Horse buses ran in Bolton from around 1870 until 1880, when the Corporation, along with the neighbouring Councils of Astley Bridge, Farnworth and Kearsley, using powers obtained in 1878, began the construction of just over 14 miles of horse tramways.
It was leased to Messrs. E. Holden and Company, who operated the tramway using three-horse double-deck and two-horse single-deck cars, commencing 1 September 1880. The original routes were from Bolton to Moses Gate, to Halliwell, and to Dunscar Bridge via Astley Bridge.
By 1898 further additions to the tramway system had been made and the total track length had increased to over 31 miles.
Although in 1888, Bolton, along with Astley Bridge and Farnworth Corporations, obtained powers to operate the tramways mechanically, they were never taken up. In 1897, however, when Holden’s lease of the tramway was approaching its end, the Corporation sought and obtained powers to operate the system, extending it into the adjacent boroughs and Horwich.
In 1899 Bolton took over Holden’s stock and acquired the remainder of the lease, which had until 1903 to run; the deal included 48 cars and 350 horses.
The Corporation immediately set to work re-laying and electrifying the system and the first routes, to Great Lever, Toothill Bridge and Tonge Moor, were opened on December 9th, before the Corporation officially took over on 1st January 1900.
The following day, 2nd January 1900, the horse tram disappeared; the routes to Halliwell, Dunscar, Moses Gate, Daubhill, Deane, Lostock and Doffcocker were all opened for electric traction.
Cars were on order, but not all were delivered and a skeleton service was maintained. Nos. 1-40 were ERTCW open-toppers built in 1899, with similar cars 41-49, built in 1900, of which No.49 was a bogie car.
Development continued at an equal pace, the Moses Gate route was extended to Farnworth (Black Horse), the Lostock route to Horwich and the Deane route to Hulton Lane, all of which were opened on 13th April 1900.
On the 19th May, the Lee Lane section in Horwich was opened and during the same year the car shops and stables at Shifnall Street were demolished and a new car shed and works erected.
It is of interest to note that Bolton used route letters, shown in white on a large black board (roller blinds were introduced around 1912) at each end of the top deck, from the start of operations; in general the letter being the initial of the outer terminus, and this is certainly the first instance of a route identification system in the north west.
During 1901-03 further trams arrived; Brush bogie open-top cars Nos. 50-59 were followed by Nos. 60-81 ERTCW open-top bogie cars and in 1903 covered cars Nos. 82-86 again from ERTCW.
Bolton was, without doubt, the first motor bus operator in the area, and was well to the fore in many later experiments. The first vehicle used was so early as to be unregistered.
It was a Stirling steam omnibus and was used on a new route to Darcy Lever from Brownlow Fold on the 5th to 20th September 1904.
In 1907, a Darracq-Serpollet steam bus was purchased and used again on the Darcy Lever route but was not successful and was subsequently replaced in 1908 by a Commer and a Straker petrol-electric, hired from a London dealer for a year.
Meanwhile, further tramway extensions had been constructed; the Deane route was extended to Chip Hill Road on 21st December 1900.
The Moses Gate to Black Horse route had been operated by Bolton Corporation on tracks owned by Farnworth UDC, who had extended it to the boundary with Kearsley, who themselves extended the line further to the Clifton boundary.
In 1902 Farnworth leased the Kearsley line for 25 years, built a depot (in Albert Road), purchased eight open-top bogie trams with Milnes bodies and took over the section of the route previously operated by Bolton, who ceased to run beyond Moses Gate.
Ist April 1906 saw Farnworth UDC leasing its tracks, depot and rolling stock to the South Lancashire Tramways Company.
On the 19th July, the Daubhill service was extended to Four Lane Ends. The Toothill Bridge tracks were extended to Breightmet on the 18th March 1905 and joined the Bury system on 20th May 1907, when through running commenced.
In December of that year the first section of track was abandoned, the Lee Lane stretch at Horwich.
In 1906 ten more Brush bogie cars were purchased (Nos. 87-96), and in the period 1910-1912 cars 97-103 (top covered bogie cars), Nos. 104-106 (single-deck combination cars) and 107-112 (top-covered bogie cars) were purchased from the United Electric Car Co. of Preston (formerly ERCTW).
