The Second of East of the M60’s Seven Bus Route Wonders of the Greater Manchester area

In Greater Manchester’s transport folklore, few bus routes are as iconic as the 53. There was even a maxim held by Manchester Corporation which stated that ‘if it worked on the 53, it would work anywhere’. This was true during the route’s heyday in the 1950s, long after its conversion from tram route.

Brief History:

The original 53 route ran from Cheetham to Old Trafford, via Belle Vue, Rusholme and Brooks’ Bar. It was a well used route, serving workers and leisure passengers. In recent years, it has been extended from Old Trafford to Pendleton [Salford Shopping City] and rerouted away in Moss Side and Collyhurst. Today, its northern terminus is now Cheetham Hill instead of Cheetham, opposite the Queens Road bus depot, and it also serves Harpurhey.

Throughout the late 1940s to early 1950s, it was a popular route for workers at the Bradford Colliery, Crossley’s works in Higher Openshaw and at Trafford Park industrial estate (some journeys were extended to serve the industrial estate). For football fans, it connected Old Trafford with Maine Road (today it connects with the Etihad Stadium). It was a popular bus route for Mancunians visiting Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, its speedway stadium, greyhound track, and amusement park. Even in the mid 1970s, it operated every four minutes during Monday to Saturday daytimes.

Recent deindustrialisation and social changes have resulted in a sharp reduction of its frequency. By 1986, it was every 10 minutes; every 15 minutes in 1998 with an extension to The Trafford Centre. Today, it is half that, with its more modest modern day role as an important link with north and east Manchester.


Throughout most of its life, the 53 has had one operator. Its present day successor to Manchester Corporation is First Greater Manchester.

Basic Frequency: half hourly before 1900 hours then hourly after 1900, seven days a week.


  • Football: The 53 is in the proud position of being convenient for Manchester City and Manchester United fans alike. Besides the spectacle of Barclays Premier League Football, both teams have their own visitor centres.
  • Fast Cars and Faster Dogs: Belle Vue Greyhound Stadium is a short walk for lovers of greyhound racing, speedway and stock cars.
  • Shopping: Local shopping facilities at Cheetham Hill, Harpurhey, Longsight and Salford Shopping City are well linked with the 53.
  • Curry Galore: the 53 is also handy for the Curry Mile in Rusholme.
  • Parks and Fine Art: visit Platt Fields or Whitworth Parks along the 53 route. Why not call in the Costume Museum or the Whitworth Art Gallery whilst you are there?
  • Live Performance: the Contact Theatre and The Academy are both a short walk away on Oxford Road.

Best Value Fares: Though I heartily recommend System One’s Any Bus DaySaver at £5.00 (or £5.60 before 0930 on weekdays), First Greater Manchester’s FirstDay ticket at £4.00 is another good offer. This is especially true if your journey begins in Cheetham Hill or Pendleton. Otherwise, go for System One’s ticket if you prefer flexibility.

Travel Tips: journey times may affected by football or concert traffic, particularly between Hyde Road and Oldham Road along Gorton,Beswick, Bradford and Miles Platting. Please keep this in mind before travelling.

S.V., 30 April 2013

4 thoughts on “Bus Route Wonders of Greater Manchester #2: 53, Pendleton – Old Trafford – Cheetham Hill

  1. I remember catching this bus in the early 2000s from school, seeing if it was better than going into Manchester and out the other side. Only did it once though. It didn’t half strike me as an odd little route, even today. Great new look for the site btw!


    1. Hi Ady,

      I’ve yet to have the joy of boarding the 53 over its full route. My one and only journey entailed changing from a 216 at the ASDA/Walmart Supercentre. I tried and failed to get a tuxedo for a works’ Christmas do from their big store opposite the Etihad Stadium, but I then realised that the then new George store on Manchester Fort was a 53 ride away. Today, it would be easier to catch the same bus to Harpurhey’s ASDA thus giving the George store a miss. Or to the TESCO store at Cheetham Hill, close to today’s 53 terminus.

      Thanks for the compliments over the new design. The banner was one I made myself, using the Motter Ombra and Helvetica typefaces. The colours are based on the Lazy ‘S’s for SELNEC, plus their Northern, Central and Southern divisions, and the SaverSeven passes which used the Motter Ombra font.




    2. What has happened to the 53?

      I grew up in the Brooks’ Bar area & I remember my parents taking me on it all the time to go to Lonsight & Belle Vue.

      I remember it used to run so frequently that you’d often seen 4 or 5 them (& a 54 for a good measure).

      Now, for some inexplicable reason, it no longer serves Brooks’ Bar & Moss Side, Moss Lane & Great Western Street.

      I remember this being one of Manchester oldest & most historic routes & it seems so sad that a private company can come along & destroy all that history.


      1. Hi W,

        I too am not too impressed with how the 53 and its sister service the 54 weathered bus deregulation. Even more so with the rerouting from the traditional route of the former. (Neoliberalism never seems to respect history and public service).

        Though unimpressed from a historical and enthusiast’s point of view, I understand that the present operators wanted to gain patronage by offering direct links to NMGH and the universities from East Manchester. Fair point, but many people from Bradford, Cheetham Hill or Belle Vue may be more inclined to catch the more regular 216, 135 or 201 services before catching anything within the 40s and 140s on the Wilmslow Road corridor. I would be interested to see if their changes did increase patronage to the universities and NMGH.

        Perhaps it would have been better if they didn’t mess with the Beswick – Old Trafford section of the 53. Ideally, I would like to see the 53 back to its original route, with the present 54 altered to operate along the 2013 version of the 53 route.

        Bye for now,



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