The Trolleybuses of the South Lancashire Transport Company

(I wrote this originally for wikipedia but there has been some editing on there – so here is the original article in its entirety. Have a read. It is interesting. Are there any public domain photographs that you might know of that would help lighten the text? If so, please get in touch. The trolleybus is an important vehicle and people now do not know enough about it).

History and Background

Trackless trolleybuses were first considered in 1922 by the independent South Lancashire Tramways Company – a subsidiary company of the Lancashire United Transport and Power Company – as substitute vehicles for its tramcar fleet. However the manager of the undertaking Mr E H Edwardes found the trackless trolleybuses of the time slow and rough-riding and deemed them unsuitable.

Trackless Trolleybuses – What Were They?

The trackless trolleybus was an electrically powered vehicle. The first trackless trolleybuses appeared in Germany around 1900. In England they were first seen in a very primitive version in 1909. The trackless trolleybus took its electrical power from twin overhead wires. The twin wires (one for positive and one for negative) were suspended above the road. The word “trackless” refers to the idea that the vehicle was a development of the tramcar. The tramcar runs on rails that are set into the road surface. The word “trackless” promoted the idea that the new vehicle was flexible to some extent. The Trackless Trolleybus could therefore manoeuvre and pass other vehicles – slow vehicles as well as parked vehicles. Photographs appeared in the local press where this new movement would be demonstrated before cameras.

Of course the earliest vehicles looked like the trams that they were competing with. They had similar shaped bodywork. The shapes of the windows and the stairs were often made from stock parts. Some of the earliest vehicles even had hand controls like trams. Some corporations were very adventurous and installed trackless trolleybuses before 1920. These included Keighley, Stockport, Aberdare, and Dundee among others. Many of these were based on German technology. The First World War made spares from Germany impossible to source. There would need to be home-based development.

In the later 1920s the trackless trolleybuses emerged from their former appearance. They moved away from their tramcar ancestry. They also started to look very modern and attractive. In essence the “trackless trolleybus” became a true road vehicle. An Electric Bus that was attractive, comfortable and fast. The name “trackless” was still used in some areas. In particular Mexborough and Swinton in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The population of those towns called their trolleybuses “tracklesses” and would refer to the journeys made by saying “I came home on a trackless” or perhaps “We waited for ten minutes and then two tracklesses arrived together!”

South Lancashire Tramways Need Renewal – but the cost is prohibitive

By 1928 infrastructure renewals on the South Lancashire Tramways – including the doubling of single and loop tram track and new tramcars – were indicated. The projected expenses for these were very high because tramway industry costs had doubled since the end of the First World War. This factor led the company to consider again replacing the tramcars by trackless trolleybuses. Advances in trackless trolleybus design such as lower overall body height and foot controls meant that its tramcar ancestry was much less evident. Increased passenger carrying capacity and covered staircases, more rapid acceleration, pneumatic tyres and passenger comfort in the form of upholstered seats in the late 1920s had made this type of electrically powered vehicle a more attractive proposition than the then contemporary motorbus. Trackless trolleybuses replacing the tramcars in South Lancashire would also be able to use the existing company power plant and electrical feeder system and would release the company from using fixed rails which attracted a rateable value payable in each separate locality of the several that the system traversed. In any case, some of the roads traversed by the SLT trams were unable to accommodate double tram track and their associated loading gauges but they would be able to accommodate two passing trolleybuses. Having said that, there were several sections of routeing that still needed one-way trolleybus wires. These included the town of Atherton; the town of Tyldesley; the town of Farnworth and on the joint service with the St. Helen’s corporation, the centre of the town of St. Helen’s itself.

Act of Parliament, Plans and Execution

The Act dated May 10th 1929 (19 and 20 Geo. V cap. LXXXIII) allowed the company name to be altered from South Lancashire Tramways Company to South Lancashire Transport Company. It also authorised the company to abandon its tram routes and to run trackless trolleybuses in their place nothwithstanding certain restrictions placed on some established lines, notably from Leigh to Lowton.

