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Original article reasearched and written by Greg Evans, transcribed by Helen Smith

The History of Ironstone Mining
around Burton Latimer

Workers at Burton Ironstone Company c.1920 Ironstone workers at an unidentified location near Burton Latimer Workers outside the office of Lloyds Ironstone Company in Polwell Lane

The town of Burton Latimer , some 4 miles south of Kettering, Northamptonshire, lies on the Northampton sand ironstone bed, an oolitic ironstone from the Jurassic period, running from the vicinity of Lincoln in the north to Towcester in the south. 

Ironstone has been worked in our county from very early times but it was The Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park, London in 1851 where samples of iron ore from the estate of Colonel (later General) Charles Arbuthnot, Woodford House, were exhibited, which gave rise to the mass exploitation of Northamptonshire ironstone.  The opening of the main line railway, running through Kettering en route from Leicester to Hitchin, on 8th May 1857, and the branch railway from Kettering to Huntingdon, opened on 1st March 1866, provided the impetus for quarrying ironstone on a grand scale as it could now be transported away to centres of iron production.

Map showing the location of various ironstone mining operations around Burton Latimer
Plan courtesy of Mr Norman Bellamy & Greg Evans - Key below
Cranford Ironstone Company 1889-1897
controlled by Staveley Coal & Iron Company
Lloyds Ironstone Company Ltd, Corby
Burton Ironstone Company 1892-1921
controlled by Staveley Coal & Iron Company from 1896
James Wells 1870 (the only evidence is from loading figures for Burton Station)
Glendon Iron Company 1866-1891
ore sent to Finedon Furnaces
Charles Barlow, Burton Latimer c.1900-1929
Limestone & Ironstone Merchant
Thomas Butlin & Company
ore sent to Wellingborough Furnaces 1883-1892
Richard Thomas & Company 1939-1946
Furnaces at Ebbw Vale & Scunthorpe

To see a detailed map of the Burton Ironstone Co Tramways & Quarries, click here

The early iron ore workings in Burton Latimer parish still pose many questions.  The first exploiter of our iron ore in the industrial age seems to have been The Glendon Iron Ore Company, who had blast furnaces at Finedon producing pig iron from 1866.  The Glendon Iron Ore Company quarries at Burton were a rectangular block of land immediately to the east of Cranford Road , just north of the present day Bird Street and an area to the east of Kettering Road , this working towards the Kettering-Huntingdon railway line by 1886.  These quarries are said to have been worked from 1872 onwards. 

Finedon Furnaces were closed down in 1891.  Haulage of the ore, from the Cranford Road quarry at least, seems to have been undertaken by steam traction engines, towing carts loaded up with ore and these, it seems from newspaper reports of the day, were very adept at chewing up the local roads en route to Finedon Furnaces.

In the mid 1870’s James Wells was on the scene at Burton Latimer.  Nothing is known of this operation.  His quarries were possibly two areas shown on geological plans as in the vicinity of the present day Whitney Road and another area west of today’s Bridle Road .  It is thought the ore was taken by horse and cart to Isham and Burton Latimer station for onward transit.  Harrods Royal County Directory for 1876 shows a Wansford iron ore company as having ‘iron ore mines’ in the parish but no details are known.

Next to arrive in the quest for iron ore was the well known ironmaster Thomas Butlin, whose blast furnaces at Wellingborough (but in Irthlingborough parish) were put into blast in 1867.  Butlin’s operations are also shrouded in the mists of the past, but the areas worked by him seem to have been immediately south of the Kettering-Huntingdon railway, west of ‘Black Bridge’ on Cranford Road and another quarry to the east of Cranford Road, beyond Windmill Cottages.  These quarries were being worked in the 1880s. From 1883 to around 1891, Butlin was working south of the railway, just off Polwell Lane , towards Barton Seagrave.  Methods of working by Butlin are unknown but probably tramways were used to connect the quarries with the Kettering-Huntingdon railway. 

Ironstone workers at an unidentified location near Burton Latimer, probably around 1890.

The photo gives a good idea of the reality of the working conditons in the early days of ironstone mining in the area.

Ironstone workers at an unidentified location near Burton Latimer

From around 1889 to 1897 workings by the Cranford Ironstone Company entered Burton parish, adjoining the Butlin Quarry to the east of Windmill Cottages. This quarry was worked with a metre gauge tramway with steam locomotives as the motive power, though possibly there was some use of horses here to pull the wooden iron ore wagons.

