Corby Ironstone Quarry Memories: The Giant Walking Draglines

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As rising demand for steel continued into the 1950’s Corby quarries faced ever deepening overburden as the ironstone bed deposits dip towards the east. The introduction of the larger stripping shovels (5360 type) increased maximum overburden digging depths to 60 ft but this limit would need to be overcome if future production levels were to be achieved. Consequently, post war the Company studied the greater range and flexibility of using a large walking dragline.




Ransomes and Rapier W1400 walking dragline pictured at Barn Close Quarry    BSC



A stripping shovel digs from below and the height to which it can dig is necessarily limited by its height. A dragline however “scoops up” from above and is therefore capable of shifting the overburden in one operation to a much greater depth than is possible with a shovel of comparable size. The distance at which the excavated overburden can be dumped depends on the dumping radius which, in turn, is dependent on the length of the excavator boom. The conditions were such that there was a gradual increase in the depth of overburden to be removed and a consequent increase in the dumping radius required by the stripping machine. The outcome of the company’s deliberations on this matter concluded that the Corby quarries must invest in large dragline excavators.

Driver of a W1400 at work at Cowthick Quarry Greg Evans Collection

The first of Corby’s giant quarry draglines was imported to the UK from the USA in 1950 and put to work in Brookfield Cottage Quarry. The machine was a new Bucyrus-Erie 1150 – B being fitted with a 215 ft long jib and capable of digging overburden down to a depth of 75 ft. Whilst successful this machine was still judged to be too small if overburden depths of 100ft were to be handled in the future. Consequently, Ransomes and Rapier of Ipswich were asked to design a larger machine to meet future requirements. The designs for the electrically powered machines were accepted and an order placed for the first of the UK built machines.



Ransomes and Rapier W1800 walking dragline fitted with a 30 cu yd bucket at Oakley Quarry    BSC



The first large walking dragline built by Ransomes and Rapier, type W1400, was built, assembled on-site and started work in 1951 at Priors Hall ironstone quarry. The machine, fitted with a 19-23 cu yd bucket and a 282 feet long boom, successfully handled the overburden to access the ironstone which lay 60 – 100 feet below the surface. After a number of successful years operation, a third giant walking dragline was ordered for Cowthick Ironstone quarry but in this case the boom was extended to 303 feet in length with an increase in total machine weight to 1775 tons.

A fourth and larger walking dragline, type W1800, was added and commissioned in 1963 at Oakley Ironstone quarry. Weighing in at 1767 tons and with a boom of 282 feet in length, it had a larger capacity drag bucket (26-30 cu yd capacity) in order to meet expected quarry production requirements.

In 1974 a fifth and last large dragline entered service with Corby’s Ironstone Quarries. This W1400 machine, named SUNDEW, was originally built in 1957 for work at the ironstone quarry at Exton Park in Rutland owned by the United Steel Companies Ore Mining Branch. Exton Park quarries closed in 1973 and in 1974 the 1675-ton SUNDEW achieved local fame in successfully walking from Exton to Shotley ironstone quarry, a distance of 13 miles – a quite astonishing engineering achievement.


Ransomes and Rapier W1400 SUNDEW on its walk from Rutland to Corby in 1974


The final rundown at Corby was clouded by the lengthy strike born of the frustrations felt at the massive closure programme proposed by the British Steel Corporation to alleviate its critical financial position. Corby’s fate was sealed and 100 years of opencast mining for ironstone came to an end when the pits that served the giant steelworks at Corby ceased extraction in January 1980.


BSC staff line up for a photo on a W1400 walking dragline             

M Jones


With their work done the giant quarry draglines at the ironstone quarries seemed to dip their heads as their long booms were lowered onto a platform of heaped overburden to take the weight off the supporting wire ropes and the access doors and windows were boarded up to await an uncertain future.


Its quarry working days at Corby now over, the jib of a W1400 is lowered onto a platform of earth.   

Rocks by Rail


The wider story behind this quarry heritage is the subject of a new display at the museum which will be available for viewing until the end of October. For further details of opening times please see the museum’s website www.

Note : Whilst the museum is unfortunately currently closed on government advice due to the corona virus pandemic anybody who would like to support the work of the museum can send donations by post to Mr A Salmon, RbR Treasurer, 4 Main Street, Stanford on Soar, Loughborough  LE12 5PY. Cheques to the charity should be made payable to “Rutland Railway Museum” and a Gift Aid form is available from