Oldham’s first tramway, authorised by the Oldham Borough Tramways Order of 1878, was officially opened on the 16th September 1880.
Although the Corporation had laid the infrastructure, the initial lease of the system was to the Manchester Carriage and Tramways company, whose horse trams ran from Waterhead along Huddersfield Road to the Manchester boundary at Hollinwood.
In 1885 the Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramway Company (MBRO), opened a line into the town via Royton, with a branch line to Werneth station opening in 1889.
Another private company with an interest in Oldham was the Oldham, Ashton and Hyde Electric Tramways Company Ltd., a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction Company, whose line to the Oldham boundary at Hathershaw, from the Market Place at Ashton-under-Lyne, opened in 1899.
Trams did not however run through until the lease expired and was purchased by the local authorities in 1921.
The first line to be operated by the Corporation, under the Oldham Corporation Act of 1899, opened on the 15th December 1900, and was from the boundary at Chadderton along Middleton Road to Rochdale Road where it connected with the MBRO line.
At this time, Oldham was still being served by the horse trams of the Manchester Carriage and Tramways Company and the steam trams of the MBRO and the addition of the Corporation’s own electric trams added to the patchwork of services.
In 1901, however, the lease on the horse tram system expired and Oldham Corporation took over the working of the lines. At the same time the Corporation came to an agreement with the MBRO for the purchase of their lines and set to work unifying and electrifying the whole system.
The Middleton Electric Traction Company, another BET subsidiary, commenced operations on a small section of line between Chadderton, at the Oldham boundary, and Rhodes, via Mills Hill and Middleton town centre, in 1902.
The system was sold in 1925 to the participating local authorities and integrated with the Manchester Corporation system in Middleton, allowing through running from Oldham.
In the meantime Oldham Corporation had set about upgrading and expanding the lines within the borough and by 1903 operated a network of services, summarised below;
|Waterhead – Hollinwood|
|Hollinwood – Watersheddings|
|Lees (County End) – Werneth (Fire Station)|
|Higginshaw – Union Street|
|Werneth (Fire Station) – Boundary Park|
|Chadderton boundary (Middleton Rd) – Wellington Street|
|Hathershaw – Boundary Park|
|Market Place – Moorside|
|Union Street, Glodwick Road, Park Road, Star Inn Circular|
|Higginshaw – Rock Street|
|Chadderton Rd – Market Place|
Further developments took place until 1925 when the line from the Chadderton boundary was extended through to Middleton, following the purchase of that portion of the line from Middleton Corporation (who had themselves acquired the section from the Middleton Electric Traction Co Ltd). This proved to be the last extension of the tramway system.
Motorbuses had made an appearance in Oldham during May 1913, when two Tilling-Stevens TTA2 petrol-electric vehicles (BU401-2) were purchased for two routes.
The first commenced at the Town Hall and ran to the Coppice, a distance of just under a mile. The second was from the Moorside tram terminus to Grains Bar and was intended as a stop-gap measure until the opening of the new tram terminus there. It ran until June 1914.
A third Tilling-Stevens was acquired to provide cover and was registered BU11, following the then common practice of re-issuing void registration marks for new vehicles.
A further service was introduced on the 31st August 1914 to Denshaw from the new tram terminus at Grains Bar.
However, the cost of operating the buses was becoming too expensive and the services were withdrawn in 1919.
No attempt was made to re-introduce buses until 1924, when several private companies began services which competed against the Corporation’s tramway network.
Initially, it was intended to operate buses as feeder’s to the tram service and five new all-Leyland C9 single-deckers with forward entrance, which made them capable of one-man operation, were purchased.
The new service started on the 15th December 1924, connecting Mumps and Hollinwood railway stations.
On the 28th February 1925 a second service commenced from Chadderton Road to the Broadway, New Moston, extended on 25th July 1925 to serve Royton station and terminating at the New Moston boundary with Manchester.
To cope with the extensions four all-Leyland C7’s were purchased. It was at this time that Oldham Corporation commenced lettering their bus routes to avoid confusion with the regularly numbered tram routes, a practice that was to continue, except on jointly operated routes, which were numbered.
