The first tramway in Darwen was inaugurated on the 16th April 1881 by the Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company under the 1879 Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Act, who commenced a steam tram service from Blackburn, through Ewood, Earcroft and Hawkshaw to Darwen, terminating at Whitehall.
The Company operated until 1898 when Blackburn and Darwen Corporations took up the option to purchase the undertaking as allowed for in the 1879 Act.
The section of track in Darwen was taken over by Darwen Corporation and that within Blackburn by Blackburn Corporation. Until Darwen electrified it’s system in 1901 the line was leased to Blackburn Corporation allowing the steam trams to continue running.
In February 1900, work commenced on electrifying the tramway between Darwen and Blackburn, and whilst electrification was carried out, the steam tram service continued. As a result the original steam track was left in situ and an additional line laid alongside, the whole being electrified at the same time.
For the opening, ten open-topped uncanopied bogie cars, numbered 1-10, built by Milnes, were bought. Interior seating was longitudinal with 15 on each side and on the upper deck was transverse with patent dry flap seating, to ensure dry seats in all weathers.
The livery used was vermilion on the upper panels with purple lake on dash and rocker panels.
When considering the Tramway & Improvement Act in 1898, the Tramways Committee received petitions from residents and councillors for branch lines.
The first was to run from the Circus along Bridge Street, Redearth Road, Sough Road and Watery Lane to Whitehall where it joined the main line again. The second was to branch off Bridge Street, along Sudell Road and continue to Hoddelesden.
The third would branch of Sudell Road to Entwistle Street, South Street and Railway Road to the Circus. Subsequently the Hoddelesden route was modified to run along Marsh House Lane to Pole Lane, crossing Roman Road to Harwoods Lane at Old Sett End.
The Hoddelesden route was completed and opened for traffic on 11th October 1901 and four new cars were ordered for the route. They were Milnes bodied, with four-wheel trucks by Brill, numbered 11-14 they were again liveried in vermilion and purple lake.
A special feature of these cars was the triple braking system – a conventional wheel brake, a power brake which reversed the current in the motors and a slipper brake which acted directly on the track, and could be operated by either driver or conductor.
In 1905 a four-wheel demi car (No. 15) with trucks by Mountain & Gibson, of Bury, was purchased for one-man operation of the Hoddelesden route.
Its initial success lead to the purchase of two identical cars (Nos. 16/17) in 1906. By 1912, the cars had become troublesome and were withdrawn.
In 1913 official tram stops were introduced – up until that time trams could be stopped anywhere and conductors were instructed to be on the lookout at all times for intending passengers! During this year the original cars were fitted with windscreens for driver protection.
By 1915 increased patronage on the main road service meant two further cars arrived. Built by United Engineering Co., on Peckham trucks, they were numbered 18 and 19. The livery of these cars reverted to the vermilion and cream of the former steam cars.
Three identical cars were purchased in 1921 (Nos. 20-22) with English Electric bodies on Burnley bogies.
The purchase of these cars signalled the end for the demi cars withdrawn in 1912, and No.16 became a shelter at Sett End, whilst No.15 was converted to a works car (numbered 1), with only one driving position and minus its body.
Following the arrival of these cars, consideration was given to updating the original cars, since sufficient motive power existed to maintain services. Due to low railway bridges at two points on the Blackburn route, rebuilding was made more difficult.
It was, however, felt that provision of top covers was necessary. Two new cars (Nos. 16/17) were purchased in 1925 from English Electric to a low-height design, which proved successful, and this prompted the then manager, Mr. Newsome, who had been involved in the design work, to set about rebuilding the original cars.
The first to be rebuilt during 1924/25 were Nos. 1 and 8, receiving top covers by Brush. No.1 was renumbered 15, as the number 1 was used for the works car that had been constructed from the demi car No.15.
Subsequent rebuilds took place in 1927 (No.3), 1928 (No.5) and 1929 (No.7), all fitted with Brush top covers and the Brill trucks replaced with Burnley bogies. In 1931 work started on reconstructing Nos. 2 and 10.
Two second-hand top covers were purchased from Rawtenstall Corporation, but only No.10 received its cover. The top cover intended for No.2 was dropped and damaged beyond repair.
Also included in the second-hand purchase from Rawtenstall were two single truck bodies that became Nos. 9 and 11, No.11 mounted on the original No.11 truck that had remained derelict at the depot since an accident in 1926.
In February 1925 the Tramways Committee recommended that the Bolton Road section should be extended from Whitehall to the New Cemetery at Moss Gap at a cost of £1200. A Bill was presented to Parliament to authorise this extension but ultimately it was never built.
However, this act also gave the Corporation powers to run motorbuses and even trolleybuses in the borough.
On the 19th September 1926 motorbus services commenced to Chapels, Bold Venture Park, Spring Vale and Sunnyhurst with four Leyland Lionesses Nos. 1-4 with 26-seat Leyland bodies.
They wore a similar livery to the trams. In 1927 two more (Nos. 5 and 6) were purchased to supplement the Hoddelesden tram service, with an additional two (Nos. 7 and 8) arriving in 1928 to inaugurate an express service to Blackburn Railway Station from Whitehall.
In the event the Lionesses were found unsuitable and in 1930 two Leyland Lion LT2 models were purchased (Nos. 9 and 10) for this route. No further purchases of motorbuses took place until the expansion of services six years later.
By 1930 motorbuses were working to Hoddelesden, trams working the early morning peak period and afternoons. Buses left the Circus via Railway Road and Kay Street, and made a detour at Sett End via Harwoods Lane, the original 1899 proposal for the tram route.
