Retro: Barnsley’s stop-go tram decisions

Barnsley tram on the way to Worsbrough Bridge during General  Booth visit
Barnsley tram on the way to Worsbrough Bridge during General Booth visit
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In the late 19th century and early 20th century South Yorkshire corporations, along with many others across the UK, received a number of proposals to construct tramways in their areas.

Barnsley was no different but had one or two changes of mind about who was to build their system before one was established.

Barnsley town centre with Tram no 10

Barnsley town centre with Tram no 10

In early 1898, the Barnsley Highway Committee reported that the British Insulated Wire Company had asked for the corporation’s consent for them to build a tramway along Sheffield Road to Worsbrough.

Shortly after, several others applied to the corporation for their consent to build tramways in the town.

The corporation subsequently passed a motion saying it was more desirable for a private company to run a tramway rather than themselves. Additionally, they recommended that three companies should submit schemes and one of them would be chosen.

The first formal application did not come from any of the companies with which the corporation was negotiating but from the British Electric Traction Company on November 15, 1898.

Barnsley - The aftermath of a runaway tram in which seven  people were injured on the 2nd December 1914

Barnsley - The aftermath of a runaway tram in which seven people were injured on the 2nd December 1914

However, this proposal was rejected and the corporation did an about turn and decided to apply for powers to operate tramways themselves.

The scheme was quite ambitious, including five routes, and was to be constructed to 3ft 6 ins gauge. The total length was 8 miles 30 chains and 40 chains were to be double track.

Yet in time the corporation once more changed their position and decided not to proceed with their own tramway.

Alternatively, they made an agreement with the British Electric Company to construct a system. It was also arranged that the company should take its electricity supply from the corporation at a reasonable rate.

Whilst a Parliamentary Bill for the new Barnsley tramway was in motion another promoter emerged with a spectacular proposal. This was for a system 16½ miles long and linking Barnsley and Doncaster.

Whilst this came to nothing, some stretches came to be included in other systems operated in South Yorkshire.

The operating company for the Barnsley system was the Barnsley & District Electric Traction Company (a subsidiary of the British Electric Company) which had been formed on March 3, 1902.

Work on the Barnsley tramway was begun by the contractors J G White & Co during April 1902. A German firm, the Phoenix Co of Ruhart, supplied the rails whilst the points and crossings came from the Sheffield firm of Askham Brothers & Wilson.

The northern end of the system began from the Gas Works at Old Mill near Monk Bretton Colliery, the terminus being named Smithies. From there the route ran up the hill to Eldon Street, then through the town and up to Sheffield Road.

Thereafter the tramway split two ways: to Worsbrough Bridge and Worsbrough Dale. This was a total stretch of just under three miles.

A Board of Trade inspection of the tramway took place on October 31, 1902 with officials Col von Donop and Mr Trotter.

The formal opening was staged on Friday November 7, 1902. During the morning a group of local civic dignitaries and British Electric Traction Co officials travelled along the route in four of the new cars. Afterwards there was a luncheon for everyone concerned.

The tramway – standard gauge 4ft 8½in (14.35cm) – was single line with double track in the town centre extending from the Queen’s Hotel to the end of Bailey Street.

The capital laid out on the lines was £58,500.

Two types of trams were employed – 13 four-wheeled double-deck vehicles and one demi-car. Each tram was painted maroon and cream.

Receipts from the first day of public services, which began at 3pm and where only around five cars were in service, amounted to £120. There were three penny stages from Smithies to May Day Green, from the railway stations to the fountain in Sheffield Road and from the fountain to either Worsbrough Bridge or Dale.

A tram depot, described as a primitive galvanised iron shed, was erected to the south of Barnsley town centre on Upper Sheffield Road. It comprised four running tracks reached via a long stretch of line.

There were workshops and turntables and accommodation for 14 cars.

The system witnessed a tragedy at 4.30pm on December 2, 1914 on what was known as the Old Mill route, from the town’s Midland Railway Station to the Gas Works, where the gradient from Eldon Street is very steep.

Car no 4 had been stationary but started while the driver was off the platform and ran down the incline, a distance of about a quarter of a mile, gaining speed.

The car kept to the rails until reaching the curve near the Prince of Wales Hotel when it jumped the metals and dashed across the road into the shop of J C Dodd, general dealer, completely wrecking the front.

The car remained upright, a portion of it being embedded in the building. Willing helpers were speedily at work helping the injured, who were taken as quickly as possible to the Beckett Hospital.

The conductor of the car, John Priestley, was on the vehicle when it started and he made efforts to apply the brakes.

Ehen that failed to pull the car up, he, along with some of the passengers, managed to jump off before it crashed into the shop.

Only six people were travelling on the tram at the time; all were injured, two fatally.

Extensions to the Barnsley tramway were proposed and some powers obtained but were never carried out.

For example, the extension of the route from Worsborough Bridge to Hoyland was thwarted by the Great Central Railway C. not allowing the tramway to extend over a level crossing.

Other extensions were also proposed along Wakefield Road, Dodworth Road and Wakefield Road and a circular route running along Peel Street, Race Common Road, passing Locke Park and on to Sheffield Road via Park Road, was never realised.

The last Barnsley tram ran on September 3, 1930.