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Locomotives hauled their last as quarries closed near Grantham 45 years ago

Forty-five years ago, St Valentine’s Day was a black day for quarry workers employed at Woolsthorpe and Harlaxton ironstone quarries.

On that day in 1974, both quarries dispatched their last trains of ironstone bound for the distant steelworks furnaces.

The extraction of ironstone around Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir, Harston and Denton commenced in 1883 when working was done by hand as the ironstone was under thin cover.

Steam loco Ajax and train at work in Harlaxton ironstone quarry. (9153619)
Steam loco Ajax and train at work in Harlaxton ironstone quarry. (9153619)

The overlying soils were retained and respread over the worked ground so agriculture could resume.

The stone was loaded by hand into narrow gauge railway tubs and hauled by a small steam locomotive to a tipping dock where it was tipped into standard gauge rail wagons.

The LNER built a branch line from Bottesford in 1884 to provide a route out for the ironstone so it could supply the Stanton Ironworks Company furnaces, near Nottingham.

The quarries were significantly expanded to meet the needs of the war effort during World War I.

The advent of the Second World War brought about the opening up of new and larger ironstone quarries, lying to the south of nearby Harlaxton.

A new standard gauge railway was built to access the mineral reserves involving a steeply graded line – a feature that was the cause of a number of incidents in the 1950s and 1960s – fortunately without injury.

Quarry production started in 1941. Just after the war, it was decided to replace the ageing narrow gauge quarry railways in the Woolsthorpe area with standard gauge and production was increased through the introduction of larger quarry draglines.

Steam locomotives were in regular use up to the end of the 1960s when diesel locomotives took over the regular work, taking the empty wagons to the quarry face for filling and then hauling them to the exchange sidings situated on the Woolsthorpe branch line for onward transit to the steelworks.

By the early 1970s, changes were afoot in the UK steel industry with a move towards using higher grade imported iron ore for the furnaces.

UK ironstone production rapidly declined and in 1974 the decision was made to finally close both Woolsthorpe and Harlaxton ironstone quarries on the same day.

In the Woolsthorpe area, the former quarries were restored to agricultural use.

Now the elevation of the public roads above their surroundings is the only evidence of the ironstone quarrying that once existed in the area.

The steam loco shed was carefully dismantled by volunteers and rebuilt at Rocks by Rail – the Living Ironstone Museum, located near Cottesmore, Rutland.

One of the steam locomotives from Woolsthorpe quarries, named Belvoir, is also at the museum where it currently awaits restoration to working order.

At Harlaxton, the last diesel locomotive to haul ironstone laden wagons out of the quarry was named Betty.

Loca Betty is pictured shunting. (9153616)
Loca Betty is pictured shunting. (9153616)

This loco is also preserved and can be found at the same museum.

Visit www.rocks-by-rail.org for information about the museum, opening hours and admission charges etc.

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