Bury Corporation Transport 1903-1969

The earliest mention of a transport system in Bury was in 1796 when a twice-weekly horse-drawn coach, which travelled between Rochdale and Manchester via Bury, was withdrawn due to lack of patronage.

In 1817, horse-drawn coaches were leaving the Eagle and Child, in Silver Street, at 7am daily to Manchester, and to Burnley and Colne on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. By 1824, Bury was well provided with horse-drawn transport.

By 1838 horse-drawn coaches ran to Rochdale, Bacup, Blackburn and Hull, and shorter local services were introduced. From ‘Heaps Bury Miscellany’ of 1854, we read that Robert Lever plied horse buses to Whitefield from near the monument in Market Place at fares of 4d inside and 3d outside, and ran five trips a day.

A service to Holcombe, via Woolfold and Tottington ran three times daily at fares of 6d inside and 4d outside, and yet another ran twice daily to Rochdale via Heywood.

The Bury and Manchester Passenger Conveyance Association and the Manchester Carriage Company both plied the seemingly lucrative route to Manchester.

In 1846, however, the railway arrived in Bury with the opening of the East Lancashire Railway’s station in Bolton Street and in May 1848 the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company opened a line through Knowsley Street station.

The competition began to affect the horse-drawn coaches and the number of services they provided slowly dwindled until, in 1889, only a daily service to Edenfield remained.

In November 1869, plans for a tramway that would serve Bury were submitted under the title ‘Manchester Suburban Tramways’. The tramway would run from Salford along Manchester Road and Silver Street, Bury and terminate at Market Place.

At this stage only a cautious interest was being shown, since the famous ‘Red Flag’ act of 1865 deterred serious interest in mechanically propelled transport by requiring a man with a red flag to proceed any such vehicle, and every new route had to be authorised by a private act of Parliament – a very arduous and expensive procedure.

Due to increasing pressure, however, the Tramways Act of 1870 allowed tramways to be authorised by a Provisional Order given by the Board of Trade which could be confirmed later by Parliament.

With this Act local authorities received the powers to disallow any length they deemed unsuitable and were allowed to purchase any section which lay within their boundary after 21 years.

On the 16th of December 1880, Chas. Phillips & Company of 20, Bucklersbury, London, applied to the Council for their consent to approach the Board of Trade for a Provisional Order authorising the construction of a tramway in Bury under the name ‘The Bury & District Tramway Company’.

The company contended that they would keep a large proportion of the roads of the town in good repair. Rates would be payable on the lines, which would therefore not only give the public a service, but relieve the burden on the ratepayers.

The matter was put before the General Purposes Committee, who, having regard to the financial position of the Corporation and the length of time that might elapse before the tramway became a paying concern, consented to the Company’s proposal, but with a clause inserted that would give the Corporation such rights and privileges over the streets and roadways as were thought desirable.

The Provisional Order was authorised and obtained unopposed, receiving the Royal Assent in the Parliamentary Sessions on the 26th of August 1881.

By the time of the opening day of Bury’s first tramway track on Monday the 12th March 1883, the company had been re-named the Manchester, Bury, Rochdale & Oldham Steam Tramways Company Limited.

To mark the occasion, invited officials from neighbouring towns gathered at the tram depot in The Wylde.

At 9am the party set off in two steam cars to travel the six miles to Kersal Bar, where the inspection started, and, having passed the section as fit for service, the first steam tram departed at 11am.

During the first day of Bury’s steam tram operations over 700 passengers were carried on the five journeys, a total operating distance of 60 miles.

The Rector of Bury had obtained a protective clause forbidding steam trams from running along the narrow Rock Street in front of the Parish Church to the town centre, and so horse-drawn trams had to be used on this section, which extended to Limefield. The horse-drawn trams were double-deck, open-top, with wooden seats.

In the lower deck the seats were placed along the sides facing inwards, but on the upper deck passengers sat back-to-back on knife-board seats.

The cars were quite small vehicles; they had four wheels and were usually pulled by two horses, but on steep gradients an extra horse would be needed.

The line was converted to steam power in 1886 after permission to widen Rock Street was granted.

