Horse omnibuses had made an appearance in Derby by the early 1840's and by the 1850's omnibuses were operating a number of local services. Amongst those documented are William Wallis and John Miers, both of whom operated from the newly opened railway station into the town itself; whilst Edward Fisher provided a service to Castle Donington; Joseph Pickard to Wirksworth, and George Horsley to Melbourne, the latter service starting on 9th October 1857. In 1877, the Derby Omnibus Company introduced a network of horse-bus services from Uttoxeter Road to the station; from Osmaston Road to the station and from Corden Street, New Normanton via the town centre to the Bridge Inn on City Road. Hardly had these services started when, in October 1877, the Derby Tramways Company was registered, however it was to be another few years before the Company was able to begin construction of the new tramway. On the 6th March 1880, the first route opened, running from the Market Place along St. Peter's Street to the Midland Railway's station. On 1st October 1880 a second line from Victoria Street to Windmill Hill opened, and on the 8th October a line from The Spot to Cotton Lane was added to the system. The final extensions were opened in 1881 when lines to the Normanton Hotel from The Spot, and to Deadman's Lane from London Road were inaugurated. The initial rolling stock consisted of 16 (Nos. 1-16) single-deck cars by Starbuck, followed by four double-deck cars (Nos. 17-20), two in 1887 (by the Shrewsbury Waggon Company) and two in 1894 (manufacturer unknown). The depot was in Friar Gate. The Company also operated a number of horse-bus services inherited from the previous operators who were acquired as a condition of the construction of the tramway.
The Derby Corporation Act of 1899 empowered the Corporation to purchase the existing horse tramway. On the 1st November 1899, Derby Corporation took control of the Company and rolling stock. New powers, obtained under the 1901 Derby Corporation Act, authorised the construction of new lines and the electrification of existing lines, although it was not until November 1903 that work commenced on converting the system. Meanwhile the horse services continued as normal and Derby Corporation overhauled the fleet and withdrew some of the older single-deck vehicles. One car (No. 13) was converted to an open-top car, and, in 1902 and 1903, six redundant double-deck cars were purchased from Glasgow Corporation.
In July 1904 a new tramcar depot was opened on Osmaston Road, and on the 27th July the first electric routes commenced. The first sections opened were from The Spot to the Harrington Arms at Alvaston; a branch line to the Midland Railway's station, and from The Spot to Abingdon Street (to serve the new depot). The first electric trams were double-deck open-top Brush-built cars (Nos. 1-25), followed in 1905 by four (Nos. 26-29) top-covered cars. On 4th September 1904 an extension from The Spot to Victoria Street was opened, followed shortly afterwards (on 18th September) by a short line between London Road and Osmaston Road, via Bateman Street.
The last horse tram ran on 1st June 1907, by which time the system was almost complete, the final section (the line along Nottingham Road to the Cemetery) opening on the 8th February 1908. The last horse bus route, however, to Mansfield Road, continued to operate until 19th May 1917, when an Edison battery-powered bus took over, although two of the horses and two horse buses were retained until 1919.
The advent of the Great War of 1914-1918 brought about a general decline in the track and rolling stock and by 1920 the Tramways Department were considering renewing and repairing the existing track and acquiring new tramcars. The first new tramcars for almost ten years were Nos. 51-56, Brush-built, top-covered, double-deckers, which entered service in 1920, followed shortly afterwards by Nos. 57-60, which entered service in 1921.
Meanwhile, a second battery-powered bus had been purchased in 1920, but neither of the vehicles proved particularly reliable. No.1 was withdrawn in December 1923 and when problems arose with No.2, it led to a complete breakdown in the Mansfield Road service. As a result, the Tramways Committee turned to the petrol-electric bus, which, without gears, was an easy transition for motormen to make. An order was placed with Tilling-Stevens for the supply of two chassis. One received a 20-seat body by the Blackburn Aeroplane & Motor Company, of Leeds, whilst the other received the Marston body from battery-bus No. 2, which was only four years old.
On the 30th June 1924, the last battery-bus ran along Mansfield Road, and the following day, the first Derby Corporation motorbus (No. 1: CH4289) took over. The second vehicle (No. 2: CH4381) entered service in August 1924.
