Manchester Corporation Transport 1901-1969

In 1824 what is generally acknowledged as Britain’s first horse-omnibus service was started by John Greenwood, keeper of the tollgate at Pendleton (in neighbouring Salford), and ran between Pendleton and Market Street in Manchester.

So successful was this service, that it was not long before Greenwood became the proprietor of several more omnibuses. By 1850 records showed that 64 omnibuses were serving the centre of Manchester from outlying suburbs, many by rival concerns.

In 1865 Greenwood and the other principal operators merged to form the Manchester Carriage Company with a fleet of over 90 horse-drawn vehicles, and, in 1877, this company acquired the concession to operate the newly constructed tramway in Manchester and Salford, under the title ‘Manchester & Salford Tramways’.

By the end of the century the company owned a fleet of 515 tramcars, over 5000 horses and operated over 140 route miles.

In 1893, however, a Bill was introduced into Parliament, which allowed local authorities to work the tramways themselves, previously forbidden by the 1870 Tramways Act.

This prompted Salford Corporation to suggest that a joint committee could be established to consider taking over the operation of the company’s lines at the expiration of the lease and the Manchester Corporation Act of 1897 paved the way for municipal operation by granting the powers necessary to operate the lines under electric traction.

An initial requirement for around 600 cars would be needed for the Corporation to operate all the planned services (although this was later revised to around 400), and this was beyond current manufacturing capacity.

Instead a phased introduction of the electric tram system was envisaged, with the Corporation gradually replacing the Manchester & Salford Tramway routes as vehicles became available.

Even so, it was likely that well over 100 cars would have been delivered before the system actually opened. The choice of initial routes would determine the location of the new tram depot.

Finally, land between Cheetham Hill and Queens Road was purchased from Lord Derby and within a few months, on 12th June 1900, Councillor Daniel Boyle had laid the foundation stone.

Just under one year later, on the 6th June 1901, the system was officially opened, although public services did not commence until the following day 7th June 1901, with services to Cheetham Hill and Hightown.

By the end of the year, further sections had been opened between High Street and Blackley; High Street and Queens Park; High Street and Moston Lane; Cheetham Hill Road and Rochdale Road; and Deansgate and Hightown.

Manchester Corporation followed the practice of many other operators at the time by ordering a batch of sample cars for evaluation. Numbered 101-106 they were delivered in 1899 and consisted of five open-top double-deck cars and one single-deck car.

The first batch of production cars (Nos. 107-536) was delivered over three years from 1901 to 1903 and consisted mainly of 4-wheel and bogie open-top double-deck vehicles with Brush and Milnes bodywork on Brill, Brush or Peckham trucks. Nos. 512-536, however, were single-deck bogie cars with Milnes 48-seat bodywork on Brill 22E trucks.

Queens Road depot was able to accommodate only 252 cars and this meant that another depot would have to be constructed to house the remainder, the site chosen being between Hyde Road and Devonshire Street, which was in use by the end of 1902 although only partially completed.

Throughout 1902 and 1903 further sections of the system were brought into use, including for the first time Piccadilly (1st June 1902), where the Corporation Tramway offices were housed and, by the end of 1903, services from Piccadilly reached Denton, St. Peter’s Square, Alexandra Park, Moss Side, Old Trafford, Openshaw, Audenshaw, Hollinwood, Newton Heath and Stretford.

The remainder of the decade saw the tramway network expand rapidly and by 1910 the Corporation had 582 cars in service operating over 100 route miles and was making almost £150,000 annually in profit.

The expansion of the fleet meant that a further tramcar depot had to be opened and this time the site chosen was Princess Road in Moss Side and this depot (opened on 9th June 1909) would eventually accommodate almost 300 cars.

Although Manchester experimented early with the motorbus, it was not until July 1906 that the first Manchester Corporation bus route, between the tram terminus at West Didsbury and the Church Inn at Northenden, began operating, replacing the horse buses that had previously plied the route.

Three vehicles (Nos. 1-3) were ordered from the local firm of Crossley Brothers, although the chassis were obtained from the Lancashire Steam Motor Company of Leyland (the predecessor of Leyland Motors) and bodied by Dick Kerr of Preston.

A further service to Cheadle from West Didsbury was introduced shortly afterwards, and another vehicle, this time a Ryknield (No.4), again with Dick Kerr bodywork, was purchased.

However, not everyone appreciated the new bus services, especially the residents of West Didsbury who voiced their complaints over the noise and fumes of the buses.

