Walsall Corporation operated its first bus service on May 23, 1915. The initial route ran from Walsall to Hednesford via Cannock, but this was just the beginning of an extensive network that, built up over many years, was to link the towns and villages of Walsall Metropolitan Borough into a very effective system of public transport.
On January 1, 1904, Walsall Corporation had taken over the running of all tramway routes in the Borough from the South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited, that operated within the urban Black Country.
After World War One all municipal transport operations increasingly realised the great flexibility of and economic advantages of buses compared to trams. On April 1, 1928 the first tramway replacement by bus took place, and in September 1933, Walsall Corporation ceased to operate tramcars, replacing them with electric trolley buses on the Bloxwich route and the joint Walsall to Wolverhampton service.
By 1934 Walsall Corporation ran 97 motor buses and 19 trolley buses. Bus terminals included Wolverhampton (trolley buses), Cannock and Hednesford, as well as Pleck via Pleck Road, situated on Townend Bank. For Wednesbury, Darlaston via Pleck. West Bromwich, Caldmore and Palfrey circular Walstead Road routes, the terminus was located in Bradford Place, as it is today.
Bloxwich and Leamore trolley bus routes terminated on The Bridge, running via Townend Bank and Park Street. Bus terminals for Brownhills, Sutton Coldfield, Lichfield, Birmingham Road, Paddock circular, Bloxwich and Blakenall, Cannock, Chasetown, Chase Terrace, Burntwood, Hednesford via Pelsall, Norton Canes and Heath Hayes were situated in Darwall Street or Leicester Street.
With Birchills Bus Depot approximately one and a half miles distance from Walsall town centre, the Transport Manager became aware of dead non-profit mileage with buses operating morning and evening rush hour services. In 1933, surplus land in Darwall Street between the Post Office and the Central Fire Station was rented to park twelve buses. Drivers and conductors travelled on the Bloxwich route to book off duty and deposit takings. This was a well planned exercise by the management, stressing the need for economy during the 1930s depression years.
Despite the uncertain employment situation at this time, the Government of the day helped relieve unemployment by supporting new council housing estates within the borough, leading to expansion of new and extended bus routes. This required more buses so the Council and Transport Committee agreed to build a central Bus Station.
Fortunately, the old Blue Coat School in St. Paul’s Street was moving to new, modern premises recently built in Springhill Road. The old school site was chosen for the new St. Paul’s Bus Station. On February 5, 1935 the Transport and Town Planning Committee met to consider plans for the layout of the Bus Station. It was also decided that the Corporation Transport offices situated between the Imperial Cinema in Darwall Street and the Midland Bank on The Bridge would be closed, with the new offices incorporated within the new Bus Station.
The Bus Station lengths were to run from North to South. In addition a garage was proposed to be erected to cover the Bus Station, and it was suggested that Walsall bound trolley buses be diverted via the Wisemore from Stafford Street to The Bridge then depart via Park Street. However, these latter two options never materialised.
The new Corporation Transport Offices built adjacent to the Priory Hotel were substantial and luxurious, with a canopy on the frontage, a clock on the roof, modern toilets and an Inspectors Department. There was also a Parcel Office at ground level. Situated above were the General Manager and Assistant Manager’s offices, plus the Wages and Financial departments responsible for all transport employees. These offices cost £16,378 plus £365 for the canopy.
Birchills Depot continued to deal with Conductor’s ticket supplies and paying in of takings after daily schedules. Buses began to use the loading bays even before the new Transport Offices were occupied, in July 1935, and prior to the official opening on September 23, 1937.
All buses entered the new Bus Station via Hatherton Road, which was a dual carriageway, with surplus buses parking along its length to St. Paul’s Street. Buses then departed onto The Bridge then via Lower Bridge Street for their destinations. In 1950 some properties in lower Stafford Street, by the junction into Wisemore, were demolished to enable Bloxwich and Leamore trolley buses to divert, via St. Paul’s Street, to terminate via a circle opposite St. Paul’s Church and then use a surplus northerly-facing loading bay.
This magnificent new Bus Station continued to serve the town for many years, with occasional modifications to the layout and construction of the bus shelters, and eventually, with the changing of ownership of bus services to other operators, Walsall lost its own Corporation Transport system, but that is another story.
Today, the once smart 1930s Corporation Transport Offices building, long since abandoned by Walsall Corporation, has recently acquired new life, in part, as the home of Dino’s cafe, with the possible future addition of shops within the building.
The old Walsall Bus Station itself was sadly swept away in the early 21st century by a futuristic new St. Paul’s Bus Station officially opened on August 2, 2001, under the auspices of CENTRO, which today manages much of the public transport infrastructure in the West Midlands.
This striking but controversial and problematic new building, attempting, not entirely successfully, to shelter many buses and passengers alike under one roof, has received both approbation and opprobrium, but one thing is certain. St. Paul’s Bus Station remains as important a hub of public transport for the modern Walsall Metropolitan Borough as its predecessor was all those years ago.
Co-written with Walsall transport historian Jack Haddock