On the 14th June 1909 an agreement was reached with South Lancashire Tramways and through running on the Bolton – Moses Gate – Farnworth – Clifton, and the Bolton – Four Lane ends – Atherton – Leigh – Lowton services commenced. In the same year, Bridgeman Street depot was opened.
The Darcy Lever tramway was opened on 6th May 1910 and the Brownlow Fold section one year later – on 4th May 1911. In the same year, Carlton Street Overhaul Workshops were commenced. Thereafter little change occurred until after the Great War, except for a short extension of the Moses Gate route to Station Square.
More cars were added to the fleet in 1919 when English Electric (formerly UEC) of Preston supplied top-covered cars Nos. 113-120 with ten more of similar design, Nos. 121-130 in 1923 and eight 1906 Brush four-wheel cars, Nos. 131-138 purchased second hand from Sunderland Corporation. By this date all cars were top-covered.
In 1923 two tramway extensions were built; the Chorley Old Road service was extended from Doffcocker to Montserrat on 8th June and on 26th October the Swan Lane extension was opened.
Parliamentary powers to operate omnibuses had been granted in 1922 and in 1923 five single-deck Leyland C7’s were put into service on a new route to Lowther Street, and further services followed fairly quickly.
A short route from Tudor Avenue to Bury New Road commenced on 14th July, extended to Ainsworth Lane on 1st January 1924.
On 11th April 1924 a tramway extension was opened, from Elgin Street to Church Road on the Brownlow Fold route, and the Deane service was extended to Westhoughton on 19th December 1924. These proved to be the final developments of the tramway network in Bolton.
In 1926 there were further extensions to the bus network, routes to Horwich via Chorley Old Road, Belmont, Egerton, Harwood via Tonge Moor Road, Ainsworth and Little Lever via Moses Gate, were opened. Buses operated on the Darcy Lever route in tandem with the trams until their withdrawal on 11th March 1928.
S.L.T. leased the Farnworth UDC tramways for a second 21-year period in 1927, but arranged for Bolton to supply all the trams working to the Black Horse, and the whole of its Walkden service. This required extra trams and Bolton purchased twelve English Electric totally-enclosed bogie cars, Nos. 139-150.
1927 also saw Bolton becoming involved in a network of express bus services, initiated on 26th May 1927 with an express service between Bolton and Salford. In September a service to Wigan via Lostock commenced, followed in 1928 by a service to Warrington.
The latter service was worked by Lancashire United Transport as part of a joint Bolton-LUT agreement. On the 1st April 1928 the Horwich service was extended to Chorley (in the course of time it would be extended to Southport, in conjunction with Ribble, to bring Bolton’s maroon buses into Lord Street bus station).
On the 23rd July, the Salford service was extended to Hyde, through Manchester, and brought Manchester, Salford, Lancashire United Transport, Bolton and the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Board onto the joint route.
Other local routes were also opened during the year and the increased bus fleet necessitated the opening of a new garage, built at Crook Street and opened in October 1929.
In that year, besides developing new services to Barrow Bridge, New Hall Lane and Crompton Way, two more express services were started; one to Rochdale via Heywood and Bury, and the other to Manchester via Little Hulton.
The former route was interesting since, to conform to Rochdale practice, a ‘T’ was added to the route number if the bus was to enter Rochdale via Tweedale Street.
In later years, when Bury trams were replaced (in 1934) and the express route to Rochdale was split (due to World War II) a ‘T’ suffix was added to the Breightmet route number to signify ‘through’ when journeys were extended to Bury – an interesting adaptation.
In 1931 Bolton concluded an agreement with Ribble which stabilised the position regarding their routes into Bolton. Up until then Bolton, like many other operators, had been working to beat the independents.
With the coming of the Road Traffic Act, many chose to sell out, including Bolton’s two main competitors – Freeman ‘Silver Star’, of Chorley, who competed on the Chorley route, and J.R. Tognarelli, of Bolton, who sold out in 1930, the same year the town’s bus terminus was moved from Victoria Square to the site of what is now Moor Lane bus station.
The through service operated by S.L.T. trams to Leigh was replaced by trolleybuses in December 1933, although Bolton trams still ran to the borough boundary at Four Lane Ends until March 1936, when they too were replaced by S.L.T. trolleybuses.
As its contribution, Bolton agreed to pay the interest and working costs for four trolleybuses which after eight years became Bolton Corporation property (SLT Nos. 48-51 (ATE792-795) Leyland TTB4-MV with Roe highbridge 36/28 rear entrance bodies).
