The first tramway system in Ashton was constructed by the Manchester Carriage & Tramways Company under powers granted in 1878. Opened in 1881, the Company’s horse-drawn trams ran from Stalybridge Town Hall through Ashton to the Snipe Inn at the Audenshaw boundary.
Up until that time, a network of stagecoach services had provided connections between Ashton and neighbouring towns, the first recorded instance being in 1818, by which time a coach was operating through Ashton on a route from Stalybridge to Manchester.
By the end of the century there were numerous horse-omnibus services also operating, including the ‘Penny Stage Bus’ between the Lamb Inn, Ashton and the Coach & Horses, Denton.
The British Electric Traction Company Ltd., were granted powers under a Tramway Order of 1896 to construct and operate an electric tramway system, and in 1897 the Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne, Hyde and District Tramway Company was registered. By June 1899 the first service had begun.
In the first four weeks of operation, passenger numbers were so great that it was planned to hire eight double-deck cars from Leeds to supplement the existing rolling stock of sixteen tramcars. In addition, twenty trailer cars were ordered, but, in the event, only twelve were delivered.
They were not a success and although four were motorised, the remainder were seldom used and eventually offered for sale. Thirty single-deck cars were in service by June 1901, but because of increasing public demand, it was decided to rebuild the eight Leeds tramcars (which had subsequently been purchased and converted to single-deck) to double-deck.
In December 1902, the Company acquired the lease on the section of line connecting Gee Cross with Bredbury, which had been constructed by Hyde Corporation, whose initial intention had been to lease the track to Stockport Corporation, but they showed little interest, and, as a result, the 15-year lease went to the Company.
Meanwhile, Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation was making plans to construct and operate its own tramway system. In 1899, representatives attended a meeting with the neighbouring towns of Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield, with a view to establishing a joint tramway and electricity undertaking.
In the event, Ashton withdrew from the talks and joined with neighbouring Hurst to seek powers to construct and operate tramways within the two boroughs.
In 1900 the Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation Tramways Order and the Hurst UDC Tramways Order gave the necessary permission and, in October 1900, Ashton Corporation served notice on the Manchester Tramways and Carriage Company that it intended to purchase all the Company’s lines within the borough.
An initial order for six single-deck and six double-deck cars was placed with the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Company of Preston, for delivery in 1902. To accommodate the new fleet, land was purchased from the church authorities on Mossley Road and, in July 1901, construction of a new tramway depot for 45 cars was started.
The first line to open in August 1902 was a circular single-track route that ran from the Market Place in Ashton outwards via Union Road and King Street to Hurst Cross, returning via Whiteacre Road or Queen Street and Mossley Road (past the depot).
Initially, services were maintained by two double-deck cars (probably Nos. 1 and 2) with No. 2 being the first service tramcar to run. The depot on Mossley Road was not completed until late in 1902 and the Ashton Corporation tram fleet had to be temporarily garaged at the Oldham, Ashton and Hyde premises in Denton until then.
On the 31st March 1903 the lease of the Manchester Tramways and Carriage Company expired and the official last horse-drawn tramcar left Ashton at 9.50 pm bound for Stalybridge.
However, because the electric tramway tracks were still incomplete, the horse-drawn tramcars were re-instated on the 23rd April and ran between Ashton and Stalybridge for almost a further six months, until 14th October 1903, when the electric tramway was finally opened.
The following year agreement was reached with Manchester Corporation for through running of tramcars between the two authorities.
In 1905 six new single-deck tramcars were added to the fleet (Nos. 13-18), built by ERTCW and liveried in maroon and dark blue, with a further three UEC-built double-deck cars (Nos. 20-22) added in 1908 (No.19 was used as the fleet number for the Ashton salt car).
Although Ashton Corporation was continuing to develop its tramway system; the Oldham, Ashton & Hyde Tramway Company was still operating a service from Oldham, via Ashton to Hyde.
In 1914 a preliminary meeting was held to consider the acquisition of the Company’s assets when the lease of the tramway tracks within the borough expired, although the onset of World War I delayed the purchase until 2nd July 1921, by which time the Company had let much of the track and rolling stock deteriorate badly.
Ashton Corporation received over half the Company’s assets from the purchase, but the state of the rolling stock was such that only 2 out of the 24 tramcars acquired ever ran in service with Ashton Corporation.
In 1923, the new Traffic Manager, Mr. Charles Baker, decided against relaying the old Company tracks in Katherine Street and substituted a motorbus service. Three single-deck 20-seat buses were hired from Guy Motors Ltd. for the experimental service, which ran from Chester Square via Katherine Street to Smallshaw.
