On the 6th August 1900, the Royal Assent was given to a private Bill, which saw the incorporation of the South Lancashire Tramways Company.
The Bill authorised the Company to construct over 62 miles of tramway lines in the South Lancashire area, but construction was never started, due to difficulty raising the necessary capital.
On 29th November 1900 the South Lancashire Electric Traction and Power Company Ltd was registered to acquire the shares of the South Lancashire Tramways Company, and also the shares of the Lancashire Light Railways Company and the South Lancashire Electric Supply Company.
The new Company had, itself, an issued share capital of £850,000. Although the Company had intended that the major part of the tramway would be in operation by the end of 1901, construction had only just begun when the year ended, and the first section, from Lowton, via Leigh and Atherton, to Four Lane Ends (where there was a connection with the Bolton system), did not open until 20th October 1902.
Five days later, a branch from Atherton to Tyldesley was opened, extended through Hindley Green and Hindley on the 7th February 1903.
The northern part of the system was completed on the 4th April 1903 when the line was further extended from Hindley to Haydock, where it connected with the St. Helens system.
By 1905, however, the financial position of the South Lancashire Tramways was dire. In over three years of operation it had receipts of just less than £10,000 and the parent Company, the South Lancashire Electric Traction and Power Company, had gone into voluntary liquidation and was subsequently wound up.
On the 29th December 1905, a new company, Lancashire United Tramways Ltd, was registered, and, on 2nd January 1906, purchased the shares of both the South Lancashire Tramways, and the Lancashire Light Railways companies, along with the dormant South Lancashire Electric Supply Co. Ltd.
The first extension under the new company was the 4½-mile tramway owned by Farnworth UDC, who also operated trams on behalf of Kearsley UDC, which was taken over on the 1st April 1906.
This was separated from the rest of the South Lancashire system, but on 29th June 1906 a line between Walkden and Brookhouse was opened, and on the 27th September 1906 the section between Boothstown to Walkden opened connecting the Farnworth track with the rest of the system.
The head office of Lancashire United Tramways (and its subsidiaries) was transferred to a new office building adjoining the depot at Atherton in July 1906.
The initial tramcar fleet comprised of 45 Milnes, open-top, double-deckers (Nos. 1-45), with thirteen Milnes open-top, double-deck, bogie cars taken over from Farnworth UDC becoming Nos. 46-58.
In 1906 a further 24 top-covered double-deckers by Brush and the United Electric Car Company (Nos. 59-82) were purchased.
On 23rd March 1906 Lancashire United Tramways 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.
Five months later, on the 6th July 1906, another service between Lowton and Newton-le-Willows was inaugurated. Three Scott-Stirling single-deckers (Nos. 1-3) were used, but by August 1906 the services had been discontinued and the vehicles sold.
In 1914 the Company decided to introduce a small fleet of charabancs with which to try out the touring market. Three Dennis chassis with 28-seat charabanc bodies were purchased, but only lasted a few months before they were impressed by the War Department for use in the Great War of 1914-1918.
On the 14th June 1909, South Lancashire Tramways commenced through running to Bolton, and on 28th August 1913, the final extension to the system, from Walkden to Farnworth, where it connected with the Buckley Lane route, was opened.
In 1926 connections to the Salford Corporation and Wigan Corporation systems were made, enabling more through running.
More tramcars were purchased in 1919 when seven open-top double-deckers (Nos. 83-89) were purchased from the Liverpool and Prescot Light Railway, and in 1927 the fleet was completed by the arrival of two English Electric top-covered double-deck bogie cars (Nos. 44-45).
In 1919, the Lancashire United Tramways Company purchased a number of motorbuses with charabanc bodies, with the intention of once again entering the private hire and touring market. By the end of the year the Company had 25 vehicles.
The motorbuses were always operated under the Lancashire United name, whilst the tramcars (and later, the trolleybuses) were operated by the subsidiary South Lancashire Tramways.
On 18th June 1920, the first regular stage carriage motorbus service, running between Lowton St. Mary’s and Earlestown, via Newton-le-Willows, was introduced. Initially bus services were used as feeders to the tram routes, but later a separate network of services was developed.
By the end of the year, services were being operated between Lowton and Golborne, between Golborne and Longford, via Newton-le-Willows and Winwick, connecting with Warrington tramways at the Longford terminus, and between Lowton and Haydock, via Earlestown.
