Greetwell Ironstone Quarries & Mines: a short history. (Mid-Lincolnshire Ironstone Co. & Lincoln Stone Quarries Co.)

Abstracted in part from the work of Eric Tonks with Admiration & Thanks.

A map of the system

The Oolitic Cliff is a very prominent feature of the Mid-Lincolnshire landscape, extending for many miles in a generally south to north direction from the vicinity of Grantham almost to the Humber, and from the escarpment wide views can be obtained over the plain to the west, often from the road running along most of its length. There is one important breach in this formation where the river Witham ‘cuts through it like a sword’, as John Rhode once described it in his ‘The Ellerby Case’, and where the city of Lincoln stands: this break is known as the Lincoln Gap and the cliff hereabouts as the Lincoln Cliff. The incomparable cathedral stands on the southern tip of the section north of the river and the steep climb to Bracebridge marks the commencement of the southern part. The ironstone beds of the Northampton Sand formation occur at the 100-foot contour and formed a marked outcrop at several places with the city walls or just outside them, as at Monks Abbey. Immediately to the east of this, a very minor tributary of the Witham has worn a shallow valley, on whose gently sloping lower flanks ironstone was also exposed; this is Greetwell Hollow. These two adjoining areas provided a rich source of ironstone for, as the outcrop was quarried away, mining took place from adits driven into the valley sides. Their importance lay in their being the source nearest to Scunthorpe of Northampton Sand ironstone, which was required for mixing with the Frodingham ore to give a self-fluxing surface charge: and in their working life of sixty or more years they produced about five million tons of ore, about two thirds of it from underground. The earliest workings, according to J.D.Kendall (The Iron Ores of Great Britain; Geological Survey Memoirs, 1893, p42) were opened in 1873, but their exact location is uncertain. NSI mentions quarrying in the vicinity of Crofton House that were worked out by 1875′, so this may well have been Kendall’s site.

The other mines in this area are those in the Claxby Ironstone formation deriving from the cretaceous period, much nearer than the Northampton Sand or Marlstone. Negotiations to work this ore seem to have preceeded those just discussed and the first mines were connected by narrow gauge tramway to the end of a branch from the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway near Holton-le-Moor. However, they only lasted some fifteen years and the site then remained dormant until acquired by the Mid-Lincolnshire Iron Co. Ltd as Nettleton Mines, to replace their almost exhausted Greetwell mines. In this case the mines were connected to the LNER at Holton-le-Moor by aerial ropeway, and finally by a special lorry road. This is a very beautiful site, the escarpment offering wonderful views, but the very exposed position can make it bitterly cold in winter.


Younger readers, and those who are new to the area, may not be aware that Lincoln, as well as having a distinguished engineering history, was also home to one of the longest lived ironstone mining operations in the UK. Present day appearances as you travel along Outer Circle Road, and through the Allenby Road trading estates, would not suggest this, but those of us who can remember when Outer Circle Road was unlined with car showrooms may recall a fine red painted girder bridge with concrete abutments. In a cutting thirty feet below Wilson’s Bridge, for this was its name, was a 2′ 6″ gauge tramway which served the remoter workings of the Greetwell Ironstone Mines. (The bridge was roughly where the rear exit to Tesco’s is now).