The first section converted from tram to trolleybus was the Atherton to Ashton-in-Makerfield section which opened on 3rd August 1930.
The remainder of the system was converted thus:
Ashton-in-Makerfield to Haydock 21st June 1931
Atherton to Farnworth 19th August 1931
Leigh (Spinning Jenny Street) to Bolton 17th December 1933

Characteristics of the system

Although Atherton could be considered the hub of the South Lancashire Trolleybus network, this was an unusual and atypical trolleybus system in that it primarily provided long interurban routes rather than the short urban routes with frequent stops which would come to constitute accepted trolleybus practice in the United Kingdom. These long routes on the SLT system connected somewhat scattered mill and mining towns and villages as well as some isolated collieries on the South Lancashire coalfield. The routes followed almost exactly the lines of the former South Lancashire Tramways and also included long sections of route in open countryside. Contemporary timetables indicate an average service speed of 12mph or faster which was a considerable improvement over the trams’ average service speed of 8mph.

Routes and Services

The main routes and services were as follows:

Atherton to St. Helens (14 miles)
Atherton to Farnworth (14.3 miles)
Leigh to Bolton (8.6 miles)

Two of these routes were among the longest daily scheduled trolleybus routes in the United Kingdom. Additionally, on Saturdays from 23rd December 1933 to September 1939, the Atherton to Farnworth route was extended beyond Atherton to Leigh making it for a time the longest regular through trolleybus route in the country at 17.1 miles Leigh to Farnworth (Saturdays only).

Supplementary and Extra Services

In addition to the main services, there were daily shift and rush-hour associated “extras” as well as short workings (known to platform staff and local people as “Jiggers”) between the following destinations:

Leigh (Spinning Jenny Street) and Mosley Common
Leigh (Spinning Jenny Street) and Four Lane Ends
Bolton (Howell Croft) and Hulton Lane (ceased 25th March 1956)
Bolton (Howell Croft) and Four Lane Ends (ceased 25th March 1956)
Swinton and Farnworth
Walkden and Farnworth
Swinton and Worsley
Atherton and Tyldesley
Leigh (Spinning Jenny Street) and Tyldesley
Atherton and Boothstown
Haydock and Ashton-in-Makerfield
Hindley and Hindley Green “Leigh (Road)”

The short workings at shift times and the “jiggers” therefore provided periods of intensive service over sections of the main routes.

Joint working with other corporations

South Lancashire Transport also ran a joint trolleybus service between Atherton and St Helens with St. Helens Corporation. Joint trolleybus routes were comparitively rare in the United Kingdom – three other examples being the shared service between the Mexborough and Swinton Traction Company and Rotherham Corporation and the Corporations of Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne (whose vehicles once also interran with those of Oldham Corporation) and the use of the City of Nottingham Corporation traction wires by the trolleybuses of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Traction Company from Cinderhill to the centre of the city of Nottingham.

Other Operational Practices

No route numbers or intermediate points of travel were ever displayed on the SLT vehicles. Only the final destination was shown on the front and back of the vehicles.[9] However, from 1943, St. Helens Corporation gave the St. Helens to Atherton service the number 1 and displayed this on its own vehicles; its service from St. Helens to Ashton in Makerfield the number 2 and that from St. Helens to Haydock the number 3 with a further number 3A reserved for workings from St. Helens to Blackbrook, somewhat short of Haydock. For its part from June 1940, Bolton Corporation numbered its trolleybus services thus: Bolton to Hulton Lane 17A; Bolton to Four Lane Ends 17B; and Bolton to Leigh 17C, although these numbers only appeared in timetables provided by Bolton Corporation and never on the vehicles themselves.

From 1930 until 1940 no Trolleybus Stop signs or flags were used anywhere on the system. Since the inception of the South Lancashire Tramways trams, all stops – both compulsory (Board of Trade) and request – being indicated by a white band painted on the green traction poles. Local practice dictated that the stop was observed on both sides of the road even when there was only one traction pole with a bracket arm. However during the blackout in the 1939-1945 war and as the white bands faded, Bus Stop signs and flags became necessary and were provided by the company. The timetable up to 1939 had stated that in rural parts of the routes, the trolleybuses would pick up and set down passengers “anywhere within reason.”


