An early Mexborough to Conisbrough horse-bus
by J R Ashby

Last week Mr. Philip L. Scowcroft, who has written a number of articles for magazines, and given talks to our society, provided us with an article, based on an item he discovered in the Mexborough and Swinton Times, which he thought you may be interested in and tells a little of what public transport was like in Mexborough, at the latter end of the C19th.

Mr Scowcroft writes
“In the Mexborough and Swinton Times of 20th June 1890 a new horse-bus service linking Mexborough and Conisbrough was advertised, to start on Monday 23rd June 1890. The omnibus itself had been built especially for the service by Jones Brothers of Conisbrough and was to run daily, with the exception of Sunday, between Mexborough, Denaby Main, and Conisbrough. Half an hour was allowed for the full journey. There were just two full workings per day 9.00a.m and 2.00p.m. ex Conisbrough, 12.00noon and 5.45p.m. ex Mexborough – but there was three additional short workings in each direction between Mexborough and Denaby Main. The fare was 3d (one and a half new pence) for the full distance and 2d (one new penny) to Denaby, presumably from either end.
John Williams, the then proprietor of the Star Hotel, Conisbrough, ran the service. There is a long history generally of bus and stage coach services being run by innkeepers who had facilities for stabling the horses and, where required booking facilities. In more modern times the Star has long served as a wayside bus stop, of course.
It is not known how long this service lasted, but in 1893 the newspaper carried a report of a fatal accident in Doncaster Road, Mexborough, involving two pedestrians and two Mexborough to Denaby horse-buses (yes two, even though Williams’ service, as detailed above, could easily have been sustained by one bus). Had demand dictated a greater frequency, or had another operator cut into the service? At the inquest there was talk of the ‘furious driving’ of these buses and while such allegations were not fully substantiated, the coroner, backing himself both ways, recommended that bye-laws regulating the traffic should be fully enforces by the Local Board.
How long Williams’ service lasted is not, as I say, quite clear, but we may assert with confidence that it, or a similar one, served until the tramcars of the Mexborough & Swinton Tramways system made their appearance on the scene from 1907 onwards.

In Mr. Scowcroft’s article, the coroner speaks of ‘furious driving’ as being the alleged reason for the accident, this, from stories told to me by an old friend, would, to me, seem perfectly feasible. From the age of ten years until 25 yrs, when I got married, I was heavily involved with the riding fraternity and during this time, the 1950’s-1970’s, there was still many people who had worked with horses. One of these was a neighbour, by the name of Mr. Thomas, whose family had once operated a wagonette service, to and from Doncaster Market. He told me how passengers would be picked up, early on a Saturday Morning, from the main stop for vehicles going in the direction of Denaby, Conisbrough and Doncaster, this being the junction of Doncaster Road and Harlington Lane and would be dropped off, on their return journey, at the Union Inn at the junction of Quarry Street and Doncaster Road.
Passengers were picked up on a ‘first come first served’ bases. In short, whoever got there first, got the most passengers, and therefore the most money. All kinds of devices were employed in order to get to the stop first and ‘Driving Matches’, as they were humorously called, were a frequent sight on Doncaster Road. With every man for himself and no holds barred these ‘’Driving Matches’ resembled more the combat found in the Chariot Races of the Roman Hippodrome than gentlemanly jostling for position. Although many weapons were carried the one most favoured was the whip and I have, in my possession, one of the whips used, by Mr. Thomas, with the base of it handle weighted with lead and covered in brass.
Over the years demand for a public transport system had grown. Proof of that can be seen on 14th December 1894 at a speech made by County Councillor Mr. Watson, at the disbandment of Mexborough Local Board, he stated: “The scene on a Saturday night at Mexborough with thirty ‘buses running in different directions, in addition to trams, clearly indicates that it is a centre”
The main person, in Mexborough, to provide this service, was Charles Biggins, who leased a large stable yard and carriage house to the rear of the Montagu Arms and it was his son, George Biggins, who operated an omnibus service, stationed at what became Billie’s Coaches on Doncaster Road, Mexborough, the stables of which are still evident. Could it have been he that John Williams was having a ‘Driving Match’ with on that fateful day?
The condition of Doncaster Road, which took most of the heavy industrial traffic, could have also contributed to the accident as it was notoriously bad, and a letter carried by the Mexborough and Swinton Times of 19th January 1894, written by Mr. V. Lockwood read as follows:

“ What is Doncaster Road? A narrow gorge or gully from the Pinfold (Situated at the bottom of Adwick Road) to the Barracks (rows of terraced house situated at the bottom of Doncaster Road opposite the Miners Arms). Some parts are hardly 6yds wide, and opposite the Masons’ Arms teetotallers often have to stop owning to the blockages caused by diverse vehicles. What about the lampposts laid in the road? What about the incident last week at the Union Inn (at the top of Quarry Street) in which a wagon rolled over on account of no room to pass with a load of straw”. He goes on to state that: “Doncaster Road is a narrow sinewy street with buildings, owned by the twelve property owners carried to the final inch of the road”.

It was only a matter of time before ‘furious driving’, combined with the terrible condition of the road, culminated in a dreadful accident and it was in the same year that the decision was made, by the Local Board, to improve and widen Doncaster Road and to extend and join Church Street to it, thus taking some of the pressure from this main arterial road, and making it safer.

Information obtained from:
Article written by Philip L. Scowcroft
The Mexborough and Swinton Times – 19th January 1894 & 14th December 1894

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