Messrs Holt Bros., 
Until 1915, then
Holt Bros., (Rochdale) Ltd

The Early Years 1902-1932.

The history of Yelloway Motor Services can be traced back to around 1902 when Robert Holt, then aged 21, left his job with the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway and commenced a parcels delivery service in the Rochdale area using a pony and cart. Robert had secured a contract to deliver newspapers and stationary for the firm of Edwards & Bryning (Printers, Publishers and Stationers) Ltd., Rochdale. Edwards & Brynings were later to be the main supplier of tickets/brochures/timetables/posters and stationary for the Yelloway company.

In 1904 Robert Holt went into partnership with his younger brother Ernest and they established themselves as carriers trading as Messrs Holt Bros.. As the business prospered additional ponies and carts were purchased then steam and motor lorries soon followed.

    Above.  Holt Bros first Foden steamer lorry M1857
 which was purchased brand new and arrived at their
 Fishwick Street, Rochdale depot on 8th April 1908.

In an attempt to earn additional revenue, when the lorries would otherwise be idle, interchangeable char-a-banc bodies were made on the premises to enable the lorries to be converted into passenger pleasure vehicles for use at weekends. The first vehicle to be converted into a char-a-banc was Holt Bros. second brand new Foden steam lorry which was used with a convertible body from 1910.


Above left--Holt Bros. second brand new Foden steamer M2602 with removals container arrived 9th May 1910. and Above right--how vehicle looked when converted to char-a-banc at weekends for trips to the seaside and local places of interest.  The "Pleasure Steamer" is seen loaded up and ready to depart for it's second trip from outside Holt Bros depot at Hyde Park Farm, Milnrow Road, Rochdale for Hollingworth Lake on Sunday 31st July 1910.

The pleasure steamer actually made it's first trip two weeks previous but it was notable as a complete disaster!.  The converted steamer had taken a party of 35 to Hollingworth Lake, Nr Littleborough, Lancs and on it's arrival there it was quite amusing to see the passengers faces who had been sitting on the first few rows of seats, they were as black as coal when they stepped down from the vehicle.  They had been in full line of fire from the soot and smoke which was belching from the chimney stack. The return journey, which was mentioned in a local newspaper report as "A Thrilling Experience" was also notable as a complete washout. On leaving Hollingworth Lake a torrential downpour soaked the passengers to the skin, many of them jumped from the steamer to seek protection from the heavy rain and in the rush to get down from the vehicle, which was still moving, arms and legs were broken. 

The steamer eventually arrived back at the Holt Bros. Hyde Park Farm depot Rochdale in the late evening minus the passengers. those of which hadn't been injured in the rush to escape the rain  had walked home. The "Pleasure Steamer" ran each weekend throughout the Spring, Summer and Autumn months until the outbreak of World War 1 and up to that time Messrs Holt Bros. had made a handsome revenue from people eager to spend their weekend by the seaside or other beauty spots.   It must also be noted that many of the "pleasure trips" included misery when on several occasions unfortunate passengers, mostly those who had had too much to drink, fell from the vehicle whenever it "clipped" the kerb whilst rounding a tight corner.  There were many fatalities but it was all taken for granted with this new form of passenger travel.

In August 1911 Robert Holt became the pioneer of long distance motor coach travel when he set out on the journey from Rochdale to Torquay in South Devon in a twenty eight seater purpose built char-a-banc that he had borrowed from his friend Mr Arthur Greenoff.  Arthur Greenoff, at that time, was a haulage contractor in Rochdale and was the first person in the area to acquire this 'modern' form of transport for trips to local beauty spots. Robert Holt, at that time, was contracted to carry goods for the Rochdale printing and publishing company of Edwards & Bryning Ltd. 

