Horse drawn coaches were running on regular services through Haslingden by at least 1824, when ‘The Traveller’ ran from Manchester to Clitheroe, via Bury, Haslingden, Accrington and Whalley, every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, making the return journey the same evening.
What happened if someone wished to make the journey on a Friday is not recorded!
The Bacup Omnibus Conveyance and Livery Stable Company had commenced operating horse buses between Bacup and Rochdale in 1864, and subsequently expanded to cover Rawtenstall, Haslingden, Burnley and Water, although the exact dates are unknown.
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.
The first tramway to reach Haslingden was that operated by the Accrington Corporation Steam Tramways Company, under the Accrington Corporation Tramways Act of 1882.
The mainly single-track route, opened on 12th June 1886, ran from the Market Place in Accrington, initially only as far as Baxenden Station, but on the 27th August 1887 was extended to the Commercial Hotel in the centre of Haslingden, and, in November a further extension through Lockgate, at the Rawtenstall boundary, and into Queens Square in Rawtenstall town centre was opened.
The total length of track within the Borough of Haslingden was 2.9 miles and was owned by the Corporation but leased to the company, who provided the service.
Although a connection with the track of the Rossendale Valley Tramways Company was made at Queens Square, Rawtenstall in 1889, there was no agreement for through running for a number of years and this prevented travel on what would have been the longest continuous steam tram journey in Britain, from Bacup to Whitehall, just beyond Darwen, a distance of 21 miles.
It is reported, however, that in June 1900, to mark the end of steam tramways in Darwen, a civic party travelled on a steam tram the entire length of the track into Bacup, probably the only occasion that the journey had been made.
On the 20th September 1907, Accrington Corporation purchased the track and rolling stock of the Steam Tramways Company and set about electrifying the system.
The line to Baxenden Station was converted to electric operation from the 1st January 1908.
On the same date Haslingden Corporation purchased eight Thomas Green steam locos and seven former Steam Company trailers with which to work the remaining portion of line from Baxenden Station to Lockgate, becoming, for a short while at least, a tramcar operator.
The locos were operated under contract by staff employed by Accrington Corporation.
The lease on the lines through Haslingden had yet to expire and because the Council owned the tracks within its boundary they were responsible for making the arrangements for take-over and electrification of this portion of the tramway.
The electric lines were extended to the Commercial Hotel on 28th September 1908, with the section to Lockgate opening on the 20th October.
The steam trams were then retired, although one loco was retained as a snowplough and survived into the 1930’s.
Arrangements were made for Accrington Corporation trams to work the section of track within the borough of Haslingden, who would pay for the electricity used by the trams and an additional sum for the provision of the service.
Haslingden Corporation, however, provided its own tramcar inspectors. On the 1st April 1910, through running from Accrington to Bacup, via Haslingden and Rawtenstall finally began.
Although Haslingden Corporation had obvious ambitions to be a tramcar operator in its own right (it had been granted Parliamentary approval in the Haslingden Corporation Act of 1906 to construct three branch lines of just over 3 miles in total length, to the cemetery on Grane Road, to Ewood Bridge and to Helmshore), it was quick to appreciate the relative merits of the motorbus, and the Act also included powers to establish motorbus services.
The newly formed Transport Committee authorised the purchase of a Leyland bus, and, on 12th November 1907, the vehicle commenced operating an experimental service, along the proposed tramway route, to Helmshore.
Registered B2113, contemporary reports suggest that it wore an all-over maroon livery and probably did not carry a fleet number. The service was not a complete success and was withdrawn on 24th July 1909 and the vehicle converted to a tower wagon.
The Committee also authorised the building of a depot in John Street, which was capable of accommodating four of the Accrington trams, for which privilege Accrington paid the sum of £50 per annum.
In 1916 the agreement was terminated when Accrington Corporation discovered that the Transport Committee was also renting space at the depot to a local haulier who was storing waste paper there, a situation that Accrington probably deemed dangerous.
In 1919 another attempt was made to introduce the motorbus to Helmshore. The vehicle (B3455), a BSA light van was converted to a 12-seat bus by local wheelwright Heap & Sons of Clegg Street, Haslingden.
Known locally as ‘The Whippet’, it was built with a front entrance for one-man operation and it has been suggested that it may have been the earliest example of a bus specifically designed for one-man operation in the United Kingdom.
The vehicle, however, proved unreliable and was withdrawn and replaced the following year by an Austin, bodied by Barnes & Sons of Private Lane, Helmshore to B22F and again designed for one-man operation.
It is thought that neither of these vehicles carried a fleet number. Further attempts to introduce local routes were made in the following years, but none proved a great success.
In 1928 an express bus service, which duplicated the Accrington to Bacup tram route, commenced. At Bacup it connected to the Manchester Corporation express network.
The decision to abandon the tramway system was taken in 1929, and, on 1st May 1930, the tram workings (and the express bus service) were combined into a stage carriage service over the same route.
Haslingden Corporation worked the service jointly with Accrington and Rawtenstall Corporations and this necessitated an increase in the bus fleet from four to ten vehicles, which, by this date, was wearing the familiar pale blue and cream livery.
The buses, six Leyland Lion LT1’s (Nos. 5-10) constituted the largest ever order by Haslingden Corporation.
In 1932 Haslingden purchased their first double-deckers, two (Nos. 14-15) all-Leyland TD2’s. The Council were obviously superstitious at this time, since fleet number 13 was not used until 1957!
Thereafter the bus network remained fairly static, although local routes were worked, the major route remained the Accrington to Bacup service.
Closer ties with Rawtenstall Corporation came in 1949, when the General Manager of that undertaking took over responsibility for Haslingden operations.
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 it was not until the 1st April 1968 that the two 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 Haslingden Corporation Transport, although the former Haslingden vehicles were still to be seen in pale blue and cream livery for some months afterwards.
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); Municipal Buses in Colour (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); PSV Circle Fleet History PC5 (1967); Buses (No. 177, Dec 1969); Hyndburn & Rossendale 75 Years of Municipal Operation (Peter Deegan, Omnibus Society 1982).