In 1891 The Burton Ironstone Company was formed.  This was to become the largest and longest-lived ironstone business in Burton Latimer and the most well documented.  Just who was the prime mover in the company is unknown.  At the commencement of quarrying WG Woodcock was the first Company Secretary, production commencing in 1892 from three faces near to the headquarters of the system which was close to Windmill Cottages to the east of Cranford Road

Haulage of the ore was by steam locomotive, running on 3’ 0” gauge track initially running to a tipping dock on the Kettering-Huntingdon branch line east of Black Bridge .  By the late 1890’s Burton Ironstone Company’s workings had spread to south of the area worked by Glendon Iron Ore Company in the 1870’s and in 1896 the company became associated with the all-powerful Staveley Coal & Iron Company, whose blast furnaces were at Staveley, North Derbyshire.  The work at all these quarries was purely manual, using picks, shovels and barrows running on planks over the quarry to move the overburden.  The strata covering the ironstone in Burton parish varied from outcrop to around 25 feet.  Doubtless sturdy men worked on the ironstone. 

Click on the Play symbol below to hear Polly Underwood talk about the pits and the planks

(You may need to download the Quicktime Player for this and other sound clips)

Finedon End Pit c.1905
Before the widespread use of mechanical diggers, ore was extracted by the
"plank and barrow" method, as shown here in a photo which is probably of the
Finedon End Pit in about 1905

(below) Burton Pit c.1905

[Photos courtesy of Mr H A King]

Burton Ironstone Quarries - plank and barrow method for carrying ore
Burton Ironstone Quarries - plank and barrow method for carrying ore
Burton Ironstone Co. quarries, thought to be north-east of Wold Road c.1905

[Photo courtesy of H A King]

An alarming incident occurred at Burton Ironstone Company during January 1899.  The locomotive shed near to Windmill Cottages was destroyed by fire – two ‘nearly new’ locomotives were ‘much damaged’.  It was thought probable that 100 of the men employed by the company would be out of work for a while as a result.  The locos would have been ‘Woodcock’ - new in 1892 and ‘Banshee’ - new in 1894.

Workers and locomotive
Burton Ironstone Company workers and their locomotives

[Photos courtesy of Mrs Patricia Wittering]

Workers and locomotive

In 1903 work started on two new quarrying areas, namely south of Wold Road .  The tramway passed under the lane by means of a brick arch.  Immediately south of Wold Road was Osbourne's pit, worked from 1903 – 1914.  Further in the direction of Finedon, across the stream, was Finedon End or Wilderness Pit, working from 1904 – 1921. 

Click on the Play symbol below to hear Polly Underwood talk about the sort of work her father did

In 1903 also work started in two quarries to the west of Cranford Road , where a brick bridge was built also to enable the tramway to pass under.  Jackdaw Pit was worked from 1903 – 1921 and Cuckoo Pit from 1904 – 1921.  Just north of these two quarries were situated the Calcine Banks.  Calcining was practised at many local quarries: raw ironstone being burnt with slack coal.  This reduced the moisture and carbon dioxide content in the ore, thus raising the iron content slightly.  It also produced copious amounts of red dust!  The calcined ore was re-loaded into 3’ 0” gauge tramway wagons when burnt, for tipping into main line railway wagons at a new tipping dock west of Black Bridge .  Loading this calcine was a dusty, filthy job all done by men armed with shovels.  A "cally filler" finished work each day looking like a coal miner, the only difference being that he was red instead of black.  Tom Bird was the manager of Burton Ironstone Company for many years.  The under manager was Frank Billing who came from the Duston quarries upon their closure in 1908.  Ore from Burton Ironstone Company was mainly consigned to furnaces in Derbyshire, but it is said some was also sent to Wellingborough.  Burton quarries fell victim to the post-World War I recession and ceased work on 4 February 1921.

Workers at Burton Ironstone Company c.1920
Burton Ironstone Company c.1920

"Handyman" loco, built 1900, went to Cranford quarries in 1921 when Burton Latimer closed.

The men in the photo are Arthur Hodson (Blacksmith), possiblyTom Basford (pit foreman) and Derrican? Loakes and Bert Eady (shunter)

To carry on with our history we must return to 1900 when on the east side of Polwell Lane, Isham Ironstone Company opened its ‘Isham’ quarry around that time, with a standard gauge railway connection to sidings north of Isham and Burton Latimer station - hence the name of the quarry.  Isham Ironstone Company was a subsidiary of Lloyds Ironstone Company of Corby and with the vast amount of ironstone around Corby, one wonders why their attention was turned to Burton .  The ‘Isham’ quarry worked to around 1910.  The ore is known to have been sent to the Wellingborough Iron Company, Round Oak in the Black Country and Renishaw furnaces in North Derbyshire .  Horses were used initially to haul the ore wagons with possibly steam locomotive haulage from 1902.  Not a great amount of ore was obtained from here -the output for the half year to 5th May 1909 was 16,707 tons, for example.

Ironstone workers at the gates of the works in Polwell Lane.

