Rosedale Railway, Rosedale, North York Moors

Rosedale Railway was used to carry ironstone from three hillside kilns to a single point at Blakey Junction. From there it was transported to blast furnaces in Teesside and County Durham.

Rosedale Railway trackbed near Blakey Junction

The railway was built by the famous Victorian navvies using basic tools such as picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. It was an enormous project carried out in appalling conditions.

It’s not known how many navvies were on site and little evidence of them remains apart from their construction work. They lived by the side of the railway in communal turf huts which were left to decay when the job was finished and they moved on. It was a brutal existence and navvies were widely regarded by Victorian society as dangerous and immoral.

View across the Rosedale valley

The first line across boggy moorland linked Blakey Junction and the ‘Bank Top Kilns’ on the west side of the valley in 1861. The second line connected the junction with the ‘Iron Kilns’ and the ‘Stone Kilns’ on the east side in 1865 and required colossal embankments and deep cuttings into the landscape.

Map excerpt from OS Explorer OL26

The trackbed of the railway still exists and the main access point is from the Castleton to Hutton-le-Hole road across Blakey Ridge near The Lion Inn. The disused line serves as a fantastic walking route around the upper rim of the Rosedale valley with superb views throughout.

Standard Ordnance Survey map of the North York Moors Western Area, reference OS Explorer OL26, scale 1:25,000.
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Reminders of Rosedale’s 19th-century industrial heritage are visible en-route to the ‘East Mines’. There’s a water tower used to top up engines that were working hard on the incline to Blakey Junction, and the remains of ‘Black Houses’ cottages painted in weatherproofing black tar.

Water tower used to top up engines
Water tower used to top up engines

Rosedale’s ironstone was in great demand but before it was sent to the blast furnaces it was roasted in giant kilns on site. The process removed impurities, enriched the iron content and reduced large lumps of ironstone to a suitable size for smelting. Discarding the waste also helped reduce the significant transportation costs.

The remains of Black Houses cottages

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The remains of Black Houses cottages

The surviving remains of the Iron Kilns consist of three compartments lined with firebricks and originally had huge iron fronts. This was a unique design although roasting or ‘calcining’ in this way was crude and wasteful. The Stone Kilns a few hundred metres to the south, with 16 arched chambers, was a more conventional building but eventually ironstone was processed more efficiently at the blast furnace locations.

The Iron Kilns
The Stone Kilns

The Bank Top Kilns on the opposite side of the valley have eight arches. Ironstone was tipped into them from laden tubs above. It was then mixed with coal and set alight. After calcining, workers used long, heavy, metal rakes to shift the searing hot stone into wagons on the lower line. It was gruelling work and one of the dirtiest and most unpleasant jobs on site.

The Bank Top Kilns

The ‘Sheriff’s Pit’ is on the valley’s west side between the Bank Top Kilns and Blakey Junction.

Early ironstone mines in Rosedale were drift mines where a horizontal mine shaft was driven into the seam from the valley side. Drift mining above Medd’s Farm in Thorgill started in 1857, with the ironstone taken out by horse and cart, but once the Rosedale Railway opened extraction moved up a gear.

The Sheriff’s Pit enclosed by a high fence

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An 82-metre shaft was sunk so that laden tubs could be hoisted directly up from the drift mine for weighing and off-loading into railway wagons. The mine was named after Alexander Clunes Sheriff of the Rosedale Mining Company.

Only two families lived in the Sheriff’s Pit area, in houses occupied by the mine manager and his deputy. The other miners travelled there every day across the moors on foot or by donkey, come rain or shine and often in the dark.

The Sheriff’s Pit enclosed by a high fence

The kiln remains and railway line are dramatic, but they only hint at the scale and breadth of the industry that once went on here for 60 years. By 1873 over 1600 tonnes a day of calcined ironstone was being transported away by rail.

One of several embankments built to carry the railway line

Even when mining and calcining came to an end work still continued. The massive waste heaps had a commercial value and another 230,000 tonnes of material was removed by rail from 1920 onwards. When the Rosedale Railway itself finally closed in 1929 the tracks and equipment were also salvaged and sold.

Railway cutting near Dale Head

Look at these walking guides

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Walking in the Yorkshire Dales. North and East Walks. Howgills, Mallerstang, Swaledale, Wensleydale, Coverdale and Nidderdale.
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Walking in the Yorkshire Dales. South and West Walks. Wharfedale, Littondale, Malhamdale, Dentdale and Ribblesdale.
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The North York Moors. 50 walks in the North York Moors National Park. Includes the Lyke Wake Walk.
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