Although there had been proposals for a horse tramway in Rotherham, it was the Corporation itself who promoted the first tramway under the Rotherham Corporation Act of 1900.
Constructed to a gauge of 4ft 8½ ins, the system began operating on the 31st January 1903 when two routes radiating from College Square in the town centre opened.
The first ran northwards along Effingham Street and terminated at the borough boundary and tram depot in Rawmarsh Road, whilst the second ran northeastwards via Fitzwilliam Road to the Pumping Station.
On the 8th April 1903 a third route to Kimberworth, via High Street, Main Street and Masborough Street commenced.
A route southwards to Canklow, via Canklow Road was introduced on the 6th June 1903 and two days later on the 8th June the line to Templeborough was opened, which was further extended to Tinsley on the 21st July, where the track terminated just short of the rails of the Sheffield system.
The initial rolling stock consisted of twelve (Nos. 1-12) open-top double-deckers and three (13-15) single-deckers built by the Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works (ERTCW) of Preston. A further fifteen (16-30) ERTCW open-top double-deckers followed in 1903.
In September 1905 a connection to the Sheffield system was opened and trams began to run through.
On the 1st October the following year an extension of the Fitzwilliam Street line to Dalton was opened, and, on 6th February 1907 through running commenced with the neighbouring Mexborough & Swinton system, via Rawmarsh.
By 1909, with the system proving a success, work had begun on doubling the single-track lines. A new 1-mile route along High Street to Wellgate was opened on 2nd March 1910, which was extended along Broom Road and Wickersley Road in 1912.
The final extension to the system came in 1912 when the Dalton route was lengthened along Doncaster Road to serve Thrybergh.
In 1910, a deputation from the Corporation visited trolleybus systems then being set up on the continent and this resulted in powers being obtained for trolleybus operation, initially as feeders for the tram routes.
The first route from the tram terminus at the Stag Inn on Herringthorpe Lane to Maltby, via Bramley and Wickersley, was opened on the 3rd October 1912, operated by three (Nos. 38-40) Milnes Voss-bodied 26-seat single-deckers, supplied by Railless Electric Traction, but actually built by David Brown. Three (Nos. 41-43) similar vehicles were ordered the following year.
The first motorbuses were three (Nos. 44-46?), open-top, double-deck, Daimler CC’s, which were used to inaugurate a route from Thorpe Hesley to Rotherham on the 26th July 1913, with further routes to Treeton and to Aston following shortly afterward, but further expansion was curtailed by the onset of World War I.
During the War a number of second-hand tramcars was purchased to bolster the fleet. Twelve (Nos. 38-49) ERTCW single-deckers came from Oldham Corporation in 1916, whilst London County Council supplied ten (50-59) ERTCW double-deckers in 1917. In 1920 thirteen (Nos. 1-4, 60-68) new English Electric top-covered cars were purchased.
Although the Council wished to extend the Broom Road tramway along the trolleybus route, at least as far as Wickersley, it never did so and instead, during 1923, the trolleybus wires were extended into Rotherham town centre to terminate in College Square.
In January 1924 trolleybuses began to work a through service, although tramcars continued to run despite the fact that they duplicated part of the service.
The neighbouring Mexborough & Swinton Company was already operating trolleybuses and proposed to replace its existing Mexborough to Rotherham tram service by trolleybuses. Rotherham Corporation agreed to erect trolley wires on its section of the route to permit through running into Rotherham town centre.
On the 10th March 1929 through services commenced and Rotherham Corporation vehicles were able to work over much of the Company’s routes as far as Conisborough.
Throughout the 1920’s competition from private motorbus operators increased and a number of them were taken over by the Corporation along with the stage services.
On 1st July 1926, the Chapeltown to Rotherham route was taken over from Hinton Brothers of Hoyland who had been acquired by Barnsley & District, and on the 19th February 1927 the Rotherham to Maltby service of Rowley of Maltby was acquired.
The Rotherham to Doncaster route of Guest of Swinton was jointly acquired with Doncaster Corporation on the 25th February 1929 and in April of that year the local service to Greasbrough was purchased from Smart of Greasbrough.
