Thorne Local History Society
Transportation & Thorne:
A Brief History.
By Philip L. Scowcroft
Thorne and district Local History Society
Occasional Paper No 30 - 2009
Thorne is now regarded by many as a suburb of Doncaster, but in years gone by it was a small town with its own individual characteristics and history – why else would we have a Thorne Local History Society? Its individuality makes it rich in interest, and the history of its transport, whether by road, water, rail or even air is no exception. This is an attempt to produce as concise a history of Thorne’s transport as possible. I hope that those who read it will be encouraged to expand their knowledge thereof.
1: Road Transport
Doncaster, positioned on the Great North Road – a major trunk route – and also the focus of several significant branch roads, was a very important transport centre in the age of the stagecoach. Thorne a town in its own right (there were 2655 inhabitants in the 1801 census) was much less well endowed, communication-wise, but its road transport history is well worth examination.
Before the 1780's, most of its road traffic was purely local. The road to it from Doncaster, which led ultimately to Hull, was in indifferent repair until a Turnpike Act of 1825 sought to address the problem. That is not, however, to say that the road services to and through Thorne did not exist before then.
A twice weekly Hull – Sheffield coach service of 1787 doubtless passed through Thorne as a Mr Eyre of that place was a partner. From June 1787 the Rodney coach from Hull through Thorne (which had previously been routed via York) had met at Doncaster connections to London. A similar service soon followed and the two later combined, between them covering five days in the week. The White Hart Inn, which was run for many years by the Vause family, was the staging-post in Thorne.
The London – Edinburgh mail coach was transferred, apparently for a while to the road which passed from Bawtry through Thorne and Selby, before it reverted to the direct road through Doncaster. And, as we shall see, the sailings of the Thorne Waterside to Hull steam packets, begun in 1816 were fed by coach services from Doncaster and later from Sheffield. By 1822 these were part run by the Doncaster coach magnate Richard Wood, who saw off various competitors – including Vause – over the next few years by fare-cutting and improvements in speed. (Wood, had to fight off further competition, in the 1830's, though not this time from the Thorne innkeepers). Wood's success in the 1820s was bad news for the White Hart, which had lost the Rodney service which was unable to compete with the steam packets, though the inn still serviced a Doncaster – Thorne – Selby – York mail coach in about 1834, a market coach to Doncaster on Saturdays and in 1837 there was a revival of the Hull – Doncaster mail coach. The Thorne proprietors of the latter were the landlords of the White Hart (now George Meakin) and the Red Lion. The service did not last long, railways rather than steamships supplying its quietus this time.
Thorne's last stage-coach enterprise, (called an 'omnibus') was run by William Daykin of the Red Bear Inn between 1849 and 1858. His omnibuses linked Doncaster and packet boats along the Stainforth and Keadby canal. Later they ran between Doncaster and Thorne Lock railway station or New Bridge, where an "aquabus" could be boarded for Goole.
As a Market Town, Thorne had much of the infrastructure that a coaching centre needed. Until around 1850 it boasted no coachbuilders, but it had plenty of blacksmiths (nine in 1837), saddlers, harness-makers and of course coaching inns – the White Hart, which in 1794 was said to have 'a coach-house and stabling for upwards of thirty horses', the Red Bear, and possibly the John Bull at Waterside.
Carrier services survived longer than their stage-coach counterparts. These conveyed goods and, if there was room, passengers to and from market, maybe, usually over short distances. In 1822 Thorne had three, all to Doncaster. By 1828 others worked to Rawcliffe and Snaith, to Epworth, to York and to Sheffield, but by mid-century the longer distance services (to York, Sheffield and Barnsley) had dropped out. Shorter hauls (to Doncaster, Snaith and Epworth for example) survived for many years longer, though not for as long as many of those carriers working into Doncaster, probably at least partly because of the greater importance of Doncaster's market.
