Horse drawn coaches were running on regular services through Rawtenstall by at least 1824, when the mail coach ‘John Bull’ was recorded running to Skipton, Burnley and Colne every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and every Tuesday evening through Rawtenstall.
‘The Union’ ran daily to Colne, passing through Rawtenstall and Burnley en route (in the afternoon on Sunday, Thursday and Friday, and in the evening on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday).
Horse omnibuses had made an appearance in the area by 1864, when the Bacup Omnibus Conveyance and Livery Stable Company commenced operating between Bacup and Rochdale.
Further services were subsequently provided to Haslingden, Burnley and Water. By 1881, they were advertising five journeys a day between Rawtenstall and neighbouring Bacup, operating from stables close by the Bishop Blaize Hotel in Rawtenstall centre.
The ‘Princess Alice’, a wagonette owned by the proprietor of the Commercial Hotel, Haslingden, ran a scheduled service connecting Baxenden with Rawtenstall, via Haslingden in the 1880’s, but ceased around 1887, when steam trams began operating between the same points.
In November 1887 the Accrington Steam Tramways Company opened a line from Queens Square in Rawtenstall town centre to Lockgate as an extension of the Company’s steam tramway from Accrington.
This section was constructed under powers originally intended to authorise an extension of the Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramway Company line coming from Bacup and Rochdale, but this part of the MBRO system was never built.
In 1889 a second steam tramway opened. Authorised by the Rossendale Tramways Act of 1888 and operated by the Rossendale Valley Tramways Company, it was a single line track joining Crawshawbooth, just north of the town, and Bacup to the east, via Queen’s Square in Rawtenstall town centre, where it connected with the line to Lockgate.
By now the Bacup Omnibus Conveyance and Livery Stables had become the Rossendale Division Carriage Company Ltd., and by 1907 was operating a double-deck motorbus between Rawtenstall and the Burnley (Summit) terminus.
It was abandoned around the time of the opening of the electric tramway extension to Loveclough.
Although the company introduced further routes (Bacup to Deerplay, and Bacup to Sharneyford) the intervention of the First World War brought these activities to a halt and subsequently the Company dropped the stage services in favour of the coaching trade.
On 16th December 1907, Rawtenstall Corporation inaugurated a motorbus route along the Lumb Valley from Waterfoot to Water, using a single open-top double-deck Ryknield.
It was joined in February 1908 by a second similar vehicle. Liveried in blue and cream, they proved unsatisfactory and the service was withdrawn in September 1910, although one (FA157) saw subsequent service as a Corporation tower wagon until the demise of the tramways around 1932.
In January 1908 Rawtenstall Corporation acquired the portion of the Accrington Steam Tramway Company’s line that lay within its boundary, and on the 1st October 1908 Rawtenstall and Bacup Councils jointly purchased the Rossendale Steam Tramway Company and commenced electrification of the system, although the steam trams continued to run until 22nd July 1909, memorable as the last regular use of steam traction on a street tramway in Britain.
On the 15th May 1909, the first section of electric track to open was that to Crawshawbooth and the newly constructed extension to Loveclough, ¾-mile further north towards Burnley, which was never reached, despite proposals for an extension to Burnley’s Summit terminus.
The two termini were connected by a horse bus service, operated by a Mr Hargreaves, until he was ousted by the motorbus.
On 23rd July 1909, the Bacup to Lockgate section of the old steam tramway was opened to the electric trams, but agreement on the through running of cars to Accrington was not reached until 1st April 1910; in the meantime passengers were forced to change cars at Lockgate to continue their journey.
Finally, an extension to Water, branching from the Bacup line at Waterfoot was opened on the 21st January 1911 to complete the 11¾-mile single-track system.
The initial rolling stock consisted of 16 (Nos. 1-16), top-covered double-deck cars from the United Electric Company of Preston.
Two similar double-deckers (Nos. 17-18) arrived in 1912, along with six (Nos. 19-24) single-deck cars, equipped with magnetic and slipper brakes, primarily for the steep route to Water. The final additions came in 1922 with a batch of eight (Nos. 25-32) Brush-built fully enclosed double-deckers.
