The Fascinating History of Ironstone Mining Along the Rosedale Railway

Rosedale Railway Background and History

The Rosedale Railway in North Yorkshire played a significant role in the region’s ironstone mining industry during the 19th century. Spanning 19.5 miles, this goods-only railway line connected Battersby Junction to the remote Rosedale valley, where iron ore deposits were abundant. Originally opened as a narrow gauge railway to Ingleby Incline top in 1858, it was later converted to standard gauge and extended to Rosedale West in 1861. The railway ultimately closed in 1929. Today, the former trackbeds serve as popular walking and cycling routes, allowing visitors to explore the area’s rich industrial past.

Rosedale Railway trackbed near Dale Head.
Rosedale Railway trackbed near Dale Head

Connection to the Industrial Revolution

During the industrial revolution, the landscape of Rosedale underwent a dramatic transformation. The opening of the Whitby and Pickering Railway in 1835 marked the beginning of a century of rapid growth in ironstone mining in the region. As a result, pioneering railway construction took place, connecting the remote valleys of Rosedale to Teesside and the wider world. The calcining kilns at Rosedale Bank Top and Rosedale East were essential in processing the ironstone and making it more economically viable. The Rosedale Railway played a crucial role in transporting this valuable resource out of the North York Moors for iron and steel manufacturing, contributing to the industrial revolution’s progress.

Rosedale East.
Rosedale East

Construction and Development of Rosedale Railway

Initial Narrow Gauge Line and Ingleby Incline

In 1858, The Ingleby Ironstone & Freestone Mining Company built a narrow gauge line to connect existing mining operations with the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Railway at Battersby, then known as Ingleby Junction. To overcome the height difference between Battersby Railway Station and the moorland mining sites, a steep 1 in 5 incline was constructed at Ingleby. This innovative solution enabled trucks to be hauled up the slope to a height of 370 metres (1200 feet) above sea level using the weight of descending full wagons.

Expansion and Standard Gauge Conversion

Following the absorption of the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Railway into the North Eastern Railway (NER) in 1859, the NER decided to convert the line to standard gauge and extend it by 10 miles from the top of the incline to Rosedale West. This expansion, completed on 27 March 1861 at a cost of £24,500, facilitated access to additional ironstone mining operations in the area.

The Rosedale valley.
The Rosedale valley

Rosedale Railway East and West Branches

In response to the commencement of mining on the east side of Rosedale valley, an additional branch line was constructed, connecting Blakey Junction to the new mining sites. While the railway company initiated the project, the NER completed the line, which opened for traffic in August 1865. The branch to the east mines dropped consistently at a gradient of 1 in 50, following the hillside’s contours all the way from Blakey to Rosedale East.

The east side of Rosedale valley.
The east side of Rosedale valley

Rosedale Railway Operations and Production

Peak Production In 1873

Rosedale Railway reached its peak production in 1873, transporting an impressive 560,000 tons of ironstone from the mines. During this period, the railway played a crucial role in supporting the thriving iron ore trade in the region. Consequently, Rosedale became a significant player in the British iron industry, contributing to the nation’s industrial growth.

One of several embankments built to carry the Rosedale Railway.
One of several embankments built to carry the Rosedale Railway

Focus on Iron Ore Trade

Primarily, the Rosedale Railway concentrated on the iron ore trade, facilitating the transport of ironstone from the mines to the blast furnaces in the Teesside area. The railway’s existence was closely tied to the success of this trade, as it enabled the efficient extraction and distribution of ironstone from the Rosedale mines.

The remains of Black Houses cottages by the side of the Rosedale Railway.
The remains of Black Houses cottages by the side of the Rosedale Railway

Rosedale Railway Limited Passenger Services

Despite its primary focus on the iron ore trade, Rosedale Railway also offered limited passenger services. For instance, the railway accommodated miners travelling to and from the mines. However, passenger services remained scarce due to the railway’s main purpose and the sparse population in the surrounding areas.