It necessitated the purchase of more buses and accordingly the Company ordered more saloon buses and charabancs, although the limited use of the charabancs soon led to them being re-bodied as saloon buses for stage carriage work.
In 1928 the name of the Company was changed to the Lancashire United Transport & Power Company Limited, reflecting its expanding motorbus business.
Meanwhile the tramway services were in decline. The advent of the Great War had meant that many services were shortened or curtailed and subsequently never restored to pre-war levels.
The track and rolling stock would shortly need extensive renewals, involving large amounts of capital expenditure.
On some parts of the system the traffic carried did not warrant such expenditure, on others the current single-track would need to be doubled to cater for increased frequencies.
As a result, the Company looked to a more flexible alternative to the tramcar, especially on lightly trafficked routes and settled for the trolleybus.
By an Act of 10th May 1929, South Lancashire Tramways was re-named South Lancashire Transport, and was authorised to abandon the tramway routes in favour of trolleybuses and construct extensions from the former tramway termini at Lowton St. Mary’s to Lowton Lane Head, and from the Clifton boundary to Station Road, Pendlebury.
Conversion of the tram routes to trolleybuses began early in 1930, although on 1st February 1930, a belated joint tram service between Deansgate in Manchester and Farnworth was introduced (even though a bus route to Manchester was already running along the same route).
On 3rd August 1930 the Atherton to Ashton section (on the Atherton to Haydock route) was turned over to trolleybus operation, although the construction of a new bridge delayed through running to Haydock until 21st June 1931.
At the same time St. Helens Corporation converted the St. Helens to Haydock section of its own system, which enabled through running between Atherton and St. Helens to take place.
The next conversion took place on 19th August 1931, when trolleybuses replaced the trams on the Swinton to Walkden, Atherton to Swinton, and the Walkden to Farnworth routes.
Twenty more Guy BTX trolleybuses (Nos. 11-30), with lowbridge bodywork by Roe of Leeds, were purchased to supplement the original ten Guy BTX’s (Nos. 1-10) that were used in the first conversion.
More tramway routes were gradually converted until finally, on 16th December 1933, the sole remaining tram service, from Leigh to Four Lane Ends, ceased to operate, the last tramcar (No. 7), arriving at the depot around 11.55pm, bringing to and end over 30 years of tramway operation by the South Lancashire Transport Company. The following day trolleybuses took over.
Throughout this period the bus fleet had continued to grow and new services implemented. The Road Traffic Act of 1930 brought in route licensing, which forced Lancashire United to abandon some of their services, particularly those across Manchester, and bring in revised termini.
In May 1930 the business of William Lees of Farnworth was purchased, bringing with it a route from Farnworth to Bury, and, in 1932, Lancashire United joined the Limited Stop Pool, which worked a service between Liverpool and Newcastle.
A route to Blackpool from Oldham, via Manchester and Bolton was acquired jointly with Ribble Motor Services and the North Western Road Car Company in 1935, along with the business of M&H Motors.
For a few years, until 1936, the Company favoured Dennis chassis for single-deck vehicles, with both the ‘Arrow’ and ‘Lancet’ models being purchased, but in that year, the first generation of saloons on the Leyland TS6 chassis arrived, and these were to set the standard for the next few years, until the advent of the Second World War brought about a restriction in supplies.
During the war years, Lancashire United was called upon to transport increasing numbers of workmen to and from the factories and coal mines in the area, resulting in the introduction of numerous workmen’s services.
The increase in traffic was so great that during the war years the Lancashire United bus fleet actually grew from almost 200 vehicles at the onset of hostilities to over 300 by the end of the war.
The large number of buses allocated during the war years reflected the fact that the increased traffic was considered vital to the war effort. Wartime deliveries included a number of Guy Arab chassis, which made such an impression that they continued to be ordered for many years afterwards.
The South Lancashire Transport trolleybuses also enjoyed an increase in traffic, due partly to the withdrawal of parallel bus services and partly because private motoring was virtually eliminated.
Since they were powered by home-produced fuel, there was little restriction in their services, although some late evening services were dropped, and they continued to operate a near normal service throughout the war years.
When peacetime returned, the rationing of petrol for private use meant that passenger numbers remained fairly high for a number of years. Many of the suspended bus services were re-instated, as were many of the later trolleybus journeys and Lancashire United entered a period of relative prosperity.
People were now looking to relax by the coast and tours and excursions became extremely popular.
