Horse-drawn coaches are documented passing through Burnley on a service connecting Manchester and Colne as early as 1817, which ran on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
In 1824, the mail coach ‘John Bull’ was recorded running to Skipton, Burnley and Colne every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and every Tuesday evening through Rawtenstall.
‘The Union’ ran to Colne every Sunday, Thursday and Friday afternoon, every Monday evening, every Tuesday evening and every Wednesday and Saturday evening, passing through Rawtenstall and Burnley.
A horse bus service connected Burnley with Colne three times daily by 1861, but it was not until 1881 that the first tramway in the town opened.
Promoted by the Tramway & General Works Company of London and operated by the Burnley & District Tramways Company, the steam tramway opened on 17th September 1881 with a line running between Padiham and Nelson through Burnley town centre, a length of just over 7 miles.
On 1st March 1900, Burnley Corporation, along with four other neighbouring authorities, purchased the tramway.
The steam tramway had been single-track and work began on doubling the track and relaying it to a gauge of 4ft, which had been used by neighbouring authorities. However, plans to link up with these systems never came to fruition and the tramway remained isolated from its neighbours.
The section to Padiham was opened on 16th December 1901, just four weeks after the steam tramway had been closed (on 17th November 1901) and shortly afterwards in 1902 the section to Nelson was opened, permitting through running between the two towns.
The section of the old steam tramway between Nelson town centre and the Burnley boundary, having been purchased by Nelson Corporation, was now leased back to Burnley Corporation.
The initial tramcar fleet consisted of 24 open-top double-deckers supplied by Milnes (Nos. 1-24), which was housed at the former Burnley & District depot in Queensgate.
Further routes were opened in July 1903 (to Rosegrove), February 1904 (to Towneley Park and Summit; extended to Rock Lane and Rossendale Road respectively in 1910), October 1910 (to Gannow Lane), and December 1910 (to Lane Head; extended to Harle Syke in 1912).
In 1903, eight single-deckers (Nos. 39-46) were purchased to work the Rosegrove, Towneley Park and Summit routes, with another 14 open-top double-deckers (Nos. 25-38) purchased to augment the existing fleet.
The system was completed in 1927 when a short branch line off the Towneley section along Brunshaw Road, past Turf Moor football ground, to Brunshaw was opened.
In 1921 Burnley Corporation had secured the necessary powers to operate motorbuses within 3½ miles of the Town Hall and an experimental service between the Cattle Market and Stoneyholme commenced.
This service was later extended from Stoneyholme to Reedley Halt on the railway line to Skipton, and from the Cattle Market to Towneley. The first motorbuses were five (Nos. 1-5) all-Leyland A13’s.
By 1931 Burnley Corporation was operating routes to Marsden Cross from Rosegrove, to Melville Street from Rosegrove and to Padiham Memorial Park from The Hollins, travelling via Lowerhouse.
The first tramway abandonment came in 1932 when the Rosegrove to Harle Syke line closed, being replaced by motorbuses, although the remainder of the system stayed intact until the formation of the Burnley, Colne and Nelson Joint Transport Committee on the 1st April 1933, ending over 30 years of independent municipal operations by Burnley Corporation.
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); Burnley, Colne & Nelson Joint Transport (Alan Catlow, Wyvern 1985); PSV Circle Fleet Histories RC5 (1958), PC4(1976+addenda PC4A 1987).