The remains of Black Houses cottages by the side of the Rosedale Railway.
The remains of Black Houses cottages by the side of the Rosedale Railway

Signalling and Staff and Ticket System

To maintain safe operations, the Rosedale Railway implemented a signalling system, dividing the line into three single-line ‘Staff and Ticket’ sections. This system ensured that only one train was permitted on any section of the line at a time. The staff and ticket method played a crucial role in avoiding collisions and maintaining an orderly flow of traffic along the railway.

Engine Sheds and Locomotives

Two engine sheds were built to support the railway’s operations – one at Rosedale West and the other at Battersby Junction. The railway initially employed NER 1001 Class locomotives, which were eventually replaced by NER Class P. These steam engines were essential for hauling the ironstone-filled wagons up and down the steep gradients of the line.

Wagons used to carry the ironstone.
Wagons used to carry the ironstone

Rosedale Railway Ingleby Incline

Construction and Gradients

The Ingleby Incline, an integral part of the Rosedale Railway, was constructed to connect the Rosedale mines with the main railway network. This steep incline, with gradients reaching 1 in 5, was designed to efficiently transport ironstone from the mines to the blast furnaces. The incline’s impressive engineering made it a vital component of the railway system.

Drum Houses and Incline Operations

Incline operations were facilitated by two drum houses located at the top of the Ingleby Incline. These drum houses housed large winding drums that controlled the movement of wagons up and down the incline. To ensure smooth and safe operations, the wagons were attached to a wire rope that wound around the drums, allowing them to be carefully lowered or raised along the steep gradient.

Wartime Demolition

During World War II, the Ingleby Incline drum houses faced demolition, as they were targeted for their valuable metal content. The demolition process marked the end of an era for the Rosedale Railway, as the Ingleby Incline had been a significant part of the railway’s operations since its inception. Today, the remains of the drum houses serve as a reminder of the incline’s historical importance in the iron ore trade.

Metal and wooden wagons at Ingleby Incline.
Metal and wooden wagons at Ingleby Incline

Rosedale Blakey Junction

Importance in the Ironstone Industry

Blakey Junction played a crucial role in the Rosedale Railway’s operations, serving as the junction where the East and West branches converged. Its strategic location facilitated the efficient transportation of ironstone from Rosedale’s mines to blast furnaces. Consequently, Blakey Junction became an essential part of the ironstone industry during the railway’s peak years.

Transportation of Calcined Ironstone

One of the primary functions of Blakey Junction was the transportation of calcined ironstone, a process that involved heating the raw ironstone to remove impurities. Once the ironstone was calcined, it was loaded onto wagons at the junction and transported to blast furnaces for further processing. This efficient system greatly contributed to the success of the ironstone industry in the region.

Remnants of the Railway at Blakey Junction

Today, while the Rosedale Railway no longer operates, visitors can still find remnants of the railway at Blakey Junction. These remains, including earthworks, track beds, and disused buildings, serve as a testament to the area’s rich industrial heritage.

Calcine waste heaps alongside the Rosedale Railway.
Calcine waste heaps alongside the Rosedale Railway

The Navvies and Construction Challenges

Working Conditions and Societal Perceptions

Navvies, the labourers responsible for constructing the Rosedale Railway, faced challenging working conditions. They often worked long hours in harsh weather, with limited access to adequate shelter, food, and clean water. Despite their vital contribution to the railway’s construction, navvies were frequently stigmatised and marginalised by society due to their itinerant lifestyles and rough appearances.

Navvies outside a drift entrance.
Rosedale Railway navvies outside a drift entrance

Rosedale Railway Building Techniques and Tools

The construction of the Rosedale Railway relied on the navvies’ skills and the use of rudimentary building techniques and tools. Pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows were the primary tools employed for excavation and earth-moving tasks. The manual labour required for these tasks was intense, and the navvies’ perseverance and physical strength were essential in overcoming the challenges of constructing the railway.

