Yelloway and Ellen Smiths

It was as a parcels delivery service using pony and cart that Robert Holt began his business in 1902 before joining up with his brother two years later to operate a general carriers company, but it wasn’t long before the pony was replaced by steam and motor lorries.

On slack weekends the lorries would be adapted and by May 1913 the Holts had built their first purpose-built charabanc, a 28-seater Dennis, registering Yelloway as a passenger-carrying company in 1915. In the early days their routes were short, sometimes only to Hollingworth Lake, but before long trips were being taken farther afield, their familiar yellow coachwork becoming famous across the region. Soon, Holt Brothers extended their routes through Manchester and Oldham and into the 1920’s throughout the North West and to London as an express service.  Times were hard for business in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s and the Holts business went into administration, being bought by a consortium who named the company Yelloway Motor Service Ltd in 1931.

From its garage in Weir Street (now where the new library stands at Number One Riverside) the company extended its routes throughout the 1930’s although the war cut them back again, financial events requiring the expedience of a sale of their services to local corporations. But after World War II Yelloway expanded once more by buying out existing operators and licenses for express tours to run to North Wales and additional routes to Cleveleys. This buy-out continued through the 1950’s and 1960’s, capitalising on the heyday of mill town holidays especially to the Lancashire coast and North Wales. However, the 1970’s saw Yelloway relinquish some of its longer routes to the National Bus Company to whom they remained under contract until the late 1980’s.

It is fitting, perhaps that the route which Rochdale people knew best – from the town to Blackpool – should be the last to go in the late 1980’s after which, due to maintenance problems and ageing coaches Yelloway was placed under the control of Crosville Motor Services along with what contract work remained. In 1986 Courtesy Coaches bought the rights to the Yelloway name and operated until 2013 since when Yelloway Coaches Ltd has run a fleet of coaches out of Oldham.

Ellen Smith’s had rural beginnings with Littleborough farmers Ellen Gibson and Lund Smith.  Alongside selling farm produce or carrying out local removals in covered vans, they opened in 1900 a horse-drawn haulage business. On Lund Smith’s death in 1907 Ellen took up the reins of the business with her three sons and soon were stripping lorries and adapting them for passenger transport, promoting themselves as ‘Luxury coaching at its best.’

By 1911 Ellen Smith’s was operating nationally as a charabanc service, Gracie Fields remembering as a child of 13 taking their coach on a trip to Torquay. By the 1920’s the company was running Leyland M-type charabancs to Eastbourne, and by 1925 ‘chara parties’ had become all the rage in Ellen Smith’s purpose-built 26-seater bodies built by Jack Crabtree (in one week) over a Leyland Lioness chassis. At that time, Ellen Smith’s garage and lean-to office stood at Wardleworth just before Heybrook School (now the site of the ATS Euromaster garage) later operating sales and ticketing from their familiar town centre booking office in Newgate.

With their white coaches with red piping and leaping tiger symbol, Ellen Smith’s coaches were part of the Rochdale scene for many years. Their fleet consisted initially of Lioness coaches, then Leyland Tigers from 1931 by which time they were running to almost 150 destinations as well as school trips, football and rugby excursions.

World War II saw Ellen Smith’s coaches requisitioned for such prisoner of war transport as taking  Italians to help build Kirkholt estate, but into the 1950’s with the new Leyland Worldmaster coach the company set itself a long-term future into the 1990’s with a bigger fleet across more services. However, in 1991 Ellen Smith’s (Tours) was sold and operated as a subsidiary of Rossendale Transport Ltd (later Coachways Ltd) at which point the last two Smiths – Eric and Marjorie – decided to retire.

Rochdale people owe much to the initially homely and primitive but latterly luxurious coach services which Yelloway and Ellen Smith’s have provided. Generations have known the excursions across the country and with affection associated the town with their familiar livery.