North East Branch

2012 RCTS North East Branch Visit to Cleveland Ironstone Railways

This year’s annual outdoor visit of the North East Branch took place on Sunday 8 July, fortunately a dry day in this dismal wet summer. Ten members and guests met at Stokesley High Street before leaving in three cars for a tour of the sites of just some of the many narrow and standard gauge railways which carried iron ore from the mines on the Cleveland Hills to the iron and steel works on Teesside.

The first stop was outside Guisborough Cemetery, where the track bed of the Tocketts branch could be traced along the field in front of Howlbeck Farm. Then on to New Marske where there once existed an extensive system of sidings serving Upleatham mine. From here a narrow gauge railway took the ore down to the North Eastern Railway near Redcar, initially at Coatham and later to Longbeck, following the extension of the Redcar branch to Saltburn. Although the track bed of the line still exists as a walkway, little is left of the sidings.

A slight drizzle on the way to Black’s Bridge at Longbeck fortunately petered out. It was difficult to imagine that this was the site of not only the junction of the Upleatham branch, but also of a narrow gauge line serving the long gone Marske Aerodrome. No trace of either remains, although memories of the latter can be found in the road names - such as Barnes Wallis Way and Avro Close - in the new homes built partly over the airfield site.

We paused to see the Redcar Early Warning Station for enemy aircraft; a sound mirror built in 1916 by the Royal Engineers, and fortunately well preserved despite being on the edge of a new housing estate. The embankment of the narrow gauge trackbed could be seen behind the structure, and traces of the route were identified from the road and skirting the boundary of Redcar Racecourse. We then made a brief stop to see the blue plaque denoting the site of the original Redcar Station (a terminus) and ‘admired’ the nearly completed Redcar Vertical Pier, actually a short tower with visitor centre on the promenade. The local residence mostly favoured re-building a real pier out to sea which, if constructed, would be the most northerly in Britain. Currently this accolade is held by the one at Saltburn-by-the-sea just four miles to the south-east.

   The Redcar Early Warning Station, actually a sound mirror built in 1918 by the Royal Engineers to detect approaching enemy aircraft during WWI. The raised ground behind the structure is the remains of the embankment that used to carry the track bed of the narrow gauge Upleatham Mine branch.   Barry Burns
   The plaque giving details of the sound mirror.   Barry Burns

Arriving next at Kirkleatham, nothing could be discerned of the former track bed which carried calcined ore from the Kirkleatham (Dunsdale) mine to the works at Redcar or Coatham. It apparently passed under the original A174 road, since re-aligned and developed to serve the nearby Wilton Industrial site.

Eston mine, the largest and most productive of the Cleveland mines, was opened in 1850 and for almost a hundred years provided over 163 million tons of ironstone for the Teesside furnaces. The story has been well documented in the 2004 DVD A Century in Stone by Craig Hornby, which can be thoroughly recommended. Three inclines brought the ore down the hillsides to a common base at California, named in true Gold Rush style following the discovery of the iron deposits at Eston. From here the ore was sent via the branch line to the works at Grangetown. Two of the inclines now serve as footpaths, as does the trackbed from here to where it crossed the current B1380 road and where the extensive sidings were situated.

   The flowerbed and commemorative plaques at California, Eston. This was the point at which the three inclines bringing the iron ore down the hillsides met. Two of the inclines are now walkways, as is the track bed of the short line carrying the ore to the sidings near the current B1380 road.   Barry Burns
   Dedication and tribute with words by Jim Barry   Barry Burns

We proceeded south along Flatts Lane, stopping at the site of the junction of the former Cleveland Railway (to Guisborough) with the branch to Eston station. The routes could be readily identified although none of the infrastructure remains. Both the Normanby and Ormesby mines were served by this railway from 1861, which transported the ore to the Clarence and Cargo Fleet works respectively. All remains near here were obliterated when the area was developed to form the Flatts Lane Woodland Country Park.

The embankment of the Cleveland Railway can be clearly picked out just to the north of the A174 dual carriageway on the way to Guisborough. It was here that our party enjoyed an economic but very good Sunday roast lunch and beer at the Tap and Spile pub in Westgate.

The Chaloner pit, situated close to Wilton Lane between Guisborough and Wilton village was initially served by a two mile branch to the Middlesbrough and Guisborough line at Chaloner Junction just west of Pinchinthorpe station. This building is now a private dwelling but the trackbed is a popular walkway and the remains of the Chaloner Junction signal box is now a store for the nearby visitor centre. The track of the branch is easily recognisable from the Poplar Farm to A174 footpath, near to Scugdale Close. From 1897 however, stone from Chaloner was taken by a narrow gauge railway to California at Eston, worked in stages by three stationary electric engines.

   The remains of the track bed of the Chaloner branch serving the Chaloner mine near Wilton Lane. This section looking east is where the line crossed Scugdale Close to the north of Guisborough.   Barry Burns
   The lower section of the former Chaloner Junction signal box. This was situated south of the Middlesbrough and Guisborough branch line at the junction of the line to Chaloner pit. It is now in use as a store for the nearby visitor centre of this now popular walkway.   Barry Burns

The Cleveland Railway originally passed over Guisborough on three wooden viaducts, but they were blown down by gales in 1881. Around this time all traffic was using the more direct Middlesbrough & Guisborough line through Nunthorpe to Middlesbrough, and the Cleveland Railway was cut back to Flatts Lane. Our next stop was to see the embankment of the short Belmont branch which left the ‘main’ line to serve the mine near the present Hunter Hill Farm. Guisborough station was situated on a spur from the main line from its junction near to the present Enfield Chase road. We were able to walk the trackbed behind the Sainsbury store to where it crossed the former Cleveland Railway which here was on a high embankment leading to the viaducts. The thick undergrowth present on our visit suggests a return in winter may be worthwhile.

On our way to the site of North Skelton mine we paused to see the low embankment of the narrow gauge line serving Waterfall mine from its sidings on the Skelton mine branch line at Slapewath. It crossed the Waterfall Beck on a high bridge in a wooded area – another reason for a winter visit! North Skelton pit was the deepest in Cleveland and was situated south-west of the town near Park House. We were given permission to walk around the site, but to avoid entering the extensive buildings which, although largely intact, are in a poor state of repair. The course of the railway could be clearly identified, heading in a south-westerly direction towards Slapewath. This was the last of the Cleveland mines to close, on 17 January 1964.

   The remains of the Slapewath Junction signal box, on the Guisborough to Boosbeck and Brotton line. Nine members and guests of the North East branch pose for the camera of Barry Burns, the tenth member of the party. The footpath is the track bed of the former line.   Barry Burns
Driving via Boosbeck our final stop of the day was to the trackbed of the Slapewath to Brotton line, now the ‘Cleveland Street’ walkway. A short stroll brought us to the remains of Slapewath Junction signal box where the traditional group photograph was taken. Nearby was the site of Carrs Tilery, where several kilns were still identifiable, surrounded by neatly arranged piles of drainage tiles – presumably left since the works closed many decades ago?

Three short branches left the line here, serving Slapewath, Aysdalegate and Stanghow (Margrove Park) mines respectively (east to west). Traces of the trackbeds could be seen around the Charltons and Margrove Park area.

So ended a fascinating tour around just part of the extensive ironstone and associated railways of East Cleveland. Our thanks go to Jim Sedgwick and Margaret Fraser for researching our visit, not only at the archives but also at the actual sites.

last updated: 24/08/12