In September 1908 the Tramways Committee decided to dispense with them and return to the horse buses, but the plans were not carried out and buses continued to operate in West Didsbury until the advent of the First World War, by which time Manchester had a fleet of 662 tramcars and it was still growing, however, the steady loss of staff to the armed forces meant that, for the first time, women were employed as tram guards.

The shortage of maintenance staff and materials meant that the fleet and track deteriorated under the constraints.

After the War, the cost of living, which had remained fairly static until now, started to rise, and with it the running costs of the tramway. In 1919 working costs were £681,000 but by 1922 had risen to £1,520,000, prompting some people to query whether or not the tramway system should be prolonged.

It was in this decade that the bus fleet started to grow, although it was still a mainly loss-making operation, being subsidised by tramway profits.

In 1913 four new Daimlers were purchased as replacements for the existing fleet, taking the newly vacant numbers (Nos. 1-4), and a further four (Nos. 5-8) ordered for the commencement of the Chorlton to Barton Bridge route.

Six of these vehicles had a very short life with Manchester Corporation, Nos. 2, 4, 5-8 being requisitioned by the War Department in 1914 on the outbreak of war.

The bodies (whether they were built by Dodson or Brush has never satisfactorily been resolved) were removed and stored for use later.

The motorbus routes were returned to horse bus operation for the duration of the War, much to the relief of the West Didsbury residents.

In 1917 three Daimler’s were delivered and each received one of the stored bodies. The new vehicles were un-numbered, and the use of fleet numbers for Corporation buses ceased until 1927.

Between 1919 and 1921 a further 11 vehicles were purchased, making it possible to open more bus routes. In April 1922 West Didsbury was connected to Sale Moor, further extended to Brooklands in October, and in July 1922 the West Didsbury to Reddish route commenced.

In 1923 more bus routes were introduced; Blackley to Crescent Road; Halliwell Lane to Rochdale Road; and Levenshulme to Droylsden.

In 1921 the Corporation, jointly with Ashton Corporation and Stalybridge Joint Board, took over the working of the Oldham, Ashton and Hyde Tramway on the expiry of its lease, making it possible for Manchester trams to work the Ashton via Guide Bridge section.

Two years later, in 1923, the Middleton Electric Traction Company was acquired jointly by Middleton, Chadderton and Rochdale.

Middleton granted Manchester a 30-year lease on the ex-company tracks on condition they were connected to neighbouring lines, which they duly were, enabling Corporation trams to run through to Rochdale.

Ten of the twelve ex-Middleton Electric Traction Company cars were retained by Manchester and were the only second-hand cars operated by the Corporation.

Along with the ten tramcars the Corporation acquired three more buses, two AEC YC’s and a Daimler Y, none of which were in particularly good condition, although the Daimler survived until 1927, by which time it was numbered 38.

In order to develop connecting suburban services a number of one-man operated motorbus routes were proposed.

In December 1922 a single Karrier CL4 arrived on trial, which was apparently a success, for the following year two more orders for a total of ten Karriers were placed.

The influx of buses, which included Vulcan and Bristol vehicles allowed more developments to the bus network, including a route along Rochdale Road to Moston, and the extension of the Levenshulme service to West Didsbury, as well as allowing sufficient spare vehicles for the proper maintenance of the bus fleet.

By 1924 some of the earlier double-deck vehicles were in need of replacement and the Corporation opted for ten AEC ‘S’-type chassis, similar to those operating in London at the time.

In 1925, along with the ten tramcars from the Middleton Electric Traction Company, the Corporation acquired three more buses, two AEC YC’s and a Daimler Y, none of which were in particularly good condition, although the Daimler survived until 1927, by which time it was numbered 38.

The first purpose-built bus garage was opened at Parrs Wood, East Didsbury on 23rd March 1926 and the bus fleet, which had previously operated from the various tram depots was moved there. The depot was extended in 1932.

Towards the end of the 1920’s, Manchester, in common with most other municipal authorities, was experiencing an increase in private competition to its tram services.

Most of the private companies were operating inter-town services and Manchester Corporation, who was responsible for issuing the operating licences at the time, reasoned that if they too provided these services then this would be sufficient grounds for refusing new service applications from the private sector.

The Tramways Department, with the co-operation of the surrounding local authorities, began to set up a network of local express bus services, the first of which ran from Cheadle a distance of some 15 miles through the city centre to Heywood and commenced operation on the 11th April 1927.

It was an immediate success, prompting more services to be inaugurated. By the end of the decade there were 27 inter-town express services, which effectively stifled the private competition.