Every year the company's management and staff went to Torquay for their annual holiday, which coincided with the famous Torquay Regatta, but the long awaited holiday in 1911 was in jeopardy when British Railways called a national strike. Robert Holt came to the rescue with his idea of doing the journey by road. "We will treat it as an adventure" he said, and it truly was!. It was the birth of long distance motor coach travel from the North West of England.  The journey from Rochdale to Torquay took two full days but the passengers thought it 'an exhilarating experience' especially one young passenger named Miss Grace Stansfield who was later to become the worlds highest paid stage and screen entertainer Gracie Fields.     

On the 9th May 1913 the first purpose built motor char-a-banc, pictured below,  entered service for Messrs Holt Bros. sporting a yellow livery and burgundy upholstery. This was a 28-seat Dennis char-a-banc and when it arrived at the offices of Holt Bros in Fishwick Street, Rochdale a member of staff shouted " The Yellow Car has arrived"!. This remark was the birth of the trading name "Holts Yellow Cars". The following year three more purpose built Dennis char-a-bancs were added to Holts fleet of vehicles and their first tour brochure, pictured below, was published. 

Halley and Belsize chassis were also added as the coaching business grew. Bookings were plentiful  and the Rochdale public were highly delighted with this exhilarating form of transport. Holt Bros. posted advertisements near to railway stations to tempt rail passengers to try 'Open Road Touring' instead of being crammed into a stuffy rail carriage.  "Holts Happy Healthy Holidays, avail yourself of our facilities and take a restful inspiring holiday, the journey full of the benefits to be obtained from nature's own tonic - the fresh air and health giving sunshine". 

The age of the motor coach had well and truly arrived in Rochdale and rail passengers were certainly taking notice of Holts tempting adverts but alas the novelty was soon to take a plunge when, during the main part of the holiday season, Britain declared war on Germany and the Dennis char-a-bancs were hastily commissioned by the government War Department.  

On the 24th November 1915, the company was incorporated as
Holt Bros (Rochdale) Ltd.. 

The onset of World War1 meant that passenger operations were virtually at a standstill, although the haulage side of the business prospered. Following the end of hostilities, a number of Dennis chassis were acquired, most of which carried interchangeable bodies at some time and were used as either charabanc or lorry when required. At least one of these is known to have carried a double-deck body.

The company extended its operations into Manchester by opening a depot on Queens Road, Cheetham, although moves into Oldham were hampered by the Council's opinion that a Rochdale company was not local. As a result licences were not forthcoming, so a separate company, Holts of Oldham Ltd, was registered on 22nd April 1919, although in practice it was operated as a subsidiary of Holt Bros (Rochdale) Ltd. A depot was established at the Mumps, where the Oldham fleet was housed.

Situated amongst the mill towns of the North West of England, the coaching business was found to be particularly seasonal, dependent mainly upon the annual 'Wakes Week' holidays, which differed from town to town. Tours and excursions were limited mainly to summer Sundays because of the demands of the mill owners, which required their staff to work a long six-day week. As a result, the Company resorted to 'pirating' tactics common amongst operators of the period. Although legitimately licensed for operations out of Oldham, Rochdale and Manchester, the Company targeted departing passengers from the surrounding towns by descending in force at the commencement of the local Wakes Week hoping to entice holidaymakers aboard their charabancs. In addition, local agencies were set up which helped to fill the coaches with pre-booked passengers. This sort of operation was, understandably, not popular with the legitimate local operators, but made up a good proportion of the Company's business in the early years.

The limitations of 'pirate' tactics were soon realised by Robert Holt, who decided to expand into stage carriage services. In April 1921, he applied for licences to run a stage carriage service from Rochdale Town Hall to Wardle, via Hollingworth Lake. Although refused by Rochdale Corporation, there is evidence that a service of sorts was run, although probably as an excursion, and it is likely that the double-deck Dennis vehicle was used. Holt Bros was, by now, known locally as the 'Yellow Buses'.

