Alan takes you off the beaten track here, well off! Once a busy mineral hub, the Rosedale Railway is now a ruggedly pleasant afternoon walk
On the up...
Battersby Station, North Yorkshire
The change of ownership brought about by the issue of economics and affordability
Through peak production in 1870-1877 the Rosedale Branch carried an average 1,000-1,500 tons of ore.
Night working became necessary to keep up with the volume of traffic and maximum trainloads seem to have been fifteen laden wagons to thirty empties. Incoming traffic was compararively light, although it included coal for different uses, foodstuffs, fertilisers, timber and various types of oil. Some agricultural traffic was forwarded from moorland farms to Battersby.
Roasted ore from Rosedale East and West was taken hot straight from the kilns and made steel wagons necessary to handle the high volume of traffic. The roasting process took out the excess water that came with the stone out of the mines, load weight was reduced and therefore costs cut. Slope-sided, 12 ton capacity wagons were used for untreated ore consignments. Inward traffic came in a variety of open wagons, vans were not used as there was insufficient clearance between winding drums and rail for higher-sided vehicles. Passenger vehicles were not used on the branch for the same reason. However passengers issued with passes - mostly railwaymen and their families - rode in the goods brake vans in the section between Ingleby Incline Top and Rosedale East or West. They would have to walk down the edge of the incline and travel in normal passenger trains onward from Battersby. As no schools were opened at Rosedale children were also carried, although they could have been taken by road from Rosedale East or West to Hutton-le-Hole.
Moorland above the incline was sparsely inhabited - and still is - but for sheep and grouse. The branch was therefore not fenced in. Unluckily some sheep fell asleep on the trackbed, but it was cheaper to pay compensation to farmers for losses than build fencing. Blowing the whistle and pelting the sheep with coal tended to be the best methods of scattering the sheep. Grouse and rabbits fell prey to train wheels and crews alike. One driver, Jacob Baker, would sometimes stop the train in the off-chance of catching game. Once a ganger who had spotted a dead grouse stood it up, visible from the railway as the train neared. What Baker said when he set down from the engine is probably unprintable. He worked fifty-one years on the branch, taking retirement in 1919.
As the line was not signalled, a system of operating the single track sections was monitored from Blakey Junction using staff and ticket over sections. A telephone line was laid in along the whole route, brought down often by howling gales and heavy snow. Brake vans and rakes of empty wagons were allowed to coast downhill to the line ends under the control of a guard with his hands on the brake wheel within the brake van.
Usually five 0-6-0 tender locomotives were used above the incline. In later years this was reduced to three, all shedded at Bank Top, Rosedale West. When work was needed on them they were hoisted at the sheerlegs to allow the middle set of wheels to be removed - complete with axles - and hauled behind a sister locomotive to the incline top before being lowered away. Once at Battersby they might be taken to Stockton-on-Tees for fitting etc before return.
For some time the locomotives used on the branch were of the Bouch ex-S&DR rebuilt Class 1001. These were replaced late in the 19th Century by Wilson Worsdell's NER Class P, in LNER days from 1923 re-classified J24. At closure of the branch the members of the class on the branch were numbers 1860, 1893 and 1950, the last being lowered away in 1929 after all the calcine dust had been removed for processing by Imperial Chemical Industries.
Early on Battersby's shed housed around nine engines, also six-coupled classes employed between the sidings at Incline Bottom and works on Teesside or further north in County Durham at Ferryhill. For winter running windshields were mounted on the tenders, tarpaulins stretched between them and locomotive cab rooves. Derailments were commonly dealt with using jacks and improvised means including timber baulks. The line had to be kept open at all times, and at all costs!
Aside from runaway wagons on the incline, some locomotive-related incidents are on record. In 1867 a locomotive was derailed in a snow storm (drifts of 12 ft and deeper were not unknown). Another was derailed in 1872 and in 1890 two trains collided on the Blakey-Incline Top section. The crews are not on record as having been injured.
Along the branch...
Life At The Back Of The Beyond
Mister J E Featherstone, erstwhile of Battersby was in charge of the Ingleby Incline in its last years. He reported that the lives of the railway workers and their families who lived in the cottages on the open moors [1,200-1,350 ft a.s.l.] was hard, moreso in winter. Yet they were friendly and in the main happy communities. The families at Incline Top, nicknamed 'Siberia', were often joined by those from the Blowath crossing in communal gatherings that are common with small communities.
