Authorised by the Rossendale Tramways Act of 1888 and owned and operated by the Rossendale Valley Tramways Company, this steam tramway consisted of a single line track built to 4ft gauge and ran south from Crawshawbooth along Burnley Road to Queens Square in Rawtenstall (where it was joined by an extension of the Accrington Steam Tramways line from the boundary at Lockgate), then turned east, following the line of the River Irwell, the road and the railway for 4½ miles to the neighbouring town of Bacup.
The section between Rawtenstall and Bacup opened on the 31st January 1889, followed in 1891 by the line to Crawshawbooth, a total of just over 6½ miles.
The initial service was operated using 9 (Nos. 1-9), Thomas Green locomotives hauling Milnes double-deck bogie trailer cars (Nos. 1-10).
Additions to the rolling stock were made in 1893 and 1894, when two more (Nos. 10-11) Green locos arrived, followed in 1901 by a similar engine (No. 12) purchased from Blackburn Corporation, along with additional Ashbury trailer cars (Nos. 11-12), also ex-Blackburn, in 1899.
Although no official records tell us of the tramway livery, there is in existence at least one tinted postcard dating from 1906, showing a trailer car wearing a chocolate and cream livery hauled by a rather rusty (brown) steam loco (known locally as ‘armoured trams’ because of the metal cladding on the steam engine), which may possibly be an approximation of the actual livery.
The Company was purchased by the BET in 1900 and plans were made to electrify the system, but wrangling between Rawtenstall and Bacup councils delayed permission until the 21-year lease on the tramway had almost expired and the system was eventually purchased, jointly by both councils, on 1st October 1908, with Rawtenstall Corporation operating the system on behalf of both parties.
The steam trams continued to be operated by the new owners until 22nd July 1909, the last regular use of steam traction on a street tramway in Britain.
No. 12 ex-Blackburn Corporation (fleet number unknown but Blackburn had 14 (Nos. 1-14), all were new in 1887).
Nos. 11-12 ex-Blackburn Corporation (fleet numbers unknown but Blackburn had 12 (Nos. 1-12), new 1887 or 1888).
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); Olive Green & Ivory; Hyndburn & Rossendale 75 Years of Municipal Operation (Peter Deegan, Omnibus Society 1982).