They are outside the company office (now "Arcadia" bungalow)

Workers outside the office of Lloyds Ironstone Company in Polwell Lane

Entering Burton parish at its southern extremity were the ironstone workings of Charles Barlow, a prominent local businessman, who lived in The Yews, Kettering Road , Burton Latimer.  His quarries were mostly in Finedon parish, but the workings which extended into Burton parish were to the east of Barnfield Farm, off Finedon Road .  Barlow used a 1’ 11½” gauge tramway worked by three steam locomotives to take the ore to calcining banks/tipping dock at Mill Lane , Finedon.  Barlow’s quarries were working from around 1900 to 1929.  The workings in Burton parish probably date back to the early 1900’s.

Jack Capps, seen here on the left, was described as "Roperunner Barlows Pits" in the 1921 census.

Jack is also seen on the left of the other torn photograph.

Around 1925 the ‘Isham’ quarry off Polwell Lane was re-opened by Thos E Gray for the extraction of siliceous clay, this being blended with sand and other materials to make silacene, used for lining ladles and furnaces.  The quarry, again using a standard gauge railway, worked east from the old Isham face and eventually a mill was constructed west of Polwell Lane to handle the output from the quarry.  From 1937 a narrow gauge (2’ 0”) rail line was introduced in the pit.  Ironstone was still worked here from time to time, in particular during World War II.  For example, during 1941, some 758 tons of ironstone were produced, most of this is said to have been forwarded to Scunthorpe .  Click here to read about a fire at the firm's garage in 1957. Work carried on here until May 1982 when a decline in demand for Grays’ products, mainly used in foundries, brought about its closure.

Photo Round-up at Thomas Gray's
Gray's Works - sidings beside main laine
Gray's Works - sidings beside main laine
(left) in the sidings alongside the main lines near Burton Station (right) further back up the line,
towards Polwell Lane. Driver Joe Randall worked for Grays for about 25 years from 1952
In this 1967 scene, locomotive "Belvedere"
propels loaded wagons of ganister from the
quarry east of Polwell Lane to the works on
the west side, and is here approaching the
tunnel under the road.

The line was originally built for the Lloyds
Ironstone Company.

Gray's Works - approaching the tunnel under Polwell Lane
By the time this photo was taken in
1978, this scene had become unique on
the British railway system - narrow gauge
wagons tip their contents into standard
gauge trucks via a loading dock.
Gray's Works - tipping fromnarrow gauge trucks

At Finedon, the Richard Thomas & Co Buccleuch quarry, worked from 1939 to 1946, pushed into Burton parish at the quarry’s northern extremity beyond Black Lodge.  This was worked using a standard gauge railway with three steam locomotives.  A huge Ransomes and Rapier 5360 type electric shovel was used to remove the overburden.  The workings here were really an extension eastwards of Barlow’s former quarries.

The final ironstone extraction in Burton parish was from the underground ironstone mine of Richard Thomas & Baldwins, Irthlingborough.  These workings penetrated beneath fields north of Poplar Lodge to the east of the A6 main road, from the late 1950’s up to the closure of the mine on 30th September 1965. Click here to see a map of the underground workings

Today there are few reminders of Burton ’s quarrying past.  The Burton ironstone Company’s ‘new’ loco shed survives, now in the premises of Barton Plant, Cranford Road .  Some of the 3’ 0” gauge rail cuttings are still in situ to the east of Cranford Road .  East of Kettering Road the Glendon Iron Ore Company’s working of the 1880’s terminates in a bushy gullet alongside the bustle of the A14.  Along Polwell Lane , Lloyds’ office remains as a private dwelling with the east bridge parapet also remaining in the shadow of the huge Morrisons’ development.  A more lasting reminder is still provided with the Bird Street and Woodcock Street housing, built for Burton Ironstone Company and maintaining a link with those men of iron.

Greg Evans, October 2005

Click on the Play symbol below to hear Polly Underwood talk about the workers and her father

Quarrymen at Burton Latimer
A group of quarrymen, possibly outside Burton Ironstone Company's original loco shed off Cranford Road, which was destroyed by fire in January 1899.

[Photo courtesy of Mrs Patricia Wittering]

Sources of Information:

Northampton Sand Ironstone,  HMSO 1951

Industrial Railway Record, Industrial Railway Society, 118, September 1989

Ironstone Quarries of The Midlands, part 5, The Kettering Area, the late ES Tonks, 1991

British Steel plc, East Midlands Regional Records Centre, Irthlingborough (now closed)

British Steel plc (now Corus) Regional Property Office, Corby

Burton Latimer Heritage Society – thanks to Mr J Meads

Mr AJ Pack – former surveyor to Richard, Thomas & Baldwins Ltd

Mr NG Bellamy, former surveyor to British Steel Corporation, Tubes Division, Minerals

My grateful thanks to all the above.

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