Children went to the school by the church at Church Houses in Farndale East on Monday mornings, joined at Blakey Junction by others for the long downhill walk to the school. Food hampers were taken for the five days they lodged with families until they went home after school on Fridays. An elderly Farndale resident remembered that he counted more children descending Blakey Bank on a Monday morning than there were at the school in the 1970s.
Supplies were taken in by rail, but a shopping day out meant an awkward journey by way of Battersby to Stockton, Stokesley or Middlesbrough. The incline had to be walked both ways in later years when wagons were not moved uphill of an evening. The railwaymen's families at Bank Top were slightly better served, with the village of Rosedale Abbey little more than a mile away, albeit down and up the steep 500 foot climb of 1:3 (33%) on Rosedale Chimney Bank. Nevertheless at the time the village offered shops, public houses, tradesmen, church and chapels.
Branch life was often hard-going in winter, difficult and dangerous. The moors were well known for their high winds and heavy snowfalls. After 1888 two snow ploughs were allocated to Bank Top. Coupled to two or three locomotives and a brake van or two with tool van between, these ploughs were well-tested to keep the line clear. The Rosedale snow ploughs were based on the four-wheeled ex-S&DR tender frames rather than theor later six-wheeled NER counterparts. In January, 1861 before completion of the line forty labourers employed on the section above Farndale were caught in a blizzard and sheltered in temporary huts near the Esklets water tower. The huts were buried by snow, leaving the workmen worse for wear after using up their food supplies and fuel. Work was suspended for three weeks.
The winter of 1878-79 was very harsh, starting with heavy snowfalls on 23rd November, ending with a February thaw. Within a few years another severe winter struck in 1882-83. The Rosedale Branch was blocked this time by drifts from one snow storm on 2nd December. Not until February was there a thaw. The hardest winter on the line was 1894-95, one of the coldest known in the country. Snow storms on the North York Moors were the worst on record. The first hit on the last day of the old year. Deep drifts filled the cuttings and brought traffic to a standstill. By 3rd January even the houses were almost buried. Thawing did not come about before 19th March, although it would be mid-April before the line was opened. Drifts still hung on in some cuttings until mid-June.
A drought followed on from this hard winter. At Sheriff's Pit just north of Bank Top a great pile of ironstone awaited re-opening of the branch, and was not moved before late August. A yard thickness of blackened snow was found beneath. During WWI the winter of 1916-17 brought the line to a halt again for five weeks. Heavy ongoing snowfalls brought drifts 30 ft deep early in January and the line was not opened before 12th February. The situation at Blakey Junction and Incline Top was so severe engines were altogether buried. A train back from the incline was trapped in drifts above Farndale with a woman passenger in the brake van. Crew and passenger were rescued by linesmen the morning after but but had to seek refuge at Esklets in Westerdale. Here and there the snow was still four feet deep on 17th April. Even during the last winter on the branch weather was made hard for dismantling crews by strong, freezing winds. Locomotive driver William 'Willy' Wood remembered the whistle of J24 in steam freezing at Blakey Junction.
Gales were another hazard. Winds were known to blow wagons over the incline top. The worst gale blew on 11th October, 1881 and brought about untold damage in north east Yorkshire. A whirlwind that followed a thunderstorm damaged cottages at Bank Top in 1895.
Decline of industry and today's history
Final Years - to 1929
Ironstone production waned in Rosedale after WWI, bringing with it a sharp reduction in traffic on the branch. Where before four or more trains ran either way the number fell to one. Soon after that came closure in 1926, the year of the General Strike. The LNER had taken over from the NER in the North East and called time on sixty-five years of operation. The branch had carried around ten million tons of ironstone, over half of that in the first seventeen years alone.
The waste product of the calcining kilns was nevertheless still worthy of removal from the tips below the kilns. The task was completed by January, 1929. T W Ward Ltd., of Sheffield was awarded the contract to dismantle both branches and the LNER moved salvaged materials down the incline. The last locomotive (No. 1893) was lowered on 8th June, 1929 and the line was closed a week later.
Re-opening of the railway was looked into in connection with a proposed reservoir in Farndale for Kingston-upon-Hull Corporation. Thankfully the scheme never came to fruition. Although the line has been closed for around ninety years the trackbed across the moors is in a good state, used often by vehicles of shooting parties. Walkers often use the route through the heart of the North Yorkshire Moors with untold views to take the eye. Visitors may appreciate the difficulties faced by those who built and worked on the branch over a century and a half ago.
