North Western Road Car Company Ltd. 1923-1974

The North Western Road Car Company Limited was incorporated on the 23rd April 1923, when the green and cream buses of the British Automobile Traction Company, operating in the Peak District area under the fleetname ‘British’ were transferred to the new company, of which both the BAT and Tilling companies held a fifty per cent share.

The number of vehicles that passed to North Western is not known for certain but it was in excess of 50, and the network of services that had already been built up numbered 22 routes in and around the Peak District.

The fleet had been based at Macclesfield but in 1924 the company decided on a move to a new depot, workshop and offices that had been built in Charles Street, Stockport.

Further new routes were opened in 1923 between Glossop and Marple Bridge; Stockport and Denton, and Stockport and Mellor. Competition on some of the established routes was experienced, but fortunately did not amount to a serious threat and was soon overcome.

In 1924 further services were introduced in Saddleworth and developed extensively over the next few years and in 1926 and 1927 co-ordination agreements with Oldham Corporation, into whose operating area North Western had penetrated, were signed.

In 1928 premises in Crofton Street, Oldham were acquired and towards the end of the decade joint operations were in force with Rochdale Corporation, Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Board and limited stop services between Saddleworth and Manchester via Oldham, jointly with Oldham and Manchester Corporations were also running.

On the 24th November 1924 the vehicles, services and depots at Northwich and Flixton, of the Mid-Cheshire Motor Bus Co. Ltd of Northwich were taken over, followed in 1926 by the acquisition of Altrincham & District Motor Services Ltd.

New routes continued to be introduced, particularly from Northwich, which was connected with Knutsford, Tarporley, Cuddington, Frodsham, Holmes Chapel and Warrington in 1925. In June 1926 the company inaugurated its first express service from Northwich to Blackpool.

To cater for this rapid expansion new central workshops, adjacent to the Charles Street garage were built in 1926 and subsequently all major engineering works were carried out here.

Further expansion took place in 1927 when the local tramway systems in Matlock and Glossop closed down within a few months of each other. North Western introduced local services in both towns and by the end of the year the Company was operating over 200 buses and in excess of 80 routes.

An agreement with Manchester City Council made it possible to extend certain routes into the city from 1st March 1928, and subsequently North Western entered into agreements with other municipal operators for joint running into the city.

On the 13th March, the business of Tetlow & Collier of Flixton was acquired, which included a number of local routes in and around Flixton and Urmston along with a fleet of six vehicles.

On the 15th March 1929, North Western became a member of the Limited Stop Pool, which operated a service between Newcastle and Liverpool that had been inaugurated in 1928 by Northern General.

This was the year that the first Leylands entered the fleet, breaking the monopoly held by the Tilling-Stevens chassis that had been favoured since 1924, although Tilling-Stevens vehicles continued to be purchased for a few more years.

The Railway (Road Transport) Act of 1928 gave the railway companies the power to operate bus services and as a result the London, Midland & Scottish Railway and the London & North Eastern Railway jointly acquired a half share in the Company.

Two years later the Road Traffic Act of 1930 came into force, bringing major changes in the regulations for licensing vehicles, personnel and routes.

All existing operators were required to apply for licences and North Western duly applied for the licences they required.

The majority of routes were granted a licence, with only a small number being rejected, many of which were granted following an appeal, and, in general, the outcome for North Western was satisfactory.

The Road Traffic Act also removed the uncertainty over acquiring existing operators and routes, since previously there was no guarantee that another would not replace an acquired operator.

The Road Traffic Act made this now very unlikely and consequently North Western was able to expand by purchasing many independent operators’ licences for local routes, tours and excursions, and between 1932 and the beginning of World War II around 50 competitors were taken over.

With the onset of World War II in 1939, many services were curtailed or abandoned due to fuel restrictions and some of North Western’s vehicles were requisitioned for war work.

As the war progressed, however, greater numbers of passengers were using the company’s vehicles a trend that continued for a time after the war had ended.

In 1942, the alliance between Tilling and British Automobile Traction was dissolved and the undertakings jointly owned were allocated to one or other of the new companies.

Despite North Western’s long association with Tilling it was allocated to the BET Group. At the time North Western was favouring the Bristol/ECW combination for its new deliveries and this decision was to result in that combination becoming unavailable in the future.

Between 1942 and 1945 North Western received a number of utility specification buses predominantly of Guy manufacture, many of which were exchanged after the war for the preferred Bristol chassis.

North Western emerged from the conflict with little damage to vehicles and premises and service improvements were quickly introduced.

As wartime regulations were relaxed tours and excursions were re-introduced and in June 1946 limited express services were resumed.

Difficulties in obtaining new vehicles in the immediate postwar period were experienced by many operators and as a result many opted for the rebodying of older chassis.

North Western was no exception and in the first two years after war ended approximately 100 of its vehicles had been re-bodied. Over the next few years even more chassis were re-bodied, giving some an extended life of over 25 years when finally withdrawn.

In 1950 the entire intake of new vehicles was of Bristol manufacture, although a number of second-hand Leyland double-deckers were acquired.

