This webpage is primarily concerned with how the Gayton and Blisworth quarries were linked to the SMJR system, but for reasons of clarity I have also described the nearby link to the LNWR (West Coast) main line. For convenience I have decided to label the various links with letters of the alphabet so that they can easily be identified on the map. Only limited details of the narrow and standard gauge industrial lines leading to these sidings have been included. I am greatly in debt to Barry Taylor for providing great help in the construction of this article. I have also referred to Eric Tonk’s excellent account ‘The Ironstone Quarries of The Midlands Part 3 The Northampton Area’ and taken note of various on site observations by members of the SMJ Society.
The first mention of any siding is July 1878 when the Railway Commissioners arbitrated on a dispute over the rates for carriage of iron ore - the siding is mentioned, but no details given. Whether this was linked to the LNWR or the N&BJR is not known for certain.
Link to the LNWR
There was a standard gauge line from Gayton Quarry to exchange sidings with the LNWR which led to Gayton Loop on the West Coast Main Line. It’s believed that the majority of ore extracted before 1940 was taken away by this route. At first horses were probably used but a steam engine 0-4-0ST was acquired from Monkton Main Colliery, Yorkshire some time after 1877. It took the wagons to and from the exchange siding ( labelled D on the map) up until 1900, while horses were used for shunting purposes. But when Mr Sparrow took over the quarry in from 1900-1921 he reverted to horse haulage, three wagons at a time right up to the LNWR at Gayton Loop! A footpath passed over the line at Bridge 1a.
Ore was loaded into the standard gauge trucks from chutes near Bridge 2. A double cable incline brought the narrow gauge wagons the last few yards up to the chutes. Bridge 2 was a largely wooden affair which spanned the N&BJR which was built because the NBJR had arrived – the incline was already there and there was some controversy over the fact that the new railway had cut off the quarries from their outlet to the main line, hence the bridge being provided (presumably at the cost of the NBJR). The wagons were brought to this point by a 2’ 10’’narrow gauge system which extended both to the north and south of the bridge. A steam 0-4-0ST named ‘Gayton’ was later joined by a 0-4-0 petrol engine loco, built in 1918 believed by Tonks to have been built by Groom & Tattersall’s of Towcester. This is extremely likely because they had the experience having earlier built another petrol engine locomotive, ‘Petrolia’ for C W Bartholomew’s 15’’ gauge railway at Blakesley. An engine shed stood just south of Bridge 2 and in 2010 Andy Thompson and myself found partly buried rumble in the field at its location. Quarrying finished around 1925. Bridge 2 was destroyed by fire on 26th September 1929.
Links to the SMJR System
As the main focus of iron ore extraction gradually moved eastwards and southwards so the provision of sidings linked to the SMJR and its forerunner the N&BJR moved eastwards towards Blisworth Junction.
Siding A on map
The first loop siding that there is detailed documentary evidence of was linked to N&BJR lay north of the line from a point just west of Bridge 5 to a point just west of Bridge 4. It was called Wheldon’s Siding and was inspected by the Board of Trade on 11th April 1881 and lasted until 1888. It was linked to the working quarry face by a probably narrow gauge line of which not a great deal is known other than it was not linked to the more extensive Gayton Quarry narrow gauge system. There was a chute for loading wagons in the siding roughly at the midway point of the loop. A map of this arrangement as it stood in 1881 can be seen In Cooke’s ‘Track Layout Diagrams of the GWR and BR Western Region – Section 29 the SMJR (3rd Edition)’ Here's a link to an old OS map ( c. 1885) which Nigel Furniss has found and which shows the layout clearly. This siding had disappeared by 1900.
Here's another link which shows the situation in 1900.
Tonks doesn’t show the location of this loop in his map of the Gayton’s quarries but describes its rough location and probably wrongly suggests that ore was taken down the cutting side in wagon bodies removed from their wheels.
