John Robert Tognarelli arrived in Britain from Italy in 1904. The young man became an ice cream manufacturer and restaurateur, and established a private hire business in April 1919, just after the end of the First World War, using some of the lorries he had acquired for use in the war.
Initially his fleet, like many of the independents of the time, consisted of charabancs, probably using a number of the lorry chassis re-fitted with charabanc bodies, with which he ran tours and excursions from the Bolton area.
In 1927, he began to establish a number of express and stage carriage routes in direct competition with local municipal services. Tognarelli was amongst those operators who laid the foundations for the development of the national express coach network.
He purchased a new fleet of modern vehicles to operate the services, one of which ran from Bolton to Manchester, terminating in a yard at the Poet’s Corner at the junction of Todd Street and Long Millgate, near Victoria Station and was introduced on 16th May 1927.
Originally on an hourly frequency he soon revised it to run every 30-minutes, but it was poorly patronised for some time even though he offered lower fares than the other operators. Due to licensing restrictions, passengers were unable to board Tognarelli’s buses en route, but could alight anywhere.
Vehicles often travelled from one terminus to the other without stopping, which provided a fast service.
This enabled one conductor to collect the fares from several vehicles, boarding one in Bolton towards Farnworth, then alighting to join the arriving vehicle from Manchester, on which he travelled back to Bolton, to repeat the process again.
How passengers who wished to alight on the Manchester to Farnworth section paid their fare is not recorded, but an inspector regularly travelled the route and no doubt prevented fare dodgers!
At the height of the competition the service ran on a 30-minute frequency between 8 am and 11 pm and Tognarelli claimed to carry in excess of 2000 passengers a day, peaking to over 2500 on Saturdays.
By this time the return fare on this service had been reduced from 2/- to 1/6. He repeatedly tried to increase the frequency of his service to 15-minutes in response to a similar frequency by the municipalities, but was refused time and time again.
An appeal to the Ministry of Transport was equally unsuccessful, although he did take the opportunity to operate on a 15-minute frequency whilst awaiting the hearing!
Tours also formed a part of the business and destinations served included Southport, Morecambe and the Lake District.
In May 1928, Tognarelli introduced an hourly service from Manchester (Mayes Street) to Chadderton (Burnley Lane/Garforth Street) at a fare of 9d single or 1/- return. This again provoked a response by the local municipalities.
The following year an express service linking Bolton and Manchester with London and Glasgow (via Carlisle) was introduced using newly purchased Burlingham-bodied Leyland Tigers.
Coaches would leave London at 9.00 am, stopping en route for lunch and tea, arriving in Manchester at 6.00 pm, where a passenger could connect with a coach to Glasgow arriving at 6.00 am the following morning. The fare for the through journey was £1-15s.
The Tognarelli fleet was built to a high standard of luxury and designed to encourage the public to travel by coach.
The coaches, which had only 26 luxury seats on a full-sized chassis, must have been spacious and comfortable compared to the high capacity and cramped coaches of later periods.
Plans for expansion of the Tognarelli network were obviously in hand, since proposals were made in 1928 for a depot to be built on land in Manchester Road, Bolton, with accommodation for over 100 vehicles, and it was further proposed to erect a waiting room, cloak rooms and refreshment facilities on the site at Poet’s Corner.
A new route was opened to Manchester from Little Hulton, via Walkden and Eccles, and Tognarelli now operated three routes in competition with a number of local municipalities, as well as a nationwide express service.
In 1929, however, with the prospect of the regulations of the 1930 Road Traffic Act looming, Tognarelli decided to sell out. After a number of meetings he was offered £24000 for his fleet and services, which he accepted.
He retired from the scene, a wealthier man, on the 8th December 1929, when his services and vehicles were absorbed into the fleets of the surrounding municipalities of Manchester, Salford, Bolton and Oldham Corporations and local independent Lancashire United Transport, thus ending the brief existence of one of the pioneers of long-distance express services.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Bolton 100 (Keith Healey, GMTS 1999); Lancashire United/SLT (Eric Ogden, TPC 1985); Manchester’s Buses (D. M. Eyre, MTMS 1971); The Leyland Bus (Doug Jack, PRC 1992); Oldham Corporation Buses (David Wayman, DTS 1997); PSV Circle Fleet History PC10 (1972).