By 1887 the company’s commitments under the 1870 Tramways Act were proving costly and they did their best to rid themselves of their obligations towards the upkeep of the roads and rolling stock. Eventually the Board of Trade fined the company for non-compliance with the terms of the Act.

In October 1887 the company went into liquidation and ten months later re-emerged as the Bury, Rochdale & Oldham Steam Tramways Company Limited; but by 1892 a general revulsion for the steam trams was observed throughout the country; experiments with electric traction were beginning to show its superiority and electric cars were being run in Halifax, Bristol, Dublin and Swansea.

In Bury, the steam trams were still causing great annoyance and the Council felt that if the company could not work the tramways without causing the nuisances they did, then they should adopt a new mode of traction.

In 1898, the Streets Committee passed a resolution that the Tramways Sub-Committee should, in the immediate future, consider the question of acquiring the tramways and the mode of traction to be used.

Later that year the Streets Committee had a Bill put before Parliament giving the Corporation the necessary powers to acquire the steam tramways and work them. Despite an appeal by the Tramway Company, the Bill was passed and received the Royal Assent.

The first Tramways Committee was appointed in November 1899 under the chairmanship of Councillor Hutchinson, and was instructed to prepare a system of electric tramways to be ready for working when the Steam Tramway Company’s period of working expired.

Negotiations were also started with the outside authorities of Tottington, Radcliffe, Whitefield and Heywood, for their consent to the provision of local services in their districts by Bury Corporation.

On the 19th of January 1900, consulting engineers inspected the district to be covered by the new tramway and advised on the conversion of the existing steam tramway.

A gauge of 4ft 8½ins was selected, since both the neighbouring districts into which the tramway might run, Rochdale and Manchester, had both adopted this gauge, and the overhead system of electrification was recommended, although a conduit system had been considered.

In December 1901 the Tramways Committee placed their first order for 28 cars with the British Westinghouse Electrical Manufacturing Company. The bodies, by Milnes and Company of Hadley, Shropshire, were to have Bellamy canopy-tops and reversed stairs.

The trucks were to be made by the local firm of McGuire. Fourteen of these cars were 35ft long with seating for 73 passengers and the other fourteen were 27ft long and capable of seating 54 passengers.

After an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the land and buildings owned by the Steam Tramway Company, a decision was made to build a new tram shed on land owned by the Corporation.

On the 23rd of July 1902 the Tramways Committee chairman, Alderman William Sykes, laid the foundation stone on the site between George Street and Foundry Street, land originally earmarked for a new fire station.

The electricity for the new tramway was to be supplied by the Corporation’s Electricity Department from the power station situated opposite the tram shed.

In November 1902 work was begun on the first of the Corporation’s lines, to Fairfield, and on Tuesday the 2nd of June 1903 several test runs were made by the electric trams over the route.

The next day at 10am the Board of Trade Inspectors rode over the route in car No.2 to make an inspection of the track, which, apart from a few minor details, was found to be fit for service.

At 5pm, that evening, Bury Corporation Tramways was officially opened, when car No.1, driven by the Lady Mayoress, Mrs. Duxbury, moved off to a loud cheer from the gathered crowd, closely followed by car No.2.

During the evening numerous journeys were made to Fairfield with over 3,000 people paying the 1d fare in both directions. The official service started the following Friday morning, and an astonishing 28,000 people used the trams over what was a holiday weekend.

The Tramways Committee was very pleased with the takings and commented that they were ‘more than satisfied’.

On the 10th of July 1904 the last steam tram left Bury on the Sunday evening service to Tottington and, without any ceremony, the era of the steam tram, which had served the town for over 21 years, came to an end.

By September the 16th 1904 the line had been converted for the electric trams and opened to the public on Monday the 26th.

It was the last complete route to be laid within the borough boundary and subsequently only sections of track connecting to the neighbouring councils of Heywood (1905-1909), Radcliffe (1905-1907) and the borough of Bolton (1906) were sanctioned.

On the 16th May 1907 the extension of the track from Bury Barracks on Bolton Road to Breightmet, where it connected with the Bolton Corporation system, was officially opened with much ceremony.

