Sheffield and Rotherham Railway

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Sheffield and Rotherham Railway
Rotherham Station 1840.png
Westgate Station c1840
LocaleSouth Yorkshire, England
TypeHeavy rail
Opened31 October 1838
Closed21 July 1845 (line and operations taken over by the Midland Railway)
Line length5 miles (8.0 km)
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The Sheffield and Rotherham Railway was a short railway in England, between Sheffield and Rotherham and the first in the two towns.

In the early nineteenth century, when news broke of the building of the North Midland Railway, it was clear that George Stephenson would follow the gentle gradient of the Rivers Rother and Don, bypassing Sheffield. Stephenson known for his railway building techniques never built lines with gradients higher than 1 in 130. Despite representations by Sheffield people, who engaged Joseph Locke to state their case, and from Charles Vignoles and George Hudson to convince Stephenson to bring the NMR to Sheffield, the NMR was built via the Rother valley, to the east of Sheffield.


Much work had already been done in surveying the land between Rotherham and Sheffield with plans being put forward for a canal linking Tinsley to Sheffield earlier in the century. This was originally planned to follow a route to the north of the River Don to a basin in (or near) Saville Street. Plans were changed when it was realised that this route would preclude coal from the Duke of Norfolk's estate from directly reaching the waterway, and a new route to the south of the river used. The railway was aligned approximately north-northeast so that it also followed a gentle gradient, making use of the same route as was planned for the canal.

The act for the incorporation of the company received the Royal assent on 4 July 1836, authorising a capital of £100,000 and the facility to raise a loan of a further £30,000. A second act was obtained on 23 March 1840.

The first director was George Wilton Chambers, a coal master. Its secretary was Thomas Pearson, a civil engineer and also a coal master. The engineers were John Stephenson (not known to be a relation of George) who introduced scientific methods into earthwork construction and the excavation of deep cuttings, and Isaac Dodds whose "talent for invention was highly respected in his day" Superintending the construction was Frederick Swanwick, a pupil of George Stephenson, who was nominally engineering chief.


From Wicker Station in Sheffield the line proceeded to the first stopping place at Grimesthorpe Bridge. It then followed the River Don to the next stop at Holmes then a short lived station called Blackburn Forge (closed 1839), then passing close to Masbrough where the North Midland Railway would later cross it. The line then crossed the River Don arriving at Westgate Station in Rotherham.

Example of fishbelly rail

The whole line was just over 5 miles more or less straight, with gentle gradients apart from a one in 68 section just before Rotherham. There were 13 bridges, six level crossings and five footpath crossings.

The track was laid to the standard gauge of 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm), since it would meet the North Midland Railway, and used fish bellied rail at about 50 lb. to the yard, on stone blocks or plain larch sleepers.


The line in 1840, as show in Drake's Roadbook of the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway.

Although earthworks were unfinished and the second track had not been laid, the railway opened on 31 October 1838.

The first train, on 31 October, transported Earl Fitzwilliam and guests to Rotherham. A celebration breakfast followed by the obligatory speeches were held at the Court House. The Rotherham proprietors used the return train to Sheffield. On the following day, 1 November 1838, came the public opening. The first train was pulled by Victory and consisted of six yellow and black carriages, holding 300 passengers. The line's trackside, trees and bridge were filled with crowds who'd turned up for the event. Victory travelled to Rotherham in 17 minutes. Locomotive London was the next one to travel to Rotherham and followed 2 minutes later. The first returning train met locomotive Leeds at Meadow Hall.

The number of passengers in the first year was double that which had been predicted when the line was put before Parliament. Advertised fares were 1s first class, 9d second and 6d third class. No tips were allowed, and neither was smoking in the station.

Passenger trains were usually of three carriages, and made the journey in about 20 minutes, including two intermediate stops. Departures from Wicker were timetabled at 8 am, 9 am, 10 am, 12 noon, 2 pm, 4 pm and 6 pm (plus a departure at 7 pm on Mondays) and 8.30 am, 9.30 am, 10.30 am, 2.30 pm, 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm from Rotherham.


The North Midland Railway opened in 1840, crossing the S&R near Masbrough. A branch was built to link the railway to the North Midland in a northerly direction from Sheffield at Rotherham Masborough station. A path to the south was installed in 1869.

On 7 August 1839 the railway opened a branch from its main line at Holmes to the head of the Greasbrough Canal, where it connected with the colliery wagonways of Earl Fitzwilliam. The facilities at Greasbrough were rather primitive and were felt to be the cause for poor results on coal traffic operations. At a meeting of shareholders on 15 February 1840, were discussed arrangements for working after the North Midland Railway opened later in the year. It was hoped that traffic would increase and so the decision to build a booking office at Wicker station as well as a locomotive depot was taken. The decision to allow NMR stock to work throughout the S&R was taken in April 1840, avoiding the need to change train at Masbrough.