Greetwell Ironstone Mines was one of the longest lived in the history of ironstone mining, being in continuous operation for over sixty years, shifting over 5 million tons of ore, although the appearance of the works when I was young, didn’t suggest this, as most of the ore was obtained by underground mining. It was a conservative system: the equipment hardly changed during its existence and horse traction was employed long after all other ironstone tramways of consequence had changed to mechanical motive power; steam and diesel locomotives were tried, the former was a failure and was quickly discarded, whilst the diesel was only used for a short time when the ironstone was practically exhausted. Eric Tonks tells us that the first reference to workings at ‘Greetwell’ gives 1873 as the date of opening, but this may refer to ‘Monks Abbey Quarry and Mine’ a few hundred yards to the west. (This is the site of the present hospital extension and allotments; the site worked in the late 19th century, with a 2′ 6″ horse worked tramway). 1878 seems a more likely date for the commencement of work. Study of the 1882 edition of White’s ‘Directory of Lincolnshire’ shows, under ‘Greetwell’ – ‘Mid Lincolnshire Iron Co. (sic) – ironstone quarry lessees and miners, Monk’s Abbey & Greetwell ironstone mines; Benjamin Ramsden, manager’ (with Ramsden being resident in the parish). The company was renamed the ‘Mid-Lincolnshire Ironstone Co Ltd’ from 27th July, 1885. (It is worthy of note that there are no references to the ‘MLIC’ in the Lincoln section of the Directory, nor [as far as I can see] in the alphabetical ‘Trades Directory’ for the County (but see below). The workings started by Greetwell Hollow, and development was rapid. The site was of importance as it coincided with the opening of the ironworks in the Frodingham-Scunthorpe area. Frodingham iron ore alone was not suitable for the furnace but could be satisfactorily mixed with ore from the Northampton Sand formation. Greetwell was the northernmost occurrence of this type of ore, the output going to Frodingham. The close presence of the M.S.& L.R. at the foot of the hill helped this.

(White’s Directory of 1882 contains a reference in the ‘Lincolnshire Trades Directory’ (under ‘Quarry Owners’) to a William Kirk of 3 Priorygate, Lincoln. Kirk placed an advertisement in the ‘Directory’ describing himself as: ‘William Kirk, Lime Burner, and proprietor of Greetwell Road Stone Quarries, Lincoln … Block Stone, Road Stone, Lime, & Lime Stone …’.)

The workings were served by an extensive system of tramways that ran from a tipping stage astride a standard gauge siding from the main line. A metal chute at the side of the stage enabled the ore to be discharged into standard gauge wagons from the side tipping tubs. The company had a number of dumb-buffered standard gauge wagons of its own. They were lettered ‘MLIC’. These would appear to have been manufactured prior to 1889, when production of dumb-buffered wagons ended – they were phased out of ‘main line’ use by 1914.

From the tipping dock by the MS&LR. siding the main line of the tramway ran northwards, passing beneath the Lincoln – Fiskerton road by a brick-lined bridge and then, as the high ground closed in on either hand, took a roughly NNW course along the floor of Greetwell Hollow, finally turning westwards and passing under Outer Circle Road by Wilson’s Bridge. Like many ironstone workings not all of the system was worked at all times and Wilson’s Bridge was not built until about 1925. (Outer Circle Road first appears on the 1930 OS map). By 1886 some 20 acres were being exploited as overcast working near to the road, but mining dates from 1878. Maps dated 1904 show a considerably extended tramway system with the main line running up Greetwell Hollow to a terminus within a hundred yards of Wragby Road. From this line short temporary branches doubtless continued the development of Greetwell quarry whilst a long parallel branch served Wilson’s quarry, started in 1888 and lying to the east of Outer Circle Road. From one quarry face an adit was driven, climbing at about 1 in 70 to Wilson’s Mine. This was the largest of the Greetwell mines and covered an area of about a quarter of a square mile, on both sides of Outer Circle Road. Mining was by the ‘pillar and stall’ method, and when the area was exhausted the pillars were ‘robbed’, resulting in the surface falling. (Some records refer to this as ‘Willson’s Mine’). The quarry at Wragby Road seems to have been worked, probably intermittently, between 1900 and 1926. A branch was laid along the floor of the valley parallel to Wragby Road, but on the ‘town side’ of ‘Outer Circle Road’, this served ‘Corporation Quarry from about 1922 to 1931. An adit also went south into Wilson’s Mine, being used from 1923 until 1934.(There is photographic evidence of surface quarrying at ‘Wilson’s Mine’ in September 1933 [assuming that the date on the photograph is correct]). To the east of the main tramway were numerous other workings. On both sides of the Lincoln – Fiskerton road were ‘Grundy’s No.1 and No.2 Mines’ and also ‘Grundy’s Quarry’. These closed before 1930. Also along this side was the ‘East Drift’ mine, producing ore of uncertain quality. A short working life ended about 1930. The area was then quarried for limestone. Further along was the ‘Long Harry’ mine; this was longer lasting, certainly until 1933 and probably for some time after. (Again there is photographic evidence of  ‘Long Harry’  working in September 1933, but the caption shows ‘men working out the ironstone at the quarry-face, Long Harry Mine’). The final mine, ‘Rudgard’s’, named after the farmer occupying the land hereabouts, was further up the now narrowing Hollow, and mining took place over a large area towards Wragby Road. It was worked from the turn of the century until about 1938. Spiked 2′ 6″ gauge track of fairly light section was used (a source says 3′ 0″ gauge, but this was almost certainly a misprint for 30″).

