As we whizz about in the twenty-first century in our cars between home and work, between home and the superstore and between home and those outings with friends, we tend to forget that for most people, unless they lived in London with its underground railways or big towns and cities with horse-drawn trams it was not until just over one hundred years ago that the first public transport systems emerged. And it was not just greater speed of travel that the new tram, trolleybus and motorbus systems brought: it was accompanied by punctuality and safety. Not only was there a driver but also a (burly) conductor. And it also meant that heavy shopping could be carried home much more comfortably.
In Rotherham, the Rotherham Corporation Act of 1900 licensed the council to construct an electric tramways system that would connect the town centre with the surrounding suburbs. The grand official opening of the electric tramway system took place on 2nd February 1903. There were initially three routes. One went from Fitzwilliam Street via the town centre and Sheffield Road to Tinsley, where it met the Sheffield tramways system. A second route went from Bradgate Lane, Kimberworth via Masbough to Main Street and on to the boundary with Rawmarsh. The third route went from Canklow to Westgate. Initially the route to Tinsley did not join up with the Sheffield system because of the opposition of some councillors to the fear that instead of shopping in Rotherham, local residents would travel straight to Sheffield to shop in its department stores (Cockayne’s, Atkinson’s, Cole’s and Walsh’s were all in existence by 1900). The two systems were in fact linked in 1905. Sixteen trams were initially purchased by Rotherham Council (both open–top double deckers and single deck trams) and within a year of opening a further 15 trams were ordered.
The initial three routes were subsequently extended with tramlines eventually extending by 1912 to Thrybergh and Herringthorpe Lane and the terminus at the Rawmarsh boundary was linked up with the Mexborough and Swinton Traction company’s lines through Rawmarsh itself, Swinton and on to Mexbrough. Outlying places like Wath had to wait longer for a tram service, Wath getting a tramway service as late as 1923.
None of this would have been possible without electricity of course. The electric power to run the Rotherham tramway system came from the power station situated on Rawmarsh Road that was opened in 1901.
And transport innovation didn’t stop with the trams. Rotherham Council then took the step of operating transport services outside the borough boundaries when, in 1912, it started a trolleybus service from the tramway terminus at Herringhtorpe Lane to Maltby. And in 1913 it bought its first two motorbuses to run a service between Rotherham town centre and Thorpe Hesley. Motorbuses gradually took the place of the trams and the trolleybuses. The last tram ran in 1949 and the last trolleybus in 1965. But look out for Supertram — it’s on its way!
The photographs in this article, the originals of which are in the personal old photograph collections of Michael and Pauline Bentley and Melvyn and Joan Jones, are all from the newly published In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs by Melvyn Jones and Michael Bentley (Amberley Publishing), £14.99 at local bookshops and bookstalls or direct from the publishers at £13.49.