THE SHEFFIELD AND SOUTH YORKSHIRE NAVIGATION CUT
The River Don had been used for centuries for transport but there were in parts serious limitations. It was decided to undertake major construction works creating ‘cuts’ where needed to avoid the rapids and natural perils. Work began in 1722 so to enable bulky goods and raw materials to be carried easily and cheaply interconnecting many industrial town’s and areas. The Don Navigation Canal as it was called reached Rotherham in 1744 then going on to link Sheffield at the canal basin (which still stands today). The Cut was also used to operate a river transport service from Swinton to Doncaster in the early 1800’s, it was obviously for commuters who were not in a rush.
Using European funding (EEC) a plan was devised to widen and deepen the canal so that super barges could sail technically from Sheffield to Holland, so opening up new trading potentials. Work commenced and in 1983 which involved extensive pile driving, mile after mile to widen the canal. The completed work meant that 400 ton barges could traverse as far inland as Rotherham. Unfortunately the traffic envisaged to utilise this service never really materialised. The existing traffic did at first increase but then started to decrease.
Sadly today a few pleasure craft use the canal and one large oil carrier does a weekly journey up and down, and thats it. The old British Waterways canal side offices at the end of Dun street have been taken over as Swinton Loch centre and what a great facility for canal lovers and all. Pay it a visit, there are two pleasure barges which can be hired and make regular trips.
Dearne and Dove Canal
The Dearne and Dove Canal was approved by Parliament in 1793. It was a broad canal (not built for Narrow Boats) so it could cope with heavier coal barges. It was to be constructed with 19 locks between its start at Swinton (from the River Don Navigation) up to its adjoining the Barnsley Canal. The canal was around ten miles long and had two spur branches, to Elsecar and Worsborough so to effect coal traffic from the Elsecar and Wosborough collieries.
By 1798, the canal was open for traffic from Swinton to the Elsecar branch. It was at this time that the old cottage situate at the canal side became a hostelry called ‘The Ship Inn’ offering drinks and refreshments to the village and canal travellers. At Swinton construction was tested as a 480 yards tunnel had to be constructed which commenced in the top half of the playing fields of Queen street and resurfaced near Manvers. Unfortunatly the overall costing was under budgeted back in its planning stage and by 1799, all the raised share capital had been utilised and it had only reached Aldham on the edge of Barnsley. There were still the Stairfoot Eight Locks to construct. More funds were raised following a further issue and construction recommenced finally reaching its interception with the Barnsley Canal in 1804.
Initially it was very successfull, but as time went on the construction of the railways created serious competition and the main cargo it transported conspired against it. Structural damage was inflicted by coal being taken from underneath the canals route causing subsidence.
In 1906, the Worsborough branch was closed followed in 1928 by the Elsecar branch. The last boat passed right along the canal in 1934. Latterly only traffic went between Swinton and Manvers Colliery ceasing in 1952. Then only a half mile of the canal remained open linking the Canning Town glassworks at Swinton to the South Yorkshire Navigation Canal. This section can still be seen with water in today. It is a sad reminder of what was. There has been talk of trying to reopen the canal but much of the land has been built on and new routes would in part be needed.
Restoration of the Dearne & Dove Canal Bridge
The Dearne & Dove Canal was filled in in the 1960’s. Because of the age of the bridge (circa 150 years) and the heavier freight passing over it, it has now been rebuilt and strengthened.
Veterans of the Canal
Extract from Mexborough & Swinton Times
Issue Saturday March 26th 1910
Groping his way along the canal bank at Swinton, a “Times” man, the other evening, stumbled upon the most interesting old couple it has been his good fortune to meet of late. Their names are George Scholey and Elizabeth Scholey, and they live in a place called Kemp’s Yard, down by the water side. As they have lived on and near the water the greatest part of their lives there is nothing strikingly peculiar about this. George is 76 years old and his good lady will be eighty on Good Friday. George, therefore is hopelessly the junior, and the missus calls him “my lad”.
George Scholey was born at Bolton on Dearne into a water-side family, and at the age of a few weeks he was taken on board one of the canal boats plying between Sheffield and Goole. He has been connected with the water ever since, and a fine fresh healthy life it is. His wife was born at Bramham, a little village near Tadcaster, and she went into service at Sheffield, where she met George Scholey and married him 58 years ago, going to assist him in the management of his boat.
