Ramsbottom UDC had been considering some form of local transport since the end of the 19th century and, in 1903, obtained powers to construct a tramway within the district.
However, the requirements of the 1903 Tramways Act, made it necessary to reconstruct certain roads, rebuild a bridge and remove a level crossing, which would have imposed a financial burden on the small UDC that the local Council could not possibly have hoped to meet.
Previous proposals for a tramway, promoted by the Lancashire Light Railway Company to connect Blackburn to Manchester (via Rawtenstall and Ramsbottom, under the lofty name of the Turton, Tottington, Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall Light Railway) had come to nothing.
In consequence, a suggestion was made to neighbouring Bury Corporation that they might look favourably on extending existing lines to form a circular route through Ramsbottom, but after much heated debate nothing materialised and Ramsbottom never had a tramway system (although the depot carried the inscription ‘Ramsbottom Tramways’).
Instead the Council turned its attention to railless traction, then being pioneered by other local authorities.
A Council meeting on January 11th 1912 agreed that a Bill for powers to operate trolleybuses over the roads authorised by the previous Tramways Order (which was due to expire in August 1912 if the specified works were not by then completed) should be presented in the next Parliamentary session.
The Bill received the Royal Assent on June 25th 1912 as the Ramsbottom Urban District Council Railless Traction Act and authorised the use of trackless vehicles over the routes previously specified for tramcars.
The order also contained a proviso that the trackless routes could be converted to tramway operation at a later date, such was the faith in the ultimate supremacy of the tramcar!
The initial route was from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s Holcombe Brook Station along Bolton Road West, Bolton Street, Market Place, Ramsbottom Lane, Stubbins Lane, Bolton Road North, Bury Road to Market Street, Edenfield, where it terminated.
A short spur diverted a few hundred yards down Bridge Street to Ramsbottom Station, although this was discontinued as early as October 1914. At the same time, land was set aside on Stubbins Lane for the construction of a six-car depot and workshop.
Early in 1913, an order for four vehicles was placed with the Railless Traction Company Limited. Powered by two 20hp English Electric motors, they were operated by tram-style hand controllers.
The chassis were supplied to the Railless Company by David Brown of Huddersfield and the bodies were constructed by Milnes Voss, with seating for 28 passengers who entered via an open platform at the rear.
The first trackless vehicle was delivered on Sunday August 10th 1913, having been towed from Leeds and a trial run was organised for the following morning. On the 14th August, a Board of Trade inspection took place and the line was approved for operation.
That evening, at 6pm, the line was opened for public service. The following day the second trolleybus arrived and by the end of the following week the order was complete.
Not surprisingly the combination of solid tyres and the town’s granite setts caused severe vibrations when the vehicles were in operation and the bodies needed replacing after just two years.
In order to facilitate the repairs a further two vehicles were purchased from the Railless Company in 1915.
The original four trolleybuses were then rebodied by Lockwood and Clarkson over the next few years. A further new vehicle arrived in 1922, again nominally built by the Railless Company, but actually manufactured by Thornycroft.
By 1923 the trolleybuses needed rebuilding once more, with new chassis and bodies again being supplied by the Railless Company.
Around the middle of 1923, Ramsbottom UDC inaugurated a motorbus route connecting the trolleybus terminus at Edenfield with the Railway Station at Rawtenstall.
On the 1st September 1924, the route was taken over by Rawtenstall Corporation (as well as two of the Thornycroft buses – Nos. 9 and 10).
This route was subsequently extended into neighbouring Bury, connecting with the Rawtenstall to Burnley (Summit) route of Rawtenstall Corporation providing a through service between Bury and Burnley, and on 21st November 1924, the three municipalities commenced operating the route jointly.
By October 1924, the Council had indicated their desire to dispense with the trolleybus service altogether, which by now was operating for only part of the day. Motorbuses were being used for the remainder of the time.
In 1925 the Council decided to promote a new Bill in Parliament in order to obtain wider powers to operate motorbuses. The new Bill was subsequently passed as the Ramsbottom UDC Act of 1926 and sounded the death knell for the troublesome trolleybuses.
In November 1926, a through service between Bury and Rawtenstall, via Holcombe Brook and Ramsbottom (jointly with Bury and Rawtenstall Corporations) began, part of which followed the route of the trolleybus service.
From then on the trolleybuses made only rare appearances (although all had been officially withdrawn by 1928, the last trolleybus actually ran on the 31st March 1931, the event passing without ceremony).
The joint service from Bury to Burnley (Summit) was withdrawn on 31st March 1932 under orders from the newly created Traffic Commissioners and was replaced by a truncated route between Bury and Rawtenstall.
Although Ramsbottom remained a joint operator, in practice the service was run solely by Bury and Rawtenstall Corporations.
Ramsbottom UDC confined itself to operating on the route via Holcombe Brook, along with short workings and local services to Edenfield via Shuttleworth, and to Holcombe Village.
These services were operated throughout the lifetime of the undertaking and apart from changes in frequency, remained basically unaltered until the UDC was swallowed up by SELNEC in 1969.
Although the early vehicles were of Thornycroft manufacture, Leylands were chosen for the new deliveries in 1927 and thereafter all the UDC’s new purchases were manufactured by Leyland (the only non-Leyland being a second-hand Albion Nimbus in December 1967, purchased for the Holcombe Village working, where, because of the narrow roads, buses had to turn on the local pub car park, precluding the use of larger vehicles).
Until 1947 all Ramsbottom vehicles were single-deck because of the low height of the bridge at Stubbins railway station, but in this year the roadway was lowered underneath the bridge giving sufficient clearance for double-deck vehicles.
The first double-deck vehicles were six all-Leyland PD2’s, delivered late in 1947, among some of the earliest examples of the type and gave sterling service. No. 21 lasted almost 22 years and actually passed into SELNEC ownership, albeit as a withdrawn vehicle.
In 1950 Ramsbottom received three Roe B44F-bodied Leyland Royal Tigers, the first of the type to be used as service buses by any operator.
Ramsbottom was administered by Lancashire County Council until boundary changes in 1974 brought it under the control of Greater Manchester County Council, and, along with near neighbours Rawtenstall and Haslingden, had contemplated forming a jointly operated undertaking.
For several years the three undertakings shared the same General Manager, but when the Rossendale Joint Transport Committee was finally formed in April 1968, Ramsbottom decided to go it alone.
Sadly, however, Ramsbottom UDC’s independence was not to be long lived, for, on the 1st November 1969, it was taken over by SELNEC.
Although the undertaking no longer existed, Ramsbottom UDC still had another page to write in the history books.
A few days after the takeover by SELNEC, the very last front-engined Leyland vehicle to roll off the production line was delivered.
It carried Ramsbottom livery, fleet number and coat of arms and had the distinction of being the only brand new half-cab vehicle to be operated by a Passenger Transport Executive.
Today it survives in preservation, a lasting memorial to over 55 years of Ramsbottom UDC Transport Department.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
British Trolleybus Systems No. 21 (AG Newman, Buses No. 293, August 1979); The History of Bury Corporation Transport (T. Fish, unpublished research); PSV Circle Fleet History PC24 (1998); Hyndburn & Rossendale – 75 Years of Municipal Operation (Peter Deegan, 1982).