A map of the system

For much of the time motive power was provided by horses whose stables lay close to the line at its southern end where also were offices and workshops for wagon repair, etc. Wagons were of a simple wooden type, rectangular in section, 4′ 5″ x 3′ 2″ x 2′ 0″, and fitted with dumb buffers. It cannot be said that the owners did not try to mechanise: in 1911 they purchased an unusual looking 0-4-0T from Andrew Barclay (1246/11). Numbered ‘1’, presumably in expectation of further locomotives she had a front tank and no cab. She had outside cylinders (6″x 10″) and driving wheels of 1’10” diameter. She was not a great success being, presumably too heavy for the lightly laid track. Unable to work underground she was restricted to working between the adits and tipping stage. [Although it is worth commenting that the only known picture of the locomotive shows her fitted with what appears to be a headlamp]. Advertised for sale in ‘Contract Journal’ of 22nd March, 1916, she disappears from the scene. Although numbered  ‘1’ it is assumed that no other locomotives were built. Nevertheless E M Sympson, writing in the ‘Cambridge County Geography’ for Lincolnshire (1913?) refers to: ‘with narrow-gauge rails and trucks, on which horse-traction is being superseded by small locomotives‘.
In August 1934 a 16hp R&H diesel (170374/34) was obtained, possibly with the intention of working in Wilsons’ Mine, but by then much of the workable ore had been obtained and she lasted less than a year, being sent to the new mines at Nettleton (some wagons appear to have been sent there at the same time). [This locomotive later (1961) went to the Welshpool & Llanfair Railway as No.3 ‘Raven’, and in 1974 was sold to W Free, Frampton-on-Severn, where she lay rusting in a barn for a number of years. By 1989 she was in John Quentins collection in Herefordshire, in a dismantled state. Later the locomotive, regauged to 2’ 0”  and named ‘Bessie’, moved to Mr A Hodgson’s private site in Stoke-on-Trent].

(The full text of the entry from the Cambridge County Geography, dealing with ironstone mining in Lincolnshire can be found at Lincolnshire Ironstone Mining, 1913).

The importance of Greetwell began to decline in the 1920s and 30s. A large proportion of the workable stone had been got, and that lying to the east was of poorer quality. Despite the short haul to Scunthorpe extraction costs were higher than in the more modern quarries in the south of the county. At Greetwell operating methods had hardly changed at all since the quarry opened in the 1870s and horses were still being used in the 1930s, at a time when all other ironstone quarries of any consequence had become mechanised in the winning and transportation of the ore. A suggestion has been made that when the mine closed the staff hadn’t been paid, so when they withdrew from the workings they removed a lot of the supports.and that these were then cashed in as scrap to get them some money back. My personal feeling is that this is a ‘corruption’ of the pillars supporting the ‘roof’ being ‘robbed’ of winnable ore – a common (& dangerous practice).

