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Wilmcote Lime Quarries

GWR Route: North Warwickshire Line

Wilmcote Station (41) Wilmcote Blue Lias Lime Quarries (2)

The first limestone quarry in the Wilmcote area was at Temple Grafton and in the early 19th century it was planned to serve this with a branch from the proposed Stratford Canal, when it was realised that this was part of an extended ridge of Blue Lias limestone. William James, a local solicitor and one of the canal’s chief backers (as well as its land agent and chairman of its Board of Works) saw the potential and purchased traces of land at Spring Hill near the route of the canal in May 1815. In 1813, he had convinced the Canal’s committee to invest in a light gauge tramway to speed up the construction of the canal. When the canal was finally completed in 1816, the tramway was purchased by William James and installed between his new limestone quarry at Spring Hill and a canal wharf east of Wilmcote village.

There were two strata of limestone at Wilmcote, a hard layer which was used for building and paving stone (most famously the floor of the House of Lords) and a soft layer ideal for making into quicklime. William James had extensively invested in other ventures and when the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1819, a general financial collapse caused him liquidity issues and he went bankrupt in 1823. His quarry and canal interests were taken over by the Stratford carrier, Richard Greaves who owned a fleet of canal barges. In 1824, Richard Greaves started a lime quarry at Gipsy Hall Farm and built a three foot gauge tramway to the canal basin, where in 1830 he constructed several lime kilns. In 1840 he went into partnership with John Kirshaw and started manufacturing ‘artificial’ cement. By 1847 the annual output of the Wilmcote quarries exceeded 16,000 tons and employed 150 people.

When the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (OWWR) obtained statutory powers to purchase the Stratford Canal in July 1846, Richard Greaves feared that this would increase his costs and he encouraged the Great Western Railway to build the nominally independent Stratford-upon-Avon Railway from Hatton. The OWWR completed the canal purchase on 1st January 1856 and the Stratford-upon-Avon Railway opened on 9th October 1860. The three foot gauge tramway to the quarry was extended over the canal on an iron bridge with stone abutments to the railway, where four new kilns, a transhipment loop and several sidings were constructed to the north of Wilmcote station. In 1903, 1,260tons of coal was received and 3,245tons of goods were forwarded from Wilmcote Station, but not all the quarry traffic was transferred to rail. Some coal continued to be imported and lime products and cement exported from the Wilmcote canal basin. The quarry company maintained a fleet of barges (recorded as six in 1877), although only one barge remained when the quarry closed. Closure came in 1908, when the over burden above the limestone strata became too deep to allow quarrying to be continued economically and cement production was transferred to the nearby Harbury Cement Works (see 'harbury-cement').

The single track Stratford-upon-Avon Railway was joined to the OWWR Stratford branch in July 1861 with the route worked by the Train Staff and Ticket system in three sections as described below:

  • Hatton and Bearley – Blue Triangular Staff
  • Bearley and Stratford – Red Round Staff
  • Stratford and Honeybourne – White Square Staff

Following the horrific accident at Armagh in Ireland, the Board of Trade introduced ‘The Regulation of Railways Act 1889’ which required automatic brakes, absolute block and the interlocking of points and signals on passenger lines. By 1891 following an intensive Signal Box construction programme 97% of all locations in England and Wales were interlocked. That year a fifteen lever Signal Box was constructed opposite the quarry’s sidings at Wilmcote, although the cast-iron nameplate for this signal box was only ordered on 18th July 1899 (order 210). This first Signal Box only controlled local signals and switches and was never a block section. It was replaced with a Great Western Railway standard type 7D Signal Box on 3rd November 1907 when the line was doubled as part of the main cross-country Birmingham to Bristol route. Although the quarry shut in 1908, the quarry company’s sidings remained in situ until the early 1920’s when they were finally taken out of use.

The operation of railway services can be found in Great Western Railway Service Time Tables (STT). These identify the following goods trains stopping at Wilmcote:
October 1882 - Down
Departs Bordesley Junction 6:35am calls at Wilmcote when required to put off Messers Greaves, Bull and Lakins’ empties, continues to Stratford Goods.
Departs Leamington 11:25am with weekday local goods train arrives at Wilmcote 1:05pm continues to Honeybourne.

October 1882 - Up
Departs Stratford-upon-Avon 6:30pm arrives at Wilmcote 6:45pm, continues to Bordesley Junction. The Station Master at Wilmcote must inform the Guard of the 11:25am Goods from Leamington how many Waggons there will be for the 6:30pm from Stratford and Stratford must load the Train accordingly.

July 1904 and October 1906 - Down
Departs Bordesley Junction 9:55am arrives Wilmcote 12:13pm departs 12:25pm continues to Honeybourne
Departs Leamington 11:10am arrives Wilmcote 1:30pm departs 1:40pm continues to Honeybourne

July 1904 and October 1906 - Up
Departs Stratford 6:40pm arrives Wilmcote 6:50pm, departs 7:00pm continues to Bordesley Junction. Wilmcote to wire Stratford Goods Junction at 4:30pm the number of wagons there will be for the 6:40pm from Stratford and Stratford must load the Train accordingly.

Robert Ferris

Workers in Wilmcote quarry circa 1900, the quarry at its peak produced in excess of 16,000 tons a year
Ref: misc_wlq220
Workers in Wilmcote quarry circa 1900, the quarry at its peak produced in excess of 16,000 tons a year
Close up showing the simple station structure on the platform and the open and covered wagons in the goods yard behind
Ref: gwrwil654a
C Maggs
Close up of the simple station structure on the platform and the open and covered wagons in the goods yard behind