Retro: Rotherham led the way on trolleybuses

Rotherham trolley at Maltby with staff posing for the  camera
Rotherham trolley at Maltby with staff posing for the camera
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Rotherham, it was claimed, made history on Thursday, October 3, 1912 when its corporation introduced trolleybuses, or ‘trackless trams’, into South Yorkshire; the inauguration ceremony bringing a good deal of interest.

This innovative form of transport – railless traction – was pioneered on the Continent during the early 20th century. Vehicles collected power from overhead lines, similar to trams, but there were no rails. The vehicles were also steered like a bus.

The Leeds and Bradford trackless systems, the first in the UK, were opened together on June 20, 1911 and proved mechanically successful. Just over a year later, on September 5, 1912, trolleybuses were introduced in Dundee.

Rotherham’s new trolleybus route started at Broom Road, at the terminus of the ordinary trams, then passed through Wickersley and Bramley to Maltby, which was a distance of about 4¾ miles.

Four cars (nos 38-41), each costing £725, weighing 3.6 tons and painted in yellow and red, were acquired by Rotherham Corporation for use on the service. Each could seat at least 20 passengers

The bodies were built by Milnes Voss, the chassis by David Brown of Huddersfield and the power in each vehicle was derived from two Siemans 20hp motors .

A Board of Trade inspection of the route took place on September 30, 1912 and was approved. To instruct the Rotherham staff in trolleybus operation, Leeds Corporation provided one of their trolley drivers at a cost of £6 18s 3d.

There was a large turn-out at the formal opening. Among those gathered in a marquee where the speech-making took place were the Mayor and Mayoress, Alderman P B and Mrs Coward, the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress, the chairman of the Electric Light and Tramways Committee, Alderman D L Winter, and representatives from the Railless Electric Traction Construction Company (RET).

Sir Alex Gibbon, on behalf of RET, presented Alderman Winter with a gold matchbox. On one side was engraved a trolleybus and there was an inscription on the other side.

Ald Winter accepted the unexpected souvenir with gratitude. The Mayor said that Ald Winter had taken a deep interest in the trolley route, spending weeks and months carrying through the scheme.

Responding to the compliment, Ald Winter remarked that it was a very proud day indeed. The question of trolleybuses was one that he had entered into very minutely and had concluded that “as far as sparsely-populated districts were concerned, they were the best means of conveying people to their destinations available at that time”.

He then led the way from the tent, switched on the current and then followed the loading up of the cars. An incident on the journey gave a reminder that Rotherham was to some extent still rural.

The Fitzwilliam hounds were met on the road, returning from cub hunting. It was also mentioned that the weather was delightful.

After the inaugural trip, the Mayor presided at the luncheon, served in the Town Hall Assembly Rooms. Seemingly, no expense was spared as the wine bill amounted to £37 14s 3d and food £42 2s 3d. The guests numbered about 170.

Proposing success to the Rotherham trolleybus system, Lord Rotherham said he was quite sure everyone would wish that it ought to be an abundant and complete success.

The new route was designed to serve a population that was growing by leaps and bounds. It was also revealed that Alderman Winter, before suggesting trolleybuses for the town, had been a member of an important deputation which had visited quite a number of Continental countries where trolleybus systems were operated.

Getting to his feet once more, Ald Winter said that during his 25 years as a member of the Corporation, many changes had taken place in the character and appearance of the town, but he modestly suggested that nothing had done more towards its “enlivening and brightening” than the electiricty systems and tramways then in operation.

He was asked why they had not taken the system of ordinary trams right through from Rotherham to Maltby? His reply was that the initial cost was too great.

The cost of extending the ordinary system would have amounted to £9,000 to £10,000 per mile, whereas the cost of overhead equipment, apart from the outlay for trolleybuses, only amounted to £1,000 per mile.

MP J A Pease said that he and the other guests had been not only through a lovely part of the country, and had ridden in very smooth-running and well-driven cars, but they had been sumptuously entertained.

He added that efforts of this kind helped the tradespeople of the locality, enabled the poor to travel quickly to and from their work and permitted something to be done to remove the congestion of the large cities and towns by affording opportunity to breathe pure air, and thus lead healthier and better lives.

Attending the luncheon was Alderman H Brown, the chairman of the Leeds City Tramways Committee, who said it was quite true they in Leeds were the first to install the trolleybus system in this country but the Rotherham system was far and away better than the one in Leeds.

Rotherham Corporation eventually introduced trolleybuses on other routes, replacing trams, until railless traction ceased on October 2, 1965.