Wooden mine tubs at a drift entrance.
Rosedale wooden mine tubs at a drift entrance

Living Conditions and Temporary Settlements

Navvies often lived in temporary settlements known as ‘huts’ or ‘shanties’ near the construction sites. These makeshift homes provided basic shelter but lacked proper sanitation facilities, resulting in poor living conditions. Despite the challenges, navvies formed close-knit communities, helping one another to cope with the hardships and maintain morale during the difficult construction period.

Rosedale Railway worker ‘Old Man’ Thompson.
Rosedale Railway worker ‘Old Man’ Thompson

Legacy and Remains of the Rosedale Railway

Walking and Cycling Routes

Today, the Rosedale Railway’s legacy lives on through various walking and cycling routes that follow the former railway lines. These pathways offer a unique opportunity for visitors to explore the stunning landscapes of the North York Moors while tracing the history of the once-bustling railway. The well-maintained routes are ideal for a leisurely stroll or an invigorating bike ride.

For enthusiasts keen to delve deeper into the Rosedale Railway’s rich tapestry, I’ve crafted two walks that offer a more personalised exploration. The first, a comprehensive 12-mile adventure, takes you anti-clockwise around the railway, with a special detour through the picturesque village of Rosedale Abbey. This journey is detailed at, guiding you through some of the most breathtaking vistas the moors have to offer.

Meanwhile, for those looking for a slightly shorter excursion, a 9-mile circuit provides a clockwise route that captures the railway’s major highlights. Information on this walk can be found at Both routes have been designed to allow you to immerse yourself in the Rosedale Railway’s captivating blend of natural beauty and historical intrigue at your own pace, serving as your personal gateway into the heart of the North York Moors.

Water tower by the side of the Rosedale Railway.
Water tower by the side of the Rosedale Railway

Rosedale Railway Industrial Heritage Sites

Along the walking and cycling routes, several industrial heritage sites can be found. Remnants of the infrastructure, such as the calcining kilns, provide a fascinating insight into the region’s rich industrial past.

Water tower by the side of the Rosedale Railway.
Water tower by the side of the Rosedale Railway

The Key Features of the Rosedale Railway

Importance of the Rosedale Railway in the Ironstone Industry

The Rosedale Railway played a crucial role in the ironstone industry during the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a vital transport link, it connected the remote mines and kilns of the Rosedale valley to the industrial centres of Teesside and County Durham. These mines and other key features of the Rosedale Railway can still be seen today.

Rosedale Railway key features.
Rosedale Railway key features

Rosedale Iron Kilns

Background and History

The Rosedale Iron Kilns, also known as the North Kilns, stand as towering remnants of the once-thriving ironstone industry in Rosedale. Constructed during the latter half of the 19th century, they operated until the 1920s, playing a significant role in ironstone calcination before transportation to Teesside and beyond for iron and steel production.

Information board near the North Kilns.
Information board near the Rosedale Railway North Kilns

Unique Design and Calcining Process

These imposing structures featured a unique design with three compartments lined with firebricks and originally fitted with massive iron fronts. The calcining process in Rosedale was relatively crude and wasteful, but it served its purpose during the industry’s heyday.

Rosedale Iron Kilns.
Rosedale Iron Kilns

Kiln Remains and Surrounding Area

Today, the surviving remains of the Iron Kilns include the three enormous compartments and the striking red calcine waste heaps on the hill’s slopes. The landscape, though transformed, still provides a hint of the scale and breadth of the industry that once thrived in the area.

Cast iron model of the Rosedale Iron Kilns.
Cast iron model of the Rosedale Iron Kilns

The 4-mile Rosedale Railway Walk from The Lion Inn

For those interested in exploring the Rosedale Iron Kilns, a superb 4-mile walk starts from The Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. This route follows the old disused railway line, which tracks the upper rim of the Rosedale valley, offering an excellent opportunity to delve into the area’s industrial heritage.