In order to operate these services Manchester found it necessary to increase the size of its single-deck fleet, which meant that the use of registration numbers as a means of identification was becoming a little unwieldy and so fleet numbers were re-introduced early in 1927.

Subsequently it became Manchester Corporation practice to allocate fleet numbers to batches of vehicles when they were ordered, not when they were delivered, which meant that some future deliveries bore fleet numbers out of sequence.

To help implement the new express services Manchester was in urgent need of extra vehicles and, in April 1928, they acquired a fleet of fourteen, second-hand Bristol 4-ton chassis, which had been purchased new in 1924 by the Sunderland District Omnibus Company.

Tramcar route mileage in the mid-1920’s had increased from 128 miles in 1925 to 163 miles by 1930, including an extension in 1928 from the Middleton line to Hopwood in Heywood where it connected with the Bury Corporation tramway system, virtually the last major extension to the system.

The fleet was now at its maximum strength and totalled almost 1000 cars, but darker days were just around the corner.

In 1929 a new General Manager, Mr. Stuart Pilcher, was appointed following the unexpected death of the previous incumbent. The new Manager was very much a ‘bus’ man, as opposed to the previous manager, Mr. Mattinson, who was a ‘tram’ man.

This meant a radical change in the Corporation’s policies over the next few years, including the gradual abandonment of the tramway system in favour of buses.

His first recommendation was the purchase of an additional 90 buses, which enabled the first tram route to be converted to buses.

In the event the order was amended by the city council to include a larger order than originally planned from the local firm of Crossley Brothers, a gesture supporting local industry during the trade recession.

This led to an involvement with Crossley’s that was to last for almost two decades. This year also saw the change of name from Manchester Corporation Tramways to Manchester Corporation Transport.

On 6th April 1930 the route from Cheetham Hill to Stretford Road was abandoned to the motorbus, of which Manchester now had a fleet of over 100.

It was the first major conversion of an intensively used tram route to buses in the United Kingdom, and with revenue increasing after conversion, Pilcher had gone someway to convincing the doubters that tramway conversion was the way forward.

Subsequently, the demand for capital expenditure on new infrastructure was the trigger for abandonment of the line.

In June 1931 trams were withdrawn from the Altrincham service when it was proposed that large sums would have to be spent in upgrading the line due to a bridge-widening scheme; it was replaced by motorbuses.

The Sale Moor service ceased in July of the same year and the abandonment of the Middleton section, in 1932, was precipitated by a road-widening scheme.

Rochdale Corporation’s abandonment of trams on the Rochdale to Manchester route led to the Corporation agreeing to replace their trams by motorbuses and the route closed on 12th November 1932, just one month after the last new tramcar (No. 676) entered service.

In 1933 the ‘Standard’ Manchester Corporation bodywork was introduced, and became a feature of future deliveries. It was based on an all-metal body, which at the time was relatively untried, and replaced the outdated ‘piano-front’ design, last seen on the 1932 deliveries.

Constructed by Crossley Brothers on Metro-Cammell framework, it was another method of giving employment to local firms and became a regular feature of Manchester’s transport policy until the war years.

The timber framed ‘piano-front’ vehicles were mostly re-bodied with standard design bodies in the 1930’s, although some of the older bodies were in good enough condition to be overhauled and temporarily fitted to vehicles whilst they awaited re-bodying.

Although trolleybuses (or trackless cars) were considered (and approved) by the Transport Committee as early as 1908, motorbuses were used instead, and it was not until 1935 that thoughts once again turned to the trolleybus.

At the time, tramway abandonment was continuing apace and it was with some patriotic fervour that suggestions were raised at a meeting of the City Council on 3rd April 1935 to use trolleybuses instead of motorbuses, since the power generated used home produced coal, amongst other things.

But the Transport Committee saw no virtue in using trolleybuses and recommended that motorbuses continue to be used as tram replacement vehicles.

The City Council, however, had other ideas and the decision was reversed on 31st July 1935 and powers to operate trolleybuses sought. The tramcar services thought suitable for conversion were route numbers 28 (Piccadilly to Ashton), 29 (Guide Bridge to Trafford Park), and 31 (Fairfield to Chorlton).

During 1936 and 1937 Manchester introduced the ‘Streamliner’, an innovative design, which utilised the all-metal bodywork of the ‘Standard’ but with gentle curves instead of the previous harsh lines.

The interior was to a higher specification than previously, and many new safety features were incorporated.

Crossley even produced a new style radiator shell designed specifically for the ‘Streamliners’, which, when transferred to the ‘Standard’ design when spares became short during the war, looked totally out of place.

