Mexborough, Swinton and Rawmarsh lie to the west of the River Don in Yorkshire, and proposals for a tramway were submitted to Parliament as early as 1876 when a line connecting Parkgate at the base of Rawmarsh Hill to nearby Rotherham was proposed.
Although the Bill was later withdrawn, it was revived in 1881 under the Parkgate and Rawmarsh Tramways Act, but the powers were allowed to lapse. Further plans continued to be put forward, but it was not until August 1905 that construction of a tramway finally commenced.
Running northwards from Rotherham Bridge, where it connected with Rotherham Corporation’s system, through Parkgate, Rawmarsh, Ryecroft, Swinton, Mexborough and terminating at the Old Toll Bar at Denaby, the system was constructed by the National Electric Construction Company (NEC) using the Dolter surface contact system and operated by the Mexborough & Swinton Tramways Company (which had been incorporated in 1902 by the Mexborough & Rawmarsh Construction Co, from whom the NEC had taken over when the company went bankrupt).
The original rolling stock consisted of 16 (Nos. 1-16) Brush open-top double-deck cars, liveried in brown and cream, with four top-covered low-roof cars (Nos. 17-20), being delivered the following year.
The first public service commenced on Wednesday 6th February 1907 between College Square, Rotherham and Parkgate, with the service being extended to the company’s Dale Street depot in Rawmarsh the following Saturday.
The whole line was opened on the 3rd August 1907, with cars running a 30-minute frequency between Rotherham and Denaby and a 15-minute frequency between Denaby and the ‘Ring o’ Bells’ at Swinton.
The Dolter surface contact system proved totally unsatisfactory and in 1908 the company commenced converting the system to overhead electric traction, although the dangerous state of parts of the track led to the system being closed by the Board of Trade from the 30th July to the 29th August 1908.
Fortunately for the company however, their cars had been equipped with trolley poles for through running on Rotherham Corporation’s overhead system and major alterations to the rolling stock were not needed.
Following the conversion, Rotherham Corporation cars ran to Parkgate on weekdays and Ryecroft on Saturdays, and, on football match days, Mexborough & Swinton trams could be seen working through Rotherham to Millmoor.
The original Mexborough & Swinton Tramways Act of 1902 had also provided powers for a branch line to Manvers Main colliery, although it was never built and the powers lapsed.
However, the company was still interested in expanding in this direction.
In 1910, a Thornycroft charabanc, hired from another NEC subsidiary, the Musselburgh Tramways Company, was tried for a few months operating between the Old Toll Bar and Denaby Colliery village, and from Mexborough to Wath via Manvers Main, but objections from Mexborough Council caused the withdrawal of the service.
As a result the Mexborough company turned its attention to railless traction and the Mexborough & Swinton Tramways Railless Electric Traction Act of 1913 authorised routes from the Old Toll Bar to Conisborough and from Mexborough to Manvers Main.
By February 1915 the Conisborough route was ready and in March work commenced on the Manvers Main route.
Three (Nos. 21-23) single-deck Brush trolleybuses on Daimler chassis were ordered, and a new depot for both trams and trolleybuses was built at the Old Toll Bar terminus. Both routes were subsequently opened on the 31st August 1915, the first company-owned trolleybus system in the country.
The onset of World War 1 led to staffing difficulties for the company and the trolleybus routes were closed down on the 16th April 1917, although the colliery services were vital to the war effort and were soon re-introduced, becoming so busy that a further trolleybus (No. 24) had to be purchased second-hand from Stockport Corporation.
Eventually, however, due to a lack of spare parts the services again closed down. The Manvers Main route re-opened in December 1919, but the Conisborough route had to wait until April 1922 before it was re-instated.
On the 19th September 1922 the Company introduced its first motorbus service. Running between Mexborough and Goldthorpe and taking the same route as the trolleybuses as far as Manvers Main, it operated on a half-hourly frequency.
The first three vehicles (Nos. 27-29) were second-hand Daimler Y-type chassis, fitted with new Strachan & Brown 32-seat bodies.
In 1924 the Dearne District Light Railway opened and in September 1924 a connection with the Mexborough system was made at the Woodman Inn, Swinton enabling travel to Barnsley, although through running and a connection to the Barnsley system was never made, passengers having to change trams at this point.
By this time the tramway track and infrastructure was in need of replacement, but the Company had no great desire to replace the trams as consideration was being given to a through route to Sheffield, to be jointly operated with Sheffield and Rotherham Corporations.
Proposals were also put forward for a light railway between Rotherham and Doncaster, to which the Mexborough & Swinton system could be connected.
The major obstacle to these plans was the narrow Mexborough roads, which could not accommodate a double track tramway and as a result the Company gradually moved away from the idea and decided instead to convert its tramway to trolleybus operation.
