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  A Short History of Road Passenger Transport in Greater Manchester

Organised public transport in Greater Manchester dates from 1st January 1824, when John Greenwood, proprietor of the Pendleton Toll Gates, started a regular horse bus or coach service to Manchester’s Market Street. This catered for merchants and the better off, for at first the journey was made only three times a day, at a fare of 6d (sixpence)(2 ½ p) for about three miles, but still cheaper than the Manchester hackney carriages. Each vehicle carried about eight or nine passengers, who were picked up or set down anywhere along the route.

Business prospered, and soon there was a number of other omnibus proprietors. The passing of the Stage Coach Act in 1832 officially recognised that passengers were being set down or taken up, a distinct change from the accepted conditions of coach operation before this time.

From 1830 to 1844 a service of horse omnibuses operated by Henry Charles Lacy, of the Royal Hotel, Moston Street, ran from the newly opened Liverpool and Manchester Railway terminus at Liverpool Road (now part of the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry) to Manchester’s Market Street, and also in 1830, a horse bus service started to connect Manchester and Stockport at a rate of 2d (1p) per mile.

A new type of vehicle was introduced by a Mr. McEwan in 1852. It was a much larger, doorless double deck vehicle, drawn by three horses, and carried 42 passengers. Fares were reduced from 6d to 3d. Soon, Mr. McEwan disposed of the business to Mr. Alderman Mackie, who formed the City Omnibus Company.

John Greenwood, the founder of the original omnibus service of 1824, died in 1851. He had become one of the largest omnibus and coach proprietors in the North, and had commenced daily services to Chester, Buxton and Sheffield. Control of the business now passed to his son, John Greenwood Junior.

In 1850, there were 64 omnibuses running in Manchester, for which 387 horses were required. A greater degree of control over the operation of these buses and coaches was secured by the passing of the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act, which included elaborate provisions for licensing both vehicles and drivers.

Under the control of John Greenwood, Junior, there was an attempt made to introduce a form of rail traction, and in August 1861, an agreement was sanctioned for the laying down on “Haworth’s Patent Perambulating Principle” of an iron tramway in the Salford area. This had flat metal rails upon which the tyres of the horse buses would run. The system included a centre guide rail or groove into which a fifth wheel could be lowered, which theoretically kept the vehicle on the running rails. The system was not extended and soon passed out of use.

In 1865, a powerful consortium, the Manchester Carriage Company, was formed. This was a fusion of the interests of John Greenwood, Junior, who had himself already absorbed several small proprietors, and who had a working partnership in the firm of Robert Turner & Company, operating on the Cheetham Hill and Broughton routes, and the City Omnibus Company. The new company gradually extended its operations until its large horse buses, carrying up to 40 passengers, covered most main roads in Manchester itself, and in many surrounding districts.

The first suggestion for the construction of tramways in Manchester came from Henry Osborn O’Hagan, a well-known promoter of such schemes, whose name figures later in the development of tramways in the outer districts. His proposals of 1872 were resisted, but by 1875, the introduction of tramways could not be put off for much longer. The Corporations of both Manchester and Salford obtained Tramways Orders under the terms of the 1870 Tramways Act, which empowered them to construct and lease, but not operate, tramways within their respective districts.

The Manchester Suburban Tramways Company was formed in 1877 to build and operate its own lines and to undertake the operation on lease of lines constructed by the municipalities. The original leases were signed in 1877 to run for a period of 21 years, and were later to become very important determining factors in the introduction of municipal operations to the Manchester transport scene. On 17th May, 1877, horse tramway operations began with a service between the Grove Inn on Bury New Road, and Deansgate, the first tramway in Manchester.

In 1880 a new company was formed to amalgamate the interests of the Manchester Carriage Company and the Manchester Suburban Tramways Company. Called the Manchester Carriage and Tramways Company, the new organisation began a process of expansion, which by the 1890s made them the major transport operator in Greater Manchester. At their maximum, the tramways of this company extended over 89 miles of route and employed 515 cars and 5,300 horses, working from 20 depots. Routes stretched as far out as Oldham, Stalybridge, Stockport and Patricroft. The company also operated a number of horse omnibuses in the outer districts, where traffic was light.

Horse drawn tramcars were also operated in some of the surrounding towns, notably in Bolton by the locally based firm of E. Holden & Company, and by the Stockport and Hazel Grove Carriage Company between those two places.

