A North Western centenary

In this blog we celebrate the centenary of another Peak District bus operator – but unlike our previous 2021 blog on Hulleys you won’t find this operator – the North Western Road Car Company – about today. Yet it was once an important bus service provider in the area.

The North Western Road Car Company’s logo-type was once a familiar sight on the side of their fleet across the north west, including the Peak District and around Matlock.

The beginning

On 1 April 1923 the Peak District Committee’s assets of the British Automobile Traction Company (BAT) were transferred into a new North Western Road Car Company. BAT had operated some local services in the area before the First World War including Buxton in 1920 – where they had a garage.

A year later services in Stockport started. Here were garages and offices at Great Egerton Street. In 1924 the North Western’s HQ was transferred to Stockport’s Charles Street, from Macclesfield. With the company on an expansionist phase, operations were expanded into the area around Stockport and Manchester. Services were running into the city centre from Buxton, Hayfield, Macclesfield, Warrington and elsewhere by 1930, with an expanding network of express coach and local services.

Derbyshire depots

In the Peak District and Derbyshire area bus depots were established in Buxton (1920, closed and replaced in 1963, closed by Trent in 1999), Castleton (1935, closed 1979 by Trent – only two buses were stabled here); Glossop (1927 closed 1979 by Stagecoach) and Matlock (first part purchased in 1933 – still in part use today by trentbarton).

Not on its way to Buxton! In fact it’s outside the Museum of Greater Manchester Transport during the very successful company centenary events of 22/23 April 2023. This 1963 Leyland Leopard is in the coach livery of North Western. In the 1971/72 company timetable the route 27 – a Stockport to Buxton service – ran at frequencies of up to every 30 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays. On Sundays it extended to Manchester with a maximum hourly frequency.

Operating area

Centred on Stockport, Manchester and Macclesfield the North Western empire, with its once familiar red and white buses, stretched down to Matlock (where it also ran a network of town services), into Buxton, down to Biddulph, across to Northwich, Warrington and beyond – a significant operator. It also once reached as far as Chesterfield (on its way to Mansfield) with its joint express service with East Midland Motor Services – the X67 – and as far as Barnsley with another express service. North Western also had a once thriving and extensive coaching and excursion operation. Trips out into the Peak District from Manchester and Stockport were once a favoured destination.

North Western Road Car Company territory. A route map taken from the company’s winter 1971/72 timetable. Matlock is to the bottom right, with Stockport and Manchester towards the centre. (Download the full map below as a higher resolution Jpeg).

The end

We won’t go into a detailed company history here, suffice to say that North Western ended up in the hands of the National Bus Company (NBC), which was formed in 1968.  But its demise was really sealed by the setting up of passenger transport executives (PTEs). South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire PTE purchased some 272 buses from North Western in 1972 – plus depots at Altrincham, Glossop, Oldham, Stockport and Urmston for its directly operated bus services. This left the reminder of the operations; which were ‘sold’ to other NBC operators –  generally to either Trent Motor Traction (Peak District and Derbyshire) or Crosville – in the same year. At that time North Western were left operating only coaching and express services, but even this was later to cease as other operators took over.

But to those of certain age, relying on North Western and its services to get them to work, home, shopping or leisure, the company was a well-known part of the social and economic fabric of the area. The company itself has been gone for over 50 years, but is still remembered in some quarters for the role it played in everyday community life.

For a short-lived company, North Western has perhaps had something of a cult following amongst enthusiasts. As perhaps an indicator of this there are at least three modern vehicles painted in the company’s livery to mark the centenary of its foundation. Here are two Stagecoach examples at the Manchester museum, with, on the right, a 1960 ‘dual purpose’ Leyland (fitted with coach style seats). A third example in heritage livery is operated by Hulleys of Baslow.

Further informatiuon and sources

If you are interested in the history of the company and would like more information, we would particularly recommend a recent publication by the Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester, ‘North Western Road Car Company a centenary history’ (£8 plus postage). For those who want an in-depth account there is also a two-volume history of the company published in the early 1980s, edited by Eric Ogden. The Greater Manchester Transport Society have published a bibliography of the company in their Journal, ‘North Western 100’ special issue, May 2023. We particularly used these in our account here along with the company’s timetable for winter 1971/72.

Originally purchased from Hand’s Garage (1933) with an addition made a year later when North Western purchased the interests of Alfreton Motor Transport, this still familiar building on Bakewell Road, Matlock, is the most visual reminder of the company in the Derbyshire area. It passed to Trent in 1972 and is still used as a small outstation for trentbarton services in the Matlock area – though most of it is used by a tyre fitting business. The gables were added in alterations undertaken in the 1950s. The final allocation of buses here (or ‘cars’ as the North Western styled them) was 20 single deckers. Tacked on to right of the building, immediately adjacent the pavement, was once an enquiry office. Long gone are the days when you could pop into a staffed office in Matlock and get bus information! (Google Earth).
The south-east corner of the former North Western Road Car Company territory. A route map enlargement of the Matlock and eastern Peak District area taken from the company’s winter 1971/72 timetable. The thick red lines are those of the North Western’s routes. A key to the map can be found on the previous map showing the entire North Western territory.

This blog was revised on 26 April 2023 to add a downloadable higher resolution copy of the 1971/72 company route map.