There are hardships in the canal service if, as you lie on your back under the trees some warm, hazy summer afternoon, and watch the keels floating lazily down the water-way, you form the impression that the bargee’s life is the life for you, just put a question or two to George Scholey before you allow the impression to take root. He will tell you that it is a constant round of tugging, loading, unloading, cleaning, and sleeping. It is health, and the old men it produces are not old men before their time, because it is the fresh-air life, and whatever dissipation the boatman may go in for, is counteracted by the hard work he has to do. George Scholey worked in a boat as soon as ever he had the strength to do anything useful at all. At the age of nine his father set him to unload a boat along with a man. That was at Lincoln, and it was a cargo of coals they were getting shut of, and he did his share.
The benefits of education never came his way. He simply had to work until he could work no longer. He retired from the water last August, but to-day he can be seen pottering about the locks at Swinton, helping through captains who were toddling infants when he himself was a captain of ripe experience.
And in return they gave him a bit of coal. That is a great concession to George, for, as he explained to our man. “You can’t get a deal of coal out of the Old Age Pension; it isn’t much to live on”.
“So you do get the Pension?” our man enquired. “Oh, yes, we get five shillings each”. “It’s a grand thing is the pension,” broke in the old lady. “The man that brought it out ought to gain Heaven, I’m sure. It’s saved lots of decent old folks from having to go to the Workhouse”.
George Scholey is the last survivor of a large and well known canal boat family. His brother, who kept the ferry at Mexbro’, died last year. Mr. and Mrs. Scholey have also suffered bereavement in their own immediate family. They have outlived eleven sons and daughters. There are two daughters and a son remaining. The son is a schoolmaster. The father cannot read his own name. At one time George Scholey was in fairly comfortable circumstances. His wages as captain of a keel only amounted to a pound a week, but that was reckoned fairly good pay at the time, and by industry and perseverance, he acquired a boat of his own, which he called the “Industry”. That was just about the time of his marriage. But trade was not too good, and the Sheffield Flood settled his financial hash.
It carried away the big bulk of his moveable property. He was lying on the canal on the night of the Sheffield Flood, that night of horror in March of 1864. Curiously enough Mr. Scholey never knew anything about the flood at all until it was over. He slept peacefully through it all. The canal lay well away from the track of the terrible torrent. The first he knew of anything untoward was a rude awakening from a mate of his. “Come, get up, George,” said the man. “You’ll lie abed while all Sheffield’s flooded out”.
George went and explored. “I shall never forget the sight while ever I live,” he said. “It was fearful. I saw dead bodies floating down the roads. I saw dead bodies in the houses, just as they had been drowned. It was terrible. I did not stay very long, you can bet. I came away with the vessel on the Monday morning”. What food for gossip for the old cronies of the canal that Sheffield Flood must have been!
Scholey has been principally engaged in carrying coal, though he can remember the time when there was no coal around this district to carry. The first pit he remembers being sunk around here was Charlesworth’s Warren Vale pit, the coal for which is now drawn out of Thrybergh Hall pit, while the old Hemingfield pit started shortly after. Prior to that he used to do a good trade in limestone from Sprotboro’ to Sheffield, and he carried an occasional cargo for old Mr. John Lewis of the Swinton Potteries, which was then a prosperous concern under that management. He also used to “run” over to Elsecar for hard coals in the Potteries. It was in this direction that the old man met with the only accident of his career at Aldham Mills near Wombwell. He was jumping ashore when he caught the mooring rope with his foot, and, falling full length, broke his wrist and he stood the excruciating setting operation without a murmur. Unfortunately the bone was not properly set, and resulted in the partial disablement of the old boatman. For he was an old man at the time, the accident occurring during the time he was working for Mr. James Beevers, of Mexboro’, which was his last period of service.
Mr. and Mrs. Scholey are, we believe, the oldest couple in Swinton. They are an intelligent and happy pair, and are well content to spend the evening of their lives watching the boats go by. Old George is neither a teetotaller nor a non smoker, and he has a grounds for thinking that his moderate indulgence in the luxuries of beer and bacca does him no harm. An occasional gill of beer, a weekly ounce of tobacco – that is all. But no doubt he would miss it if it were not there.