When, in 1925, Ashton Corporation decided to replace the trams on its share of the Oldham to Ashton service with trolleybuses, it requested that Oldham Corporation do the same.
As a result two Short-bodied Railless trolleybuses were acquired, Oldham’s share of a combined order for ten, and the joint service began on 26th August 1925.
In the event the trolleybuses were to last just over a year before being replaced by motorbuses, although Ashton continued to run them on its section of the route.
On the 10th October 1926 a new depot was opened in Henshaw Street to accommodate the growing fleet of buses.
In the latter part of the decade it became increasingly expensive to run the tram system, mainly due to the increasing costs of track maintenance and replacement and some of the tram routes were superseded by buses.
On 1st May 1928 the last tram ran to Lees, and on 24th December 1928 the Market Place to Grains Bar section was abandoned.
Wholesale abandonment of the tramway system, however, was not begun until 1934 and subsequently delayed by the Second World War, so that the last tram did not run until the 3rd August 1946.
In preparation for the tramway replacement, however, the Corporation had been evaluating chassis types and come down in favour of Leyland.
As a result over 160 Leyland TD4 and TD5 chassis were purchased in the next decade or so, carrying a variety of body styles.
By 1931 the livery was crimson and lake, replacing the earlier dark blue and white introduced on the first motorbuses in 1924, and remained so until 1966 when it was altered to pommard and cream.
Buses replaced the trams on the Market Place to Hollinwood section in 1935 and in 1937 the Circular route was turned over to motorbuses. At the same time there had been a rise in the volume of passenger traffic and as a result more buses were required.
This resulted in an order for 30 new buses in 1937, which included six Daimler COG6 chassis with Gardner 6LW engines, the only such engines to grace the Oldham Corporation fleet.
The pre-war delivery of so many new buses meant that Oldham, unlike most other operators, did not have to resort to an intake of utility buses during hostilities and when peace broke out, Oldham Corporation’s fleet was still relatively young.
Buses replaced the final remaining tram route, to Manchester from Waterhead, on the 3rd August 1946, and an effort to restore services to pre-war levels began.
A change in ordering policy in the early pre-war years saw a number of Crossley and Daimler vehicles, as well as Leyland, purchased, and, with the fleet renewed, there followed a period of stabilisation.
By 1952 the fleet strength stood at 240 vehicles, of which only 14 were single-deck.
Housing developments necessitated the introduction of new services to Fitton Hill and Holts estates in the mid-fifties and, with running costs rising, Oldham Corporation decided to accept bus advertising; the first such advert appeared in November 1953.
As was the case with many operators at this time, Oldham Corporation found themselves with a serious staff shortage and this did little to improve the running of the services.
In 1956 the maximum length for double-deckers was increased to 30ft, but, although an AEC Bridgemaster demonstrator (116TMD) was on hire during 1959, it was not until 1964 that Oldham Corporation purchased 30ft long vehicles.
Several other vehicles were hired from neighbouring authorities for assessment before ten Leyland PD3/5’s with Roe H41/32F bodywork were finally purchased in 1964.
Spare parts for some of the postwar buses were becoming difficult to obtain and supplies of Crossley components had been discontinued, so Oldham acquired several withdrawn vehicles (including 2 ex-Liverpool Crossley DD42/7’s, 6 ex-Birmingham Daimler CVD6’s and 2 ex-Bury Leyland PD1’s) for cannibalisation.
In 1965 the first rear-engined buses, ten Leyland PDR1/1 Atlanteans were put into service. Later that year Oldham Corporation suffered a major setback when an inspection by the Ministry of Transport examiners found faults on 97 buses, resulting in the Corporation urgently hiring 45 buses from neighbouring authorities.
Subsequently it was decided to purchase several second-hand vehicles to bolster the fleet.
On the 1st April 1968 the practice of allocating letters as route identification was replaced by route numbering.
The 1968 Road Transport Act provided for the creation of the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire (SELNEC) Passenger Transport Executive, of which Oldham became a part on the 1st November 1969, officially ceasing to exist as a separate municipal undertaking at midnight on the 31st October.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996),Oldham Corporation Tramways (Arthur Kirby, Triangle Publishing 1998); Oldham Corporation Buses (David Wayman, DTS 1997); PSV Circle Fleet History PC5.