So the Corporation achieved the curious distinction of owning four trolleybuses, which ran on the route, but which carried South Lancashire Tramways legal lettering, wore SLT livery and which only came to Bolton’s premises to be sold after the trolleybus system had been abandoned.
The two final independents – Orr, of Little Lever, who ran twelve buses and Martin, of Bolton, who ran just a single vehicle, were taken over in 1933 and 1934 respectively.
In 1934 the eight ex-Farnworth trams taken over by the S.L.T. were sold to Bolton, which numbered them 33-40 and returned them to the Farnworth route.
The tram route to Smithills was replaced by buses in 1933 and the joint service to Bury on 22 January 1934. In 1936 the decision was taken to abandon all the tramways and was rapidly implemented, only to be interrupted by World War II.
Route letters were changed to route numbers on conversion. In March 1937, Bridgeman Street depot was converted to accommodate buses.
Four second-hand cars were purchased from Bury Corporation, three eight-wheel cars ( Nos. 451-453) and one four-wheel car (No. 331), in 1943, by which time the remaining trams had had 300 added to their fleet numbers.
Bomb damage and the general state of the track instigated the conversion of the Farnworth and Walkden tramways to motorbus operation in November 1944, with the plan being to abandon all tramway workings by 1947.
Late in 1946, deliveries of Crossley and Leyland vehicles hastened the demise of the tramway system and the end came on the 29th March 1947 with the closure of the final section to Tonge Moor, performed by suitably decorated car 440.
By 1952, with the Transport Department reporting a loss, it was necessary to impose a modest fare increase which, with increasing fuel and staff costs, failed to bring in the required revenue. In 1953 cuts in peak period services were implemented in order to reduce the deficit and business consultants were brought in to try to turn around the finances.
No new vehicles were delivered between 1949 and 1955, but efforts to improve the service continued to be made.
In 1949 a radio control system was introduced to monitor the operation of the bus fleet and, in an attempt to increase revenue, external advertisements first appeared on Bolton buses from April 1951, although there was disagreement within the Transport Committee about the content of the advertisements.
In 1955, the first of fifteen Leyland PD2/13’s (Nos. 51-65) with MCCW H31/27R bodywork entered service, followed in the next year by another batch (Nos. 67-84).
The missing vehicle was No. 66, a 1955 Leyland PD2/12 with Bond H32/28R bodywork on Ashcroft Brothers (of Birkenhead) frames, which had been used for demonstration purposes before delivery.
Also delivered in 1956 was No. 11, a Bedford SBO with Duple C41F bodywork. It was used as a private hire vehicle and for the transportation of Councillors on official visits and was withdrawn after just six years.
An unusual sight that year was four ex-South Lancashire Transport trolleybuses (Nos. 48-51 [ATE792-795]), which, although purchased by SLT in 1936, had become Bolton Corporation’s property in 1944.
Following the replacement of the trolleybuses on the joint Bolton-Atherton route, they were returned to Bolton for disposal.
A general decline in the numbers of passengers carried caused another increase in fares in 1957. Bolton Corporation was also experimenting with one-man operation in an effort to reduce running costs.
One-man operated single-deck vehicles were seen on the Affetside and Dimple routes. The first Daimler vehicles to be delivered to Bolton were Nos. 85-105 a batch of CVG6’s with bodywork split between MCCW and East Lancashire.
In 1961 five AEC Regent V’s were delivered, the first AEC vehicles since the AEC Q of 1933, and in 1962 the Bedford SBO coach was replaced by a Leyland Leopard with East Lancs DP41F bodywork, which could be used on one-man duties when not required for private hire.
Mr R. F. Bennett had been General Manager since 1960 and was responsible for introducing many of the innovations at Bolton in the sixties, including translucent fibreglass roof panels in the PD3’s, which provided the upper deck with much more light and gave the whole of the saloon a much more ‘airy’ feeling.
He was also responsible for the striking design of the first Leyland PDR1/1’s delivered in 1963.
On the 1st November 1969, Bolton Corporation Transport Department, along with several neighbouring authorities, became part of the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire Passenger Transport Authority (SELNEC), ending almost 70 years of locally controlled transport in the County Borough of Bolton.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Bolton 100 (Keith Healey, GMTS 1999); PSV Circle Fleet History PC10 (1972); Buses (No.4 and 5, 1950).