The other major operator of transport contemporary with the Manchester Carriage and Tramways Company was the Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways Company, another company promoted by Henry O’Hagan. Initial proposals envisaged a system of tramways serving all the towns on the eastern side of Manchester, and stretching in a great sweep from Bacup in the north through Rochdale, Oldham and Ashton to Denton and Hyde. The first section opened in 1883, but in 1887 the company went bankrupt. However, in 1888 a reconstruction scheme was announced, and a new company formed, dropping “Manchester” from its title. The reconstructed company put its affairs in order and operated the steam tramways uneventfully until the end of the century, when the various local authorities began to express interest in owning and operating the lines for themselves.

Steam tramways also ran in Wigan from 1882, while the Wigan and District Tramways Company operated tramways in that town from 1880 until taken over by Wigan Corporation in 1902.

On the west side of Manchester, the estate of the de Trafford family had been sold for industrial development after the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, and the Trafford Park Estates Company laid down a tramway to be operated by the British Gas Traction Company from 1897. The Trafford Park Estates Company took over operation from 3rd November 1899, and gas traction was used until 1908. An electric tramway on the public roads within the Park started on 14th July 1903.

Bolton and Wigan Corporations were the first to embark upon municipal ownership, and initiated this by taking over the lines from the local firm of E. Holden & Company in 1899, and the first electric tramways ran in Bolton in December that year, and in Wigan in 1901. The South Lancashire Tramways Company was formed in 1900 and operated an extensive inter-urban tramway system in the smaller towns and communities from its base at Atherton. Later reconstituted as Lancashire United Tramways, then Lancashire United Transport in 1905, the company started motor buses in 1906.

In Manchester, the leases of the Corporation lines granted to the Manchester Carriage and Tramways Company expired between 1898 and 1901, and the Corporation adopted a resolution in 1895 to take over the tramways and operate them as an electric system. The first section of the reconstructed tramway, between Albert Square and Cheetham Hill, was opened for electric traction on 7th June 1901. Reconstruction and electrification was completed by 1903, and the last horse trams within the City ran in that year.

Many small authorities now owned sections of tramway, and it was agreed that Manchester would reconstruct these and lease them for operation. The larger municipalities of Salford, Oldham and Ashton-under-Lyne operated their own lines and began electrification schemes. The steam tramways in Bury, Rochdale and Oldham were also taken over by the respective Corporations. The last steam tram in the area ran in Rochdale in May 1905, although electric trams had commenced operation in 1902.

In 1905 the Trafford Park Estates Company Electric Tramway of 2.54 miles was taken over by the Corporations of Manchester and Salford.

The lightly used routes in southern Manchester from Palatine Road to Cheadle and Northenden, and Hulme to Chorlton-cum-Hardy, were still being operated by horse buses in 1905, and in February the General Manager of the Manchester Corporation Tramways recommended that an experiment be made with motor buses on these services. Buses were, accordingly, first used by Manchester Corporation Tramways in 1906.

In 1913 British Automobile Traction, which was later to form part of the North Western Road Car Company commenced motor bus operation in Macclesfield, and the Mid Cheshire Bus Company began to open up areas which included Urmston. Both companies were of local, rather than regional, importance at this time, the North Western Company not being formed until 1923.

In 1905, four years after electric tramways were introduced in Manchester, the Corporation started to develop an extensive parcel carrying business using the tramway network. Later it used motor vans as a means of delivery. Retarded at first by legal opposition from established parcel carrying firms, the business survived and remained for many years an essential part of the operations of Manchester Corporation Transport, and later SELNEC and GMT. Rochdale Corporation Transport operated a similar service.

The years up to 1914 saw the consolidation of an extensive system of electric tramways stretching over the whole of Greater Manchester, and the surrounding towns were also connected by other routes, with shorter lines within their own districts. A joint board, set up in 1904, served Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield, and Glossop was provided with electric trams by the Glossop Urban District Supply Company. To the north, Ramsbottom was an early operator of trolleybuses, from 1913, and in the same year Stockport also had an early trolleybus service running from the town centre to Offerton, although it remained essentially a tramway operator, with routes running out to Hyde, Hazel Grove, and Cheadle, as well as the connections with Manchester. In central Manchester the tramway system had grown, and by 1913 it had been considered desirable to identify the services by allocating numbers to them.

The war of 1914-1918 effectively prevented further development of suburban electrification and after the end of hostilities, maintenance and wartime neglect had first of all to be remedied, but it was not long before the tramway system began to expand again.

