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Backwords: End Of An Era

Mike Shaw remembers the ripping up of tramlines and the arrival of trolley buses.

The red-hot coals glowed invitingly in the brazier outside the night-watchman’s hut and threw of a rosy warmth in the twilight.

Inside the open-fronted hut a young fair-haired boy poured out an incessant stream of questions.

The watchman bore my questioning with a good-humoured tolerance stemming from the remarkable affinity that quite unaccountably seems to exist between the very young and the old.

The records show that it must be 60 years since I chatted to the pipe-puffing gent with the cloth cap and muffler as he kept his nightly vigil near our home.

I didn’t realise it at the time, of course, but it was the end of a notable era in the history of the main Manchester Road through Colne Valley.

The road that for decades before and since was a vital artery feeding the valley’s mills was about to take on a new look.

They were ripping up the tramlines and setts in readiness for the quieter, smoother trolley buses that were to take their place.

Riding on the clinking, clanging trams and running down our lane to slip a letter into the post box they carried near the rear platform are very vague memories.

What springs more vividly to mind about Manchester Road after the disappearance of the trams is the sight of huge holes torn in the supporting walls.

Cars and lorries seemed to plough their way into the walls with amazing regularity. Especially on the tricky bend at Cellars Clough near where we lived.

Time may have exaggerated my impression of the scene, but my memory is of looking out of the bus window onto dozens of gaps in the walls, bridged temporarily by lengths of rope.

A lot of people used to claim it was the camber that was wrong. If that was the case it took them a long, long time to put it right. I would swear that some of those holes in the walls were there for years.

The trolleys ran up and down the valley in the manner of silent luxury liners after the bustling and banging of the tugboat-like trams.

One big plus the trolleys had for me was that as they came up to the Manchester Road junction from the Fall Lane terminus at Marsden, they had to slow to walking pace.

Anything quicker than that brought the trolleys crashing down from the wires when they made the sharp turn. So after a night at the pictures I could make a swift dash through the doors and hop on the homeward-bound bus without having to wait at the stop.

To put the overhead trolleys back on the wires if they did come off was a highly precarious operation, using a bamboo pole of immense length with a hook on the end.

The process was more tricky in the dark, of course, and I recall more than one conductor hurling his pole to the ground in disgust and indulging in a torrent of foul language when he was overcome by a fit of frustration.

When not in use the pole was slotted into a hole which ran inside the bodywork for almost the whole length of the bus. And it became a useful dual-purpose instrument as the conductor pulled out the last few feet of it across the platform when the bus was full.

New electric lighting gave Manchester Road from our hilltop the appearance of a shining serpent as it wound its way around the valley contours.

But for years the snake was seemingly cut in half as one short stretch of the road around West Slaithwaite was left in the Dark Ages, as some folk put it, with scarcely discernible lamps.

One local councillor made it a never-ending election issue as he nattered on at every available opportunity until the authorities saw the light and put a stop to the saga of Manchester Road’s Black Hole of Calcutta.

But there’s no justice in politics, local or otherwise, as the councillor discovered to his cost. When the long-awaited lights came on his went out and he lost his seat on the council.


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