WHEN I was a child I was a trainspotter. There, I’ve admitted it and can now move on with the rest of my life.
But whilst the hobby seems to have fallen somewhat out of favour these days with the younger generation, and is only kept going by older men standing on station platforms with cameras and heavy bags, interest by the public in railway history is as strong as ever.
There is an appetite amongst folk to find out about the long-gone stations, signal boxes and lines which once served their area.
A new book promises to offer an “armchair journey” through the railway history of Rotherham with old pictures, maps and documents.
A specialist publisher has focused in on the history of services between Rotherham and Chesterfield over nearly two centuries, showing the changing locos, stations and routes.
It is the latest addition to a vast library by the company celebrating railway history across the country.
Part of Middleton Press’s Ultimate Railway Encyclopedia series, Chester to Rotherham via Sheffield is one of more than 400 albums released so far — but the first specifically dealing with Rotherham.
Vic Mitchell, who co-wrote the book with Keith Smith, said: “It is full of old photographs and maps and offers an armchair journey along the route, including many interesting local details along the way.”
The 96-page book features 120 photographs, almost entirely previously unpublished.
It features old maps of the routes used by trains over the years, old timetables and tickets and some technical information which would be of interest to rail buffs.
There is also a potted history of different sections of the route between Chesterfield and Rotherham with explanations of what each picture is showing.
The different stages of the route covered are Chesterfield, Attercliffe Road, Beauchief, Brightside, Dore and Totley, Dronfield, Heeley, Holmes, Meadowhall Interchange, Millhouses and Eccleshall, Rotherham Central, Rotherham Masborough, Rotherham Westgate, Sheepbridge, Sheffield Midland, Sheffield, Unstone, and Wincobank and Meadowhall.
Some of these stations have long gone but the pictures show life as it was back in time and will be fascinating to people who live in the areas now, who will get an idea of how their local environment has changed. Regular train users may look at the pictures in the book with a sense of nostalgia as they reminisce on how the service has changed, for the better or worse depending on personal opinions.
Rotherham’s railway past is captured in a series of atmospheric black and white images which suggest that while the steam age may have a rather romantic image today, at the time the reality was that it was smoky and dirty.
Rotherham Westgate station, which operated until 1952, was the eastern terminus of the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway in the 1830s and was off Main Street on the opposite side of the River Don to Rotherham Borough Council’s Riverside House headquarters of today.
Passengers had to cross the tracks to get to the platform via a level crossing when the original stone building was erected, but a later (circa 1900) wooden station building, known as the Rabbit Hutch, gave them better access.
After it was closed, the station buildings were used to store old market stalls as the town’s market was then located nearby.
The site of Westgate station is now occupied by the town’s postal sorting office but the branch line is still used by the CF Booth scrapyard.
Rotherham Masborough station may still be remembered by many people today although it was closed in October 1988. Remnants of the old station — which later became the Orient Express restaurant — can still be seen.
Originally known as Masbrough station (note the spelling), it was opened in 1840 by the North Midland Railway, and was visited by Princess Christian and Prince Albert in April 1906.
The station was designed by Francis Thompson and had four platforms. However, bad planning in the 1970s meant that two of the platforms could not be used by trains to Sheffield without them having to reverse, making the platforms operationally useless. It also meant fast trains could not pass slower ones.
Being around half a mile from the town centre also helped seal Rotherham Masborough station’s fate and it was replaced as the town’s railway hub by Rotherham Central, which is in use today.
Rotherham Central is a relatively new station but is just 300 yards from the site of another central station dating back to 1868 which was constructed by the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway.
The original station was once called Rotherham & Masborough, which must have been confusing, as the old Rotherham Masborough station was at that time known as Masborough for Rotherham.
The current Rotherham Central has only two platforms. It was renovated in 2012 and its new entrance opened in October 2013.
Rotherham has been an important railway town for many years, and its proximity to the busy Sheffield and Doncaster railway hubs has kept it important. Today, of course, it is also used by Sheffield Supertram Tram Trains.
Old maps in the Chesterfield to Rotherham book show just how many rail routes there were across the whole area, with the coal mines requiring trains to carry their product far and wide.
A map of Grimesthorpe Junction in the book from 1933 reveals around two dozen lines and sidings to partly fulfil demand from the nearby Grimesthorpe Gas Works.
Other memories caught on camera are the aftermath of a major rail crash at Dore and Totley station on October 9, 1907, flooding at Sheffield station in December 1991, and the damage caused at Chesterfield station during the first National Railway Strike of 1911.
Middleton Press was started by Vic Middleton in 1980 and has now printed hundreds of railway-themed titles.
Vic said: “The aim is to complete the ultimate ‘rail encyclopaedia’ through these series of albums that chart individual routes in Britain, using a wide variety of images and maps.
“Each album has the stations in journey order, over 20 to 30 miles, with the pictures in date order, at each stop.
“The first album published was Branch Lines to Midhurst in 1981. It proved so popular that Keith and I have continued for the last 40 years, with the help of a number of outside authors.”
* More information on the book, priced at £18.95, and others in the series, can be found at www.middletonpress.co.uk. Details of local stockists can be obtained by calling 01730 813169.