As the supply of ore began to fail quarrying for limestone and a small amount of ore continued, but by 1939 this had ceased completely. ‘Plans of abandoned mines’ deposited with the Health & Safety executive are dated 29th September 1937 for Wilson’s Mine and 9th July 1938 for Grundy’s, East Drift, Long Harry and Rudgard’s mines. The property was then sold to Lincoln Stone Quarries who introduced a reconditioned R&H 10hp diesel locomotive (174534/36) (ex-Winmalen and Hausman, Rotterdam). Production of limestone was stepped up, mainly for aerodrome runways, and occasionally pillars of ironstone were encountered, the ore being sent to Scunthorpe. About 1944 the owners changed to lorry haulage, and the locomotive disappeared from the scene. After a period of idleness the tramway was dismantled, although some portions in the vicinity of Greetwell Road seem to have survived until the 1960s, whilst forlorn heaps of rotting wagons and rusting ironwork could be found amongst the bushes. (Certainly a friend of the writer remembers playing on the ‘trams’ in the 1950s). These remained until claimed by a scrap metal drive and most were removed, although it is believed that a few still remain. In 1963 the tipping dock remained and the last of the buildings, the stables were being dismantled. The course of the tramway to the Greetwell Road bridge was clear, although choked with bushes, and part of the site was levelled as part of the Allenby Road trading estate. One of the tubs transferred to Nettleton was rescued by Neville Birch in 1966, and was later transferred to the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, where it stands next to a R&H locomotive: for a number of years it was thought to be the only narrow gauge ironstone wagon in a museum, however there is a 3ft gauge tipper wagon from Scaldwell at Amberley Museum and similar examples at the NRM York, and Locomotion, Shildon.

We conclude our story of Greetwell by looking at what was visible on the ground, albeit a number of years ago. In the middle of the Allenby Road trading estate there is a little field and a trace of the railway embankment on ironstone soil is observable. Greetwell Hollow Farm is now marked only by a boundary wall along Greetwell Road. North of the road, in Greetwell Hollow itself, there are a number of remains. The tramway tunnel is collapsed but the site can be identified and the course of the tramway is marked by a hedge and a bush-lined embankment. Long time residents of Lincoln will know the changes that have taken place over the years in the Outer Circle Road area over recent years: very few traces may be found. The present day quarries of Butterley Aggregates have been prosecuted on a far more massive scale than their predecessors and all traces of Long Harry and East Drift mines have gone; occasionally the operators have come across the old workings with pit props and bits of rail, often to the discomfort of the machines involved. In 1984 the approach to Rudgards Mine was still to be seen; although the adit had been filled in, a little had fallen away: enough to enable the curious to peer inside.

In 1970, J I C Boyd, writing in ‘Narrow Gauge Railways in Mid-Wales’, says of the Hendre Ddu tramway: ‘it was hidden from view and insignificant … a microcosm of rural transport, a local enterprise of a day and age which was obliterated by the ambitions of an Austrian house painter’; sentiments which might also apply to Greetwell. In 1991 Eric Tonks said that ‘Greetwell Hollow itself, though altered and scarred by the continual quarrying operations of a century, is still an attractive spot, away from the industrial surroundings, and one can imagine the little trains trundling down at a leisurely pace behind a horse, a bit of history that lasted sixty years’.

Grid References for Monks Abbey & Greetwell Quarries. (All SK unless noted)

Monks Abbey
995714 Tipping Stage
994714 Level Crossing
994716 Top of Incline
992718 Ironstone quarries, north end
992719 Quarry, north of Greetwell Road (limestone)
990716 Adits
Greetwell Quarries & Mines  
TF 000715 Tipping stage
TF 000716 Stables
TF 000718 Bridge under Greetwell Road
998718 Corner by Crofton House
TF 000720 Greetwell quarry, south end
999722 Junction to Wilson’s quarry
996728   Wilson’s quarry terminus
991724 Corporation quarry terminus
999719   Grundy’s quarry, south west corner
998724 Wilson’s mine adit
TF 001717 Grundy’s no.1 mine shaft
TF 002719 Grundy’s no.2 mine shaft
TF 004723 East drift mine adit
TF 003724 Long Harry mine adit
998724   Rudgard’s Mine adit
995726 Wilson’s Bridge
TF 003716 Air shaft at Grundy’s No.1 mine
994729 Wilson’s mine ‘cave-in’
TF 001720 Embankment, centre

A map of the site is attached. Current Ordnance 1:50,000 map

Lincolnshire Mines in 1896
List of Mines in Great Britain … 1908
List of Mines in Great Britain … 1918
Allotments in the City of Lincoln
The History of the Iron Industry in Scunthorpe
National Register of Archives
Geological Conservation Review
Some pictures of Greetwell Quarry
Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust
Sympson, E M ‘Lincolnshire’ (C.U.P., 1913)