In January 1930 the Masborough Station to Bawtry route of Taylor of Masborough was also acquired.
The first tramway abandonment came on the 10th June 1929, when the loss-making Broom Road line was closed, the route already being served by trolleybuses.
Shortly afterwards, proposals for reconstruction of the road at Thrybergh meant that it would be necessary to relay the track and it was decided to replace the tram service by trolleybuses.
Since the Thrybergh trams ran through to Kimberworth, it was further decided to replace the whole route, and, on the 16th May 1931, the Kimberworth to Thrybergh route was replaced by a trolleybus service. On the 2nd June 1931 a short extension serving Silverwood Colliery was opened.
On the 9th July 1934 the last tram ran on the Canklow line, leaving just the Templeborough route and through service to Sheffield to survive the war.
Further extensions to the trolleybus system had occurred on the 28th March 1935 when a branch from the main Maltby route along Broom Lane and Bawtry Road opened, and on the 1st July 1936 a new route to Greasbrough had been introduced.
All this meant that the trolleybus fleet had grown; ten Guy BT32’s had been delivered in 1933, with three more being added in 1935 and six Guy BTX’s in 1936.
Motorbus services continued to expand with the acquisition of more local operators in the 1930’s. The Rotherham to Silverwood Colliery service of Green of Rotherham was acquired early in 1935, followed on the 1st February 1935 by a share in the Thorpe Hesley to Sheffield and Treeton to Sheffield services from Sheffield JOC.
On November 25th 1935 routes to Ravensfield, Silverwood Colliery and between Templeborough and the Pumping Station were acquired from Barker of Rotherham.
In the spring of 1937 the Rotherham to Thurcroft Colliery service of Riley of Poppleton was taken over and in July 1939 the Bramley to Silverwood Colliery service of Warrington of Bramley was purchased.
Although Rotherham had considered introducing trolleybuses along the busy Sheffield tram route through Templeborough, Sheffield were not interested in trolleybus operation.
As a result trolley wires were erected as far as Templeborough, operations commencing in 1940 to other termini, giving workers a cross-town facility. On the 2nd May 1948 the trolleybus terminus at Kimberworth was extended to the Toll Bar.
The through tram service to Sheffield last ran on the 11th December 1948, although tramcars continued to run to Templeborough until the 13th November 1949 when services finally ceased bringing the tramway era in Rotherham to an end.
The new decade brought cutbacks in the trolleybus services as rising costs began to make the single-deck trolleybuses less profitable. In March 1951 the route to Greasbrough was closed, followed shortly afterwards by the Broom Lane section.
The extension to the Toll Bar at Kimberworth was curtailed to Ewers Road in 1953 and in 1954 the trolleybus route to Maltby was closed, although Wickersley continued to be served until 1963.
In 1955 it was suggested that larger capacity double-deckers would prove more economical and help alleviate the staff shortage.
Consequently, fourteen single-deck Daimlers that had been purchased in 1949 and 1950 were re-bodied as double-deckers to work the Kimberworth to Thrybergh route and the remaining section of the Maltby route to Wickersley, helping to keep the trolleybus system going for a few more years.
In 1962 the decision was taken to phase out the trolleybuses because of continuing rising costs.
On the 14th January 1963 the Wickersley trolleybuses were withdrawn, leaving just the Kimberworth to Thrybergh route to soldier on alone until the 2nd October 1965 when the last trolleybus (No. 30[FET339]) ran, ending over 50 years of ‘trackless’ operation in Rotherham.
Over the years the Rotherham bus fleet had been predominantly of Bristol manufacture and when that marque became unavailable in 1949, Crossley and Daimler vehicles were purchased.
Towards the end of Rotherham’s independent municipal operations the Daimler Fleetline became the standard vehicle.
On the 1st April 1974, Rotherham became a part of the newly created Metropolitan County of South Yorkshire and its bus fleet, along with those of neighbouring Doncaster and Sheffield, was absorbed into the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, ending over 70 years of municipal operations by Rotherham Corporation Transport.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); British Trolleybus Systems No. 23, (J. Joyce, Buses No.366, Sept 85); PSV Circle Fleet History PB24 (1988).