During the 1920's, with the development of the Osmaston Park Road area, which, at the time, had little public transport, Derby Corporation decided to inaugurate another motorbus service. A petrol-electric Tilling-Stevens was purchased (No. 3: CH5181), and the route, from The Spot, Osmaston Road, Charnwood Street, Normanton Road, Pear Tree Road, Portland Street and Victory Road, was opened on 27th July 1925. By April 1927, more housing development had seen the route extended to the tram terminus on Osmaston Road. The extended route proved profitable and heralded a new era of expansion, which balanced the decline of the tramway. In 1928, routes to Stackbrook Road via Abbey Street, to Mackenzie Street via Slack Lane, and to Overdale Road via Mill Hill Lane opened. Six more petrol-electric Tilling-Stevens joined the fleet, along with four single-deck ADC's later in the year.
The following year, on 21st August 1929, the Town Council decided to abandon the tramway system, surprisingly, in favour of trolleybuses. The Derby Corporation Act of 1930 granted the necessary powers, although it would be 1932 before the first services were inaugurated. On 9th January 1932, the first trolleybus ceremoniously departed on the Nottingham Road route, driven by the Mayor. The first trolleybuses delivered were six-wheeled Guy BTX (Nos. 79-84) with Brush bodywork. Eight similar vehicles (Nos. 85-92) arrived in July 1932, this time with Dodson bodywork, enabling the trams on the Alvaston route (and the buses on the Harvey Road route, extended on 13th November to the Mitre) to be replaced. Later in the year, more Dodson-bodied Guys arrived (Nos. 93-98), enabling the conversion of the Osmaston Road route.
In 1933, the tramway abandonment continued apace. On 13th August 1933, motorbuses (freed by the extension of the trolleybus route to Chain Lane and Corden Avenue, which ran along part of the Uttoxeter Road bus route) replaced the trams on the Kedleston Road route (subsequently extended to Allestree Lane End in 1935), and on 31st December 1933, trolleybuses replaced the trams on the Ashbourne Road route.
During this period there was little development of the bus network, and expansion was almost at a standstill, most of the effort being put into tramway conversion. In August 1933, the first part of the Normanton Road Circular tram route between Midland Road and Bateman Street was converted to trolleybus operation, although it was to be March 1934 before the remaining section along Normanton Road was opened. This effectively brought tramcar operations to an end in Derby, although some works journeys along Osmaston Road lasted until 30th June 1934. On the 2nd July 1934, car 78, was taken to Victoria Street for the last time, and ceremoniously driven along the tracks with its destination blind set to 'Osmaston Road Depot', and the tramway era in Derby was over.
With the continuing expansion of Derby's suburbs, new trolleybus routes were introduced. In June 1935 a new service to Browning Circle on the Austin Lane estate was introduced, and in November 1936 a new route to Allenton (extended to Shelton Lock in 1938), via the Chaddesdon Park Road area, commenced. At the same time the motorbus service along Osmaston Park Road was converted to trolleybus operation and in 1937 a route to Darley Park Drive from the Cornmarket opened.
In certain areas, however, the motorbus was favoured. The development of the Sussex Circus estate, with its twists and turns was unsuitable for trolleybus operation and so motorbuses were extended from nearby termini to serve the estate. To help implement the new services and to replace older vehicles, 20 (Nos. 54-73) Daimler COG5's with Brush H28/26R bodywork were purchased in 1938 and 1939.
With the onset of World War II, Derby Corporation, along with many other operators at the time, suffered severe difficulties in maintaining the fleet, even though many services were reduced or curtailed altogether. Utility vehicles delivered in wartime included a lone Bristol K5G chassis (No. 74), and, to ease the situation further, a number of second-hand single-deck trolleybuses were purchased from the Hastings Tramway Company (Nos. 165-170).
After the cessation of hostilities, the fleet was in need of replacement and between November 1948 and March 1949, 30 new Sunbeam F4 trolleybuses (186-215) with Brush 56-seat bodywork entered service. At the same time the bus fleet was augmented by the arrival of new Daimler CVD6's (Nos. 22-41 and 75-79) with similar Brush bodywork, which enabled some of the prewar vehicles to be relegated to peak hour duties. A joint service to Littleover, with local bus company Trent Motor Traction, the first such co-operation between the two operators, commenced early in 1950, and, in October, a second joint service, to Trenton Green, was introduced.
In 1952, along with another batch of Daimler CVD6's (Nos. 95-104) came five Foden PVD6's (105-109) and five Crossley DD42's (110-114), the delivery of which enabled most of the prewar Daimlers to be withdrawn.