In March 1937 the initial order for 76 trolleybuses was placed with Leyland (who would supply 38) and Crossley (who would supply the other 38).

The bodywork would be built entirely by Crossley using Metro-Cammell all-metal frames, which were a standard Manchester Corporation feature of the time.

A site on Rochdale Road, just outside the city centre had been purchased for the construction of a new depot and work commenced in the same month. By February 1938, overhead construction had been completed.

On the 7th July 1937 the City Council made the decision to abandon the tramway system completely, anticipating that this could be done over the next three years, but the advent of the Second World War in 1939 delayed these plans.

On the 1st March 1938 the first trolleybus ran along the former tram route (numbered 28) to Ashton, leaving the Portland Street terminus via Piccadilly, London Road, and Fairfield Street to Ashton Old Road. Intermediate turning loops were situated at Grey Mare Lane, Dakeley Street, Fairfield Road and Audenshaw Road (The Trough), for short workings.

At the time another service to Ashton via Ashton New Road was being operated by tramcars and since it seemed illogical to operate one service with trams and one with trolleybuses, the second route to Ashton was converted to trolleybus operation.

The terminus for this service was situated in Stevenson Square and numbered 26. The two services joined at Audenshaw, where there were turning facilities.

On the 1st February 1939 tenders were invited for the supply of another 77 trolleybuses, in anticipation of more conversions. On the 16th October 1939 a spur off the 28 service to Guide Bridge was opened and became route number 29.

In 1939 Manchester Corporation introduced a composite bus body design using a wood and metal frame, built by the MCTD Car Works with the intention of giving older vehicles a new lease of life.

The plan was to build about 50 such bodies, but this was cut short by the advent of the Second World War and only 26 were eventually built.

At the outbreak of the War, the peak hour tramcar requirement was for a total of 288 cars, which, allowing for spare vehicles actually necessitated over 300. Manchester at this time had over 450 cars available, although some were waiting to be scrapped.

In addition the stock of spare parts had been run down in anticipation of final abandonment, so many of the older cars were cannibalised for spares to keep the fleet running.

By the end of the War, Manchester had 373 cars remaining, the majority being housed in Birchfields Road depot, built in 1928 at the height of the tramway system.

The 51 tram service, which had run between Miller Street and the University via Ardwick, was replaced by trolleybuses on the 6th April 1940 (as route number 30), and the former motorbus service 57 to Haughton Green became trolleybus operated as far as Denton on 1st July 1940.

In November 1940 the 55 bus service as far as Moston Lane on Rochdale Road was converted to trolleybus operation and was extended early in 1941 to the Ben Brierley and later the same year to the Gardener’s Arms by A. V. Roe’s works.

In July 1941, a line via Oldham Road to the same destination was opened.

1944 saw the emergence of the prototype double-deck Crossley DD42/1 chassis, on loan to Manchester as No. 1217, although the prototype body was uncompleted when it was delivered.

As a result a ‘streamline’ body from No. 1211 was fitted, the vehicle eventually being purchased by Manchester Corporation in 1947.

On 20th June 1944, the Manchester-Chadderton-Rochdale limited stop service of Yelloway Motor Services was purchased (jointly with Oldham and Rochdale Corporations), together with the vehicles that operated it.

Manchester received two Leyland Tiger TS1’s and a single Leyland TD5 as their share.

Tramway conversions recommenced in 1945 and the intention was to complete the abandonment by the early part of 1947, but problems obtaining new buses once again delayed the final closure.

Following the end of the Second World War, Ringway Airport was re-opened to commercial traffic and Manchester Corporation introduced an improved airport service, using eight of the 1938 Leyland Tiger TS8’s, which were rebuilt as airport coaches with high-backed seats, sliding doors and large luggage boots.

They were given a smart blue and cream livery and continued to operate this service until 1953, when Leyland Royal Tigers replaced them.

The Ministry of Transport authorised the use of 8-ft wide buses in 1946, and the Corporation adopted this as standard for future orders.

The final tramway abandonment came with the replacement of the Stockport trams on the 9th January 1949.

The remnants of the tramway fleet were stored at Hyde Road depot until 16th March when they were scrapped wholesale in a final bonfire, along with the official last car No. 1007, bringing to an end what was once the third-largest tramway system in the country.

1949 also saw the first one-man operated bus route (to Dane Bank) introduced, using a modified Leyland Tiger, and in 1950, external advertising first appeared.

I January 1950 the Piccadilly to Gee Cross service, via Hyde Road, Denton and Hyde was converted to trolleybus operation. This was formerly the 106 bus service to Hyde and the extension to Gee Cross was added when the route was converted to trolleybus operation.

