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An overview of the history of the mining/quarrying relating to the former Northampton & Banbury Junction railway (which became the former Stratford Upon Avon & Midland Junction railway – SMJ) in the area of Gayton, a village near Blisworth in the county of Northamptonshire (bridge 1 to bridge 5)
Mining of the earth’s natural resources in the Blisworth area of Northamptonshire has been evident for many centuries. This short piece is, if nothing else a way of me putting things straight in my head in relationship to quarrying in the area and the new railway.
This new line, which started out in May 1866 as the Northampton & Banbury Junction railway, (N&BJR) opening as it did a short section from Blisworth on the main London, Birmingham line of Stephenson, 1838 to Towcester was built on the premise of the movement of all the ore from the area. The Towcester section was subsequently followed up by an extension to a junction with the LMW,R at Cockley Brake and so into Banbury.
The company had great plans to run onto South Wales but these plans were never realised and the company was to struggle to survive. The N&BJR became part of the SMJ in 1910 , the section between Blisworth and Towcester having built strong links with the mining/quarrying in the parish of Gayton in the interim years. Mining/quarrying was evident on both sides of the line and transhipment points had been constructed along the branch.
The SMJ’s bridge 1 took the minor road from Blisworth to Rothersthorpe over the line then immediately alongside that (and still is – bridge 1 having been demolished in reference to the construction of the Blisworth bypass) was a small bridge over the London to Birmingham line of 1838. The road down to the Walnut Inn (formerly the station pub) sits on the former SMJ trackbed.
As we travel along the line from Blisworth to Towcester we can see the line of a chord; facing north which ran from the main line and came in to run parallel with the SMJ albeit initially substantially lower than the SMJ which at this point was on an embankment. This private line I believe to be the Blisworth Ironstone sidings, it most certainly did meet up with tramway which passed over SMJ bridge 2 a few tens of chains along which fed quarries on both sides of the N&BJ,R. These sidings were connected to, or were in fact Wheldon’s sidings. Around 1888, Wheldon’s sidings moved from a location a few chains further west and a simple transhipment point was created in the shape of an over-bridge running across 3 or 4 sidings from where quarried material was tipped from the lesser tramway wagons into mainline wagons to be taken away. The private sidings had a connection with the N&BJ,R which had closed by 1927. The Blisworth Ironstone sidings themselves were completely lifted by 1950 although their bed can been seen clearly on Google today.
The Wheldon’s sidings itself undertook a number of changes in its life and having moved in 1888 from further west did run under bridge 3 which carried the Gayton/Blisworth road alongside the N&BJ,R. At one point having both a West and East connection, materials were able to be taken from nearby quarry workings from the tramways and onto the N&BJ.R/SMJ and taken away.
One mystery as we continue our journey from Blisworth comes in the shape of bridge 1A. There are two unnumbered culverts which pass beneath the line at this point to aid drainage but bridge 1A doesn't quite fit in . 58 chains along and listed as 1A on the piers that remain, and listed as such on the bridge detail, a document which is available here Bridge numbers
Bridge 1A’s main supports are quite complete, consisting of several straight brick towers looking like they’d hold a simple flat platform across the culvert which runs to the north side of the track bed. They are alongside what became Richard Thomas’s sidings, which fed the quarrying at the Gayton Wood Farm site – but not until 1940’s, more of which to follow. https://thesmjr.ning.com/photo/albums/richard-thomasthe-tramway
At the site of bridge 1A on an early map from around 1870 there is something which passes under the (or so it seems) the new railway dog-legging left to join the Gayton/Blisworth road passing over the previously mentioned transhipment point and Wheldon’s sidings. Remember, The sidings of Richard Thomas’s didn’t come into being until the 1940’s. It is possible that the track bed at this
point took on a slightly different look to what it became .