Lancashire United had to increase its fleet of saloon buses to cater for the demand and in 1947 a batch of Dennis Lancet vehicles (Nos. 336-345) were purchased carrying Roe dual-purpose 32-seat bodywork, suitable for coaching operations.
In 1948 more Roe-bodied dual-purpose vehicles arrived, this time on Guy Arab III chassis (Nos. 182-187), and in the following year, along with more Guy vehicles, Leyland PS1 chassis (Nos. 395-404) with similar Roe bodywork entered the fleet.
The first purely coach-bodied vehicles to enter the fleet were Nos. 437-446 in 1951, on Guy Arab III chassis with Roe C35F bodywork, and thereafter, for a number of years, coaches were purchased for this line of work.
On the 25th November 1948, following the nationalisation of the electricity industry, the Company changed its name to Lancashire United Transport Limited.
Although an act of 30th June 1948 authorised the conversion of the sections of routes from Walkden to Moses Gate, and from Moses Gate to the Black Horse in Farnworth, to trolleybus operation, in the event they were never proceeded with.
In 1948 six more trolleybuses were purchased, Sunbeam MS2 three-axle chassis with Weymann H34/30R bodywork.
They were probably purchased as the first replacements for a new trolleybus fleet, especially as Bolton Corporation had proposed the introduction of trolleybuses on former tram routes, but in the event these did not materialise and, although the ageing fleet of trolleybuses struggled on for a number of years, in 1955 it was announced that they would be replaced by motorbuses.
The first trolleybus abandonment took place on 25th March 1956, when the service between Bolton and Four Lane Ends ceased to operate, to be replaced by motorbuses the following day.
On the 11th November 1956 the St. Helens to Atherton service was withdrawn. For a number of reasons (legal and accounting), the South Lancashire Transport Company acquired 55 buses in the period between 1955 and 1958, although they were all numbered in the Lancashire United fleet, carried LUT fleetnames and passed to LUT on the dissolution of the Company.
The only motorbus service ever operated by the SLT itself was the Atherton to St. Helens route during this period. Over the next two years, as more of the trolleybuses, some of which were by now over 25 years old, were withdrawn, they were replaced on the routes by motorbuses.
When the South Lancashire Transport Act of 1958 authorised the complete abandonment of the system, it also authorised the dissolution of the South Lancashire Transport Company.
On the 31st August 1958, all remaining trolleybus services were abandoned and the assets of the South Lancashire Transport Company Limited were transferred to the Lancashire United Transport Company Limited on the 1st September 1958, bringing to an abrupt end almost 60 years of tram and trolleybus operations in South Lancashire.
Throughout the following decade, motorbus services were expanded and consolidated, with Lancashire United staying faithful to the front-engined traditional double-decker, and was a purchaser of the Guy Arab chassis until cessation of production in 1967.
In 1961 the Company had purchased an example of Guy Motors’ Wulfrunian (No. 58), a front-engined vehicle but with front-entrance layout.
In the event, problems with the vehicle meant that it stayed with the company for less than a year before being sold, and LUT returned to the more reliable Guy Arab chassis.
The introduction of the Government’s bus grant, which favoured buses suitable for one-man operation effectively sounded the death knell for the traditional double-decker, and in 1970, when the Guy Arab was no longer available, Lancashire United switched to the Gardner-engined, Daimler Fleetline, which was subsequently to become the standard double-decker of that decade.
In 1969, municipalities within part of the Lancashire United operating area were amalgamated to form the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire Passenger Transport Executive, and a close working arrangement with the PTE was built up.
In 1972 Lancashire United Transport was acquired by a holding company (Lanaten Ltd.), which resulted in a new working agreement with the PTE, who also obtained an option to purchase the Company outright on 1st January 1976.
In 1974 SELNEC PTE became Greater Manchester PTE after local government re-organisation had established the area as Greater Manchester County.
On the 1st January 1976, Greater Manchester PTE exercised its option, and purchased Britain’s largest independent operator.
Lancashire United continued to operate as a subsidiary under its own fleetname until 31st March 1981, when the Company was officially wound up and its assets transferred to Greater Manchester Transport, ending over 75 years of independent operation.
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), Buses/Buses Illustrated (1963-1981), PSV Circle Fleet History P48R (1962), Greater Manchester Buses (Stewart J Brown, Capital 1995). Some of these publications also draw on material from earlier works which are acknowledged in the relevant publication.