Holt Bros. (Rochdale) Ltd 1915-1932

The history of Yelloway Motor Services can be traced back to around 1908, when Robert Holt commenced a parcels delivery service in the Rochdale area, using a pony and cart.

As the business prospered, not only were additional ponies and carts purchased, but also steam and motor lorries.

In an attempt to earn additional revenue when the lorries would otherwise be idle, inter-changeable charabanc bodies were purchased to enable the lorries to be converted for use on Sundays for transporting the Rochdale public on outings.

The first vehicle so treated was a Foden steam lorry, which was used with a convertible body from 1912. The following year the first purpose built motorbus entered service, sporting a yellow livery.

This was a 28-seat Dennis charabanc, followed in 1914 by three similar vehicles. Halley and Belsize chassis were added as the coaching business grew. On the 24th November 1915, the company was incorporated as Holt Bros (Rochdale) Ltd.

The onset of World War I meant that passenger operations were virtually at a standstill, although the haulage side of the business prospered.

Following the end of hostilities, a number of Dennis chassis were acquired, most of which carried interchangeable bodies at some time and were used as either charabanc or lorry when required. At least one of these is known to have carried a double-deck body.

The company extended its operations into Manchester by opening a depot on Queens Road, Cheetham, although moves into Oldham were hampered by the Council’s opinion that a Rochdale company was not local.

As a result licences were not forthcoming, so a separate company, Holts of Oldham Ltd, was registered on 22nd April 1919, although in practice it was operated as a subsidiary of Holt Bros (Rochdale) Ltd. A depot was established at the Mumps, where the Oldham fleet was housed.

Situated amongst the mill towns of the North West of England, the coaching business was found to be particularly seasonal, dependent mainly upon the annual ‘Wakes Week’ holidays, which differed from town to town.

Tours and excursions were limited mainly to summer Sundays because of the demands of the mill owners, which required their staff to work a long six-day week.

As a result, the Company resorted to ‘pirating’ tactics common amongst operators of the period. Although legitimately licensed for operations out of Oldham, Rochdale and Manchester, the Company targeted departing passengers from the surrounding towns by descending in force at the commencement of the local Wakes Week hoping to entice holidaymakers aboard their charabancs.

In addition, local agencies were set up which helped to fill the coaches with pre-booked passengers. This sort of operation was, understandably, not popular with the legitimate local operators, but made up a good proportion of the Company’s business in the early years.

The limitations of ‘pirate’ tactics were soon realised by Robert Holt, who decided to expand into stage carriage services. In April 1921, he applied for licences to run a stage carriage service from Rochdale Town Hall to Wardle, via Hollingworth Lake.

Although refused by Rochdale Corporation, there is evidence that a service of sorts was run, although probably as an excursion, and it is likely that the double-deck Dennis vehicle was used. Holt Bros was, by now, known locally as the ‘Yellow Buses’.

At a meeting of Saddleworth UDC in April 1923, Robert Holt applied for licences to run a stage carriage service between County End, Lees and Grains Bar connecting the UDC with Oldham trams.

Saddleworth did not see the necessity of issuing licences but gave the service its blessing. The service had commenced by July 1923, although it was now operating to Waterhead instead of Grains Bar as agreed.

By the end of 1923 the following routes would appear to have been in operation; High Crompton to New Hey, via Shaw and Ogden; Denshaw to Mytholmroyd; Waterhead to Denshaw; New Hey to Denshaw, and Shaw to Delph, some of the mileage being in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

The following year, however, the North Western Road Car Company was granted licences to operate in competition with Holt Bros in Saddleworth. Problems with continued licensing and pressure from the local councils caused Holt Bros to cease their service.

North Western also gained licences to run against the service through High Crompton and this too ceased, although not until the spring of 1925, by which time Holt Bros had withdrawn from stage carriage services altogether.

By this time, the fleet was beginning to show signs of wear and tear and with the loss of the stage carriage services more reliance was now placed on tours and excursions from Rochdale.

In 1926 the Company took delivery of its first ‘luxury’ coaches. Based on the Reo ‘Major’ chassis, they were bodied by Lewis & Crabtree of Heywood. Further Reo’s arrived in 1927 and 1928, by which time the fleetname ‘Yelloway Services’ had appeared for the first time.

In the autumn of 1927 premises at Weir Street, in the centre of Rochdale, were acquired, which were used as a garage and departure station.

On the 26th November 1927 an express service between Rochdale and Manchester was introduced, in competition with Rochdale and Manchester Corporations. At the same time licences for an express service to Blackpool were sought and a new depot and terminus on Central Drive was opened.

On the 1st October 1928 an ambitious express service linking Blackpool with London commenced, but the lightweight Reo’s were considered unsuitable for the arduous schedules and a number of Tilling-Stevens chassis were purchased.

In later years the London route was served by a network of ‘feeder’ coaches enabling connections with many Lancashire towns.

A new express route to Devon was introduced on 18th May 1929 to cater for the peak summer holiday traffic, although it had to be suspended in October for the winter, even though attempts were made to continue a weekly service to Torquay.

In 1930 the Transport Act came into force, regulating bus and coach operations for the first time. In order to be granted licences for the services each operator was running it was necessary to provide evidence that the services were indeed run and that passengers were carried.

It was perhaps an unfortunate time to introduce such legislation for an economic slump took place in the same year, steering a vast number of operators perilously close to extinction.

Holt Bros purchased the goodwill of Manchester General Travel Bookings from Stephen Wade in 1930, who subsequently re-commenced operations from a new address in July of the same year, although the services he operated seemed to have ceased by August.

The acquisition of the agency brought with it premises in Mosley Street, Manchester and from thereon London and Blackpool bound coaches called here and also at the Peter Street premises Holt Bros had opened the previous year. When the Torquay route re-commenced it too called here.

Throughout 1930 every effort was made by the company to attract business, but financial returns continued to fall short of expectations. In order to save costs the placement of nationwide advertising ceased and the two Manchester offices were closed.

The creditors involved in hire purchase arrangements with the coach fleet were pressing for payment and a Receiver was appointed. Many of the vehicles were re-possessed leaving the Company with a motley assortment of vehicles.

On the 28th November 1930, a meeting proposed that the Company should be placed into voluntary liquidation, but the resolution was not passed and for the time being the Company soldiered on.

By 1931 there were signs that it may be possible to purchase the Company back from the creditors and in March a deal was struck enabling the creditors to be paid back and the Company re-purchased.

The shares of Robert Holt and his wife were acquired by a consortium of Maurice Edwards (a director of local company Bromilow & Edwards), John Barlow, an associate of Edwards, and Herbert Allen.

The new Board immediately set about putting the company back on its feet again. The first priority was to re-purchase as many of the vehicles as necessary that had been re-possessed, and accordingly several of these were back in service by the summer of 1931.

The new owners still faced an uncertain future as the regulations introduced under the 1930 Road Traffic Act were implemented by the Traffic Commissioners.

On the 9th April 1932, the company was officially re-named Yelloway Motor Services Limited, starting a new chapter in the company’s history.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following source;
The Yellow Road (A History of Yelloway Motor Services Ltd.) (Judith and Peter Deegan; Pride Books 1982).

History 1932-1988 | Bus Fleet List 1912-1988 |