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14th January 2015

Smiths Imperial Coaches take us on a trip down memory lane

One of the Stratford Road companies that many local people seem to remember is ‘Smiths Imperial Coaches’, whose iconic signboard of a “flunky” driver welcomed people into the premises for many decades, with the strapline “Your coach is here Madam!”

Smiths Coaches Flunky

The Flunky

Founded in 1924 by William Sampson Lloyd Smith, the company was originally known as ‘Prentice’, and its first vehicle, a Daimler,  was purchased to transport passengers on pleasure trips at the weekends, travelling at a speedy 12 miles per hour! Over time, the business moved from Mr Smith’s house in Bordesley Green, to a larger premise on Stratford Road in Sparkbrook; the site that most people will remember. When the company moved there in 1931, the company changed its name to Smiths Imperial Coaches and continued to acquire new vehicles for the increasingly popular trips.

During WW2 the pleasure trips stopped, as the coaches were used to transport workers to a factory in Shirley. In fact, the War Department even commandeered three of Smiths’ Coaches, and when they were returned in 1946 they still had gun mountings fitted to their roofs.

After the war the company continued to grow, with its popularity resulting in the rebuilding and expansion of the booking office and surrounding area in the 1950s and then again in the 1960s. A purpose-built garage was added to the site and Smiths started building their own coach chasses, though they stopped this when acquiring them from suppliers was easier.

The 1950s and 1960s saw a boom in day trips by coach, as many families did not have their own car and so took advantage of the cheap fares to popular seaside and countryside destinations around the country.

The 1960s also saw the introduction of Smiths famous ‘Inclusive holidays for the over-50’s’, an offer which would see people queuing from 6am on the first day of the season, just so they could book onto the trip of their choice!

Smiths also use to take Villa and Blues fans to their away matches, and several people have since mentioned the ‘Smiths Passports’ that were distributed by the company in an attempt to deter vandalism. The passports had to be signed by either a church minister, employer, doctor or schoolmaster, to say that they believed the named person would not cause any trouble or behave badly on the buses. Each person who wished to board the bus to go to an away game would then have to show this passport before they would be allowed on, a ground-breaking idea which led to General Manager Norman Taylor being interviewed by ITV news.

On 31st December  2001, this highly respected company closed its doors to the public after transporting local Brummies to destinations around the country and Europe for the last 77 years.

It is safe to say that for many locals, Smiths was a much-loved and iconic company who provided years of reliable, high-quality transport and fond memories to Birmingham residents.

If you have any stories or memories about Smiths Imperial Coaches, we would love to hear them! You can email us via info@myroute.org.uk. If you would like further information about Smiths Imperial Coaches, they have produced a commemorative book , documenting their history in photographs.

Featured photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Roger Smith.

The main office at Stratford Road in 1959

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