In the latest of a series of articles for Looking Back, Professor Paul Salveson looks at the history of Bolton’s tram service

March 29, 1947, was a sad day for thousands of Boltonians when the last tram ran up Tonge Moor Road. It was the end of an era stretching just less than half a century. In that relatively short but eventful time Bolton came to love its trams.

Bolton’s tramways were an outstanding example of municipal enterprise. Bolton Corporation energetically pursued the development of a fully-electrified network which was essentially complete by 1900. There had been some horse-drawn trams, using infrastructure owned by the corporation, since 1880. They were operated by E Holden and Co and served Dunscar, Halliwell, Moses Gate, Chorley New Road, Daubhill, Farnworth, Chorley Old Road and Deane.

The Bolton News:

The depot – home to 48 trams and 350 horses – was on Shiffnall Street. Tram workers didn’t have an easy life, working a seven-day 84 hour week, for 27 shillings (drivers) and conductors getting £1.

Holdens sold out to Bolton Corporation in 1899 and the local authority immediately launched a major programme of modernisation. A total of 70 tramcars were ordered from Dick, Kerr and Co of Preston, the largest single order for trams ever made in Britain.

In less than a year Bolton’s tram network was revolutionised, with a new fleet of electric trams. January 2, 1900, saw the last horse-drawn tram service, driven by Richard Salkeld on the Chorley New Road route.

On the same date electric trams began running to Halliwell, Dunscar, Moses Gate, Daubhill station, Deane (Blackshaw Lane), Chorley New Road as far as Lostock Junction Lane and the Doffcocker Inn via Chorley Old Road. Within the town centre itself a circular network was developed, with Trinity Street station being the hub – what today we’d call an ‘interchange’!

Bolton Corporation could be rightly proud of its achievement in such a short space of time, but it didn’t stop there. Extensions to Horwich, Hulton Lane (Deane) and Four Lane Ends were early achievements. In 1908 a parcels delivery service began to operate around the borough. A contract was signed with Tillotson’s for The Bolton Evening News to be delivered by early-morning tram, with bundles picked up from the newspaper offices just off Bradshawgate on Nelson Square.

The Bolton News:

Further extensions continued, to Brownlow Fold, Darcy Lever, Montserrat, Breightmet and Swan Lane. Reciprocal arrangements were made with South Lancashire Tramways (SLT) to run through services to Leigh. Bolton Corporation collaborated with Farnworth Urban District Council which had its own tram service for a few years before it was taken over by Bolton.

A feature of Bolton’s tram system was the use of letters to denote the route. For example, ‘H’ denoted Halliwell, ‘R’ was to Daubhill (Rumworth) and ‘G’ was for Great Lever.

Conditions for tram workers improved. In 1905 the Corporation’s Tramways Committee granted them four days paid leave!

During the First World War many transport employees joined the armed forces, with 18 men never returning home. They are commemorated on a plaque which is now housed at Rotala’s bus garage on Weston Street. Women conductors were recruited during the war but most had to give up their jobs when the men returned.

Bolton’s tramways had dynamic and committed managers. Mr John Barnard started work as a clerk in the Tramways Department in 1900 and rose to become manager in 1913, a position he held until his death in 1938. The Corporation’s Tramways Committee adopted a policy of keeping fares low, despite war-time inflation. The number of passengers carried increased from 32 million to 56 million after the war.

The Bolton News:

In the year 1928 nearly 60 million passengers were carried on the 150-strong tram fleet. There is no doubt that Bolton enjoyed a very efficiently run transport network.

During the Second World War much-needed repairs had to be put on hold. Again, women were recruited to fill conductor roles, though a suggestion that they be trained as drivers was not pursued. Unlike after the First World War, many women stayed on in their jobs.

By the end of the war some parts of the network were in need of major investment.

Motor buses were regarded as more flexible and requiring less infrastructure. The Tramways Committee had already decided in the 1930s that the future lay with buses and several tram routes were abandoned before the War.

The Bolton News:

The last to survive was the ‘T’ service to Tonge Moor. Tram no. 440 was picked to operate the final service. It was decorated for the occasion and driven by the Mayor of Bolton; for the only time in Bolton’s tramway history, smoking was permitted on board! It returned to Shifnall Street depot at 1.30am on Sunday, March 30,1947.

The last public service to Tonge Moor ran earlier, using tram no. 406 which was also specially cleaned and decorated. The crew were Driver Riley, Conductor Jackson and ‘trolley boy’ Derek Shepherd.

Derek provides a remarkable link with the 21st century and the restoration of tramcar no. 66. He was part of a group which came together to rescue the shell of the old tramcar which had languished on a moorland farm after being decommissioned.

The fascinating story of Bolton’s tramcar revival is for another day, but at least we can still experience the delights of travelling on a classic Bolton tram during Blackpool Illuminations. And who knows we may see modern Metrolink trams in Bolton in years to come.

Many thanks to Tony Young, Derek Shepherd, Ashley Birch and Bolton 66 Tramcar Trust for their assistance.

The full story of Bolton’s tramways is in Tramways in Bolton by Tony Young and Derek Shepherd, published by the LRTA. It is available price £27.50 including postage