In 1955, plans were drawn up for an extension of the trolleybus system along Ashbourne, Uttoxeter and Mansfield Roads, but a public outcry about the despoiling of the Derbyshire countryside by traction poles, and the fact that bus services were already running, forced a public enquiry. Opponents of the proposals won the day and the planned service extensions were dropped. This effectively sounded the death knell for the trolleybus, since it was unlikely that any future extensions would be sanctioned, even though the profitability of the trolleybus (costing less than 1p per mile to run) was far in excess of that of the motorbus (which cost around 3.5p per mile to run). Subsequently route extensions used motorbuses; in January 1955 a service to Boulton Lane Estate via Radford Street commenced, followed in July by another motorbus service to St. Andrew's View via Perth Street. An extension of the Morley Street route to Lyttelton Street in June 1958, and to Scarborough Rise in August of the same year (jointly with Trent) were more routes worked by motorbuses.
The first cutbacks in the trolleybus network occurred in the early 1960's, although in 1960 eight new trolleybuses were purchased. The system at that time was over 26 miles in length, and some of the older vehicles had given nearly 20 years service. By 1964, however, the Kingscroft and Burton Road routes had been abandoned and in 1966, the Sinfin Lane and Wyndham Street trolleybus services ceased. Scheduled services on Uttoxeter Road, Victoria Street, Cavendish, and Midland Station sections were withdrawn in November 1966, although, with the wires remaining in place the occasional full service and works services continued to operate infrequently due to staffing difficulties until 9th September 1967, the final day of trolleybus operations in Derby. The official last trolleybus was No. 224, specially decorated for the occasion; it actually arrived in the depot before several others. The last trolleybus to operate in service was No. 236, which finally arrived back in the depot at 15 minutes past midnight on Sunday morning the 10th September 1967, closing another chapter in the history of transport in Derby.
Continuing staffing difficulties led to the introduction of one-man operation, which until 1966, was confined to single-deck vehicles, although Derby's first rear-engined front-entrance vehicles (Nos. 172-174) arrived in 1965. The introduction of the Government's Bus Grant in 1968, also favoured the front-entrance rear-engined layout, offering grants of up to 50% on the cost of a new bus of this sort of design. Derby bought their last rear-entrance open-platform vehicle in 1967, all subsequent purchases being of the Government favoured type, spelling an end for the traditional conductor and driver crew-operated vehicles in the borough. In May 1969, a new livery of blue and grey replaced the traditional olive green and cream, used by the Corporation since 1904, although the last vehicle to bear the livery (No. 156) did so until withdrawal in 1978.
Co-ordinated bus services in the area between the Corporation and Trent Motor Traction were once again introduced to supplement the original three over twenty years earlier. This resulted in some long-established Trent routes being turned over to the Corporation, including the Allestree and Darley Abbey Circulars. Eventually an agreement was reached (signed on 1st April 1979) whereby all services were co-ordinated throughout the city, with 83% of them being run by the Corporation and 17% by Trent.
On the 1st December 1973, Derby Corporation took over the long established business of Blue Bus Services of Willington, including the depot and two stage carriage services. The company continued in existence as the private hire section of the Transport Department.
In 1974 the title of the undertaking became Derby Borough Transport, and was changed again in 1977 (when Derby was granted city status) to Derby City Transport.
Deliveries of front entrance vehicles continued throughout the 1970's, with the Corporation opting for the Leyland Fleetline until it was withdrawn in the early 1980's. As a result a number of different makes appeared in Derby including a single Volvo Ailsa (No. 71), Foden (No. 101), an MCW Metrobus (No. 102), and three Dennis Dominators (Nos. 103-105). In the event, problems with all except the Volvo resulted in the Corporation ordering Volvo buses for delivery throughout the 1980's. The Leyland successor to the Fleetline was the Olympian, a poor substitute for a fine vehicle, which did not find favour with Derby Corporation and, although 7 in total were purchased, they were to last only a few years in service.
On the 26th October 1986, Derby City Transport became an 'arm's-length' limited company, Derby City Transport Limited, under the terms of the new Transport Act. This effectively took the Transport Department out of the municipal sector, although the company's major shareholder continued to be the local Council until 1994 when the undertaking passed to the British Bus organisation, finally ending municipal involvement in Derby's transport system over 80 years after the first Corporation tram had run.