Evening services comprised three buses per hour Monday to Thursday, two trams per hour on Friday and Sunday, and four trams per hour on Saturday.
Buses were working to Tockholes via Bog Height Road in 1931 and by 1933 four buses a day were working on the Spring Vale route, diverting along Watery Lane.
In 1936, what proved to be the final purchase for the tramways, were two new English Electric streamlined trams, Nos. 23 and 24. The following year the Hoddelesden route was abandoned and turned over to motorbuses.
Trams were rapidly losing favour and total abandonment was proposed, accelerated by the general deterioration of the trackwork and equipment.
By 1945 the fleet was down to 7 cars, and on 5th October 1946 car No.3, decorated with flowers and illuminated with electric lights, made the final journey into the depot.
To cater for this additional workload, three Leyland Lion LT7’s with English Electric 32-seat bodies were purchased, being allocated Nos. 11-13.
To cover for the abandonment of the tramway to Hoddelesden in 1937 four Leyland TD5’s were bought with smart double-deck bodies by Burlingham and numbered 14-17.
In 1938 the fleet was increased again, to cater for rising usage, with the purchase of two Leyland TD5’s (Nos.18/19) and four Leyland TS8’s (20-23).
During 1939 an Austin K3 with Burlingham 26-seat body was purchased for the Tockholes route, but proved unsuitable for the hilly terrain and was withdrawn in 1942.
In 1940 ten Leyland TD7’s with Leyland 56-seat bodywork were delivered in order to hasten the proposed abandonment of the tramways. They were numbered 25-34 but saw little service due to wartime conditions.
An order for six more Leyland double-deck vehicles was placed in 1942 to replace more of the tramway system, however, these vehicles did not arrive until the end of the war in 1946, numbered 1-6, they were Leyland PD1 chassis with Alexander bodies. They were followed in 1947 by three more PD1’s with Leyland bodywork.
During 1949, expansion of services called for more buses and due to Leyland’s inability to supply these due to the post-war demand, the Corporation turned to Crossley for eight DD42/7’s, which were numbered 35-42.
The delivery of these vehicles enabled the Burlingham-bodied TD5’s to be withdrawn and No.17 converted to a purpose built breakdown tender.
The purchase of large numbers of vehicles at one time presented problems when certificates of fitness fell due at similar times. To combat this the council adopted a policy of vehicle replacement in small numbers.
In line with this policy two Leyland PD2’s with Farrington all metal Leyland bodies were purchased in 1952 (Nos. 10/11), a further two (Nos.12/13) were delivered in 1954 and were the last Farrington bodies produced by Leyland.
Darwen, always ready for innovation, ordered three Leyland PD2’s in 1955, this time with ‘tin fronts’ as opposed to the traditional open radiator style. Nos. 14 and 15 had conventional open platform rear entrance bodies by Crossley, and No. 16 had an East Lancs body with platform doors. No further open platform vehicles were ordered.
In 1957 the Corporation purchased an AEC Regent Mk.V (No. 17), supplied and badged as a Crossley, with East Lancs body.
The only such vehicle built. In the same year two Crossley-badged AEC Reliances (Nos. 18/19) also arrived, followed in 1958 by an identical vehicle No. 20. 1958 also saw the purchase of three further PD2’s, again with ‘tin fronts’ and East Lancs bodies with platform doors, which were proving popular. These vehicles were numbered 24-26.
The delivery of single-deck vehicles 18-20 allowed the withdrawal of TS8’s 20,22 and 23 in 1959, which had been fulfilling the role of private hire vehicles using the licence of Messrs.
Farnworths (a local coach operator), and to continue with these services two very fine second-hand coaches were purchased. The first (No. 21) was a Leyland Royal Tiger chassis with a Burlingham Seagull centre entrance body.
The second (No. 22) was a Dennis Lancet with a similar body by Plaxtons. Unfortunately private hire work declined shortly afterwards and, as a result, the Royal Tiger was converted to one-man operation by fitting a front entrance and the Lancet was traded for an AEC Reliance with front entrance (also numbered 22).
In May 1964 the first front-entrance double-deck vehicles were purchased. Nos. 27 and 28 were Leyland PD3’s with St. Helens’ style fibreglass fronts. Three further identical vehicles were added in 1965 (Nos. 29-31).
The Leyland Royal Tiger (No. 21) was withdrawn in 1966 and replaced with a Leyland Tiger Cub No.23, and three Leyland PD2’s (Nos. 32-34)) again with St. Helens’ style fronts and forward entrances were placed in service.
These were followed over the next three years by three batches of identical vehicles numbered 36-44 (number 35 was still in use in 1967 by a Crossley), the last three being the last PD2’s built by Leyland for use in the UK.
In 1971 there was an odd purchase of a second-hand AEC Reliance from SELNEC (ex-Salford No. 110 and SELNEC No. 73), that became Darwen No. 21.
A change in policy to provide one-man operation on most routes lead to the purchase, in 1971, of two high capacity single-deck vehicles. These were Bristol RESL chassis with Leyland engines and East Lancs bodies.
They were numbered 1 and 2. In 1972, two further identical vehicles, Nos. 3 and 4, and three more in 1973, Nos. 5-7 were purchased. These wore reversed livery with cream as the dominant colour.
Three further vehicles were ordered but subsequently cancelled, since the delivery date was after the 1974 local government boundary changes, when the Darwen fleet was merged with that of Blackburn Corporation, ending over 75 years of municipal operations by Darwen Corporation.
(Original text written by Peter Dawson, abridged and edited with permission)