Evening spent 'on the buses' was a magical tour

TOGETHER with Ken Lobley's knowledge and Robert Priestley's presentation, Todmorden Antiquarian Society enjoyed an evening on 'Todmorden Buses' last week.

This was to celebrate the centenary of our buses: Todmorden was the second town in the country to establish a bus company, the first being Eastbourne. Many other towns had tram links.

The valley turnpike roads dated from the late 18th century; these took carts, wagons, royal mail and stage coaches. Todmorden and District Carriage Company began in 1875, to hire out vehicles.

The turnpike tolls closed a few years later. Horse buses were operating here during the late Victorian years and then it was proposed that Todmorden Corporation Tramways should be established.

However, local people did not want trams! We saw two slides of cartoons jesting against the introduction of trams. The scheme fell apart, blamed on the prohibitive cost of street furnishing tram tracks. Next, the corporation bought four buses – a Critchley-Norris, a Ryknield and two Leyland open top double deckers which began service on January 1 1907. The inaugural run was scheduled for 9am but number 1 bus was frozen to the ground! At the later time of 2pm, number 2 bus was driven by Tom Suthers to Walsden with a crowd of councillors aboard. The buses were all painted standard Todmorden dark green, with the town crest prominently displayed on the side.

The first bus garage was at the Electricity Destructor Works, which had been prepared for the trams that never happened. It was sited behind the present Millwood Garage, next to the now demolished gasometer. The buses often broke down, a great deal of engineering was done. The wooden framed bus bodies were made at a joiners on the opposite side of Halifax Road. The upholestry was done at Phoenix Mill, mudguards were made at Crabtree’s at Kilnhurst. Each bus had three brakes – a hand brake, a foot brake marked with a large “C”, and an emergency brake which could clamp down into the road surface.

The first motorbus routes were from beside the Town Hall to Summit, to Cornholme and to Eastwood. Early bus stops were marked by two white painted bands on lamp posts - painted by Robert’s own Grandfather. The first drivers worked for 56 hours a week, to earn 1 and 4 shillings. Uniforms were introduced in 1908, cost 1 and10 shillings, stocked by a shop between the canal and Todmorden Newspaper Office. The drivers and conductors were issued with copious instructions.

A bus in 1913 towed the Todmorden fire engine around town, to see if it was more efficient than using horses! In World War I the buses were requisitioned by the War Office. After the war, buses needed refurbishing. It was common pratice for one body to be transferred and welded to another bus chassis. More buses were purchased in 1919; by 1923 the service routes were extended beyond the district of Todmorden. Some routes ran on market days only. Millwood Depot dates from 1909, built with a steel frame, brick casing and two wash bays. It was extended several times, especially in the 1920s. It is now a listed building.

The Railway Company bought some bus stock in 1931 and the Todmorden Joint Omnibus Committee was formed. World War II brought further changes. Headlights had to be hooded during the blackouts. With a shortage of men workers, more lady drivers and conductors were employed. Extra bus stock was brought in 1947 and again in 1948. Royal Mail parcels were delivered around the town, with the bus slowing down so that the package could be thrown out at the house or shop. In bad weather the roads were inspected first, then the gritters sent out ahead of the buses. Some Antiquarian Society members remember taking the Ribble Bus Company’s service from Preston to Manchester, passing through Todmorden. Ken has a collection of the “gear” that conductors had to carry. We were shown the portable rack of varying priced tickets, a bell pouch, a coin holder and a money pouch.

By 1960 more single decker, one-man buses were introduced. In 1971, Todmorden Bus Company became an integral part of West Yorkshire Joint Omnibus Committee. The vehicles were repainted to the agreed livery of green and orange. Readers will be pleased to know that some of the original Todmorden buses have been lovingly preserved. Number 14 is on view in the Manchester Museum of Transport, number 15 has been restored, and former local resident David Powell keeps an immaculate Todmorden bus down in Guildford.

The next meeting of Todmorden Antiquarian Society will be on Tuesday January 23 at 7.15pm in Todmorden Town Hall Court Room. The speaker will be John Wallis with a light-hearted look at “The End of the Pier”.