The motor bus section of the Manchester Corporation undertaking grew from 16 vehicles in 1923 to 51 in 1926. To provide the accommodation needed for this expansion, a new depot was opened at Parrs Wood in 1926, the first purpose built bus garage, and an extension for buses was added to the Queens Road tram depot. This extension is the present Museum of Transport, but the Parrs Wood garage has been demolished. A Tesco supermarket now stands on the site, although the clock tower remains as a local landmark. Similar expansion of motor bus services in the surrounding towns was slow but steady, usually taking the form of feeder services to the trams rather than as replacements, but Leigh introduced motor buses in 1920 without ever operating tramcars.

Further tramways extensions continued to be opened during the 1920s, until in 1929 the Manchester Corporation Tramway system itself reached its maximum of 123 miles of route (292 track miles), employing 953 cars, and making it the third largest system in the country. Only London and Birmingham were bigger. Many independent motor bus operators were now opening up routes in the area and were endeavouring to cream off the best of the tramways traffic. A system of express motor bus services known as “co-ordinated services” was introduced in Manchester in 1927 as a joint venture by the operators of tramways in the area, there eventually being 18 such services. These ran over the routes of existing tramways in most cases, but were complementary rather than competitive to the trams.

The first tramway route in Manchester to be converted to motor bus operation was the 53 service from Cheetham Hill to Stretford Road, in 1930, and this was quickly followed by other services such as Bradford Road, and then by the trunk route through Sale to Altrincham.

In Manchester plans were made for the replacement of all the trams by motor buses, but a very determined electric traction “lobby” in the City Council were successful in getting authority for the introduction of trolleybuses. The trolleybuses were eventually introduced on a joint basis with Ashton-under-Lyne in 1938, although Ashton had had its own trolleybuses, jointly operated with Oldham, since 1925. A number of extensions to the Manchester / Ashton system were built later, some of which were occasioned by the need to conserve fuel oil during the Second World War.

Ashton-under-Lyne ended tramcar operation in 1938 with the introduction of the new trolleybuses, and but for the war Manchester and the other authorities would have completely abandoned tramways by the early 1940s. As it was, the remaining routes were to play an important part in the area’s transport system throughout the war.

After the war, delivery of new buses began again, and replacement of the remaining tramways recommenced. The last S.H.M.D. Joint Board tramcar ran in 1945, Oldham followed in 1946, and Salford and Bolton in 1947. With some ceremony, the last Manchester tramcar operated on the morning of Monday 10th January 1949, leaving only Bury to close in February 1949 and Stockport in 1951. Electric traction remained, in the form of the Ashton and Manchester trolleybuses, until they too closed in December 1966.

There was now an all bus system operating over what is now the Greater Manchester area, with 11 municipally controlled operators and two major company systems, those of the North Western Road Car Company, and Lancashire United Transport.

The SELNEC (South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire) Passenger Transport Executive was created in 1969, combining the municipal operators (Ashton, Bolton, Bury, Leigh, Manchester, Oldham, Ramsbottom, Rochdale, Salford, the SHMD Joint Board, and Stockport), and co-ordinating the local railway services. For the buses, a new livery of “Sunglow Orange” and white replaced the variety of municipal fleet colours. In 1972, the operations, vehicles and other assets of the North Western Road Car Company, within the SELNEC area, were taken over. In 1974, the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive came in to being, bringing Wigan into the area, in line with the creation of the new Greater Manchester County. In 1976 a shareholding was acquired in Lancashire United Transport, leading to a full acquisition and incorporation into Greater Manchester Transport in 1981. Also in 1981 the livery was changed to white, orange and brown.

In 1985 the Government passed a new Transport Act, bringing about changes as great as any seen since the 1930s. On 26th October 1986, bus services were “deregulated”, with the aim of bringing about more flexibility, competition and efficiency. Many new bus operators came onto the scene, whilst other long established names expanded their operations into Greater Manchester. Ribble and Crosville both established a greater presence in the area, and even East Midland of Chesterfield started to run local services. The Passenger Transport Executive’s bus fleet was formed into a limited company, GM Buses, and the Executive’s role became one of co-ordination and promotion of operations, the provision of bus stops, shelters and stations, and providing financial support for socially desirable services. At one time, around 80 operators were providing road passenger transport services. At the insistence of Government, GM Buses was divided into two separate companies, and sold to the private sector, initially as GM Buses North and GM Buses South; subsequently the North Company became part of the FirstBus Group, and the South Company became part of the Stagecoach Group.

Revised May 2004

 
© GMTS 2004