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Ironstone quarrying

Around 1870 useable deposits of ironstone were discovered around Holwell in Leicestershire. The iron content is around fifteen percent. Initially the ore was transported to newly-built smelters at Asfordby, to the west of Melton Mowbray.

An undated postcard showing the 'Holwell Ironworks' (named after the quarries) at Asfordby.
The photograph at the top of this page shows the sun setting – literally and metaphorically – on the last remaining structures at Asfordby. Photograph taken autumn 1986.

Over the next few decades an increasing number of quarries were opened between Holwell and Eastwell, plus some 'outliers'. Most of the ironstone went by rail to Scunthorpe, although some went to Corby or south Wales.

Little evidence of these quarries remains as once the ore had been extracted the overburden was replaced and levelled, so the fields could return to farming. A few cuttings and bridges for the railways accessing the quarries still survive, and also a section of embankment built for a rope-operated inclined plane running from Wartnaby to Old Dalby.

The quarries closest to Barrowby were in the parishes of Denton and Woolsthorpe. These were the last 'Leicestershire' quarries to operate. I put 'Leicestershire' in quotes as the main buildings were indeed in Leicestershire, but the workings straddled the Lincolnshire boundary.

Denton Park quarry in July 1973 with a Ruston Bucyrus 5W dragline.

A major change at Scunthorpe operations in 1973 required better quality iron ore which needed to be imported. The Leicestershire and south Lincolnshire quarries quickly closed. Iron ore extraction continued around Corby until the smelters there too closed around 1980.

In the early 1970s about fifteen percent of British Rail freight traffic was ironstone for the Scunthorpe blast furnaces, extracted from the quarries south-west of Grantham. Seven trains each day of the week (except Sundays), each with 1,500 tons of ore, were worked by crews based at Grantham. In total just under 57,000 tons was transported each week.

Woolsthorpe quarry in July 1973 with a Ransom and Rapier 490 dragline. The farm in the background was then known as Madge's Farm, although it is now shown on maps as Hill Top Farm. The 'escarpment' around the farmhouse gives an indication of how much ironstone had been removed from the field before the backfill was reinstated.

Barrowby was next!

Had the Scunthorpe works not been radically modified in 1973 then there would have been ironstone extraction to the south-east of Barrowby.

The initial quarry would have been south of Low Road, to the immediate west of the A1, close to Barrowby Lodge farm.

An access road, including a purpose-built bridge over the Grantham Canal, had just been constructed to connect the planned workings with the existing Woolsthorpe quarry.

Ironstone deposits revealed by unauthorised extraction close to Sheepwash Lane. The photograph, taken 2021, shows a vertical face of the small quarry.

A 1970s map shows the route of the access road.

The canal bridge was demolished less than ten years after it was built. The location can be identified by an inexplicable 'hump' in the towpath. Whether this 'hump' is a result of the bridge or not I do not know.

The access trackway was used for farm access but steadily broke up and most of it has now been ploughed out.

The barely-surviving route of part of the 1970s access road.
Looking east-south-east from opposite the main entrance to
North Lodge farm.


Eric Tonks devoted his spare time in the 1980s to researching the ironstone quarries. He then wrote a series of nine books with all the details. See Tonks 1991; 1992.

The information of BR freight traffic comes from Barraclough 2017.

If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

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what's new?

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nineteenth and twentieth century population

Twentieth century

guided walks in and around Barrowby

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index of surnames in Cryer 1979

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Grantham Civic Society

Grantham Museum

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