Sandford Quarry Branch
Off the Yatton to Witham line - junction at Banwell
Off the Yatton to Witham line - junction at Banwell
Sandford Quarry 1965
This limestone quarry, in the western face of an outlier of the Mendip Hills, was in operation from the middle of the 19th century until it closed in the 1990s. It was sited in the hillside above and about half-a-mile south-east of Sandford & Banwell Station on the Cheddar Valley line, which was opened on 3 August 1869. However, it was not until c.1904 that a standard-gauge single line was laid to allow quarried stone to be transported by rail. This began in the station goods yard and then climbed on a steady incline through a gate, beyond which the line gained a loop to form exchange sidings. Here, stone in loaded wagons that had been run down from the quarry under gravity was offloaded onto GWR wagons behind a GWR locomotive, for onward carriage. They were then hauled back empty up to the quarry by horses, over the remaining section of the line that turned sharply to the east and climbed further, crossing the Sandford-Winscombe road and entering the quarry where it terminated in a fan of sidings. The initial driver for this rail connection would seem to have been the quarry’s success in winning a large order to supply building stone for the new Royal Edward Dock in Avonmouth. Subsequently, a Private Siding Agreement between the quarry owners and the GWR in 1915 resulted in the quarry acquiring its own locomotive power to haul its wagons to and from the exchange sidings. A standard-gauge engine shed was located on a short siding on the west side of the public road across from the quarry itself.
Within the quarry a small network of 2-foot gauge tracks was laid to carry stone extracted as the worked faces gradually extended further back into the hillside. From its wagons, quarried stone would be transferred into the standard-gauge wagons, either as building stone or after it had been through a stone-crushing plant sited immediately to the south of the fan of standard-gauge sidings. The narrow-gauge system (which had also adopted locomotive power) finally closed in 1940.
The quarry continued to use rail transport to carry its stone until this section of the Cheddar Valley line was finally closed on 30 September 1964, a little more than a year after the end of passenger services. By then it was mostly crushed stone, used as roadstone or railway ballast, and as aggregate in concrete. I was told by a quarry worker on one of my visits that up to 1,000 tons of stone a week had once been carried out by rail, a figure that seemed hard to believe until some years ago I bought a copy of an excellent book of local history and personal reminiscences compiled by Peter Knight, ‘A Parish and the Railway: Winscombe and Sandford before, during and after the Railway’ (Electra Publishing, Cheddar, 2000). This included on pages 221-222 a table of traffic and receipts from Sandford & Banwell Station in the period 1903-1963. While not all years were reported, under ‘Stone out’ the highest ever total was 84,798 tons in 1923 – by far the predominant bulk of goods traffic from this station. This dropped sharply and steadily over the next two decades, only to rise again from 1943, to peak at 44,639 tons in 1948, and later 16,479 tons in 1959. Regrettably this was the only available annual figure for the period after 1950, but from the statistics it is clear that the line had contributed to the quarry’s successful operation, and – in one year at least – had indeed carried, on average, more than 1,000 tons of stone a week.
I made three closely-spaced visits, on 13 and 25 March and 22 April 1965. This was while the disused Cheddar Valley line track was being lifted on the section between Cheddar and Yatton, along with the incline track into the quarry, so in some of my photos you will see track, and in others not.
The quarry and its railway link are described and illustrated in three books. In ‘Steaming through the Cheddar Valley’ by Derek Phillips (Oxford Publishing, 2001), page 173 lists six standard-gauge and four narrow-gauge locos that worked in the quarry at various times, while page 174 reprints an Ordnance Survey map showing the railway layout of the area including the station and the quarry, with both its gauges of track detailed. ‘The East Somerset and Cheddar Valley Railways’ by Richard Harman (Lightmoor Press, 2009) describes and illustrates the quarry on pages 173-177, with a simplified redrawn version of the 1915 OS plan on page 175. And Peter Knight’s ‘A Parish and the Railway’ (cited above) has much on the quarry and its railways, including first-hand recollections from local folk who had experienced them when in operation.
These pictures which are all the copyright of Michael Bussell are numbered with odd numbers on the left. To obtain an enlargement please click on the relevant photograph. A descriptive text can be found at the foot of this collection.
The quarry seen from Sandford & Banwell Station.
A view up the incline leading to the quarry, shortly after the track had been lifted. The standard-gauge engine shed is visible on the left of the incline head.
The entrance to the quarry, with some standard-gauge track still in place. Roads Reconstruction Ltd acquired the quarry between the wars.
Looking down on the stone-crushing plant at work, with the quarry entrance and engine shed to be seen beyond the cloud of stone dust.
5) Lime Kiln
Three lime kilns within the quarry, long disused at the time of my visits. In these, crushed limestone (calcium carbonate) mixed with coal would be ‘burnt’, liberating carbon dioxide and water vapour to leave unpleasantly caustic calcium oxide or ‘quicklime’. This was then ‘slaked’ with water in a vigorous reaction, which resulted in a slaked lime slurry that was used as agricultural fertiliser or in mortar, render, or plaster.
The former engine shed, now unoccupied. I was told during a visit that the last standard-gauge quarry loco, a four-wheeled vertical-boiler Sentinel, had been taken out of the shed in the previous year, 1964, and had run down the incline on its way to work in a quarry in Frome.
A closer view of the engine shed, built of concrete blockwork and corrugated iron, with double timber doors.
The engine shed’s ‘north face’ and some inevitable debris.
9) NG Hopper Body
A narrow-gauge tipper wagon body dumped in the quarry, still there 25 years after the 2-foot line had ceased use.
10) SG Track
Detail of standard-gauge track on the incline. A steel strap has been secured to keep the rails to gauge, alongside a somewhat decrepit timber sleeper which might no longer serve that purpose.
Looking down the incline towards Sandford & Banwell Station on 25 March 1965, with track still present.
12) Quarry Line lifted 220465
Looking through the gate and up the incline just four weeks later on 22 April. Both the Cheddar Valley line and the incline track have now been lifted.