A horse omnibus was recorded serving Nelson as early as 1850, when an infrequent service from Colne to Burnley, travelling via the main roads, commenced.
The service was apparently not a commercial success and the section between Nelson and Burnley was replaced by the steam trams of the Burnley & District Tramways Company, although the horse drawn omnibuses presumably continued to ply between Colne and Nelson.
The tramway was promoted under the Burnley & District Tramways Order of 1879 and was built to link Burnley with the towns to the west and north. It ran from Padiham through Burnley town centre and out via Reedley and Brierfield to the terminus in Nelson town centre.
In 1882 Nelson had obtained powers to build a steam tramway running from the George & Dragon in Barrowford to the town centre to connect with the Burnley & District steam trams, but in the event it was never constructed.
On the 1st March 1900, Burnley and Nelson Corporations, Padiham and Brierfield UDCs and Reedley Hallows Parish Council jointly purchased the Burnley & District undertaking with a view to electrifying the system.
The majority of the steam tramway had been single-track and, in 1901, 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 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.
At the same time, Nelson Corporation was planning to construct its own tramway system.
Authority had been granted under the Nelson Light Railways Order of 1901 to build a line from the town centre along Leeds Road to the boundary with Colne (which would connect with the proposed Colne Corporation tramway), with a branch line, running along Scotland Road past the depot at Charles Street, through Barrowford to Higherford Bridge.
On the 23rd February 1903, the tramway was opened with much civic ceremony. The 2.75 miles of tramway was predominantly single-track with passing places, although the sections between the Higherford Bridge terminus and Bankhouse Street, and the section between Bank Street and the Fleece in Barrowford were double-track.
Services commenced with six (Nos. 1-6) Brush open-top double-deckers, joined later in the year by two single-deck combination cars (Nos. 7-8) wearing a livery of red and white, which was later changed to brown and cream.
In practice the Nelson owned trams confined themselves to operating between Higherford Bridge and Colne, whilst Burnley Corporation trams operated the ‘main line’ from Burnley to Nelson town centre (they were prevented from travelling through by a low bridge at Colne).
In 1912 two low height tramcars (Nos. 10-11) were purchased, which would pass under the low railway bridge at Colne Station, thus enabling through running, agreement on which had been reached in 1911. Subsequently all new tramcars were to this design.
On the 1st September 1923, Nelson Corporation introduced its first bus services. Designed to operate as feeders to the tramway system the routes ran from Market Square to Cloverhill; to Waldhouse Road, and to Marsden Hall Road.
They were all one-man operated until 1932, when the practice was outlawed under the 1930 Road Traffic Act.
Nelson Corporation never expanded its bus network and the services remained as tramway feeders until the 1st April 1933, when they and the tramway (which had remained intact) were amalgamated with neighbouring Burnley and Colne Corporations to form the Burnley, Colne & Nelson Joint Transport Committee, bringing the 30-year history of Nelson Corporation Transport to an end.
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).