With the opening of this section it now became possible to travel from Liverpool across Lancashire to Littleborough Summit, and the Bury system now formed part of the largest connected tramway in Great Britain (around 500 miles of standard gauge tramway systems).

Within a few weeks Bolton cars could be seen passing through Bury on special trips to Heaton Park and Belle Vue, Manchester.

Around this time an extension of the existing depot on Rochdale Road was constructed to accommodate 27 cars. On completion in October 1908 the depot capacity was increased to 71 cars.

By 1915 Bury’s tramway system was carrying in excess of 16 million passengers a year, operating over 1.5 million car miles and taking receipts of £69,000. It employed 290 people, the majority of whom were motormen and conductors earning up to £1-15 shillings a week.

However, with the coming of the Great War, many of the staff enlisted and the subsequent shortage of staff proved a problem for the Corporation who reluctantly had to employ women to replace them, and at one time during the war period over 80 women were working as motormen (sic) and conductresses.

Even the depot played a part, giving over space for the manufacture of shell cases for the Munitions Department.

In the post-war period the Tramways Manager was approached by the Bury Post Master enquiring as to the feasibility of having mail bags carried by the trams from Bury to Rochdale and Bolton.

The Tramways Committee had no objections to this provided each bag was paid for at the regular passenger fare for the journey.

Following the adoption of this scheme the postmen would put the mail bags on the tram in Bury, securing them to a hand-rail on the platform with a padlock and chain.

When it arrived at its destination a postman would be waiting to unlock it and take it to the Post Office. Mail was carried in this way on Bury’s trams and subsequently buses until 1969.

By 1925 applications had been received from residents of several areas for a bus service. There were private bus operators starting to ply for hire in the Bury area and, in order to compete, the Tramways Committee decided that a bus service should be provided.

They proposed the first route should run to Walshaw on a half-hourly frequency. The then manager, Mr. F. Buckley, was instructed to obtain tenders for two one-man operated vehicles, which finally was awarded to Leyland Motors.

On Saturday the 12th September 1925 these vehicles were delivered. Numbered 1 and 2 (EN2630/1) they were Leyland C7 chassis with Leyland 26 seat front entrance bodywork and liveried in vermilion and cream.

The inaugural bus route to Walshaw commenced on Friday the 18th September.

1925 also saw the final purchase of trams, Nos. 55-60 were English Electric fully-enclosed cars. The 13th of July 1925 saw the commencement of through running to Rochdale and in the new year on the 4th January 1926 a joint service with Salford City Tramways between Bury and Victoria was opened.

Salford trams were no strangers to Bury having provided cover for the Corporation on Bury FC matchdays between Gigg Lane and Whitefield.

In November of that year another Leyland C7 was ordered, again with front-entrance Leyland 26 seat bodywork and numbered 3 (EN2700).

In December of that year, the Tramways Committee were considering running buses into neighbouring towns and steps were being taken by the Municipal Tramways Association to secure legislation giving local authorities the necessary Parliamentary powers.

The 6th of March 1926 saw the opening of a further two bus routes; one from the ‘Black Bull’ at Starling; and one from the ‘Old Duke’ on Brandlesholme Road, both services terminating at Bury Bridge, where passengers who had bought a through ticket to Bury had to change to a tram to continue their journey.

Two further Leyland C7’s, numbered 4 (EN2903) and 5 (EN3000), were delivered in 1926, again with Leyland 26-seat forward entrance bodies, and in 1927 another six vehicles were delivered, this time Leyland PLSC Lions with Leyland dual entrance bodywork, Nos. 6-9 (EN3486-3489) and 10/11 (EN3535/6).

The question of garaging the motor buses now coming into service was brought up in November 1929. The Corporation now owned eleven and nineteen more were on order.

A proposal to build a garage on land owned by the Electricity Department on the north side of Rochdale Road, opposite the tram shed was put forward, approved and tenders requested. The garage was in use by February 1932.

In March 1930 the Corporation jointly acquired the business of William Lees of Radcliffe with the Lancashire United Transport and Power Company of Atherton. Three routes were involved and five buses, only one of which, a Leyland coach (BN4190), came to Bury as part of the deal.

