Friday, 1 April 2016

Industrial Steam in East Yorkshire

In the early part the twentieth century parts of East Yorkshire witnessed the sights and sounds of a number of narrow gauge steam locomotives fussing their loads of chalk across parts of the Yorkshire Wolds. A little known industrial railway connected various quarries in the Market Weighton and North Newbald areas with the North Eastern Railway just outside Market Weighton - it opened 110 years ago and lasted just thirty years. This was the East Riding Quarries' system.

The Wolds are chalk hills which gentle undulate from near the Humber round to Flamborough Head – many quarries have been established all over East Yorkshire to exploit this resource, some are still worked. Most notably near Melton, just to the west of Hull – for many years their products left by rail too. Further north the quarries at Burdale and Wharram ensured the Malton & Driffield line lasted as long as did – these workings have been well documented too fortunately. Numerous small quarries can still be scene right across the Wolds too. And it is these quarries which provided the need for the subject of this post.

If you walk along the disused line between Beverley and Market Weighton, once the hills begin to rise and the line climbs up into the Wolds, you cannot miss the number of former quarries which almost litter the area. A number of these were served by the line too. Much of the Wolds, however, did not have the luxury of a rail connection and what limited products were produced had to leave by other means. Rivers and canals are not common in the east of the county – the Wolds does not have a navigable water way.

The railway was the brain child of Douglas Richardson – the Richardson family owned lands in the North Newbald area. On the land were a couple of chalk pits which were being a local man was paying to work and sell the stone.

Chalk (Calcium carbonate) is used for many things – a common use of chalk from Burdale and Wharram, for example, was to be used in the production of steel. It’s used as a flux for during the process of converting iron into steel. Other uses have included ceramics, whitening agents in paper and many other uses in industry. Richardson was aware that the small quantities from the workings on their land had worth, but not in the small volume which was produced. Other similar existed pits (too small to call quarries really) and if the combined produce of all of these could some how be shipped together, then it might prove profitable. Just how to achieve this was the stumbling block – transporting by horse and cart was a non starter.

A photograph which is believed to be from around 1931 or 1932. The gentleman by the loco is Gordon Shappey who managed the line in later years. He had worked for the Richardson family for a number of years. His son, Arthur Shappey, served as a fitter and driver in the final years of the railway.

The loco is more of a puzzle. Records of the motive power are certainly not complete. The majority seemed to be ex-contractors' machines - some did not last long and other than being able to say this is a Kerr Stuart product and similar (but obviously slightly larger) to 'Sirdar' which ran in Northumberland at Cawfields Quarry.

The location of photograph is believed to be new North Newbald

A chance conversation with one of his Uncles provided a solution – his uncle was a civil engineer who had been involved with the construction of a number of reservoirs in Yorkshire in the latter part of the nineteenth century. To aid the movement of materials, narrow gauge railways had been used. Narrow gauge would prove perfect for the terrain involved. Standard gauge would be too expensive and not suited to the area where some steep grades and tight curves would be required. Richardson had also learned that similar lines existed in Leicestershire for transporting iron stone.

The original style of 'tub', as staff called them, used on the railway.

Two foot gauge was discounted as too small. The more substantial nature of three foot gauge stock was considered advantageous – derailments in the quarries turned out to be more problematic as a result of the larger nature of the locomotives though! The wagons used, however, were of a ‘tub’ style and their low centre of gravity proved very successful. So much so that at a couple of locations they remained in use, pushed by hand, at a couple of locations until the mid-seventies!

The first loaded train left Goodmanham Siding on 1st April 1906. The final train left in 1936, just thirty years later - the workings were not exhausted but the cost of this method of working was simply too expensive to make it worthwhile.

The Route Described

The railway had its exchange sidings with the North Eastern Railway’s York – Beverley line near Goodmanham, just outside Market Weighton. It was known as Goodmanham Siding. ‘Exchange Sidings’ is a grand term. It was one siding, the narrow gauge raised above the standard gauge to allow the tubs to be tipped into the waiting wagons beneath. Moving the standard gauge wagons was achieved with horses. Simple but it worked. The big disadvantage was that stone could not be stored, the only place where it could be stored was in the the tubs! This lead to the line, at its height, having a rather large number of wagons – most of which were built in the company’s own workshops using wheels and fittings supplied by Robert Hudson Ltd. Some ‘new’ wagons would often reuse parts from accident damaged examples. The gradient from Goodmanham up to ‘Arras Top’, as it was known (due to its proximity to the hamlet of Arras), was particularly steep. No trace of the line, the workshop buildings or the row of cottages exists here today – only a slight dip in the current A1079 gives any hint of what was once here. From here the line headed in a south easterly direction towards the quarries on the land of the Richardson’s.

The line then headed across between Sancton and High Gardham - the track bed is now a Bridle Way marked on some maps as Beverley Lane. Near Hesslekew Farm a branch ran towards Gardham, crossing the main A1079 on the level, by the level crossing was a substantial brick building which served as a work shop for a number of years.

Continuing south from Hesslekew the line followed the approximate path of Wrangman Dale Road (a bridle way now), crossing Beverley Road before the line swung round towards North Newbald. Just here one line began to climb steeply to access chalk pits around High Hunsley - beyond here the lines were laid and lifted as traffic demanded. Only lighter locos could use the lighter laid lines - in early years a small ex-contractor Manning Wardle 0-4-0st named Hunsley worked exclusively on this part of the railway. Following the great war, a re-gauged, 'Protected' style Motor Rail Simplex was used here - it was very suited to these lightly laid lines. Trains would be marshalled waiting for larger locos to take them to Goodmanham. This loco affectionately became known as 'Gertie', eventually the name was signwritten on at least one end of the loco on the 'protected' panels.

