrived and the previously elderly fleet began to take on a smart, new appearance.
In 1952 the parent company, the BMMO, raised further capital by the issue of 49,000 additional shares, and this provided for the further development of the Company.
The Stratford to Shipston-on-Stour service of Bennett of Ilmington was taken over in February 1953 and a slow, but steady expansion of the Company’s activities began.
Further vehicles were added to the fleet over the next few years. In 1954 two Burlingham-bodied Royal Tiger PSUC1/1’s (numbered 56 and 57) were purchased, in time this would become the ‘standard’ Stratford Blue single-decker with another 14 being subsequently purchased.
In 1956 three more PD2/12’s with Willowbrook bodies arrived, and, in 1960, the first 8-ft double-deckers arrived.
In 1962 the coach fleet of Warwickshire County Garage, of Stratford, was acquired, although only one of the three-strong fleet was actually operated by Stratford Blue.
The first, and only, rear-engined vehicles in the Stratford Blue fleet were three Leyland Atlantean PDR1/1’s with Northern Counties bodywork, which arrived in 1967.
In March 1969, the BET Group, which held the controlling interest in the BMMO, Stratford Blue’s parent company, decided to sell its passenger transport interests to the National Bus Company (NBC).
The NBC was pre-occupied with establishing its corporate identity and livery throughout the organisation and it was felt that the smaller companies, including Stratford Blue, would better serve the NBC’s interests as part of a larger operation.
In consequence of this, a decision was made to absorb the Stratford Blue Company into the operations of the parent BMMO Company, and, on 1st January 1971, the BMMO took over all the vehicles and services of Stratford Blue, eventually repainting the fleet in the BMMO’s all-over red livery.
The former Stratford Blue garages at Stratford and Kineton were retained. The Stratford Blue operating name was retained by the BMMO until 6th December 1977, when the Company was finally dissolved.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Stratford-upon-Avon Blue Motor Services Remembered – David Harvey (Allan T. Condie Publications, 1998).