Rutland’s Ironstone Quarries at War

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This year sees the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Though  sparsely populated, the pleasant agricultural countryside of Rutland played host to a number of ironstone quarries which made an important contribution to the war effort in increasing production of ironstone; a vital raw material with which to make iron, steel and much needed armaments.

Prior to the outbreak of war in 1939 Rutland had four operational ironstone quarries located at Pilton ( Staveley Coal and Iron Co) , Cottesmore (Appleby Frodingham), Burley (Dorman Long & Co)  and Market Overton (Stanton Ironworks Co) producing a total of 609,000 tons of ironstone for the distant ironworks at Chesterfield, Scunthorpe, Middlesborough and Stanton -by- Dale near Nottingham. At the time these workings provided some 171 local jobs in a predominantly rural agricultural economy.

The outbreak of war provided an immediate incentive to increase output throughout the East Midlands ironstone field as imports of iron ore declined sharply due to shipping losses as a result of German U boat attacks and the occupation by Germany of some sources of foreign ore. Consequently, during World War Two the UK steel making industry was largely dependent on home ironstone production and significant investment was made to increase production capacity to meet wartime needs.

Investments in quarry expansion saw the production rise from 609,000 tons in 1939 to 1,065,600 tons in 1940. Further rises in production were recorded in both 1942 (1,253,200 tons) and 1943 (1,314,000 tons). It can be seen that in just two years ironstone production in the County effectively doubled in support of the war effort. In 1942 new ironstone workings commenced on a relatively small scale at Barrowden with lorries conveying the output to Seaton Station where it was loaded onto trains for the journey to iron and steel works elsewhere.  Elsewhere, new quarry faces were opened up at Cottesmore South and Wing; the latter, together with Ancaster and Scotts Pit quarries, providing three active quarry faces at Pilton – an arrangement that lasted during the war years.


The manufacturer’s photograph of Bagnal built saddletank STAVELEY supplied to Pilton Ironstone Quarry in February 1941.



Increased ironstone production meant an increase in quarry train movements and to enable this to be accomplished a number of additional steam locomotives were drafted into the County. Pilton Quarries received a brand new locomotive from makers W.G. Bagnal named STAVELEY in 1941, which was provided through the government’s Ministry of Supply. Another new narrow gauge locomotive (no. 350) was supplied to Cottesmore Mines in 1943 built by Hudswell Clarke in Leeds. Second hand locomotives also arrived to increase and maintain production capacity with Cottesmore Mines receiving another Kerr Stuart steam locomotive in December 1939 whilst Market Overton Quarries received loco JUBILEE in 1941 from Cochranes & Co of Middlesborough.  As with Market Overton quarries loco use at Burley quarries had significantly increased from needing two operational locos per day to 4 per day and consequently September 1940 saw the arrival of steam loco JUPITER, transferred from the Company’s Cleveland plant.




Photo of Hawthorn Leslie built JUPITER taken at Burley Quarry          I Peters




Additional quarry working areas also required additional quarry machines to augment the work of the steam powered excavators widely used at the time. In 1939 Cottesmore Mines received a new Ruston Bucyrus 43RB dragline and 37B face shovel to load the narrow gauge trains. Pilton Quarries too received a new 43RB diesel dragline and 37B face shovel in 1940 together with a new Stothert and Pit transporter for transferring quarry overburden. Market Overton Quarries received a Ransomes and Rapier W80 walking dragline in October 1940 to increase overburden removal capacity at these workings.

Most of the quarries using standard gauge mineral railways used to part smelt the ironstone (calcining) prior to despatch as this raised the iron content and drove off moisture. Movements of ironstone to the calcining clamps involved the use of old wooden ‘ship canal ‘type open wagons but early in the war years these were replaced by modern steel either side dumpcar wagons (Pilton) or steel 3 skip wagons (Burley and Market Overton). The two last surviving examples of steel 3 skip wagons, built in 1942,  form part of the Museum’s historic ironstone wagon collection. Once the ore had been burnt with coal slack for a period of some weeks the calcined dusty ore was re-loaded into wagons for its journey to the parent ironworks.

The Hudswell Clarke built pannier tank supplied new to Cottesmore Mines narrow gauge ironstone mineral railway in 1943

Having significantly raised output in the early war years significant transport difficulties began to become apparent, particularly in 1944 with the huge build-up of rail traffic prior to the Normandy D Day Landings.  Consequently in 1943 ironstone production in the County dropped to 991,000 tons and fell further in 1944 to 497,100 tons. Production figures started to improve in 1945 and production post war averaged 800,000 per annum as the country sought to repair and rebuild a war-torn country and its infrastructure.

As we shortly mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe day on 8th May pause to reflect on the achievements of the ironstone industry in rural Rutland in supporting the war effort during the difficult years of World War Two. The war against all the Axis powers did not stop in May 1945 as war in the Far East continued with Allied Forces focussing their efforts on the defeat of Japan.

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