And so to bridge 2. https://thesmjr.ning.com/photo/bridge-2 context=album&albumId=3138568:Album:9165 Bridge 2 (of which the north pier still remains) at 58 chains was just past the former junction with the former Wheldon’s sidings, which would explain the existence of a P-Way hut (still extant) on the spot. https://thesmjr.ning.com/photo/permanent-way-hut-along-side/next?context=album&albumId=3138568:Album:9165
The area was awash with quarrying both sides of the line. Along with the main railway lines, many temporary tramways were set up, being constantly moved and extended to keep up with the quarrying. The large field alongside bridge 2 to the south (I will call it field 1) was no exception.
From before 1900 field 1 had been plundered for its many resources and so warranted connections to both the railway, and the canal at Blisworth. Bridge 2 took a tramway across the then N&BJ,R to the transhipment point where Wheldon’s sidings met the Blisworth Ironstone sidings, initially running straight into the field due south as this is where the quarrying was.
Around the same time quarrying began in the field to the west of the previous field (I shall call it field 2) and so further transhipment points were required.
A tramway was set up which went to the railway at one end, and the canal at the other. There were 2 railway over-bridges around this point, bridges 4 and 5. Bridge 4 was an occupation bridge for Gayton Wilds Farm and bridge 5 too, an occupation bridge. Bridge 4 though seemed to have once taken a trackway across it as seen on an early 19th century map, bridge 5 was too possibly a tramway
bridge as there is evidence of a tramway from the quarrying to a simple transhipment point in connection with Wheldon’s original sidings in-between bridges 4 and 5 which consisted of a simple Shute system for transferring quarried materials to mainline wagons from tramway wagons. Wheldon’s sidings here were connected to the N&BJ,R. A further tramway ran north from here to further quarries south of Gayton village.
Field 2 was to the north of an area of quarrying which became Gayton Wood Farm which was amongst some of the last quarry in the area – working as it did ‘til the late 60’s and it too supported several tramways. I imagine when mining in field 1 became exhausted, (dates seem to support a slow movement west of the quarrying) a bridge was built under the Gayton/Blisworth road (and I would say quite a while ago – possibly around 1900/1920.
The bridges which are still extant today (but may not have been the original ones) and the tramway which came over bridge 2 was diverted under the new bridge to support the quarrying in field
2. As stated, quarrying, and the subsequent support needed such as tramways were a very fluid affair. Tramways were extended to where the quarrying was. In the early 40’s the sidings of Richard Thomas’s were constructed. 3 sidings which ran parallel with the then SMJ and fed by ground frames at each end at around 68 chains from Blisworth.
By this time the tramway across bridge 2 wasn’t being used so the tramway was diverted straight across field 1 from under the Gayton/Blisworth bridge to meet up with the sidings of Richard Thomas’s.
The line passed through a small cutting and over a slight embankment on its relatively steep journey down to the SMJ. Passing through field 1 and into field 2 it sprouted many tramways along the way and, as the quarry had passed on that way under another concrete bridge into the quarries of Gayton Wood Farm which ran down to the former Blisworth/Towcester road.
The line to Gayton Wood from Richard Thomas’s sidings was of mainline standard and at Gayton Wood farm engines sheds, a weighbridge and a maintenance department were built to service
and support the locos which worked there as well as moving, weighing etc the outgoing quarrying materials before they passed under the two concrete bridges on their way down the hill to Richard Thomas’s.
Gayton Wood was worked until 1968. It’s huge excavators a feature landmark of the Blisworth area. The noise, the sounds of drilling and excavating well know to the people of Blisworth.
Now all gone, all that remains are the over-grown memories, the engine sheds are still there at Gayton Wood and the quarrying holes have conveniently filled with water and fish! A small hut which once might have been an inspectors hut or similar sits in the middle of one of the fishing lakes, half poking out of the waters looking somewhat incongruous and in for an unsure future. The fields about are full of humps and bumps of a bygone age.
The SMJ tracked bed can be walked from bridge 3 all the way to the Walnut Inn at Blisworth which will serve you a nice drink for your efforts. There are more questions than answers along the way so if you have a few – do let me know and hopefully someone will have the corresponding answers!
These might help!
The action on the map above all happens bottom left. Note Gayton House, the Tiffield/Blisworth road and all the tramways/rail lines between Gayton Wood Farm and the then N&B Junction railway.