The line from Leeds opened on 1 July 1840, and a corresponding service with trains form Sheffield was established. The first train from Leeds was scheduled to arrive at Masbrough 0945, but the train from Sheffield saw no sign of the Leeds train. Having left at 8 am, it arrived at 1030 due to weather conditions. The Sheffield portion of the train was attached at the back of the Leeds train, and it then progressed south. The train arrived in Derby at 1.15 pm. Popular railway travel for citizens of Sheffield arrived on Monday 28 September 1840 when the NMR ran a half-price excursion to Leeds. On the first day this operation, 61 carriages were pulled by 5 locomotives.

NMR fares from Derby to Sheffield were 11s first class and 7s second class. The S&R dispensed with second class altogether. Locomotive Sheffield was chosen to pull one carriage on the full line. It departed on 11 April and was expected to arrive in Birmingham on 13 April. The train's only passengers were Mr and Mrs Vickers, who were joined by George Stephenson and Michael Longridge in Derby. The London & Birmingham Railway obviously had a great sense of humour as they fined the Sheffield & Rotherham £10 for running over L&B lines without a fourteen-day notice.

Nevertheless, as Whishaw put it: Before the introduction of railways, a journey from London to this place was attended with considerable fatigue, and occupied the best part of twenty-four hours; whereas, by the united efforts of four private companies, Sheffield is now within little more than an eight hours' easy drive of the metropolis. [1]

Locomotives and rolling stock[edit]

Among the first of the duties which fell to Isaac Dodds was designing the railway's first engine The Cutler. While up to that time, locomotive boilers had been fastened rigidly to the frames, Dodds fastened it at the front only, allowing for movement with expansion at the firebox end.[2] Whether this locomotive was built by him, or whether the railway itself built any, is unclear, though Dodds left in 1842 to set up in business on his own. Certainly, at that time, demand may have been outstripping supply.

One engine, the 2-2-2 Agilis was supplied in 1839 by Fenton, Murray and Jackson, who provided another Rotherham, built under subcontract by Bingley and Company of Leeds. Another, the Sheffield, said to be the first to have been built in that city, was provided in 1840 by Davy Brothers. This was a six-wheeled locomotive to design of a Mr. William Vickers. The 5 ft 6 inch drivers were connected to the other wheel by four-inch belts which provided traction on all wheels. It was later, it is believed, converted to a conventional pattern.[3]

By 1840 the line owned six locomotives, all six-wheeled, with one or more supplied by Robert Stephenson and Company.

Although services began with three classes of carriage, the second class was soon discarded. The first class consisted of the usual three compartments each holding six people and had Losh's patent wheels. The third class coaches apart from two were enclosed and held about 40 passengers, probably standing, and had the usual cast-iron wheels. Apart from one sheep truck, all the goods wagons belonged to Earl Fitzwilliam the coal owner.

Later history[edit]

Economic stagnation in 1841 and 1842 meant that the S&R saw little profit the following years. In January 1843, the line's only intermediate station, Grimesthorpe Bridge closed. By February 1844 the S&R had decided that expansion regardless of cost was the only way to protect itself. A start was made in 1847 by the construction of a small connecting line with the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway (SA&MR) at Bridgehouses. This short steeply graded line, enclosed within a tunnel for almost its entire length was known locally as the Fiery Jack.[4] The company’s half-yearly meeting held in August 1844 was a messy affair. The exact date at which the meeting was to be held was not known, and no agenda had been established. Accusations of share trafficking were made.[5] The recession faded away in 1843 and the Great Midland Amalgamation Bill passed parliament on 10 May 1844, creating the Midland Railway. In September, the S&R began negotiations with the MR for either sale or lease of its railway to the MR. Terms were agreed upon quickly, and the MR started operations on 10 October 1844. The title of S&R existed on paper until the takeover was finally authorised by an Act on 21 July 1845. In 1870 the Midland built a line from Chesterfield through Sheffield via the Bradway Tunnel, which rejoined the old line at Masbrough. The majority of the line is still in use today.


  1. ^ Whishaw, F, (1840) The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland: Practically described and illustrated London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co.
  2. ^ Ransom, P.J. G., (1990) The Victorian Railway and How It Evolved, (p177) London: Heinemann
  3. ^ Lowe, J.W., (1989) British Steam Locomotive Builders, Guild Publishing
  4. ^ Atkinson, Kate (June 2007). "Spital Tunnel, the Fiery Jack!". Retrieved 3 November 2019.
  5. ^ Batty, S.R., (2004) Rail Centres Sheffield, S.R. Batty. (p20) Nottingham: Booklaw Publications

Further reading[edit]


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