Horse buses had been introduced to Barrow in 1877, when two such vehicles commenced a service connecting Barrow Island and the Strawberry Hotel on Abbey Road via the town centre. They were not an immediate success and the service was withdrawn shortly afterwards.
However, they had proved the necessity of public transport, although it was to be several years later before there were any further developments.
The Barrow-in-Furness Tramways Company, under the Barrow-in-Furness Corporation Act of 1881 and the Tramways Order Confirmation of 27th February 1884, built and operated the first tramway in Barrow, but by 1898 the company had gone into liquidation.
It was taken over by the British Electric Traction Co. Ltd., who converted the system to electric traction in line with their regular practice and the new system opened to the public on 6th February 1904.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 restricted the BET expansion plans and the lack of men and materials put a strain on the system, which consequently suffered serious neglect over the next few years and, as a result, on the 1st January 1920 the Corporation of Barrow exercised its option to purchase the tramway system for the sum of £96,250.
Over the next two years more cars were added and the system improved. Nos. 1-4 were re-bodied with second-hand ERTCW bodies from Southport, nos. 29-34 were purchased second-hand from Sheffield and nos. 35-46 were new from Brush in 1921, the last to be purchased before the system’s closure.
The old BET livery of maroon and cream was changed to olive green and cream.
Motor buses had made an appearance in Barrow as early as 1915 when the British Electric Traction Co. applied for a licence to run a service from Barrow Town Hall to Dalton and Ulverston. Six Daimler CD vehicles especially purchased for the route, were followed in 1916 by three Belsize vehicles.
In 1919 the BET offered to sell the bus side of their business to the Corporation, but the Corporation declined and the undertaking was transferred to the British Automobile Traction Co. Ltd. The service was abandoned on 29th January 1922.
Barrow Corporation had made proposals for a bus service as early as 1920, but in the event, it was not until 17th August 1923 that the first service was inaugurated. A small Ford vehicle was used for the service from the Roose tram terminus to Rampside, followed shortly after by the purchase of two Chevrolet buses.
The Barrow-in-Furness Corporation Act of 1925 contained powers to operate motorbuses and an expansion of the bus system began. In May 1925 the route from Roose to Rampside was extended to Whitehall and subsequently to Ulverston with new Guy single-deck vehicles being purchased for the purpose.
Later that year two further services from the Town Hall to Ormsgill and Hawcoat were commenced. In November 1926, buses were introduced at week-ends over part of the Ramsden Dock route in an effort to reduce operating costs. It must have met with some success, since the trams were subsequently used only at peak times.
A garage was acquired next to the tram depot in Salthouse Road for use as a bus depot and this remained in use until 10th January 1936 when the new bus depot on Hindpool Road was officially opened.
In 1929 two new routes from Roose to the Tea House, and from the Town Hall to North Scale commenced and four Leyland TD1 chassis with Leyland L24/24R bodies were purchased. In 1931 four all-Leyland TS3 single-deckers joined the fleet, with Leyland subsequently supplying the bulk of vehicles; the remainder being of Crossley manufacture.
By 1930 when the Prussian blue and cream livery associated with Barrow was introduced, further expansion of services had taken place. With the final abandonment of the tramway system in 1932 buses appeared on all the routes.
A feature of Barrow buses was the coloured destination blinds, introduced in 1934, ostensibly for that section of the population that could not read. Green was used for the Abbey to Biggar Bank route; blue for the Roose to Tea House route; red for the Hawcoat to Shore route and yellow for the Hawcoat to Harrel Lane route. These blinds were retained until the 1960’s.
In 1930 consideration was given to the closure of the system and, although the trolleybus system at Wolverhampton was inspected, the Corporation eventually decided that replacement should be by motorbus.
The last tram (No. 45 and suitably decorated) operated from the Abbey terminus on the night of 5th April 1932, driven by Mr. William Parsons, who had driven the very first tram to operate on the system on 11th July 1885.
In 1933 another new bus route opened, from Oxford Street to Risedale via Greengate Hill. Five Leyland Tiger TS4’s (Nos. 1-4 and 6) inaugurated the route.
A new bus garage was built in Hindpool Road in 1936.
In 1942 the first utility vehicles arrived, six Guy Arab I’s with Park Royal bodywork, followed in 1943 by two Daimler CWG5’s and three more Guy Arabs – all with Massey bodywork. A single Guy Arab II, again with Massey bodywork completed the wartime deliveries in 1943.
In the early postwar period Barrow gained a reputation as having one of the most modern and standardised fleets in the country.
Twenty new Crossley DD42 double-deckers arrived in 1948, and between 1949 and 1951 fifty Leyland Titan PD2/3 double-deckers with Park Royal bodywork were purchased, all built to the newly introduced maximum width of 8-ft. Nos. 141-150 were later re-bodied by Roe.
In 1950 alterations were made to the Ormsgill to Harrel Lane and the Oxford Street to Risedale services to provide a circular service and double-deck vehicles were introduced. The business of the Grange Motor and Cycle Company, who operated between Barrow and Ulverston was taken over, jointly with Ribble Motor Services in 1951.
The additional workings were operated solely by Ribble. On the 1st February 1953 the Ormsgill to Risedale service was extended to the new housing estate at Newbarns. On the 6th October 1958 one-man-operation was introduced on the Coast Road service to Ulverston.
1958 also saw the next intake of double-deckers when ten more Park Royal bodied PD2/40’s were delivered, although three single-deckers had been added to the fleet in the mid-fifties.
In 1961 ten more Leyland PD2 double-deckers were delivered, this time with Massey bodies to a front entrance design. Also during this year the maximum length for single-deck vehicles was increased to 36-ft, which made them much more attractive to operators.
Barrow was among those that subsequently favoured single-deck vehicles and no further double-deck vehicles were purchased until 1982. The single-deck vehicles provided a variety of chassis types, Leyland Leopard and National, Daimler Fleetline and Dennis Dominator all made an appearance in the blue and cream livery of Barrow.
Tentative steps into coaching were taken in 1973 with the purchase of E. N. Hadwin of Ulverston, along with ten coaches. The business was operated as a separate entity under the name of Hadwin’s Luxury Coaches, but was disposed of in 1977.
Another attempt at developing a coaching operation was instigated in 1986 when two coaches were purchased. The name chosen was ‘Barrovian Travel’ and the new company commenced operations in May 1986. It was still operating when Barrow Transport became Barrow Borough Transport Limited later in 1986.
In 1982 three second-hand Fleetlines with MCW bodies were purchased from London Transport with two similar vehicles arriving in 1984.
Under the 1985 Transport Act, the Transport Department was forced to become an ‘arm’s length’ limited company, which commenced trading as Barrow Borough Transport Limited on 26th October 1986, effectively ending over 65 years of municipal involvement in local transport, although the Borough Council continued to be the major shareholder until 26th May 1989, when, after a lengthy battle with Ribble Motor Services, the Company ceased to trade.
This history covers the period of municipal operations of Barrow Corporation which effectively ceased on 26th October 1986 with the enactment of the 1985 Transport Act (de-regulation).
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); Cumberland Motor Services 1921-1996 (Chapter 6), (Harry Postlethwaite, Venture 1996); Barrow Diamond Jubilee by Adrian W. Norris (Buses Extra No. 15); Barrow Borough Transport by Roy Marshall (Buses Extra No. 62 Dec 1989-Jan 1990); PSV Circle Fleet History PA15 (1984), Buses (various editions). Some of this material draws on earlier works which are acknowledged in the respective publications.