These were to be the last Bristol vehicles added to the fleet following the nationalisation of the Tilling Group companies and the consequent withdrawal of the Bristol marque from the open market.

It was to be some 18 years later before Bristol vehicles were again available to North Western and in the meantime the Company had to look elsewhere for their new vehicles.

The Chief Engineer, however, decided that there was no current substitute for the Bristol chassis that would prove as durable and reliant, a situation that eventually culminated in the design of a new chassis, which evolved as a heavy underfloor-engined vehicle.

Atkinson Vehicles of Preston co-operated with North Western in its construction. The first two Atkinsons (Nos. 394-395[EDB321-322]) entered service in 1951, with fourteen more the following year.

The Company was evidently pleased with the vehicle for it requested a sanction from the BET management for the purchase of another 100, but sadly this was refused, since the group was already committed to purchasing the Leyland Royal Tiger, which made up the bulk of deliveries to North Western for the next few years.

In 1953 a joint service from Manchester to Great Yarmouth was established by linking North Western’s Manchester to Nottingham service with Trent Motor Traction’s Nottingham to Great Yarmouth service, despite objections.

By the middle of the 1950’s the motorbus had seen its heyday and the rise in private car ownership coupled with the change in social habits led to a decline in passenger numbers across the transport industry.

In the chairman’s report of 1956 it had been stated that over one half of North Western’s stage carriage services were operated at a loss.

This is easy to understand when one considers that much of the company’s operating area was relatively rural, being heavily subsidised by services in the more populated urban areas.

Over half of the revenue was swallowed up by staff wages and the Suez crisis saw a reduction in mileage and passengers carried, a trend that was to continue. Nevertheless the Company still managed to make a small profit, but economies needed to be sought.

As a result there were the inevitable continual fare rises and consequent loss of passengers. Some of the less remunerative journeys were cut and services withdrawn.

In 1958 one-man operation was introduced when the route from Cheadle to Heald Green was converted. Eventually all suitable routes were converted.

Altrincham Coachways Ltd became the first major acquisition since before the war when they were purchased on the 31st January 1958, followed closely on the 21st March by Melba Motors Ltd of Reddish, both of which were operated as subsidiaries until 1967.

Large capacity double-deckers based on the design of the Bristol Lodekka and manufactured under licence by Dennis Brothers as the Loline made their appearance in 1960.

Batches of these vehicles were purchased in the following years, but the rear-engined double-decker superseded them in the fleet in 1963.

In 1961 the company’s operating area was split into a Northern, Central and Southern Division, with the intention of increasing efficiency and revenue. New express services to Llandudno, Aberystwyth and Cleethorpes were introduced in 1963.

In 1967 the BET Group agreed terms with the Transport Holding Company for the transfer of its bus interests to the nationalised group.

North Western (in whom the BET had a 44% share) became a subsidiary of the THC until the formation of the National Bus Company on 1st January 1969.

In the meantime another express service commenced between Manchester, Brighton and Eastbourne operated jointly with BMMO and Southdown. Bristol vehicles had again become available on the open market and North Western immediately placed orders.

The Transport Act of 1968 was instrumental in setting up Passenger Transport Authorities and the area in which North Western had a major involvement was the area covered by the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire (SELNEC) Passenger Transport Executive.

On the 1st November 1969 the PTE absorbed eleven local authority undertakings and was given the responsibility of co-ordinating the stage carriage services within its area.

Over half of North Western’s stage services were operated in the SELNEC PTE area, which started negotiations with the National Bus Company over the future of the Company’s services.

In 1971 it was agreed that the PTE would take over the stage carriage services of the North Western Road Car Company that operated within its area and accordingly a new company the North Western (SELNEC Division) Road Car Company Limited was formed in November 1971.

On the 1st January 1972 it took over operation of the stage carriage services of the North Western Road Car Company in the PTE operating area.

It was realised that the remainder of North Western’s stage carriage services would not be viable and a decision was reached to divide them between other members of the National Bus Company.

Services in Biddulph, Macclesfield and Northwich were transferred to Crosville Motor Services in January 1972, and, on 4th March 1972, the services in Buxton, Matlock and Castleton passed to the Trent Motor Traction Company.

On the same day the major part of the company the North Western (SELNEC Division) Road Car Company Ltd passed into SELNEC PTE ownership and was re-named SELNEC Cheshire Bus Company Limited.

All these changes left North Western as purely a coach operator without any stage services at all. All that remained was a depot in Manchester and offices at the Lower Mosley Street Bus Station.

The Central Activities Group of the NBC planned to segregate all stage services from coaching and selected North Western with which to implement these polices in the northwest.

Ribble subsidiary WC Standerwick subsequently became a wholly owned subsidiary of North Western. On the 6th February 1974 the North Western Road Car Company Limited was re-named National Travel (North West) Limited.

The dismantling of a once proud company was complete and the famous old name passed into history.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
North Western (Vols. I and II), Eric Ogden (TPC, 1981); PSV Circle Fleet History 2PC3 (1976).

Bus Fleet List 1923-1949 | Bus Fleet List 1950-1974 | Altrincham Coachways 1958-1967 | Melba Motors 1958-1967 | Majestic Express Coaches 1933-1953