Dalesman August 2011, Rosedale Railway

Rosedale Railway is now a walk

Rosedale Railway is now a walk

When I met members of Rosedale History Society and Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greenhow History Group to discuss the Rosedale Railway for Dalesman, I realised that we could talk all day, and I still wouldn’t have heard all that they have discovered.

So I asked each of them what aspect of their discoveries had affected them most deeply.

Linda Chambers, of Rosdale, says, “We’ve been collecting information on all aspects of Rosedale’s history, especially about the people who lived there.”

From this perspective, she sees the Ironstone rush of 1850 to 1929 as a ‘blip’ in the Dale’s history. Before that, it was a farming area with a Priory of nuns – and that was destroyed by Henry VIII.

When the mines closed in 1929, the people who had come to work in them quickly dispersed. She suspects that many emigrated to mining areas in other parts of the world, and her next research project is to try to track down some of their descendents.

The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge was a favourite with miners

The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge was a favourite with miners

Patrick Chambers also suspects that many miners emigrated, and says, “There’s a clue in that there are a lot of Rosedales, and Clevelands, around the world, especially in the Western USA.”

Despite the fact that the miners left, Patrick comments that many of their houses are still occupied, either by commuters or holidaymakers.

Patrick enjoys walking in the dale. He’s been out with the local geology trust, and comments, “They built the houses out of ironstone, and now it’s rusting.”

He is also concerned that the relics of the mining era are deteriorating. He’d contacted the National Park to see if anything could be done, but there was no money at present to preserve the remains of the calcining kilns.

Although he would like to preserve the historical remains, he is in no doubt that he has a nicer life than the miners of long ago. He says, “In the ironstone mine, they worked 8 hour shifts in the darkness, and they had to buy their own candles and gunpowder – from the Company, of course.”

The kilns – 3 in all – were used to heat the iron ore with coal. This enriched the iron content before the ore was transported over the moors to the iron works.

Wayne Barnacal, of the Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greenhow Local History Group, says, “It takes little imagination to reconstruct what it was like – most things can be seen.”

Wayne’s career was in building and operating big chemical plants, and is impressed at the vigour of the Victorian engineers. As well as the speed of construction of the railway, he says, “They had a major fire in the drumhouse at the top of the incline, and within a matter of months, they’d developed and installed new technology.” Also, he says, “By modern health and safety standards, it’s a different world.”

He says, “It was demanding, dirty, dangerous work – but better than what else was available at the time.”

The incline was a major hazard: a steep bank, where trains were hauled up and down on a cable wound round a drum and connected to another train going the other way, acting as a counterbalance.

Even with the counterbalance, it was considered too dangerous for people to ride the incline, and they had to get out and walk. Patrick says, “There were nasty accidents with people crushed by runaway wagons.”

The line was intended for goods only, but people did catch a ride in the brake van.

Geoff Taylor, of KGBIG group, enjoys anecdotes from people who lived and worked at the time, and says, “One lady lived in a railway cottage 1300 feet up at the top of the incline. When the railway closed, she didn’t want to move. You only need to go up there to see why – it has a fantastic panoramic view.” And despite the remote location, she also spoke of a sense of community in the rows of cottages.

Geoff’s also noted Rosedale’s place in world history. He says, “I saw a TV programme about mining in Australia. The scale is colossal – Australia is being used as a continental mine for China. But in a way, it was the same in Rosedale. Although in comparison to today, the tonnages are different, in the 1860s and 70s, North Yorkshire was supplying 40% of the world’s ironstone – it was a big player in the world economy.”

Walkers on the Rosedale Railway

Walkers on the Rosedale Railway

Wayne says, “We keep getting new information, and people’s recollections. The railway closed in 1929, so people alive then have direct remembrances – we want to capture as many of them as we can.” They plan to archive these on a public website, as well as within their own collections.

Geoff says, “Another reason for making a website is that it gives access to people in places like Canda and Australia, who are connected by family or by profession. We’d love them to get in touch.”

Linda says, “Descendants find things in the attic, or they remember Grandad telling them about Rosedale, and we’re keen to collect their reminiscences.”


Both groups are keen to receive any information, reminscences, documents or photos relating to the history of their areas. They both hold regular meetings and events, and welcome new members.

Contact Rosedale History Society at: http://rosedale.ryedaleconnect.org.uk/2011/01/17/news/ email rosedalehistory@hotmail.co.uk, Tel 01751 417071

Contact KGBIG History Group at: http://www.kgbighistory.org.uk/ Tel 01642 712458

The joint website devoted to the history of the railway is: www.rosedalerailway.org

Grants from many organisations have helped them to publish a leaflet with a map of walks, and information about the history of the railway. This is available by post (Telephone 01751 417071/01642 712458 to check P&P rates), or from outlets including the North York Moors Centre in Danby, Beck Isle Museum in Pickering, Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole, and local public libraries

There is a display of Rosedale’s history at the White Horse Farm Inn, Rosedale Abbey, Tel 01751 417239, www.whitehorserosedale.co.uk, and the society will be at Rosedale Show, 10/11 Sept 2011.

A programme of joint walks with the North East Yorkshire Geology Trust is listed at:


About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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