Twenty new buses joined the fleet in 1930, the Tramways Committee evaluating a number of different makes. Leyland provided single-deck Lions and a Tiger and double-deck Titans. Dennis supplied EV chassis for single-deck saloons.

AEC provided a Regal single-deck and a Regent double-deck, whilst Crossley supplied an Alpha single-deck and a Condor double-deck. The bodies were built variously by Roe, Massey, Brush and Vulcan, with the dual entrance favoured by Bury at that time.

Also acquired that year was an ex-Leyland ‘Highbridge’ demonstrator, unusual in the fact that the driver had to enter his cab through the lower saloon, as there was no cab door on the offside! These buses received fleet numbers 12 to 31.

In February 1931 the outcome of the Royal Commission on Transport came into effect, known as the 1930 Road Traffic Act, which brought order out of the chaos in the sphere of road passenger transport.

It imposed new terms of reference on all providers of public transport and the days of unrestricted and sometime cut-throat competition were ended.

Generally the industry welcomed the act, semi-monopolistic enterprises were created, benefiting those fortunate enough to be in at the beginning, and private companies were able to extend their activities with considerable enterprise.

The act brought in regulations that governed the applications for licences for vehicles, drivers, conductors and routes, and established the powers of the Traffic Commissioners.

1931 also saw the arrival of six new Crossley-bodied Condors numbered 32 – 37, and in 1932 five Daimler CP6 chassis with Strachan dual entrance bodies numbered 1-5, were introduced. This was the year that the Tramways Committee decided to change the undertaking’s name to Bury Corporation Transport Department.

On the 3rd of July 1932 tram cars were withdrawn from the Rochdale to Bury via Heywood service and replaced by buses, and after 30 years of serving the town the end of the tramways was in sight.

In March 1933 the Town Clerk was instructed to apply to the Ministry of Transport for permission to abandon tram car services on a number of routes.

The licences for substitution of buses for tramcars were granted in due course and the wholesale change over began.

In order to cope, another twelve buses arrived in 1933, ten AEC Regents, eight with Roe, and two with Northern Counties, dual-entrance bodywork, along with one Leyland TD3 and a Crossley VR6 Condor, both with English Electric bodies with the favoured dual entrance.

Five  unusual vehicles entered service in 1935. Nos. 51-55 were six-wheeled Leyland Titanics with English Electric 60-seat bodywork. They were purchased for the Jericho route where it was thought that the extra traction would be useful.

In August 1940 Bury took delivery of nine Leyland TD7’s, five with Weymann 56-seat bodywork and four with Northern Counties Metal Engineers’ (NCME) bodies. Although delivered in wartime these were not of utility design.

Eight of Bury’s buses were commandeered by the War Department; four were converted for use as ambulances and four as emergency water carriers for the Auxiliary Fire Service.

By April 1942, the supply of paint of the appropriate colour (vermilion) was becoming difficult to obtain and it became necessary to paint some vehicles in all-over grey.

Other materials were also in short supply and some buses were cannibalised to keep others on the road; some were even fitted with wooden slatted seats.

On the 16th November 1942 the Regional Transport Commissioners made an order that stopping places for public service vehicles should be arranged on the basis of four per mile, with the view to saving fuel and prolonging the life of vehicles.

On the 19th June 1944 the Transport Committee decided to change the colour scheme of the Corporation owned buses. As they became due for repainting, a light green and cream livery replaced the current vermilion and cream colours.

The first bus to receive the new livery was No. 70 (EN7298). The crews quaintly christened the green buses ‘Green Linnets’.

On the 8th of May 1945 the war in Europe ended, and the condition of the bus fleet at that time necessitated the ordering of no less than 52 new vehicles.

Progressive closures of the tramway system in Bury had continued to be made and services replaced by new buses.

On the night of Sunday the 15th of February 1948, the last tram from Tottington made its way into Bury depot and just under one year later, on the 13th of February 1949, almost 1500 residents turned out to watch the last tram (No. 13) make its way down Walmersley Road and into the depot for the very last time.

Throughout the journey people darted in front of the tram to put coins on the rail to be flattened for souvenirs, and more material items were removed as the car made its way slowly along.

The Transport Manager, Mr. R. le Fevre purchased the last ticket, as the tram approached the depot, and so ended 66 years of tramway operations in Bury. Subsequently all cars were scrapped.

