Although records show mail coaches were running on regular services through Accrington by at least 1824, when ‘The Traveller’ ran from Manchester to Clitheroe, via Bury, Haslingden, Accrington and Whalley, every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, making the return journey the same evening, it was not until 1882 that Accrington Corporation’s thoughts turned to provide local public transport for its citizens.
Work commenced in 1884 under the authority granted by the Accrington Corporation Tramways Act of 1882 and was constructed by the Corporation themselves and leased to a private company – the Accrington Corporation Steam Tramways Company Ltd., for 21 years.
The system, consisting of three routes all radiating from a terminus in Market Place; to the Commercial Hotel, Church; to the Load of Mischief in Clayton-le-Moors, and Baxenden Railway Station, opened on the 5th April 1886.
In 1905, Accrington Corporation obtained authority to purchase the Company, which it subsequently did on the 20th September 1907 for the sum of £2,227, but even before this the Corporation had made a start on electrifying and reconstructing the tramway.
On the 2nd August 1907 the first electrified route, a double-track line following the route of the former steam tram to Church and then continuing as a single track for a further 1¼ miles to Oswaldtwistle, was opened.
The reconstructed single-track line to Clayton-le-Moors opened on the 20th September, extended a further few hundred yards to the canal bridge, and on the 26th October a single-track line to the Cemetery at Huncoat was opened. The line to Baxenden Station (a combination of double- and single-line track) opened on the 1st January 1908.
The initial rolling stock consisted of 4 (Nos. 1-4), Brush 32-seat single-deckers and 14 (Nos. 5-18) Brush 50-seat double-deckers, resplendent in a bright red and cream livery.
The following year two more single-deckers arrived (Nos. 5-6, the double-deckers previously numbered 5-6 being re-numbered 19-20 to make way), again from Brush of Loughborough, who were to supply all of the Corporations’ tramcars. The former steam tram depot on Ellison Street was rebuilt to accommodate the new electric cars.
An extension of the Baxenden line to the Commercial Hotel in the centre of Haslingden was completed on 28th September 1908 and further extended to Lockgate (on the Haslingden/Rawtenstall boundary) on the 20th October 1908, where it met with the tracks of Rawtenstall Corporation.
Due to disagreements between the two councils, running did not commence until 1st April 1910.
Further single- and double-deck cars were added to the Accrington Corporation fleet over the next few years until 1926 when the final two cars (Nos. 42-43) were delivered.
Being of the ‘low-floor’ double-deck type, they were able to squeeze (by just 3 inches!) under a low railway bridge at Church and spent most of their lives working the Oswaldtwistle section, formerly the preserve of the single-deck cars.
By this time, however, several independent operators had begun to acquire licences for motorbus operation in and around Accrington, as well as BAT-owned Ribble Motor Services. (William Lobers had begun operating a motorbus service between Great Harwood, Rishton and Clayton-le-Moors, using a charabanc as early as 1912.
Three more double-deck buses were purchased and a route connecting Accrington to Waddington, via Whalley and Clitheroe was subsequently commenced, but the advent of World War I in 1914 brought the enterprise to a premature end).
The major independent operator was the Rishton & Antley Motor Company (formed in 1919), which operated several local and limited-stop services in the area.
Other operators were; W. A. Moore & Company of Great Harwood (t/a the Calder Bus Service), Lakeland & Pickup (t/a the Hodder Bus Service) of Whalley, Lancashire Industrial Motors of Blackburn (t/a Pendle Motor Services) and Kenyon, Coleman & Robinson of Blackburn.
As a result, the Corporation duly applied for powers to run their own omnibuses, which were granted in the Accrington Corporation Act of 1928 (which also included a provision for the operation of trolleybuses, although these powers were never used).
The inaugural bus service commenced on the 12th November 1928 between Huncoat and Higher Antley, via the town centre, operated by two Dennis G-type (Nos. 44-45) and four Dennis E-type (Nos. 50-53) single-deckers, wearing an unusually dark blue and red livery.