Siding ? on map
Barry Taylor has found some evidence that a siding on the opposite side of the track from this siding and slightly nearer to Blisworth may have opened in 1888. This evidence being a diagram described as of Wheldon’s Siding that was sent to the Board of Trade by the N&BJR which clearly shows a loop siding located south of the line. A chute is shown midway along the siding as well. Here’s a link to a photo of the document. https://thesmjr.ning.com/photo/wheldons-siding-1888-inspection-of-new-siding?context=latest
Neither Barry nor myself are entirely convinced that this siding existed and feel that the diagram may have been drawn the wrong way around in error. Whoever drew up the various Board of Trade diagrams of Wheldon’s Siding that Barry has inspected was certainly not that good at spelling so perhaps they made other more serious errors. There is no evidence of there being a narrow gauge mineral line to serve such a siding near this point nor of any quarry workings in the immediate vicinity in 1888. However the curvature of the line in the diagram fits the curvature of the N&BJR between Bridges 4 and 3. If there was a siding south of the line it would have opened at the same time as one further east north of the line. Tonks does not mention such a siding but then he only briefly mentions and doesn’t map the next one either.
Siding B on map
The second loop siding that we can be definitely sure about opened in 1888 north of the N&BJR line from a point near the Milepost 1 to a point just east of Bridge 2. Detailed diagrams and maps exist of this siding in its various manifestations . This was also possibly incorrectly known as Wheldon’s Siding, indeed it even was named as such on the official 1905 diagram of alterations being made, but later it was described by the SMJR as Blisworth Ironstone Siding. This seems to have confused Tonks in his researches as he seems to have confused the locations of sidings A and B at one point (see page 39). Initially in 1888 it opened as a shortish loop beginning near Milepost 1 and passing under Bridges 3 and 2. A chute stood on the north side of the N&BJR cutting immediately next to the eastern parapet of Bridge 3 for loading wagons below. It is not known exactly how ore arrived at the top of the chute as there was no link to Gayton Quarry’s narrow gauge system. Here’s a link to a picture of it on the Blisworth Images website. ( It's picture 18-09 in Part 1 once you've got to the site)
The loop was controlled by ground frames operated by an Annetts key that was attached to the train staff. The loop was extended eastwards in 1906 and there is evidence at that time of a direct link to Gayton Quarry’s standard gauge line which seems to have passed through a building, possibly the Gayton quarry’s engine shed, en route! Here’s a link to another of Barry’s maps which shows this.
Finally around 1916 the connection at the western end of the loop was taken out turning the loop into a plain siding. However the SMJR Appendix for 1916 warns their staff that trains are only allowed to enter the siding from the eastern end so the loop must have existed intact when this Appendix was written but it seems that the western connection had not been in use for a while previously.
After a brief period of closure around 1921-2 the siding finally closed for the last time on 27th May 1927.
Sidings at point C
During the Second World War a new quarry was opened up north of the old A43 Towcester – Northampton road at Blisworth. By this time all other rail connections and narrow gauge tramways had disappeared. It was connected to the SMJR system (by then part of the LMS) by a standard gauge steam worked line. Exchange sidings were laid on the south side of the SMJR line near Bridge 1a. The points that turned into the sidings faced towards Blisworth and were controlled by a ground frame. There were two loops leading from the main siding and the quarry’s line fed into a long headshunt at the west end of the main siding. Here’s a link to Nigel Furniss' photo of what appears to be the ground frame base for this siding system’s entrance from the main SMJ line.
These sidings opened on 20th December 1941. No loading chutes were necessary as main line wagons were being taken directly to and from the quarry face. In the 60s BR 27 ton iron wagons were being taken directly from the quarry to these sidings. The quarry finally closed on 30th September 1967 being worked by Richard Thomas & Baldwins Ltd at the time. Altogether at different times 6 different 0-4-0ST and 0-6-0ST locos worked from the quarry face to the exchange sidings. In BR days various steam and diesel loco types worked the wagons on along the SMJ to Blisworth station, anything from an Ivatt 2MT tank to a namer Peak! See ‘The Last Days of the SMJ Pickups’ on this website for further details. This was the last part of the SMJ system to remain in use, apart from the still used connection to Kineton MoD.
NB. The Gayton Quarry, it's tramways, Sidings A,? and B and Bridge 2 had all disappeared long before the RT &B quarry, rail connection and Siding C were opened.
Dick Bodily 6th March 2013
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