John Brown's Private Railway

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John Brown's railway was a line constructed in the Rotherham area of South Yorkshire, England, in order to link Silverwood Colliery to staithes situated alongside the River Don. The line, along with the collieries, became the sole property of John Brown & Company of Sheffield, in 1910, giving the line its local name.

Rotherham town in South Yorkshire, England

Rotherham is a town in South Yorkshire, England, which together with its conurbation and outlying settlements to the north, south and south-east forms the Metropolitan Borough of Rotherham, with a recorded population of 257,280 in the 2011 census. Historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire, its central area is on the banks of the River Don below its confluence with the Rother on the traditional road between Sheffield and Doncaster. Rotherham was well known as a coal mining town as well as a major contributor to the steel industry.

South Yorkshire County of England

South Yorkshire is a metropolitan county in England. It is the southernmost county in the Yorkshire and the Humber region and had a population of 1.34 million in 2011. It has an area of 1,552 square kilometres (599 sq mi) and consists of four metropolitan boroughs, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. South Yorkshire was created on 1 April 1974 as a result of the Local Government Act 1972.Its largest settlement is Sheffield.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.


John Brown and Company were also the owners of other collieries in South Yorkshire, including Rotherham Main, which was served by a Great Central branch line.

Rotherham Main Colliery was situated in Canklow, about 0.5 miles south of Rotherham town centre in the Rother Valley. The area was the site of an ancient crossing of the river set below the crag on which were Canklow Woods, an ancient woodland area.


Roundwood Colliery, situated in the Don Valley, between the lines of the Midland Railway, north of Parkgate and Rawmarsh and the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, north of Parkgate and Aldwarke was established in the 1860s and had connections to both railways and to staithes alongside the river.

Roundwood Colliery was a coal mine situated in the Don Valley, about 2 miles north of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England on the borders of Rotherham and Rawmarsh.

Midland Railway British pre-grouping railway company (1844–1922)

The Midland Railway (MR) was a railway company in the United Kingdom from 1844 to 1922, when it became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. It had a large network of lines managed from its headquarters in Derby. It became the third-largest railway undertaking in the British Isles.

Parkgate and Rawmarsh railway station

Parkgate and Rawmarsh railway station, originally named Rawmarsh was situated in Parkgate, adjacent to the Park Gate Iron and Steel Company's works. It served the communities of Parkgate and Rawmarsh, in South Yorkshire, England.

In 1898, a new company was formed to take over Roundwood Colliery and to develop a new colliery at Silverwood, near Thrybergh. These collieries and the boat staithes were to be linked by a railway. The company was originally known as "The Roundwood and Dalton Colliery Co.", becoming Dalton Main Collieries Limited in December 1899.

The railway companies serving Roundwood were approached to build a line to Silverwood but both declined and so it was built privately as "The Roundwood and Dalton Colliery Railway". The line was opened in 1901 and its main engineering work was a girder bridge crossing the River Don which was built by Newton, Chambers & Company. The line was known for its gradients, the main section being between 1 in 44 and 1 in 56.

The line became part of the Rotherham, Maltby and Laughton Railway which, in turn, became the major part of the Great Central and Midland Railways Joint Committee in South Yorkshire.


As may be imagined on a line with steep gradients there was a problem with runaway accidents.

In August 1905, a train going down the hill from Silverwood Colliery to Roundwood could not hold back its load and the locomotive, Dalton Main Colliery No.4 (Andrew Barclay, Works No. 1021, built 1904) was overpowered. The crew jumped after passing over the River Don bridge. The driver suffered only shock. The fireman was slightly injured. At the point where the colliery line passed below the Great Central line the locomotive left the rails but stayed upright through the bridge and fell into the marshy ground beyond. The wagons were totally destroyed and the track seriously damaged. The locomotive was repaired and survived a further 21 years until being scrapped. Slippery rails covered with natural evening moisture together with water dripping from the wagonloads of 'slack' were blamed.

On 30 September 1910, not long after the railway had become the property of the G.C. & M. J.R., a loaded coal train leaving Silverwood Colliery with 50 wagons went out of control and ran away. The Mexborough locomotive crew jumped, the driver sustaining minor injuries, the fireman being bruised. Catchpoints prevented the train reaching the main line, although some of the wagons did so. The locomotive ended on the canal towpath. The signal box, Thrybergh Junction, was saved, although it did suffer in a later accident and fell backwards into the river. The signalman, reportedly, left his box hurriedly - hardly surprising!

Passenger services

The line did not have a regular public passenger service. However, the colliery company, by an agreement with the railway committee, did run Workmen's Trains, often referred to as Paddy Mails using seven coaches which were bought from the Mersey Railway in early 1905. These trains linked Roundwood Colliery, the river boat staithe and Silverwood Colliery. Under a similar agreement, the colliery company could also work their own trains over the line, for internal traffic only.

Mersey Railway

The Mersey Railway was the first part of the passenger railway connecting the communities of Liverpool, Birkenhead, and now the rest of the Wirral Peninsula in England, which lie on opposite banks of the River Mersey, via the Mersey Railway Tunnel. The railway opened in 1886 with four stations using steam locomotives hauling unheated wooden carriages; in the next six years the line was extended and three more stations opened. Using the first tunnel under the Mersey the line is the world's oldest underground railway outside London.

Silverwood Colliery platform, the original, was a wooden railway platform built for John Brown's Private Railway in order to operate Paddy Mail trains from Roundwood Colliery to Silverwood Colliery to bring their workers to the new coal mine. The trains were operated by a rake of seven former Mersey Railway coaches hauled by a vacuum brake fitted locomotive, regular assisted by an additional locomotive on the front for extra power. These lasted until the 1930s when, either the workers at Silverwood had moved to new housing in Thrybergh, or were in a position to use the new "pit buses" operated by private companies and later by Rotherham Corporation. The platform was removed shortly after the last train left.

In 1959, a platform was constructed on the line, near to Whinney Hill in Thrybergh, to serve the "Children's Outings" organised by local Working Men's Clubs. This was known as Thrybergh Tins and closed in the mid-1960s.


The connection to the Great Central at Roundwood was removed in March 1914. The line from Don Bridge East Junction to Roundwood was closed in the 1960s but a single track was retained as a 'trap' for runaways. The line beyond Silverwood to Hellaby (Great Central, Hull & Barnsley and Midland Joint) was closed in 1967 for the construction of a motorway bridge: it never reopened, being officially closed from March 1969. The main line from Thrybergh Junction to Silverwood was singled in spring 1975.

British Steel

The part of line at Roundwood, using the original bridge (Don Bridge) over the River Don, was bought and reopened in the mid-1970s, by British Steel Corporation in connection with their new Thrybergh Bar Mill.

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Thrybergh Tins platform was a short platform built alongside the Great Central and Midland Joint Railway line between Thrybergh Junction, on the Great Central Railway, Mexborough to Rotherham Central line and Silverwood Colliery, near Thrybergh. A connection was also available to the Midland Railway near Parkgate and Rawmarsh. This line never carried any timetabled passenger service. The operation of the line came under the jurisdiction of the station master at Kilnhurst Central.

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"The Silverwood Branch" by Geoff Royston and Roger Milnes, Forward, the journal of The Great Central Railway Society, November 1991, No.84. ISSN   0141-4488