In December 1925 a Garrett trolleybus demonstrator was evaluated in preparation for the wholesale conversion of the tramway system to trolleybus operation, for which a Bill had already been submitted to Parliament. Another demonstrator, a Ransomes trolleybus, was tried out in November 1926.
The first of a batch of Garrett trolleybuses (Nos. 34-39) was delivered in June 1927, with a further 21 Garrett trolleybuses arriving in 1928.
In January 1928 the section of tramway between Mexborough (Montague Arms) and Denaby was converted to trolleybus operation, with the section between Mexborough and the Woodman Inn, Swinton commencing trolleybus operation in November, leaving the trams to run between Rotherham and the Woodman Inn.
The final closure came on the 10th March 1929, when the route was turned over to trolleybus operation. In recognition of the fact that it no longer operated trams, the company changed its name to the Mexborough & Swinton Traction Company, becoming a limited company in 1953.
In January 1931, the British Electric Traction Company acquired the National Electric Construction Company, and Mexborough & Swinton passed into BET ownership.
With the conversion to trolleybus operation extensions to the system had taken place and new termini were introduced at Conisborough Low (Brook Square) and Conisborough High (Conanby).
Rotherham Corporation, who had initially opposed the tramway conversion, now ran through to Conisborough Low instead of the old Parkgate terminus.
On the 28th June 1931 a new extension northwards off the main Rotherham to Conisborough route was opened at Mexborough along Adwick Road, with the final trolleybus extension from Stocks Lane, Rawmarsh via Green Lane to Ryecroft being opened on 15th October 1934.
In 1937, six second-hand trolleybuses (Nos. 64-69) were purchased from the Notts & Derby fleet and in 1942 six more second-hand Guy’s (Nos. 70-75) from the Hastings Tramways Company arrived, although it seems that not all ran in service, the remainder being used for spares.
The first new deliveries for some time came in the form of six (Nos. 1-6) Brush-bodied single-deck Sunbeam W’s delivered in 1943.
The bus fleet by now consisted of just four vehicles, which were used to maintain services during the war years and it was not until 1948 that three new Duple C29F-bodied Bedford OB’s and a second-hand Bedford OB from East Yorkshire Motor Services replaced them.
Following the cessation of hostilities the six austerity Sunbeam’s were repainted in a new green and cream livery, replacing the old red/brown livery, and the rest of the fleet soon followed.
New trolleybuses began to arrive in 1947, enabling some of the older vehicles to be withdrawn. At the same time further extensions to the system were proposed.
An application was made for a Provisional Order to construct a route to the new Windhill estate at Mexborough by extending the existing Adwick Road terminus, and also to construct a link along Station Road in Conisborough to allow for one-way working along the particularly narrow streets, which was in use by March 1948.
The Windhill route was delayed by post-war financial restrictions and as a result a bus service was introduced on 1st December 1948. As it turned out this was by no means a bad move, since the route never paid and the road service licence was allowed to lapse in June 1953.
In 1953 the Company ordered ten (Nos. 40-49) Leyland Tiger Cubs with Weymann B44F bodywork, which entered service in 1954.
At the same time the Parkgate to Kilnhurst route was extended to the Woodman Inn and a new route from Low Stubbin and Monkwood Estate to Rotherham was introduced.
On September 27th 1954 the Rawmarsh (Green Lane) to Rotherham trolleybus service was converted to bus operation and the terminus re-sited at Ryecroft.
In the mid-fifties further housing development was taking place in the form of new estates at Highwoods in Mexborough and Ellershaw in Conisborough.
A new route paralleling the existing Manvers Main to Conisborough High trolleybus route was planned and this duly commenced on the 21st January 1957 and on 2nd September the Parkgate to Woodman Inn route was extended to the Cresswell Arms.
A route to Windhill was again introduced on the 22nd February 1960, all of which meant that motorbuses were now duplicating much of the trolleybus system and powers to abandon it were obtained.
On 1st January 1961 the Manvers Main to Conisborough route was converted to motorbus operation and on 26th March 1961 the remaining trolleybuses were withdrawn and the routes turned over to the motorbus.
New double-deckers were ordered in the shape of Leyland PDR1/1 Atlanteans, the first double-deckers for the Company since the days of the tramcar, although second-hand vehicles continued to be purchased to bolster the fleet.
In 1967 closer ties with neighbouring Yorkshire Traction were evident with several vehicle exchanges between the companies taking place. Both companies were BET-controlled but Yorkshire Traction was still partly owned by British Rail.
On the 1st January 1969 the entire shareholding in both companies passed to the National Bus Company, bringing both companies into common ownership.
As a result, Mexborough & Swinton Traction Company Limited was absorbed into the Yorkshire Traction Company on the 1st October 1969, bringing to an end over sixty years of Company service in the Don Valley.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); The Mexborough & Swinton Traction Co., (Chas C. Hall, Buses Illustrated Nos. 80-82, Nov. 61-Jan 62); PSV Circle Fleet History PB21 (1984).