Tour of the route of the Ashover Light Railway
The Clay Cross Company and their Ashover Light Railway
The Clay Cross Company was founded in 1837 by the famed railway engineer George Stephenson, who was then engaged by the North Midland Railway as engineer for their line from Derby to Leeds. He realised that the extensive coal deposits around Clay Cross would be easily exploitable by the soon to be opened railway. Joining him in the venture were partners of the contracting company, Peto, Brassey, Betts and Jackson; who were then engaged on the NMR.
By the turn of the century the company had expanded to become one of the region’s major employees, engaged in coal mining, coke production, limestone quarrying, pig iron, a foundry, pipes and brick making. Now controlled by the Jackson family, specifically General G M Jackson, further expansion of the company was envisaged by the purchase of the nearby Overton Hall Estate in 1919, for contained within its boundaries were two limestone quarries.
To transport the limestone from the quarries to the works at Clay Cross a railway was proposed and appointed engineer for this work was Colonel Holman Frederick Stephens of Tonbridge, Kent. How Colonel Stephens came to the attention of General Jackson, managing director of the Clay Cross Company is not known. It may have been through the Chesterfield solicitors, Davies, Sanders & Swanwick, or it may have been through both serving in the Territorial Army.
Although it had been intended to construct a standard gauge branch to the quarries Colonel Stephens advised General Jackson that a 2ft, narrow gauge, line could be provided for much less cost and this was the solution adopted. Construction commenced in September 1922 with all work undertaken by the Clay Cross Company. Engineers for the work were Stephens’ assistants, John Ashworth and Raymond Human. The ALR was completed in 1924 and opened on Tuesday, 7 April 1925; with public services commencing the following day.
Once the railway had opened Colonel Stephens involvement was ended but in 1927 he asked General Jackson if he could be retained as the engineer. NO payment was asked for, just the position. Not surprisingly General Jackson agreed and suggested Stephens make two visits a year and submit a report of his findings. For this a payment of £50 was suggested, which Stephens suggested was amended to £25 plus an equal amount for expenses, in order to minimise his income tax! Thereafter Stephens made two annual visits, usually early summer and early winter. He also advised General Jackson on other railway matters and the tone of their correspondence suggests the two were on good terms.
Colonel Stephens died in 1931 and from this date his assistants William Henry Austen or John Ashworth undertook the inspections of the ALR. The Second World War seems to have curtailed the visits and the last known correspondence between the two was in 1941.
The ALR continued to transport limestone from Butts and Fallgate Quarries until 1949, by which time both the railway and the quarries were in need of major investment. In consequence the Clay Cross Company asked British Railway, then the principal customer for the limestone, if they could be excused from tendering. This British Railways agreed to and the ALR and Butts Quarry closed as from 1950. Although the locomotives and rolling stock were scrapped and the track bed sold, Fallgate Quarry continued in use until quite recently.
Bob Gratton of the Ashover Light Railway Society explains the history of Pirelli Bridge
Note the capping stone bottom right of the photograph above - the same stone can be seen in two of the photographs below
Note the church in the photographs above and below
Bob Gratton our guide for the day
Site of Rainbows End café