Ten icons of Oldham bus and tram operation over the last century
Who’d have thought it would have been a hundred years since the first buses and trams operated from Oldham town centre? We seem to have come a long way from the days when buses or trams used to stop outside The Star Inn. Buses were more widely adopted after the late 1920s when cross-city express routes complemented the town’s trams. Today’s new fangled trams traverse the Rochdale-Oldham Loop Line, and – by next year – will be stopping near The Star Inn. Plus ça change, except for the depubification of The Star Inn.
In a fit of opportunism and good timing, East of the M60 will focus on ten icons of Oldham’s bus and tram operations since 1913. This coming Sunday will mark a century of bus and tram operation in and around Oldham. To commemorate, here are our ten icons of bus and tram operation throughout Oldham:
- ‘The Grotto’;
- Hills, hills and more hills;
- Pommard and Devon Cream;
- Central Coaches’ secondhand fleet;
- Stott’s of Oldham;
- Yelloway Coach Services;
- The Trans-Lancs Express;
- Cross-Town Routes;
- Low Bridges;
- Mumps Bridge Coach Station.
1. ‘The Grotto’: an affectionate name given to the eastbound stands on the side of Wallshaw Street bus garage. Today, The Grotto no longer sees eastbound 184s, though still used for driver changeovers. I used to find The Grotto a convenient interchange point between alighting a 365 or 562 before changing over to a 343. The Mumps Bridge bus stands will return to use in 2014, alongside Metrolink trams.
2. Hills, Hills and More Hills: today’s buses make light work of the steep gradients. At one point, the tram terminus at Grains Bar – just over a thousand feet above sea level, was one of the highest transport termini in Europe. Today, Stott’s of Oldham’s 407 route passes Grains Bar before continuing to Denshaw. The views on the 407 – and the more frequent 83 route – are breathtaking. With the latter, true after Oldham Way where passengers are afforded views of Manchester city centre and – on a clear day – Jodrell Bank.
3. Pommard and Devon Cream: for passengers of a certain age, the maroon and cream livery was the definitive Oldham Corporation Transport livery. By 1965, OCTD under the tutelage of Harry Taylor brought about a modern image, with the most controversial change its livery. The Pommard (named after a French wine) was seen as a bit gaudy and didn’t look well on Oldham’s older buses. Even so, the Pommard and Devon Cream didn’t look too bad on the East Lancashire bodied Leyland Atlanteans.
4. Central Coaches’ Secondhand Fleet: during the early part of bus deregulation, GM Buses’ Sholver to Manchester route faced competition from a local independent. Central Coaches, from 1988 to 1991, ran competing 83/407 services from Denshaw though never had a livery to call their own. Their vehicles ran in the liveries of previous owners. This confused me no end once in 1988, as I wondered what an Alexander bodied ex-Scottish Bus Company vehicle was doing outside C&A.
5. Stott’s of Oldham: apart from a five year break, Stotts’ have a proud history of continuous bus operation since deregulation. They started out on commercial services, competing with GM Buses’ routes, particularly the 409 and the 427. Even so, they created a niche to their commercial routes, with the 398 offering a direct route from Ashton-under-Lyne to Grotton (via Hathershaw and Oldham). Today, they are a major player on tendered routes and school services throughout Oldham and Tameside. As I can testify on their 343 and 407 services, they have a modern fleet and – especially on the former route – adhere to the timetable very well.
6. Yelloway Coach Services: Rochdalians may shoot me down for this, but the original Yelloway company has its roots in Holt Brothers, an Oldham company whose base was the Mumps Bridge coach station. Today, after the original Yelloway company became defunct in 1989, the name has been resurrected by Courtesy Coaches, Chadderton. The livery is similar to the pre-1985 one and today’s modern fleet would do Hubert Allen proud.
7. The Trans-Lancs Express: need I say more! Launched in 1970, the Trans-Lancs Express linked Bolton with Stockport (and Manchester Airport on Summer weekends) via Oldham. Renumbering in 1973 saw the route allocated number ‘400’. This was accompanied by the 401 in 1986, which began at Oldham, continuing to Wigan via Middleton and Bolton. Both the 400 and 401 were withdrawn in 2004.
8. Cross-Town Routes: with its roots from Oldham Corporation Transport’s network, Oldham tends to have a great number of cross-town services, such as the 81 and 425. In contrast, neighbouring Rochdale and Ashton-under-Lyne town centres have few cross-town routes.
9. Low Bridges: many a double decker vehicle has come to grief on the low bridge at Hollinwood. Today, thanks to the M60 motorway, we are now deprived of such mishaps. However, lovers of low bridges would be pleased to find Middleton Junction’s bridge to their liking. Hence the operation of Dennis Dart SLFs on the 415 route.
10. Mumps Bridge Coach Station: for our final icon, Holt Brothers’ former home became Oldham’s Yelloway Coach Station. By the late 1960s to early 1970s, it also became the preserve of National Bus Company’s coach operations. North Western’s former express routes moved from Clegg Street Bus Station in 1973. It assumed the purpose of Oldham’s coach station till deregulation. By the early 1990s, it became an outstation for the Bee Line Buzz Company, then an annexe to First Manchester’s Wallshaw Street depot. It is now a private car park, though some traces of its former use remain intact.
Errors and Omissions?
Feel free to add to or elaborate on the existing ten. Did you dream in Pommard and Devon Cream, or was the Mancunian white more your scene? Comment away, articulately.
S.V., 10 May 2013.