Narrow gauge railways at Burton Fen, near Lincoln

The following is based on personal memories and research, and was initially published in the ‘Newsletter’ of the Lincolnshire Area of the Narrow Gauge Railway Society.

(After discussing the ironstone tramway at Greetwell and mentioning the brick pit lines down Long Leys Road, the time has come to move over the City boundary and visit Burton Fen).

The narrow gauge lines at Burton, and also at Nocton, are in my deepest early memories and can probably claim to have started me on the study of the narrow gauge. Much of what follows is based on personal observation, going back some sixty years. The ‘Lincoln Sand and Gravel Co. Ltd’, of Burton Fen, extracted material from a series of pits either side of Fen Lane (a.k.a Burton Lane), which runs from the A57 to Burton village. There were some seven pits, either side of the road, and also on both sides of the ‘drain’ known as ‘Main Drain’. There was a working and administration site on the left (north) side of Burton Lane, with at least one sand hopper and various admin buildings (this was the location of the ‘Registered Office’). This was, for a while, the site office for the ‘Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust ‘. The area is now used by a fishing syndicate. (As of January 2016).

The site office is marked on some 1/50,000 ‘OS’ maps at grid ref: SK 943740. This area was always surrounded to thick, overgrown hedges: I can never recall getting into this area (perhaps once?) which was probably fenced off even then. (There is now a locked gate). I am not aware of where track was on this side, but I have seen a 1/25,000 scale map which shows a ‘horse shoe’ shaped layout here.

My personal memories go back to the south side of the lane. A 2’0″ gauge track left the works site, passing through a thick hedge and crossed Burton Lane (aka Fen Lane) on the level, crossing ditches on either side of the road. (The ditches on the both sides are filled in [culverted] where I would suggest the line crossed it). Interestingly the tangle of hedges is less here and is ‘replaced’ by a single strand of wire. A visit on a sunny winters day provides a suitable lack of foliage and a low light.

Turning through 90° to the left the line ran through the undergrowth, parallel to, but some yards from Burton Lane until it reached the ‘Main Drain’. This was crossed on what seemed to me as a youngster a substantial girder bridge, but which may have only been two girders. The line then passed through a field, towards Burton Bridge, before making another right angled turn to pass along another drain and into the working area. Before Burton Bridge there was a ‘loop’. Whether this was used for passing trains, or was merely used as double-ended siding I know not: certainly it was used for wagon storage at weekends.

I have no idea as to the date that the gravel pits opened: I suspect it was in the 1920s or ’30s. (The IRS Handbook for Lincolnshire offers 1931 as an opening date). An examination of early Lincolnshire ‘directories’ in my collection makes no references to pits at the end of the Nineteenth century, nor do I know if the railway existed in a horse drawn format prior to the arrival of internal combustion locomotives.

The railway  operated two Ruston locomotives. The first was 170190 of 1934, of the ’16HP’ class and manufactured in the spring/summer of 1934. This locomotive had a ‘Lister 18/2′ engine of 16 (nominal) hp, and weighed 2 tons. Drive was to the axles via roller chains. (This early class numbered 56 locomotives and was only produced between 1932 and the first months of 1935: the Burton locomotive was manufactured at the Anchor Street Works.). The second locomotive on the site  was Ruston 191685 of 1938. This locomotive was of the numerous (188 built) ’16/20HP’ class and was one of a batch of ten built at Boultham Works in May-July 1938. A Ruston 2VSO engine delivered 20hp, again delivered to the axles by roller chains. The weight of the locomotive was 3 tons. (This class of locomotive later became ’13DL’). Rolling stock, as I remember it, was a collection of standard ‘V’ tip wagons.

A 13DL working on drainage work by the A576 in Lincoln: New Year 1967/8

I have no recollection of the track: I suspect it was of the standard ‘Jubilee’ type. I do recall that the points had weighted levers, rather than being of the ‘kick over’ type. (This brings up the intriguing question: did the railway operate with both engines ‘in fume’, and ‘cross’ trains at the loop?). Regrettably I have no recollection of the railway operating.

When did it close?  -The current IRS handbook suggests ‘about 1961’. The ‘London Gazette’ indicates that R H Cromarty of Nottingham was appointed Liquidator on 29th November, 1961. What is left is very little. I have not  been able to gain access to the  site, so I do not know what remains there but it is still possible to make out the gaps in the hedges (and filled in [culverted?] ditches) where the line left to cross Burton Lane. The rails are probably still there under the tarmac, left possibly to maintain a right of way. The bridge over the Main Drain has gone, with no trace remaining (I suspect that the drain has been widened and deepened). I am not aware of any other remains. This seems a good point to finish the ‘Burton’ story: the next issue will look at other narrow gauge (and two ‘s.g.’) industrial lines in the ‘West End’.

Visitors are asked to note that this area is occupied by a fishing syndicate, and much of it is not open to the public. The area is well fenced off with locked gates. I am not aware of any Public Rights of Way on the site.

Of possible interest – the wildlife side of the pits.

Maps courtesy

This Document and any illustrations (C) T J Hudson 27/11/2005 and later