The first proposals for a horse tramway in Leigh had been put forward in the 1880’s by Mr. A. Speight, a contractor, who had been responsible for constructing horse tram routes in St. Helens, but the scheme was never implemented.
A second scheme in 1896 for a 3ft 6ins gauge electric tramway under the name Leigh and Atherton District Tramways Company, which would have run between Lowton St. Mary’s station to Atherton Central station, via Leigh and Atherton, with branch lines to Plank Lane and Green Lane, Bedford, was also dropped after a dispute with Leigh Council, although general agreement on most matters had been reached.
The first section of tramway to open was that constructed by the South Lancashire Tramways Company (SLT), from Lowton, via Leigh and Atherton, to Four Lane Ends (where there was a connection with the Bolton system), which was inaugurated on 20th October 1902.
The SLT had planned to open local lines in Leigh that would have complemented the new service, but negotiations between the company and Leigh Corporation broke down and, as a result, the Council decided to obtain powers to operate its own tramways.
The Leigh Corporation Act of 1903 authorised over 3 miles of tramway, most of which was to be double-track.
The two proposed lines ran from Leigh town centre, one travelling westwards along Twist Lane, Firs Lane and Plank Lane to Plank Lane Colliery, and the other travelling eastwards along Bradshawgate, Chapel Street and Manchester Road to the Boundary Hotel at Marsland Green.
The Corporation was authorised to borrow the capital needed to construct the tramway and to operate motorbuses and trolleybuses (the first time trolleybus powers had been granted by Parliament), but, in the event, none of the powers were ever exercised.
On 23rd March 1906 Lancashire United Tramways (the parent company of the SLT) introduced their first bus service.
Operating between Westleigh St. Paul’s and Leigh Market during the week it was extended on Sunday’s along the proposed Boothstown to Leigh tramway as far as Leigh Cemetery.
Three Scott-Stirling single-deckers were used, but by August 1906 the service had been discontinued and the vehicles sold.
In 1919 Lancashire United Tramways (LUT) re-commenced bus operations, and on 22nd October 1920, after many months of discussion, Leigh Corporation inaugurated its own bus services.
The first route ran from Plank Lane to the Cemetery, via the town centre, operated by a fleet of Straker-Squire’s. Further routes to Glazebury and Wigan Road commenced shortly afterwards. Leigh Corporation always employed a dark blue and cream livery.
It soon became obvious that some of these routes would be in competition with those established by LUT.
As a result negotiations between the two undertakings took place to establish the routes and timings, with proposals for some joint operation, which subsequently became a feature of bus services in Leigh.
A new depot was opened in Holden Road in the early 1930’s, which replaced the original depot in the town centre. It was converted from a former engineering works and was afflicted with a low door lintel, which precluded the use of highbridge buses.
At the time, however, there were a number of low railway bridges in the Leigh area and lowbridge buses were required, but as the railways fell into disuse it meant Leigh Corporation continued to order lowbridge buses, even when they were no longer needed in quantity.
In 1933 the SLT began to close the tramway in Leigh and replace it with trolleybuses. The section between Leigh and Four Lane Ends was wired for trolleybus operation by the SLT, whilst Bolton Corporation erected the overhead from there on in to Bolton.
A reversing triangle was provided at Four Lane Ends so that trolleybuses could turn back to Leigh there. In Leigh itself, the trolleybus terminus was on private land off Spinning Jenny Street, where LUT had built a small bus station in April 1927.
The buses were now moved to stands in the side streets and it became the trolleybus station.
An inspection of the trolleybus system took place on the 12th December 1933, and operations commenced in earnest on Sunday 17th December, the last SLT trams having run the previous evening.
The tram service between Leigh and Lowton St. Mary’s was replaced on the same day by a joint LUT/Leigh Corporation motorbus service (later numbered 48), extended to Lane Head at the same time.
With the onset of World War II in 1939, the Royal Ordnance factory at Risley was expanded and Leigh Corporation was required to almost double its fleet in order to cope with the extra amount of contract work transporting workers to and from the site.
When the war ended the fleet was reduced accordingly but still numbered more than prewar days because of the continuing workmen’s and colliery services required.
A new bus station was opened in King Street in May 1955 in an attempt to alleviate postwar traffic congestion.
On 1st September 1957, the Leigh to Bolton trolleybuses of the SLT were replaced by motorbuses. The service (No. 82) was operated jointly by Leigh and Bolton Corporation, along with LUT.
Although Bolton Corporation took a percentage of the receipts they did not operate on the route apart from a few school journeys.
The trolleybuses on the Leigh to Mosley Common route were also replaced by a new bus service (No. 84), which was operated jointly with LUT, although Leigh buses did not appear on the route until later.
Leigh Corporation became the first municipality to purchase the Dennis Loline, when, in 1958, two (Nos. 60-61) were added to the fleet. This enabled the standard highbridge design bodywork to be fitted.
In common with a number of other local municipal operators Leigh Corporation was absorbed into the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire (SELNEC) Passenger Transport Executive on the 1st November 1969, bringing to an end just under 50 years of municipal operations by Leigh Corporation Transport.
In preparing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
South Lancashire Tramways (EK Stretch, MTMS 1972); Lancashire United/SLT (Eric Ogden, TPC 1985); Municipal Buses in Colour 1959-1974 (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); PSV Circle Fleet History PC10 (1972).