In July 1948 two unusual vehicles were delivered. These were numbered 149 and 150 and were twenty seat Barnard-bodied Guy Vixens. These were purchased specifically for the Nangreaves route that involved narrow, cobbled roads, which were unsuitable for normal vehicles.

In 1952 the first AEC’s to join Bury’s fleet for nearly 20 years were put into service. They were Regent III’s with Weymann 56-seat bodywork and were numbered 176/7 (BEN176/7). No. 177 survives in preservation. In 1953 the Transport Department celebrated its Golden Jubilee.

‘Cross-town’ services were introduced to Bury in 1958. In principal this involved running service from termini at opposite ends of the borough through the town centre in an effort to reduce dead mileage and congestion at the town centre bus stops.

The eventual plan was to have most routes crossing the town in this way and the estimated saving in mileage per year was 35,500. The success of the initial route paved the way for more conversions and the remnants of this network are still in evidence today.

In December 1960, Bury Corporation made history by having the first bus of its kind put into service by a municipal undertaking in Great Britain.

It was a Guy Wulfrunian (LEN101) numbered 101 with Roe 73-seat bodywork, although the manufacturers’ plate when exhibited at the 1960 Commercial Motor Show showed ‘Park Royal’ as the bodybuilder.

It was affectionately nicknamed ‘Lenny’ by the bus crews, although it did not prove a popular vehicle and was sold in October 1963, the same year that fifteen Leyland PDR1/1 Atlanteans with MCW 74-seat bodies and numbered 102-116 (REN102-116) finally arrived in Bury. No.116 is now in preservation.

The Transport Act of 1968 allowed double-deck buses to be operated by one-person (up until then only single-deck buses had been permitted to be one-person-operated).

This effectively sounded the death knell for the conductor and the two-man crew, as local authorities sought to put their transport undertakings on a firmer financial footing. It also brought about the rapid demise of the front-engined rear-entrance vehicle from our roads.

The last buses to be put into service by Bury Corporation were delivered in 1969.

Three Leyland PDR1/1 Atlanteans (Nos. 1-3; KEN231-233G) with dual-entrance 72-seat East Lancs bodywork, six Daimler CRG/6LX Fleetlines (Nos. 92-97; KEN292-297G) with single-deck 41-seat dual-entrance East Lancs bodywork, and a Bedford J25Z10 (No. 81; KEN381G) with Duple 21-seat body (christened the ‘breadvan’ by crews).

The Bedford was purchased specifically for the Chesham route, since the roads were deemed unsuitable for the heavier vehicles.

The idea of setting up a co-ordinated bus service in the larger cities of the country lay simmering for some years until the 1960’s when it was revived.

In December 1967 a white paper was published under the title ‘Public Transport and Traffic’. This was later made the 1968 Transport Act, receiving the Royal Assent on October 25th 1968.

This Act created the Passenger Transport Authorities in Merseyside, Manchester, Tyneside and West Midlands. The PTA’s were made up of members of local councils who drew upon the policies of each undertaking.

Under their control were the Passenger Transport Executives (PTE’s) who were professionals that would directly run the local services. There were to be no payments of compensation for the vehicles or premises as they were handed over to another joint local authority.

On the 1st April 1969 the PTA’s were officially created and on the 1st November 1969 the PTE’s took over the operations. At midnight on the 31st October 1969, Bury Corporation Transport Department ceased to exist.

The 96 Bury buses were to join the buses from the other ten councils of Ashton-under-Lyne, Bolton, Leigh, Manchester, Oldham, Ramsbottom, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, and the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Board, making a total of 2,526 buses, the largest of the four PTA’s.

The only vehicles now carrying the green and cream of Bury Corporation can be seen in a couple of museums under the protective eye of a few enthusiasts, a lasting memorial to 63 years of locally governed public transport in Bury.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
‘The History of Bury Corporation Transport 1903-1969’ by Thomas Fish (research as yet unpublished); PSV Circle Fleet History PC24 (1998). Photographs courtesy Thomas Fish (unless stated).

Tram Fleet List 1903-1949 | Bus Fleet List 1925-1969 |