At a meeting of Saddleworth UDC in April 1923, Robert Holt applied for licences to run a stage carriage service between County End, Lees and Grains Bar connecting the UDC with Oldham trams. Saddleworth did not see the necessity of issuing licences but gave the service its blessing. The service had commenced by July 1923, although it was now operating to Waterhead instead of Grains Bar as agreed. By the end of 1923 the following routes would appear to have been in operation; High Crompton to New Hey, via Shaw and Ogden; Denshaw to Mytholmroyd; Waterhead to Denshaw; New Hey to Denshaw, and Shaw to Delph, some of the mileage being in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

The following year, however, the North Western Road Car Company was granted licences to operate in competition with Holt Bros in Saddleworth. Problems with continued licensing and pressure from the local councils caused Holt Bros to cease their service. North Western also gained licences to run against the service through High Crompton and this too ceased, although not until the spring of 1925, by which time Holt Bros had withdrawn from stage carriage services altogether.

By this time, the fleet was beginning to show signs of wear and tear and with the loss of the stage carriage services more reliance was now placed on tours and excursions from Rochdale. In 1926 the Company took delivery of its first 'luxury' coaches. Based on the Reo 'Major' chassis, they were bodied by Lewis & Crabtree of Heywood. Further Reo's arrived in 1927 and 1928, by which time the fleetname 'Yelloway Services' had appeared for the first time.

In the autumn of 1927 premises at Weir Street, in the centre of Rochdale, were acquired, which were used as a garage and departure station. On the 26th November 1927 an express service between Rochdale and Manchester was introduced, in competition with Rochdale and Manchester Corporations. At the same time licences for an express service to Blackpool were sought and a new depot and terminus on Central Drive was opened.

On the 1st October 1928 an ambitious express service linking Blackpool with London commenced, but the lightweight Reo's were considered unsuitable for the arduous schedules and a number of Tilling-Stevens chassis were purchased. In later years the London route was served by a network of 'feeder' coaches enabling connections with many Lancashire towns.

A new express route to Devon was introduced on 18th May 1929 to cater for the peak summer holiday traffic, although it had to be suspended in October for the winter, even though attempts were made to continue a weekly service to Torquay.

In 1930 the Transport Act came into force, regulating bus and coach operations for the first time. In order to be granted licences for the services each operator was running it was necessary to provide evidence that the services were indeed run and that passengers were carried. It was perhaps an unfortunate time to introduce such legislation for an economic slump took place in the same year, steering a vast number of operators perilously close to extinction. Holt Bros purchased the goodwill of Manchester General Travel Bookings from Stephen Wade in 1930, who subsequently re-commenced operations from a new address in July of the same year, although the services he operated seemed to have ceased by August. The acquisition of the agency brought with it premises in Mosley Street, Manchester and from thereon London and Blackpool bound coaches called here and also at the Peter Street premises Holt Bros had opened the previous year. When the Torquay route re-commenced it too called here.

Throughout 1930 every effort was made by the company to attract business, but financial returns continued to fall short of expectations. In order to save costs the placement of nationwide advertising ceased and the two Manchester offices were closed. The creditors involved in hire purchase arrangements with the coach fleet were pressing for payment and a Receiver was appointed. Many of the vehicles were re-possessed leaving the Company with a motley assortment of vehicles. On the 28th November 1930, a meeting proposed that the Company should be placed into voluntary liquidation, but the resolution was not passed and for the time being the Company soldiered on.

By 1931 there were signs that it may be possible to purchase the Company back from the creditors and in March a deal was struck enabling the creditors to be paid back and the Company re-purchased. The shares of Robert Holt and his wife were acquired by a consortium of Maurice Edwards (a director of local company Bromilow & Edwards), John Barlow, an associate of Edwards, and Herbert Allen.  The new Board immediately set about putting the company back on its feet again. The first priority was to re-purchase as many of the vehicles as necessary that had been re-possessed, and accordingly several of these were back in service by the summer of 1931. The new owners still faced an uncertain future as the regulations introduced under the 1930 Road Traffic Act were implemented by the Traffic Commissioners.

On the 9th April 1932, the company was officially re-named 
Yelloway Motor Services Limited,
starting a new chapter in the company's history.

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Dave Haddock 2003-10

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