Service 144 was not introduced until 11th February 1928, but its origins can be traced as far back as Saturday 7th June 1913, when the Worcester Electric Traction Company Limited started operating motor omnibuses between Droitwich Spa and Worcester, with certain journeys continuing to Great Malvern (Beauchamp Hotel). This service proved to be very popular and on 27th October 1913 the service was extended to Bromsgrove, then on 20th December 1913 to Rubery.
On 29th August 1914, the service was again extended, running to Birmingham City Centre. From this time it was operated by both the Worcester Motor Transport Company Limited and the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO — Midland “Red”) as a joint operation, running as BMMO Service 25.
During September and October 1914, all of the buses operated by the Worcester Motor Transport Co Ltd were commandeered by the War Office following the outbreak of the First World War. At this time, BMMO took over total operation of Service 25 and other Worcester Motor Transport routes. The additional required vehicles were housed at Worcester at the Worcester Motor Transport depot, which became BMMO’s first Worcester depot.
Despite wartime shortages, BMMO extended the service again on 22nd April 1916 to run to Malvern Wells, and also introduced their first local services in Malvern. However, within six weeks the company was forced to reduce the number of journeys operated. In 1917, the Ministry of Munitions warned all bus companies that they should abandon all services that were not of national importance, so because of this and general fuel restrictions, the service was shortened to run only between Worcester and Malvern Wells. Eight vehicles per day were used, and all were converted to run on coal gas.
Normal services resumed after the war ended and the service then remained largely unchanged, other than being renumbered to Service 125 in summer of 1925.
On 11th February 1928, BMMO renumbered many of their services, and at this time the Birmingham to Malvern Wells service number 125 became Service 144.
The route followed what is today the A38 from Birmingham to Worcester then the A449 through Malvern to Malvern Wells, and it has remained largely unchanged to this day. The only major change came in October 1976, when NBC cutbacks saw the closure of Malvern depot. With that came an entirely new network of services in and around Malvern, operated by Worcester depot, and the Worcester to Malvern Wells section of service 144 was abandoned.
The closure of Malvern depot, and with it withdrawal of the Worcester to Malvern Wells section of the route, also saw service 144 finally converted to one-man operation. The route was one of the last to be converted by Midland Red, and had remained as crew operation because of the difficult reverse turn at the Malvern Wells terminus which required the conductor to stand in the road and stop oncoming traffic, whilst guiding the bus safely back.
With the introduction of the Severnlink MAP scheme in January 1979, the Worcester to Malvern section of the route was re-introduced but did not run direct between Malvern Link and Great Malvern, and now served Pound Bank and Barnards Green. This was not successful as delays on the Birmingham to Worcester section of the route caused reliability problems on the Worcester to Malvern section and, after only 5 months, the Worcester to Malvern section was again abandoned.
With the brake up of Midland Red in September 1981, operation of the 144 passed to Midland Red (West) Limited who continue to operate the route to this day, although they are now part of FirstGroup and have renamed to First Midland Red Buses Limited.
Service 144 has remained largely unchanged while operated by Midland Red West and First Midland Red. However, following the closure of Birmingham’s Bullring bus station on 20th June 1999, the terminus was moved to Smallbrook Queensway, and in April 2004 it was rerouted in Bromsgrove to run through Catshill, running via Stourbridge Road, Meadow Road and Golden Cross Lane, with Birmingham Road no longer being served. In September 2005, the frequency was increased to run every 20-minutes in each direction.
During the Easter Bank Holiday weekend in April 2009, the Diamond Bus Company started running in direct competition with First Midland Red on the 144 route, initially offering a half-hourly daytime service on the Birmingham–Bromsgrove section of the route. Diamond were not successful on the route and their service was withdrawn after about a year.
*1 Certain journeys continued to Great Malvern or British Camp on Sundays only.
Service 144 is considered to be the flagship service of Worcester depot. Indeed, the first buses housed in Worcester by BMMO in 1914 were there to operate service 25, which was later renumbered to service 144. Today, all service 144 journeys are operated from Worcester depot, but during the routes 95 year history a number of other depots have also operated the route.
Malvern depot historically had an allocation of three BMMO double-deck buses which were used only on service 144, and two-man crews from Malvern continued to operate certain 144 journeys until the depot closed in October 1976. Certain journeys were also operated by Bromsgrove depot and until it closed at the end of 1971, and again when it reopened in 1973 until it finally closed in 1983. A small number of journeys were operated by Digbeth depot, including the first vehicle out of Birmingham in the morning, which was used to deliver newspapers.
From the 1950s until the early 1970s, extra buses were operated on Saturdays, increasing the frequency from three to four buses an hour in each direction. Much of the extra capacity was provided by Redditch depot.
Finally, in 2004 and 2005, First Midland Red were having problems finding staff to fill vacancies at Worcester depot, and for about a year almost all journeys were transferred to Kidderminster depot to help relieve the demand on Worcester.