Retro: when Rotherham had its own trams

Rotherham tram in town centre
Rotherham tram in town centre
Have your say

Under the Rotherham Corporation Act of 1900, Rotherham Corporation excitedly began tram services on Saturday February 2, 1903.

Austere Board of Trade inspector Major Pringle had inspected the fresh, gleaming trackwork and a Mr Totter the electrical equipment early on the previous Tuesday morning.

Near the close of the previous year, on the morning of Tuesday, 29 December, an experimental trial trip, with a new tram gliding along at 20 mph, had taken place from the Rawmarsh Road depot to Effingham Street and then along Fitzwilliam Road to the Pumping Station. It had been intended to open these two routes on January 1, 1903 but this failed to materialise.

Alderman Winter, the proud chairman of the Electric & Tramway Committee, officiated at the revised and long-awaited opening ceremony.

Four double-deck cars took part in the opening ride and a special afternoon tea was held later at the Town Hall assembly rooms.

Long-winded speeches made in the midst of the gathering exuded hope that the new tramways system would be profitable.

The Rotherham track was accurately laid to the standard gauge of 4ft 8½ ins. The rails were 45 ft long, weighed 88.5 per yard and were supplied by Walter Scott Ltd of Leeds; the points and crossing came from Sheffield’s Hadfields.

McCartney, McElroy & Co undertook work on the overhead equipment and permanent way for £7,102 and £55,419 respectively.

The first services ran along the routes of the initial trial trips, from Effingham Street and terminating at the Rawmarsh tram depot and from Fitzwilliam Road to the Pumping Station.

Before the tramway was fully operational a number of bridge and roadworks had to be completed. Through running with the Mexborough & Swinton Tramways and Sheffield Tramways also had to be negotiated.

Major Pringle in his initial pernickety inspection of the Kimberworth route on April 8, 1903 stated that the single track on Kimberworth Hill should be double track.

The route was opened to the public on the afternoon of the following day where a penny fare for any distance travelled was charged.

In July 1903, Pringle returned to find the double track work had been done to his satisfaction.

The same man inspected the Templeborough route on June 4, 1903 and a service from College Square to Templeborough commenced at 8am on Monday, June 8.

An extension from Templeborough to Tinsley was opened immediately after an inspection by Pringle on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 21. The first service began at 5.40pm on that day.

On September 11, 1905, after many frustrating, hair-splitting wrangles between Rotherham and Sheffield Corporations, a through service came into operation and during the first seven days 21,206 through tickets were issued.

Later, the route was to prove convenient for munitions workers undertaking essential work during the First World War.

The rails for the Canklow route were laid early in 1903 and Major Pringle arrived for an inspection on June 4. As a result, a service between Canklow and Rawmarsh Road was started two days later.

A fare of one penny was charged from College Square (the town centre tram terminus for a number of services) to Canklow.

An early morning service on the route was frequently used by Rotherham Main colliers, as the pit stood a short distance from the Canklow outer terminus.

The Fitzwilliam Road line to the Pumping Station was extended to Dalton on October 1, 1906 and further on, to Thrybergh, on August 23, 1912.

The Rawmarsh Road route linked with the Mexborough & Swinton Tramways in 1907.

Before purchasing tramcars for their tramway system, Rotherham Tramways committee members had visited Hull, Manchester and Sheffield during January 1902, assessing the types of vehicles used.

Eventually they decided on cars with a reversed staircase as these were in common use throughout Britain.

Rotherham’s first 12 cars were double deck, open top and basically comprised three parts: the body, truck and electrical equipment.

Dick Kerr’s of Preston supplied the electrical equipment and bodies themselves and the Brill 21Etrucks were imported by the company from the Brill Co in the USA.

The first batch of trams included 56 seats (22 downstairs and 34 upstairs), DK 25A 2 x 25hp motors and DK DE1 Form B controllers. The bodies had three side windows.

The Rotherham tram livery was chocolate and yellow but the former was later changed to maroon. Inside the cars, eight lamps provided illumination while a little lighting was also evident on the top decks.

The first dozen trams cost £546 each though, curiously, a further batch of 15 from the same company cost £46 less for each vehicle.

Three single-deck vehicles seating 28 were also ordered from Dick Kerr’s for use on routes that ran under low railway bridges.

During 1907-08 covers were fitted to the majority of existing double-deck vehicles and the entire fleet eventually numbered 68 cars.

The tram depot was situated adjacent to the canal bridge at the Greasborough boundary. Charles C Hall in his well-researched 1996 book, Rotherham & District Transport Vol I – To 1914, mentions that work on the depot had commenced early in July 1902 “and was to have two sections, referred to as two sheds, one with two pairs of lines and the other with three roads.

“It was thought that 30 cars could be ‘accommodated’ with a little spare space available.”

The first shed foreman, James Telford, was employed on £2 a week wages. Later, the depot was extended to hold 40 cars.

As with most corporations running tramway systems, the First World War had a devastating effect, not only with skilled personnel leaving to join the forces but in severely restricting work being undertaken to the track and vehicles.

After the war, the Rotherham Water car was decorated in July 1919 for the peace celebrations. The decorations included an abundance of flowers and an incredible 1,260 coloured lights.

On Monday July 16, 1919 the tram travelled throughout the system but curiously not into Sheffield.

During the 1920s urban transport underwent a vast change with the introduction of trolleybuses and petrol-driven vehicles and this was to have far-reaching consequences on the Rotherham trams.

Four tram routes – Rawmarsh Road, Broom Road, Kimberworth, Thrybergh – were converted to trolleybus operation in 1929 and the Canklow route to motorbuses in 1934, while trams continued running to Templeborough until 1949.