By 1953, new buses were standard manufacturers’ models with minor adaptations to Manchester Corporation design based on Leyland and Daimler chassis and including the Orion body, newly introduced by MCW.

Hyde Road Car Works was completely rebuilt in 1954 to allow easier overhaul of buses and fibreglass began to be used for body components.

Some of the earlier trolleybuses were in need of replacement by 1954 and the General Manager proposed to replace them with motorbuses.

In addition the overhead on the Moston routes would need to be renewed over the next few years or so and, by converting these routes to motorbus, the council would save on the renewal expenses and release some of the 46 trolleybuses needed for these services for spare duties.

At a meeting of the City Council in October 1954 these proposals were accepted and the Moston routes were abandoned, the last trolleybus from the Gardener’s Arms running on the 7th August 1955.

Chorlton Street Bus Station was opened in 1958, with the newly rebuilt Piccadilly Bus Station opening on December 4th of the same year.

In 1959, the Co-operative Wholesale Society completed plans to build a multi-storey office block on the corner of Miller Street and Corporation Street, the terminus of the 213 route past the University (formerly route 30).

Again the General Manager recommended conversion of the route to motorbuses as against moving the terminal point. In June 1959 the 213 service was taken over by motorbuses.

A year later the 217 service (formerly route 57) to Haughton Green was converted to motorbus operation, in anticipation of a new housing estate being built there, and the trolleybus system was in decline.

Ashton Corporation, who operated trolleybuses on the Ashton to Manchester routes, were pressing the Council for information on the future of the trolleybuses.

As result, in November 1961, a report was put before the Council outlining the costs associated with the continued running of the trolleybuses.

The report’s conclusions that the 1200 and 1240 series trolleybuses be replaced within two years, overhead renewals be kept to a minimum, and that the remaining vehicles be overhauled to last until 1967, were adopted on the 6th December 1961.

An experimental City Circle service commenced in 1961, linking the principal shopping and business areas with the railway stations, but was never a commercial success and was withdrawn in 1965.

In January 1963 the 210 trolleybus route (formerly 106) was partially converted to motorbus operation in peak hours then finally on 28th April 1963 the last trolleybus (No. 1308) ran.

This enabled the 1200 and 1240 series trolleybuses to be withdrawn and only the 1300-class BUT’s remained.

Although an order had been placed for the Leyland Atlantean in 1959, the early rear-engined buses proved troublesome and so orders reverted to the more reliable PD2, but in 1964 a move back to rear-engined vehicles was made.

On Saturday 10th October 1964 trolleybuses ceased working the 219 route without notice, leaving only the Ashton routes 215, 216 and 218, trolleybus operated.

In 1965 it was proposed to make one-man operation of all routes the standard, using double-deckers where possible, and by August 1967, conversion had started.

In May 1966 Manchester Corporation stopped working trolleybuses on the 218 route, although Ashton Corporation continued to work some journeys with trolleybuses.

By the 27th August 1966, Saturday working by trolleybuses had ceased on the remaining two routes and Manchester Corporation workings were thus confined to weekdays only.

In November 1966 it was announced that the last day of trolleybus operations would be Friday 30th December 1966 and so it was that trolleybus No. 1354 departed from Stevenson Square on the 216x service towards Ashton for the last time.

The very last Manchester Corporation vehicle to run over the trolleybus system was preserved vehicle No. 1344, which entered Hyde Road depot at 8 o’clock on New Year’s Eve 1966, following a tour of the system by enthusiasts, after which the power was switched off and the trolleybus era was over.

The last of Manchester Corporation’s innovative designs was the Mancunian double-decker, which made an appearance in April 1968, along with the American-style Johnson fare boxes later in the same year, which did away with the need for tickets.

Just over one year later, on the 1st November 1969, the undertaking was merged with several other local operators to form the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire Passenger Transport Executive and Manchester Corporation Transport passed into history after almost 70 years of municipal operations.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Manchester Tramways (Yearsley and Groves, TPC 1988); Manchester’s Transport: Part 1 Tramway & Trolleybus Rolling Stock (C. Taylor, MTHC 1965); Manchester’s Buses 1906-1945 (D. Eyre, MTMS 1971); PSV Circle Fleet History PC9 (1972).

Tram Fleet List 1899-1949 | Trolleybus Fleet List 1938-1966 | Bus Fleet List 1906-1935 | Bus Fleet List 1936-1950 | Bus Fleet List 1951-1969