On the Bolton and Farnworth routes no through fares or tickets were available, passengers having to pay again at the boundaries (for a journey to Bolton originating from the Leigh side of Four Lane Ends, a new ticket had to be purchased at Four Lane Ends; for through passengers to Farnworth, a new ticket had to be purchased at Swinton Church).

Route Topography Aspects

At Platt Bridge the SLT trolleybus route to St. Helens ran along the company’s private tramroad (Templeton Road) which dated to 1903. This unmetalled section still included the tram rails around which the only paving was the statutory requirement provided pursuant to the Tramways Acts of 1870 and 1903.[8][Tramways Act 1870 (Regnal. 33 and 34 Vict) Part 2, subsections 29 et seq]. The road was not used by other vehicles (except for access) than SLT trolleybuses.


The original batch of ten Guy BTX trolleybuses was bodied by Charles H. Roe Ltd., to a lowbridge design.

Four of the trolleybuses in the South Lancashire fleet belonged to Bolton Corporation. They were not painted in the Bolton Corporation livery however and were numbered within the series of South Lancashire company vehicles. When the system closed in 1958, these four vehicles were taken to Bolton Corporation bus depot for the first time but only for scrapping purposes.

So high was the increase in passengers during the war due to the influx of workers to factories engaged in war work in the area, that the company was allocated new trolleybuses during the war.


The South Lancashire Transport Company used three depots. The main depot, power station and offices were at Howe Bridge (between Atherton and Leigh). The other depots were at Swinton (Partington Lane) and Platt Bridge. These depots also housed vehicles (motor buses) of sister company Lancashire United Transport.

Growth of System

On 21st March 1934 the Nottingham Evening Post reported that the South Lancashire Transport Company was the second largest in the country with 27 miles of route and 46 vehicles.

Company Reputation and Unique Practices

This was an efficient service but with less intensive frequencies than might be encountered in more urban trolleybus systems. The system was held to employ eccentric practices not encountered on other British trolleybus systems. For example some span wires were secured to convenient trees in the Boothstown area after the failure of traction poles through rust. Occasional use of live but insulated DC trailing cables (jump leads) in the street supervised by SLT staff when trolleybuses had to be manoeuvred or turned short of their usual terminus during Whitsuntide religious processions was also confined to this company.

Amongst transport historians and enthusiasts South Lancashire Transport also gained several unique reputations during its operations. For example, utilising its equipment to the maximum. Some of the original vehicles from 1930 were still in service on the very last day (August 31st 1958). In addition, several overhead wiring bracket arm supports in the Leigh and Bamfurlong areas remained throughout the life of the system at the gauge of 18 inches (the gauge of the original 1930 installation) and were never upgraded to the standard 24 inches throughout the life of the system[6]. Both gauges could be seen at several places on the system on opposite sides of the same road, for example in Atherton at the bifurcation of the Bolton and Farnworth services and at the curve leading from Partington Lane to the main A6 road at Swinton.

Eschewing the use of outside contractors and modern overhead practices, the company also installed its own overhead (based on tramway practice) and this made for some awkward vehicle road-positioning at times. Sometimes the traction wires were not adjusted even after new road alignments had been constructed. Overhead line work on the SLT system also included the retention and use of two of the original detached reversing triangles to the very last day of the system – although other original detached triangles had been converted during the war to assist conductors in the blackout. The detached triangles proved difficult in the dark and to avoid too much pole shifting, gravity reversing on advantageous camber would sometimes be carried out by SLT crews at both Boothstown and Sandhole colliery in preference to connecting to the detached reversing triangles.