No carriers operated from Thorne by 1900 – Thorne's good water connections may have been a factor here. Some Thorne carriers had great longevity, the Chantrey family for example. Again Thorne's inns were terminals for them: the Green Dragon, the Marquis of Granby, the Steam Packet and the Blue Boar. Late in the 19th century there were 'omnibuses' in Thorne, but these were, I believe, hackney carriages linking the White Hart with Thorne's railway stations. James Ward was one such operator.
It was not until after the Great War of 1914-18 that Thorne again became a major focus of public road transport. A wide range of small independent companies operated services in the Doncaster – Stainforth – Thorne – Goole corridor them surviving for over half a century. They included such names as Albert Braim, William Lowe, Blue Line (R.F.H. Wilson), Severn, Felix Motors (Ernest Parish), Reliance (R. Store), Samuel Morgan and a Thorne firm which survived as a stage carrier and excursion undertaking until the 1950s, Majestic. Blue Line, originally an Armthorpe undertaking, eventually absorbed by the South Yorkshire PTE in the late 1970s. All significant services in the corridor are now operated by First, operating successors to the SYPTE – basically those affecting Thorne are now Doncaster – Goole or Doncaster – Moorends, with the South Common and Moorends estates served by diversions. Back in the 1930s around a dozen operators plied between Thorne and Moorends including two I have not so far mentioned, J. Firth (Irene) and F. Barley (Corona), both Thorne based enterprises but in the event short-lived. Most of the other, a few of operators originated from Stainforth or Armthorpe: many worked excursions and contract services expanding the options available to intending passengers in the Thorne area. In 2005 there was even a taxibus – operated by Wilfreda Beehive – for passengers in the district wishing to go to the new Robin Hood airport at Finningley.
More could be said about Thorne's road transport, not least about freight in the motor era, in which Darley's the brewers played a part, but I hope this potted survey has conveyed something of its variety over more than two centuries.
2: Water Transport.
Water Transport to and from Thorne via the former course of the River Don to Waterside (otherwise styled Thorne Quay) has a long history. It was late in the 18th century that Waterside blossomed as a port and, in a modest way, a shipbuilding centre. A firm called Steemsons built a brig of war for the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. And from 16th February 1809 Waterside became a packet port for Thorne – Hull services, sailing packets at first, initially once a week in each direction, then four times weekly after the Wellington joined the Nelson and at times other vessels in the Hull run. Sailings varied with the tide and the depth of water in the Dutch River was also a factor.
In August 1816 the sailing packets were replaced by paddle steamers. This was just four years after the earliest British paddle steamer began a regular service on the Clyde. On the Humber, services between Gainsborough and Hull (1814) and Selby and Hull (1815) predated those from Thorne which were inaugurated on a thrice weekly basis by the Britannia, soon replaced by the John Bull, which had previously operated from Gainsborough. Almost from the start stage-coaches fed the steamers, at first from Doncaster, then (from 1820) Sheffield. Packet services were now daily (every weekday that is) once the Rockingham had joined the John Bull. Rockingham is reputed to have been built at Thorne Quay, though this is not absolutely confirmed. However other packet boats were definitely built there, including a new John Bull launched in 1836. Apart from John Bull, all the Waterside launchings, from Pearson's yard, were of vessels intended for services further afield, for Hull to London, Antwerp or Hamburg: Kingston, Yorkshireman, Prince Frederick, Transit and Monarch. At 176 tons, the latter was a big vessel for its time.
The Waterside – Hull steam packets lasted, with a hiatus in 1852-3 until November 1st 1856. In the 1840s excursions and the rather similar 'full boat days' were run, some of them extended to Spurn Point, starting from Thorne at the early hour of 6am. By 1856 Waterside was in decline as a port generally, though some freight ships sailed from there until the end of the century. The various shipbuilders who had had yards there were all long gone by then, Staniland's moving to Thorne's canal frontage where it is still.