Two of the vehicles were subsequently purchased, becoming numbers 41 and 42 in the Ashton Corporation fleet.
The track in other areas was also in need of relaying, including the length of track between Ashton and Hathershaw, which used the bridge over the River Medlock at Bardsley. In order to lay double tracks along the route the bridge would require widening and a dispute arose between Lancashire County Council and Ashton Corporation over who would foot the bill.
As a result Ashton Corporation eventually decided to introduce a trolleybus system over the bridge as the cheaper option and on 24th November 1924, ten single-deck trolleybuses were ordered from the Railless Company of Rochester (two of which were owned and garaged by Oldham Corporation), the first public service commencing on 26th August the following year.
At the same time the name of the undertaking was changed to Ashton-under-Lyne Tramways and Motors, reflecting the changing composition of the fleet, which, at the end of 1925, consisted of 39 trams, eight trolleybuses and six motorbuses.
By 1928 the first sign of tramway abandonment was seen when a new bus service from Ashton to Gee Cross (Hyde), via Dukinfield was introduced, replacing the tram service, which ceased in January that year.
At the same time additional bus services were inaugurated, including through services to Stockport via Hyde, and to Rochdale via Oldham. In 1929 the Ashton to Mottram tram service was abandoned during the week, with the trams being used to maintain a peak service at weekends only.
On 8th February 1930 the Ashton to Upper Mossley tram service was discontinued, followed shortly afterwards by the Ashton to Mossley Station service. By the end of 1931 the tramcar fleet stood at just 25 cars and improvements, which had started in 1928 and included the fitting of upholstered seats, were suspended in the light of continued abandonments.
Early in 1932 a decision was made to abandon all the remaining tramway routes in the borough, and, on 1st March 1938 without ceremony, the last Ashton-under-Lyne tramcar (No. 32) left the Town Hall terminus for Manchester and the tramway era was over, the route being turned over to the trolleybuses.
Further extensions of the trolleybus system were agreed with Manchester Corporation. In 1938 a second route between the two neighbouring authorities was opened, and in 1940 a third, serving Guide Bridge, commenced.
With the onset of World War II, the trolleybus routes proved invaluable in keeping the services running, since a shortage of fuel severely restricted bus services. Wartime restrictions, however, eventually resulted in power cuts, which caused serious disruptions to the services.
Motorbus services were also restricted by lack of fuel and several services were cut back or withdrawn altogether. Both the trolleybuses and motorbuses suffered from reduced maintenance during the war years and it was 1947 before steps could be taken to improve the condition of the fleet.
The first postwar deliveries were six all-Crossley DD42/3’s with H30/26R bodywork (Nos. 1, 8, 10, 12, 21-22), which were used to replace earlier Crossley vehicles purchased in the mid-1930’s.
The first new postwar bus service was introduced in 1947, to Parkbridge, operating just one journey a day, and in 1950 a new route to Rayner Lane Estate (Crowhill) was opened and services were re-organised on a cross-town basis.
In November 1954, the familiar peacock blue and cream livery was introduced, replacing the previous dark blue, red and white.
The first lightweight bodied buses in the fleet arrived in 1955; seven Leyland PD2/12’s with Crossley bodywork (Nos. 11, 24, 29-31, 46-47) and by the end of the year the fleet consisted of 21 trolleybuses and 50 motorbuses.
By now, however, Manchester Corporation was considering abandonment of the trolleybuses there, although Ashton Corporation was planning to operate its trolleybuses until at least 1963 and in 1956 purchased another 8 trolleybuses with Bond 60-seat bodywork (Nos. 82-89).
On the 3rd July 1960 the final trolleybus ran to Haughton Green and motorbuses took over the following day, but it was not until four years later on the 10th October 1964 that the next trolleybus route (to Manchester via Guide Bridge) was converted to motorbus operation.
In the meantime a new bus station was opened in November 1963 and many of the former Market Square termini were moved there, although, because of the need to construct new overhead, trolleybus services did not use it.
On the 30th December 1966, after services had been progressively wound down, the final trolleybus (No. 87) ran into Ashton depot marking the end of trolleybus operations, not only in Ashton, but also in Manchester.
In January 1967 the last new bus route to be opened by Ashton Corporation was to the new housing estate at Gambrel Bank, just over two years before the formation of the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire Passenger Transport Executive in November 1969, which swallowed up the Ashton Corporation undertaking, along with a number of other local municipalities, and the peacock blue and cream buses gradually disappeared, bringing to an end 67 years of Ashton Corporation Transport.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
A History of Public Transport in Ashton-under-Lyne (WGS Hyde: MTMS 1980); PSV Circle Fleet History PC5B (1974).