A line ran to North Newbald itself - a number of workers were provided with house at North Newbald and workmen's trains ran from here to certain key points. For these workings three crude coaches had been in constructed in the workshops. The station was located opposite the site of the present day school, just by the junction of Beverley Road and Townsend Road.

From Wrangman Dale Road a line ran east towards Walkington - the main route here lasted until the railway closed but, as with High Hunsley, branches and connections made the railway quite transient. Records of exactly which quarries and workings the line served vary from poor to non existent!


Operation was 'interesting'. There was no real form of train regulation and when the line was at its peak, it was possible to see trains following each other, seemingly just yards apart. The facilities at Goodmanham dictated this style of operation - with no ability to store stone at Goodmanham Siding, stone had to tipped directly into the waiting mainline wagons. At Newbald sidings were provided to store loaded wagons ready for transport for unloading - this lead to a large number of wagons which were never really used to their full potential, spending much of their stood awaiting movement.

Generally a loco would spend it's time on a branch a day at a time. For example, one loco would spend a day working exclusively between Newbald and Walkington Heads (and other points along the branch) bringing loaded wagons down and returning with empty wagongs to be filled. Occasionally a second loco would be doing the same between Newbald and High Hunsley - normally one loco could manage both tasks at usual levels of traffic. Another loco would take loaded trains from Newbald to Arras Top or Goodmanham depending on arrangements at the exchange sidings.

The Gardham branch never produced much traffic so generally a loco would spend a morning as required taking empty wagons and collecting loaded wagons.

As time went on, especially post 1930, it would be unusual to have more than three locos in use each day. Only if a train was waiting would a third be required anyway - normally one loco collecting loaded wagons would be sufficient with Gertie preparing tubs for collection at High Hunsley.

During 1936, as part of the general run down, locomotives were being sold off leaving only Gertie as the soul motive power. For the final four months she spent her time collecting final consignments from quarries for few remaining trains from Goodmanham - now down to just one every two weeks.


The line closed in the summer of 1936. Run down had been quite gradual. As road transport had become more economical, the railway lost purpose - some of the smaller pits ceased to be worked but Walkington Heads continued until 1973, still in the ownership of the Richardson family, sending out stone by road although a number of tubs continued to be used round the quarry itself.

Few jobs were lost - the final years had seen a skeleton staff running the line with everyone concerned having to take on multiple roles and jobs.

The final trains to be worked were scrap trains which saw Gertie hauling loads of recovered materials. The scrap merchant used her to move items round at Arras Top before her turn came round too.

The Line Today

In the eighty years since closure, virtually all traces of the line have all but vanished. Three buildings have survived - the workshop building on the Gardham branch can clearly be seen from the A1079. In the intervening years it has been rebuilt to suit various purposes but it is substantially still the original structure of 1910, when the branch opened. Another building remains at Goodmanham, now property of Yorkshire Water. This is a substantial brick structure, reflecting the confident nature of the enterprise. It is contrasted rather greatly by the third surviving building. This is no more than a hut which stands at High Hunsley. Today it stands in excellent order, though it may be like 'Trigger's Broom', just how much of the original structure remains is questionable. So much so, it meant quite a bit of research was required to establish if this was the original a structure or merely a new building on the sit of the original. It dates from 1919 and replaced the original wooden shed used to house the Hunsley. It allowed facilities to maintain and service the replacement Simplex meaning it didn't have to leave High Hunsley - Hunsley made weekly visits to Arras Top for boiler wash outs.

If you know where to look, signs of the railway can be found. The most obvious, which even the lay person will notice, is the incline to take the line up to High Hunsley. This represented the most major earth work on the system - for once money was spent as it made for a much shorter route than the original proposal to reverse at the site of North Newbald station.

Near Newbald one of the best preserved earthworks left on the route - this is where the line to High Hunsley climbed a steep grade to gain height rapidly.

One problem with the line is that, much like the Sand Hutton Light Railway, its short life means it missed inclusion in the more detailed Ordnance Survey maps. Details from the company's records, along with notes and correspondence of Gordon Shappey's, do at least provide some information. Exploring the route is difficult - much of it was laid over private land. in the case of the Richardson family's land, it was very straight forward however elsewhere rent was paid for a strip of land or agreements reached to allow transportation of material from chalk pits where proceeds were split between the company and the land owner. So please bear in mind that for the most part, the route is still private property. Around the Sancton and Newbald area parts have become bridle ways, however human activity has meant that no physical remains beyond light earth works have survived.

However, as mentioned some isolated sections did remain. At Walkington Heads Quarry, track and 'tubs' remained in use until the seventies. They were pushed by hand or tractor as required. Their stability meant they were still considered worth using nearly forty years after the railway closed. The quarry cannot be visited now - since it closed itself in 1973 it has been flooded and trees surround the pit disguising the industry which once was here, see below. Sadly the route between Newbald and here has completely disappeared, mostly ploughed out.

Roadworks in 1998 along Beverley Road, Newbald, at Wrangman Dale Road did reveal a pair of rails beneath Beverley Road! They were removed without ceremony. This short section is believed to be the very last section of the system.


  1. Very interesting article, thanks :)

  2. Thank you but a complete work of fiction I'm afraid - that "the first loaded train left Goodmanham Siding on 1st April 1906" should have given it away, especially when combined with today's date!

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