Sadly not long after this was published, on June 9th 1910 Elizabeth Scholey died. George Scholey outlived Elizabeth in years when he died on the 4th of October 1915 aged 81.
Trams and Buses
The Mexborough and Swinton Tramways Company was formed and took to the roads in 1907. Prior to that a few private operators offered the Town’s residents a private hire by horse and carriage. The first system installed was whereby electric feed cable was buried under the roadways and was connected to the surface by a Dolta stud. As Trams moved on they kept a live contact. Unfortunatly the system proved disasterous after Horses were electrocuted as their metal horse shoe touched the metal stud. This system of power was then scrapped and the safer system of overhead cables adopted. For years Swinton was seriously inhibited with road works as all this took place. The fleet adopted a red/brown livery.
There was a change of company name in 1929 to “Mexborough and Swinton Traction Company” which co-incided with the operation of a full fleet of Trolley buses (Trackies)on all its operational routes. The Trams were withdrawn from service the last one running in march 1929. The company’s service now extended on a network that went from Conisborough through Mexborough, Swinton and Rawmarsh to Rotherham. In addition a spur ran down to manvers colliery to provide a service to workers at the colliery complex. Sunbeam vehicles were the buses utilised on the route.
In 1947 the livery of the fleet was changed to green and cream. Trolley buses started to be phased out from the summer of 1954 when ten Leyland Tiger Cub buses arrived as replacement stock. The last Trolley bus to run came through the town in 1961. A preserved Trackless can be seen at the Transport museum at Sandtoft. The Mexborough & Swinton Traction Company Limited was later taken over by the Yorkshire Traction company. Thereafter buses continued and do today serve the town.
THE EMERGENCE OF SWINTON ON THE RAILWAY MAP
The first main line railway in South Yorkshire was built for the North Midland Railway to run from Derby to Leeds. The engineer George Stephenson was charged with building a fast level main line which meant that Sheffield, surrounded by hills was bypassed as the line had to be routed to the east up the Rother Valley to Rotherham and then it veered north westwards towards Leeds through Swinton, Wath, Cudworth and Normanton. It opened on the 1st July 1840. A station was built at Swinton very close to where the present station is sited. It was called Swinton Town.
This was later replaced by a new station which was built on the opposite side of the bridge, which takes the road to Mexborough below the line. The main station building was at road level, an attractive purposeful elegant brick building with tall chimney stacks housing a booking hall, waiting room, parcels office, telegraph office and stationmaster’s room. It was set back from the road to provide an ample approach for the horse buses which met passengers who were travelling on to Mexborough and Doncaster. Access to the four platforms was by path and subway.
It would not be until November 1849 before the South Yorkshire Railway opened a line to connect these stations to the North Midland line at Swinton. This then, of course, spelt the doom of the flourishing horse bus trade. Along with other stations on the line Swinton Town closed in January 1968. The platforms were removed but the booking hall building still remains today and is used as offices by a local engineering company.
A second station known as Swinton Central, came about through the South Yorkshire Railway (which had merged with the Manchester Sheffield and Lincoln Railway- known as the MS&L) wanting to develop their own independent route to Sheffield. By 1851, passenger services between Doncaster and Barnsley via Mexborough were already possible. Then in 1872 a new line opened from a junction at Mexborough serving Swinton Central, Kilnhurst Central, Parkgate, Rotherham Central, Tinsley, Attercliffe and on to Sheffield Victoria. This was sited very close to the GEC factory and opposite the site of the old Don Pottery on the opposite canal bank. It was closed on the 15th September 1958.
For the Swinton public, enjoying the use of two stations, a whole host of destinations were opened up. Summertime excursions to the West Coast; such as Blackpool and Southport stopped at Swinton Town and those to the East Coast resorts as well as the zoo at Belle View Manchester stopped at Swinton Central.
Swinton was not served by a railway for passengers from 1968. However by the late 80s, it was realised that South Yorkshire railways had been cut back too far in the 1960s and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority put forward a four year plan for the improvement of services and stations. This led to a new station at Swinton which opened in 1991. Immediately after re-opening, it was unstaffed but through increased passenger usage, a brick building was built to house a ticket office, waiting room and toilets. It has a vast car park and is also now an interchange for local bus services to Wath and Manvers.
Former Swinton and Kilnhurst Station Master