Thorne's canal, the Stainforth and Keadby, had opened around 1802, furnishing a lateral water-link between the Don and the Trent, exploited not only by goods traffic but also by packet boats, horse-drawn ones at this time, from as early as 1818, to connect at Keadby with the Gainsborough – Hull steam packets. These services still operated in the 1850s, but after 1856 were serviced by the South Yorkshire Railway, whose passenger trains had reached Thorne in that year. The water services were then operated by a small screw steamer, Speedwell, which had accommodation for over 100 passengers and was owned by the SYR. In 1859 the railway was itself extended to Keadby obviating the need for packet services, though excursions continued for some time.
Thorne's canal frontage saw much ship and boat building. We have noted the name Staniland's but probably even more notable was Dunston's (1858-1987) which began by constructing traditional wooden canal boats but progressed after the early years of the 20th century to iron and steel constructions: tugs, trawlers, small tankers, pleasure craft and during 1939-45 small specialist vessels for the Royal Navy, including 180 TID tugs. Other names, like James Holland and Samuel Atkinson made their own contributions.
The advent of the railway sounded the death knell for regular water-borne passenger services from Thorne, though there was much varied freight traffic along the Stainforth and Keadby Canal until quite recently. Now it is virtually all pleasure boating, but Thorne's heritages of boat building and water transport are indeed proud ones.
3: Rail Transport
The Railway did not arrive in Thorne until 1855 which, thirty years after the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, was rather late in the context of British railway history. Yet within the next 14 years the town had acquired five railway stations, at least four, perhaps all of them passenger, although probably never more than two were ever operational at any one time. There are still two Thorne stations at a time when many lager places have just the one.
The first line between Doncaster and Thorne opened on 11th December 1855, by the South Yorkshire Railway and initially was for goods only. It did not need an Act of Parliament as it was constructed along the banks of the Don Navigation and the Stainforth and Keadby Canal, which were both under the same ownership as the SYR. The Thorne terminus, at Thorne Lock facilitated the transfer of goods, especially coal, to boats on the Stainforth and Keadby Canal.
It was only a matter of time before a passenger station was opened at the Lock and this happened on 1st July 1856. The first train of the day connected with an 'aquabus' on the canal bound for Keadby. Talking of rail/water connections, Waterside (Thorne Quay) was, in 1856 still open for both passenger and goods traffic and that year a spur from the line to Thorne Lock opened to Waterside (its route can still be seen), certainly for goods and maybe even for passengers; a station-master’s house was built and also a turntable. There is some evidence that trains were briefly run in conjunction with the steam packets to and from Waterside before these ceased in November 1856.
In September 1859 the SYR extended its line from Thorne Lock to Keadby. The first train from Keadby ran on September 13th in time for that year's St. Leger meeting. In November 1859 a new station on this line was opened at Orchard Street, the most central station Thorne has ever had. Thorne Lock station probably closed soon afterwards, even for freight, as there was little need to tranship cargoes now that trains ran through to Keadby.
Orchard Street as a railway station was to have a life of less than seven years. The SYR Doncaster to Keadby line, built beside two navigations, often had startling curvature and was not suited to modern traffic. The company obtained powers in 1866 to straighten the line which now passed to the South of Thorne’s main built up area. The new alignment was opened, again in time for Doncaster races, on 10th September 1866. The SYR, which developed an enterprising excursion portfolio, had by this time been leased by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (restyled the Great Central in 1897). On this line, which was eventually to reach Cleethorpes, Thorne was served by a station roughly on the site of the present Thorne South (the station was re-sited early in the 20th century and only received the name 'Thorne South' after the grouping of 1923).
The old line beside the canal (including the Waterside spur if it was then still in use) was lifted after 1866 except for a stretch extending from Maud's Bridge back towards Thorne, a siding occasionally used for stabling the Royal Train when royalty was visiting Doncaster Races, and not lifted until the 1960s.