Street Lighting Obligation

From its very first days as a tramway operator, the South Lancashire company had been obliged to provide electric street lighting along all of its routes at no cost to the local authorities. In 1945 as reported in the Manchester Evening News, August 20th, page 4 Col.,2, the councils of Abram, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Hindley, Worsley, Westhoughton, Ince-in-Makerfield, Haydock and Tyldesley were in negotiation with the SLT as to apportionment of costs for installation and improvement of street lighting which was by then considered at best, “deficient”. The decision was made that some of the local authorities would supply improved lighting and that the South Lancashire company would supply only the electric current. The street lighting obligation ended upon the winding up of the SLT company on August 31st 1958. Some areas – notably Bamfurlong RDC – had not made adequate provision by that date and so, with the ending of the SLT trolleybus service, the main road along which the service had run was left unlit for some weeks.

Proposal for Closure of System and Transfer of Company

A bill to discontinue the use of trolley vehicles in the South Lancashire transport area and to transfer the undertaking of the South Lancashire Transport Company to the Lancashire United Transport Company was conisdered unopposed in the House of Lords on Wednesday 19 March 1958.

Reasons for Closure

The areas through which the SLT trolleybuses travelled were subject to immediate post war industrial decline with associated changes in shift and travelling patterns and consequently passenger loadings. Some of the original 1930 and 1931 vehicles had also been partially rebuilt but this had proved expensive. Apart from the ten 1948 Sunbeam trolleybuses, the fleet was in need of major renewal. Since the nationalisation of electricity generation and supply in 1948, the Howe Bridge power station was mothballed and held in reserve with the company having to buy its electricity supply from NORWEB, part of the newly nationalised electricity supply network.

Closure of Sections:

Atherton to St. Helens 11th November 1956
Leigh to Bolton 31st August 1958
Atherton to Farnworth 31st August 1958

Company Director and General Manager South Lancashire Tramways Co. Ltd., and South Lancashire Transport Co. Ltd., and Lancashire United Transport and power Comapny Ltd., 1911-1955: Mr Edward H Edwardes (18 February 1875 – 05 November 1955)

Mr Edwardes acted as consultant to the City of Hull corporation in 1936 and 1937 when that city was considering replacing tram routes by trolleybues.

Mr Edwardes also made design recommendations to Leyland Motors Ltd, Leyland, Lancashire upon the purchase by the South Lancashire Transport Company of some Leyland TTB4 chassis. All his recommendations were accepted by Leyland Motors.

Cooperation with vehicle manufacturers

From time to time on the SLT system, new trolleybuses for other UK cities (eg Glasgow) and cities overseas (eg Rangoon) were tested. These tests sometimes included experimental vehicles presenting as a chassis with traction equipment and a rudimentary driving platform but no bodywork. Vehicles tested also included the experimental and innovative Massey-bodied Leyland trolleybus in 1935 which was years ahead of its time, including as it did low step access, rear entrance and front exit ahead of the front axle, and overall low height but with improved seating.

Vehicles by Marque and Class

1-10 Guy BTX L29/31R
11-30 Guy BTX L29/31R
31-46 Guy BTX L22/26R
Leyland TTB4
Sunbeam MS2
World Survey of Foreign Railways By United States Foreign and Domestic Commerce Bureau
Published Dec 31, 1933

South Lancashire Transport Company.
(Controlled by Lancashire United Transport & Power Company, Ltd.)
Address: Atherton, Lancashire. Mileage 28 (Trolleybus system). Trolleybuses-102, Capital (stocks and bonds) issued: £754,523.
Managing Director: E. H. Edwardes.

Hull Daily Mail Thursday 23 April 1936 Page 7 Col.,2
“Inspected by Hull’s Transport Chiefs” – “…they…visited the depot and workshops, and trolley vehicle routes of the South Lancashire Transport Co., Atherton, and saw double-decker 64-seater vehicles designed by Leyland Motors, Ltd., and incorporating suggestions made by Mr E. H. Edwardes, Managing Director, SLT Co Ltd.”

Hull Daily Mail – Monday 28 October 1935 Page 10 Col.3 – “Hull’s Trolley ‘Bus Report Will Not Be ‘Private and Confidential’.” “…(the report) has been prepared by Mr E. H. Edwardes, J.P., managing director of the Lancashire United Transport and Power Company Ltd., and of the South Lancashire Transport Company. He has acted as adviser to other corporations on transport matters”. (The report favours the introduction of trolley ‘buses on some routes in the city).


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