Much speculation has surrounded the choice of this colour scheme, although the consensus is that it was modelled on the uniform of the East Lancashire Regiment (which was predominantly dark blue and maroon), possibly in commemoration of the ‘Accrington Pals’, who suffered terrible losses at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
On the 3rd December 1928, a limited-stop service between Accrington and Rawtenstall, jointly with Haslingden and Rawtenstall Corporations commenced; it was extended to serve Bacup the following year. A similar service between Accrington and Blackburn commenced in 1929.
Fourteen new buses were delivered in 1930 in anticipation of the abandonment of the tramways – six Leyland Lion LT1’s with Brush 32-seat bodywork (Nos. 60-65), and eight Leyland Titan TD1’s with Leyland 48-seat bodywork (Nos. 66-73).
On the 30th April 1930, the tram route to Rawtenstall was closed, followed on the 26th August 1931 by the routes to Clayton-le-Moors and Oswaldtwistle, the new buses taking over the following day.
In September 1930, Accrington Corporation contributed £2250 towards the purchase by Ribble Motor Services of the Rishton & Antley Motor Company Ltd., becoming joint operators on routes from Accrington to Clitheroe, and Oswaldtwistle to Clitheroe (both via Great Harwood), Accrington to Burnley and Accrington to Oswaldtwistle, although no vehicles were involved.
On the 6th January 1932 the final tram ran to the Cemetery at Huncoat and the following day the motorbus took over. Another 20 new buses had been delivered in 1931 and they were immediately put to work.
The opportunity was also taken to introduce new services to Laneside, Fern Gore, Spring Hill, Woodnook and Within Grove, to Moscow Mill via Charter Street and Church Kirk via Countess Street.
By the time of the Second World War in 1939, much of the local transport network was in place, although due to the hostilities many services had to be reduced to save fuel. Whilst the war effort was in full swing, extra services had to be operated to the Royal Ordnance factory at Lower Darwen and late evening services were dropped.
It was not until some months after the war had ended, in October 1945, that services returned to normal.
One consequence of the War was that Accrington was forced to add the Guy Arab chassis to its fleet for the first time. Nine examples of this marque were delivered during 1943-1945 and must have sufficiently impressed the Corporation, for regular orders were subsequently placed for this chassis (along with Leyland) until it was no longer available.
1948 deliveries included four Leyland Tiger PS1’s with Burlingham B35F bodywork, delivered in an experimental livery of green and cream. Although they ran like this for around four years they were eventually repainted in the conventional dark blue and red livery and the experiment was not repeated.
Advertisements had not appeared on Accrington’s trams or buses since 1919 when the transport manager had banned them, but in September 1949 the Transport Committee agreed that, once again, Corporation buses would be allowed to carry advertisements.
Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, there was little change in the route network, apart from minor route changes and modifications to frequency. In 1961 two interesting vehicles were added to the fleet in the shape of the Guy Wulfrunian.
It was an attempt by Guy Motors to produce a front entrance vehicle on a conventional front-engined chassis, but strangely Accrington’s Wulfrunians were built with rear entrances. In the event, they proved unpopular with passengers and drivers alike and spent just 7 years in the fleet.
By 1964, when the Corporation placed an order for three more Guy chassis, production of the Wulfrunian had ceased and the more reliable Guy Arab chassis was purchased instead. This turned out to be the last Guy order for the Corporation and five years later Guy Motors themselves disappeared from the scene.
In 1968 Accrington purchased three examples of the Bristol RESL chassis with East Lancs B47F bodywork and more followed over the next few years, although the Corporation continued to be loyal to Leyland.
Following local government re-organisation in 1974, Accrington became part of the new borough of Hyndburn, along with Church, Oswaldtwistle, Clayton, Great Harwood, Rishton and Altham, and on the 1st April 1974 the municipal fleet and services were transferred to the new authority and Accrington Corporation Transport passed into transport history.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Trams in the North West (Peter Hesketh, Ian Allan 1995); PSV Circle Fleet History PC4/PC4A (1987); Hyndburn & Rossendale 75 Years of Municipal Operation (Peter Deegan, Omnibus Society 1982), Accrington’s Public Transport 1886-1986 (Robert Rush, Landy 2000).