The final chapter in Thorne's railway development was written in 1869 when the North Eastern Railway opened a line from Staddlethorpe (now called Gilberdyke) on the Hull – Selby line to a junction with the MS&L line west of Thorne, thus offering a more direct route between Doncaster and Hull. On this line Thorne had a new station placed roughly midway between the town centre and Waterside: the present Thorne North, though it did not acquire that name until 1923 when the NER and GCR were subsumed into the London and North Eastern Railway, which in turn became British Railways in 1984.
In 2009 Thorne has at least as good railway communications as ever it had, though neither of its two stations are very convenient for the town centre. For the sake of completeness I shall mention the lines which transported peat from Thorne Moors, the 'paddy mails' in the one time Thorne Colliery and the miniature line in the park which, during the summer, has delighted children of all ages.
4: Air Transport
This, unsurprisingly, will be the shortest section in this survey of Thorne's transport history. The 19th Century saw a fair number of balloon flights around South Yorkshire and Thorne is no exception to this rule. A Mr C. Brown made many balloon ascents in the 1820s and 1830s using coal gas as a propellant. One ascent from Beverley on 1st June 1826 came to earth, rather heavily, on Thorne Moors. He injured his back as a result and was treated at the White Hart. Much later, in 1909, we read of a balloon ascent at Thorne itself as a feature of a show.
The great populariser of aviation between the wars, Sir Alan Cobham, brought his 'flying circus' to Doncaster and to nearby places, including Bawtry, Sheffield and Mexborough but not, I believe, to Thorne. However the flat land around Thorne is good airfield country and this has given the Town vestiges of an aviation history. The nearest RAF airfields in the Second World War (and after) were Hatfield Woodhouse (as Lindholme was called when work on it began in 1938.) It was used for bomber operations when it opened in 1940, though from 1942 it switched to training on four-engined bombers, and Sandtoft, initially a satellite of Lindholme and also used for training on heavy (i.e four-engined) bombers between 1943 and 1945, but handicapped by its indifferent drainage. The RAF closed it in 1957 though it has been used more recently by small civil aircraft. Lindholme closed in 1970 and its buildings have long housed a prison.
In the early 1970s sites were being canvassed for a new Yorkshire airport at Thorne Waste and, more seriously, Balne Common. Neither was adopted and the problem of airfield capacity was solved pro tem by a runway extension at Leeds-Bradford Airport.
5: A Summary
The greatest days of Thorne's transport history mostly lie in the past, especially as regards its water transport (which probably dates back to Roman times when the river courses were different). Activity on the water is now very largely leisure rather than transport. That a place of Thorne's size had five passenger railway stations within 13 years may be of interest to setters of trivia questions; at least its railway routes, late though they emerged in an historical sense, are still in healthy operation. Road connections may not have quite the prestige they had in stagecoach days, but at least a major motorway skirts the town, which also enjoys frequent bus services to east and west from Thorne town centre.
Stage Coaches & Carriers in Thorne: PL Scowcroft:
Packet Boats from Thorne: PL Scowcroft:
Keel a Hoy; Herbert Rhodes:
Keelgirl & Captain's Mate: Evelyn Holt:
Thorne's First Railway: JB Platt: Thorne Local History Society Occasional Papers
Peat Railways of Thorne & Hatfield Moors: AJ Booth: Industrial Railway Society 1998
Mechanised Peat Winning and Transportation on Thorne Moors: M Limbert & PC Roworth: Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum 2009
A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. Vol 8 South and West Yorkshire especially Chapter viii. David and Charles revised edition 1984
The Railways of the South Yorkshire Coalfield from 1880: AL Barnett. Railway Correspondence & Travel Society 1984
The Canals of Yorkshire & North East England: Chas Hadfield David & Charles 1972 - 1973
Published by Thorne Local History Society
Supported by Thorne Moorends Regeneration Partnership
© Thorne Moorends Regeneration Partnership. All Rights Reserved.