In September 1923, Ribble Motor Services, who had extended their sphere of operations as far as Blackburn over the previous few years and now had an eye on the major towns to the south, submitted applications for routes from Burnley through Rawtenstall to Bolton, to Bury and to Rochdale, as well as a route through Bacup to Todmorden.
Rawtenstall Corporation declined to issue any licences and instead approved the promotion of a Bill in the next session of Parliament, authorising the Corporation to operate motorbuses themselves.
Bacup Council similarly declined the Ribble proposal but approved a simultaneous request by Todmorden Corporation to operate via the town to Burnley.
On the 9th August 1924, motorbuses were introduced on services between Rawtenstall and Newchurch, and Rawtenstall via Loveclough to Burnley (but due to the refusal of Burnley Corporation to issue the necessary licences it could operate only as far as the tram terminus at the Summit.
Passengers had to change to a Burnley tram to travel onward). The initial motorbus fleet consisted of 6 (Nos. 33-38) Leyland SG9’s with Leyland B40D bodies in a maroon and cream livery with gold lining out.
On the 1st September 1924 the Edenfield to Rawtenstall (Railway Station) route operated by Ramsbottom UDC was acquired along with two Thornycroft vehicles.
Shortly afterwards the Corporation extended the service south from Edenfield to nearby Bury and joined it with the route to Burnley (Summit), the through route being operated jointly from 21st November 1924 by Bury, Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall Corporations, although it ceased on 31st March 1932, leaving just the Bury to Rawtenstall section jointly operated.
In 1928, Rawtenstall Corporation commenced an express bus service, following the tram route, from Bacup to Accrington, via Rawtenstall and Haslingden. The service was worked jointly with both Accrington and Haslingden Corporations and sounded the death knell for the tram service.
In 1929, the decision was taken to abandon the trams altogether. On the 1st May 1930, the express service became a stage carriage service replacing the trams completely, and in 1931 the Loveclough tram service ceased, followed on the 31st March 1932 by that to Water, although the official closing ceremony did not take place until 7 days later on the 7th April 1932.
By this time a further bus route had been introduced – from Waterfoot to Cowpe, although disagreement with Bacup Council caused a halt to the service.
In June 1930, after Bacup Council had at last agreed to Rawtenstall Corporation operating services within its boundary, a route from Waterfoot through Stacksteads and then via New Line to Britannia, commenced.
The first double-deckers in the fleet arrived in 1931. Nos. 53-57 (TF4236-37; TF6081-82; TF6856) were Leyland TD1’s with Leyland H27/24R bodywork, a combination that was to be favoured until Leyland ceased bodybuilding, although Leyland chassis continued to be purchased until the demise of the Corporation in 1968.
Following the initial flurry of applications, the Rawtenstall Corporation route network settled down to enjoy a long period of stability with little change.
The obligatory Guy Arab (No. 37; FTD450) arrived during the Second World War. The only non-Leyland vehicle in the fleet it lasted remarkably well and was withdrawn in 1964 after 21 years service.
In 1949, the General Manager of Rawtenstall also assumed responsibility for the operations of Haslingden Corporation.
Over the following years various schemes were mooted for the amalgamation of the two fleets (along with that of nearby Ramsbottom UDC, which also shared the same General Manager), but nothing came of them.
During the 1960’s Todmorden JOC withdrew the Todmorden to Burnley service that had been operating since the early 1920’s.
Rawtenstall Corporation was called upon to provide replacement services between Bacup and Sharneyford, and Bacup and Burnley (jointly with Ribble Motor Services).
It was not until the 1st April 1968 that the Rawtenstall and Haslingden fleets finally joined together (Ramsbottom having decided to go it alone) to form the Rossendale Joint Transport Committee, ending over 60 years of operations by Rawtenstall Corporation.
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); PSV Circle Fleet History PC/PC4A (1987); Hyndburn & Rossendale 75 Years of Municipal Operation (Peter Deegan, Omnibus Society 1982).