Rosedale Iron Kilns.
Rosedale Iron Kilns

Rosedale Stone Kilns

Overview and Location

The Rosedale Stone Kilns, the larger second set of kilns in the area, are situated in a curving stretch of the railway on the east side of the valley and command a grand view over Rosedale. These kilns served as crucial components of the local ironstone industry during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Rosedale Stone Kilns.
Rosedale Stone Kilns

Magnificent 16 Arches

Featuring a stunning array of 16 arches, the Rosedale Stone Kilns, during their peak, operated non-stop, processing massive quantities of ironstone mined from Rosedale.

Rosedale Stone Kilns.
Rosedale Stone Kilns

Role in Ironstone Processing

The primary function of the Stone Kilns was to calcine (roast) the ironstone before it was transported away. Over 10 million tonnes of ironstone passed through these kilns before the railway and mines closed in 1926.

Rosedale Railway graphic.
Rosedale Railway graphic

Evolution of Ironstone Processing

Although the Stone Kilns featured a more conventional design, the ironstone processing methods eventually evolved, leading to more efficient calcination at blast furnace locations. This shift marked a transition in the industry, ultimately contributing to the decline of the Rosedale Railway and its associated kilns.

Rosedale Railway mine workings.
Rosedale Railway mine workings

Rosedale Bank Top

Mining and Processing Hub

Rosedale Bank Top, located high on the moor above Rosedale Abbey, was a central point for the ironstone mining and processing industry during the Victorian era. This area experienced an ‘iron rush’, transforming the landscape dramatically and establishing Bank Top as a vital hub in the industry.

Rosedale Bank Top Kilns.
Rosedale Bank Top Kilns

Inclined Tramway and Hollins Mines

Mining commenced in 1856, with ironstone extracted from the nearby Hollins Mines. A steam winding engine hauled the ironstone up an inclined tramway to Bank Top. This innovative system allowed for the transportation of more than 300,000 tonnes of ore each year.

Bank Top Kilns and Processing

The ore arriving at Bank Top underwent processing in giant kilns. Following this, the moorland railway carried the processed ironstone to blast furnaces in County Durham and Teesside. Bank Top also housed coal depots, railway workers’ cottages, and an engine shed.

Calcine waste heaps in Rosedale.
Calcine waste heaps in Rosedale

Stunning Views across the Rosedale Valley

Despite its industrial past, Rosedale Bank Top now offers visitors breathtaking views across the valley. The remnants of the calcining kilns and inclines remain as a testament to the site’s historical significance, while the surrounding natural beauty highlights the resilience of the landscape.

Stunning view across the Rosedale valley.
Stunning view across the Rosedale valley

Rosedale Railway Sheriff’s Pit

Drift Mine Origins

The history of Rosedale Sheriff’s Pit began in 1857 as a drift mine, a horizontal mine shaft driven into the ironstone seam from the valley side. Initially, the ironstone was extracted and transported by horse and cart.

The Sheriff’s Pit enclosed by a high fence.
The Sheriff’s Pit enclosed by a high fence

Reopening as an Ironstone Mine Shaft

In 1875, after being closed for a period, Sheriff’s Pit reopened as an ironstone mine shaft. The development of the Rosedale Railway provided new opportunities for the site, allowing for improved transportation and access to the valuable ironstone resources.

The Sheriff’s Pit enclosed by a high fence.
Rosedale Railway trackbed by the side of Sheriff’s Pit

Connection to the Rosedale Railway

The Rosedale Railway played a crucial role in the revival of Sheriff’s Pit. The railway enabled the efficient transport of ironstone mined from the seam, increasing productivity and profitability for the mine.

Rosedale Railway trackbed near Blakey Junction.
Rosedale Railway trackbed near Blakey Junction

Remnants of the Mine and Manager’s House

Today, the physical remains of Sheriff’s Pit include the fenced-off mine shaft and a single surviving corner of the former mine manager’s house. These remnants are situated adjacent to the Rosedale Railway walkway.

Mine workings.
Rosedale Railway workings

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