One of the earliest horse bus operators in Doncaster was Hodgson & Hepworth, who provided a service from the outlying areas into the town centre, primarily to bring potential customers to their large grocery store situated there.
Other operators that flourished in the 1880’s were Steadman and J. Stoppani, both of whom provided double-deck horse bus services.
Under the authority granted by the Doncaster Corporation Light Railways Order of 1899 (the same year that the municipal electric street lighting was inaugurated), Doncaster Corporation became empowered to construct its own electric tramway system.
The nearby system at Hull was inspected and Doncaster decided to adopt this standard for its own system. The Hull system, unusually, used centrally grooved rails and Doncaster thus became the only other electric tramway system to use this type of rail.
On the 2nd June 1902 the first two routes opened, running southwest from Station Road in the town centre to Balby High Street, via St. Sepulchre Gate, with a parallel branch line along Hexthorpe Road to Old Hexthorpe.
By the end of the month another line, running southeast to the Racecourse from High Street via Hall Gate, South Parade and Bennetthorpe Road had opened. Further routes continued to be opened, including (in 1902) a branch line from St. Sepulchre Gate to Childers Street, Hyde Park; from Bentley Road to Bentley High Street, and (in 1903) a northeast branch line via Nether Hall Road to Avenue Road.
The first trams (Nos. 1-15) were open-top double-deck cars built by the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works of Preston delivered for the opening in 1902, followed in 1903 by another ten (Nos. 16-25) similar cars.
It was another ten years (in 1913) before any more cars were delivered, when UEC-built top-covered double-deckers Nos. 26-32 arrived.
The last extensions to the tramway system were in 1915, when a 1½-mile extension of the Balby line to Warmsworth opened on 5th February, and in 1916 when, on 21st February, a new 3-mile route to Brodsworth opened on reserved track by the side of the Great North Road.
New routes were planned to Armthorpe, Rossington and Hatfield but these never materialised because of the onset of the 1914-1918 war, although additional tramcars intended to operate these routes were delivered in 1920.
By the end of the Great War the tramway system had suffered due to wartime conditions and lack of maintenance, and, with increased competition from private motorbus operators, it was recommended that the system be abandoned.
In 1922 Doncaster Corporation received powers to operate motorbuses and 6 Bristol buses were ordered. In October 1922, the first motorbus route, to Skellow, was opened, followed in November by routes to Rossington and to Hatfield via Stainforth. In 1923 another route commenced to Edlington.
The first abandonment of a tramway route occurred on the 1st May 1925, when motorbuses replaced the trams on the Avenue Road route, which was extended to Wheatley Hills at the same time.
In 1926, Doncaster Corporation decided that trolleybuses would be more economical than motorbuses on tram replacement services and powers were obtained to run trolleybuses over all the existing tram routes; only the Brodsworth route being excluded.
On the 19th August 1928 the Bentley route was converted to trolleybus operation, followed by the Hexthorpe and Beckett Road lines the following year. Two years later, in 1930, the Hyde Park and Racecourse routes were converted, and in 1931 the Balby route closed.
Four years later, on 8th June 1935, the last tram ran on the Brodsworth route, bringing to an end over 33 years of tramway operations in the town. The route was turned over to the motorbus and extended to Woodlands.
Up until this time, Doncaster had established very few motorbus routes. In 1926 a route to Armthorpe was opened, followed in 1927 by a route to Sheffield, jointly with Rotherham and Sheffield Corporations, but no further motorbus routes were opened until 1941.
In 1928, the first batch of trolleybuses included 4 Garrett and 6 Karrier double-deck vehicles with Roe H32/28R bodywork. More Karrier trolleybuses followed them in 1929, 1930 and 1931, and, in 1932, Doncaster purchased one of only two Bristol trolleybuses ever built.
From then onwards Doncaster only purchased new Karrier trolleybuses, although from 1952, second-hand vehicles of various makes were acquired as replacements for some of the more elderly Karriers.
The trolleybus depot was situated on Greyfriars Road, in the former tram depot, whilst the bus fleet was housed in a converted First World War aircraft hangar in Leicester Avenue, until a new depot was built in 1938, adjoining the hangar.
Following the Second World War, which ended in 1945, further developments to the network of routes were made.
A through route between Clay Lane and Sandford Road was introduced; the service to Sheffield was re-routed to allow the use of double-deck vehicles, and highbridge vehicles were introduced on the Edlington route following the lowering of the road under a low bridge in 1957.
In 1956 the Bentley trolleybus service was converted to motorbus operation, due to a bridge replacement scheme on part of the route.
In 1961 it was announced that the trolleybus system would be run down and replaced by motorbuses, mainly, it seemed, because of large-scale road reconstruction in the town centre. The final abandonment was planned for four or five years in the future.
Later that year, on the 10th December 1961, trolleybus operation on the Hyde Park route ceased. The following year the Hexthorpe, Balby and Wheatley Hills routes were abandoned, leaving only the Racecourse and Beckett Road routes.
On October 13th 1963 trolleybuses ceased running on the Racecourse route and just over a month later, on the 14th December 1963, the Beckett Road trolleybuses were withdrawn.
The last service trolleybus ran at 7pm with a special service at 7.30pm for civic and local dignitaries, and another phase in Doncaster’s transport history had come to an end. Many of the ex-trolleybus bodies, however, had another lease of life.
They were built by Roe to H62R layout between 1954 and 1959, and some were subsequently transferred to new Daimler CVG6 chassis, with others being fitted to older vehicles.
In line with most other authorities, Doncaster introduced one-man operation on single-deck vehicles in the early 1960’s, including on the ex-trolleybus routes to Hyde Park, Hexthorpe and the Racecourse, with double-deck operation following in the 1970’s.
A new route to West Bessacar was introduced in April 1973 and in December of the same year a circular route around the town commenced, in both cases new Seddon midi-buses were used.
With the formation of the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive on the 1st April 1974, under local government re-organisation, Doncaster Corporation Transport’s vehicles and garage were taken over by the newly created PTE, ending over 70 years of municipal transport in the Yorkshire town.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Doncaster Corporation Transport by Leslie Flint and Michael Fowler (Buses Illustrated Nos. 60-62, March-May 1960); Municipal Buses in Colour (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); PSV Circle Fleet History PB2 (1987).