Take a walk, take in the view
Rosedale & Lastingham Light Railway
A standard gauge light railway was planned to cover the eight miles from near Rosedale Abbey to a junction with the NER's branch that ran east from Helmsley to Pickering and west by way of Gilling and Coxwold to Malton on the main York-Scarborough line. The connection to the main Ryedale branch was to be made at Sinnington near Kirkbymoorside, and received local financial backing in the early 20th Century. The scheme was promoted by a Mr Pope of Lastingham. A Light Railway Order was passed on 31st July, 1900. Nearly two years would pass before anything else was done.
The line would follow the dale down which the River Seven flowed, with stations foreseen at Plleton-le-Moors, at Askew for Lastingham and near Hartoft. Building the branch got no further than the sod-cutting ceremony near Rosedale Abbey on 14th June, 1902, with the squire Captain Darley presiding. He later remarked, "It was the worst champagne I have ever tasted!" William Swales of Lastingham staked out the proposed route and nothing further was done.
A proposal to connect the light railway with the Rosedale West Branch - despite the yawning gap in altitude - may have been instrumental in bringing the scheme to a halt. It was remarkable that the railway was at all put forward, considering the area population was in decline. Ironstone mining was also past its peak, so the financial momentum for the line would have been lacking. Tourism alone - seasonal by nature - could not have kept the line open where the bulk of the income would have been used on hiring rolling stock and motive power. There was little likelihood of the NER becoming involved, although it supplied locomotives and stock for the Easingwold Light Railway between Thirsk and York.
North York Moors National Park
Conservation projects to maintain industrial and rural heritage structures
Alan Thompson and Ken Groundwater take you through the area's historical railway past with photographs of lines and stations as they were before closures, as well as since. Lines had begun to lose out to the accountant's pen as long ago as 1954, and Beeching's recommendations only piled on the agony for many rural users. Colour views in the middle of the book give you an idea of many urban and countryside features after the axe fell, and two that made a come-back... I think you guessed which.
Your walk route to take in the full picture
Life And Times Of The Branch
A glimpse through life on the moors around the Rosedale Mine Branch:
1856.....West Mines (Hollins) opens;
1861.....Incline tramway opened to Bank Top, Rosedale Branch opened to Bank Top (27th March);
1865.....Rosedale Branch East opened to East Mines (18th August);
1873.....Peak production of ironstone;
1874.....Miners strike at West Mines;
1879.....Failure of Rosedale & Ferryhill Iron Co. Ltd., closure of all Rosedale mines (March);
1881.....Re-opening of Rosedale Mines begins;
1885.....Final closure of West Mines (Hollins);
1894/5..Severe winter, worst on record during working of Rosedale Mines and Railway, closure of Blakey Mines (Farndale East);
1911.....Final closure of Sheriff's Pit, temporary closure of East Mines;
1912.....East Mines re-opened;
1926.....General Strike (4th May), final closure of East Mines, end of ironstone mining in Rosedale;
1929.....Official closure of Rosedale Branch (13th June);
1941.....Ingleby Incline Top Drum House demolished to deny German bombers navigation point;
1972.....Rosedale Chimney demolished (July)
Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on March 24, 2017:
Hello Mary, this is what it's all about: readers enjoying the pages and admiring the images.
It was a hard life, but then most working folk then were more robust (not as many fatties around) and didn't expect a lot better. Most homes had outside toilets (in the 1960s my Grandma and Grandad's terraced house in Grangetown didn't have a bath, just a tin bath on a hook in the back yard shed where the 'lavvy' was - potties under the beds if you were caught short in the night), and some didn't have running water indoors, as at most railway-owned properties in the countryside.
Mary Wickison from USA on March 24, 2017:
Interesting history. Now people walk around using their GPS devices and take in the scenery. Those millennial hikers have no idea how difficult life was then or how much of an impact that region had on the entire country.
Those are wonderful images you've used in your article.
Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on December 02, 2016:
Glad you enjoyed it, it's what they're all about - entertaining and informing. Seen part 1? There are also pages about other lines in the area, the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Rly, Cleveland Rly, Middlesbrough & Guisborough Rly, Stockton & Darlington. I'll have to do one about the Whitby, Redcar & Middlesbrough Union next as well as the Middlesbrough to Saltburn (S&DR). That's for the future...
Readmikenow on December 02, 2016:
Very good article. Great pictures and information. Enjoyed reading it.