Browns Blue to Midland Red

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A superb drone shot showing part of the Coalville site, the industrial backdrop brightened by three vehicles in the smart Midland Fox colour scheme. JACOB PETERFIELD-STRAW

Nick Larkin reports from a unique event commemorating 60 years since a sudden overnight change for Leicestershire’s buses

People across a wide area of Leicestershire woke on 16 March 1963 to find their local buses had suddenly changed colour. The county’s largest independent operator, Browns Blue, had been taken over by the massive Midland Red concern, with none of the 41-strong fleet being operated by the new owner. Where there had been blue buses the previous day, red ones now ruled. The Leicester Transport Heritage Trust (LTHT) recently commemorated the 60th anniversary of the change with a ‘Browns Blue turns Midland Red’ event.

Some 25 buses and coaches took part, many ex-Midland Red. None of the 144 vehicles Browns Blue operated are known to survive, but the operator was represented by a star of the show, Mick Gamble’s 1949 former London Transport AEC RT KLB 596. This has been superbly outshopped as a replica of one of the nine buses of this type bought by Browns Blue in 1958. This was RT173, HLW 160, the only one not fitted with a roof mounted number box. The bus was bought in 2011 from Roger Bailey at Black & White Motorways, being painted in Browns Blue colours before collection.


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Following much research, Mick had accurate period adverts for the outside and inside of the bus made up by Signs & Graphics of Burbage, near Hinckley. “I had always been fascinated by Browns Blue. Living in Leicester their buses were so different from those of the Corporation and Midland Red,” said Mick, who has worked as a driver at Leicester City Transport, a manager at Astill & Jordan, then a driver at Midland Red East, Gibsons, GRT, First and Roberts Coaches.

The event was one of the LTHT’s ‘Heritage Buses On the Move’ events, which aim to hold bus gatherings away from the normal locations of Leicester and Quorn. The rally took place at two new venues for a bus gathering, the Snibston Colliery Park, Coalville, and Sunnyside Garden Centre at Ibstock, with free bus services connecting the two.

“The event went really well and we had an excellent turnout,” said organisers’ spokesman Mike Greenwood.

Colliery services were an important source of revenue for Browns Blue, as replicated by former London Transport AEC RT in the firm’s colours at Snibston Colliery Park. NICK LARKIN
Two single-deckers from the era when many of Midland Red’s vehicles were built at the company’s Carlyle Works. RHA 919G is a BMMO S23 and EHA 767D a 1966 S17 with Plaxton bodywork. TREVOR FOLLOWS
Alexander-bodied Daimler Fleetlines were seen across the Midland Red empire but there are few survivors today. UHA 225H dates from 1969. NICK LARKIN
Mick Gamble’s replica Browns Blue AEC RT flanked by Midland Red vehicles at the event. NICK LARKIN

Browns Blue in brief

In 1924, Markfield-based former miner Lawrence David Brown and sister Annie, nicknamed ‘Nancy,’ started a bus service between Stanton-under-Bardon and Anstey’s shoe factories. They used a green Chevrolet lorry which had a removable body to convert it to a bus.

The service was named ‘The Nancy’ and not liking the colour of the Chevrolet, Lawrence changed it to dark blue and red, hence the nickname Browns Blue stuck, though the operator was officially LD Brown. Rapid expansion happened due to both demand and takeovers of other operators, and a network of services built up, along with tours and contract work.

New Dennis and Bedford coaches were bought in the 1930s, and a new depot was opened at Shaw Lane, Markfield, in 1937. The fleet stood at 10 by 1939, and in 1942 the haulage side of the business was sold to concentrate on the buses.

Double-deckers arrived after the war in the form of three new Daimler CVD6s, two with Brush bodies and one by Roberts. The postwar period saw more expansion and takeovers, including the acquisition of Warner & Sons of Markfield in 1948. Five ex-Leicester Metro-Cammell-bodied Leyland TD3s arrived in 1949. The fleet would remain diverse, including everything from Tilling Stevens to Dennis Lancets as well as Bedford and Leyland coaches plus various AEC and Daimler double-deckers, these including ex-London Transport wartime utility buses. The only 8ft wide bus operated was ex Daimler CD650 demonstrator KHP 998.

In 1954 LD Brown became a limited company, Browns Blue Coaches Ltd. Lawrence Brown died in 1957 and his two eldest sons, Reg and Norman, took over. Local operator Windrush, Sons & Riley was bought out, giving Browns Blue a second Ibstock depot as well as the former Hipwells premises. A small depot at Duncan Road, Leicester, was also operated.

At the time, Midland Red was expanding, taking other over local operators, and with increasing car ownership the Brown family decided to sell out. The last Browns Blue service left Coalville’s Marlborough Square at 2225hrs on 15 March 1963. Browns Blue’s Markfield depot was also taken over – by red buses.

Mick Gamble’s 232-page book ‘Brown’s Blue – The Leicestershire Bus Company that Took the Community to its Heart’ is available for £21 including p&p from [email protected].