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Limestone traffic: Ardley-Greaves Siding

The traffic between Ardley (10 miles south of Banbury) and Greaves Siding for Harbury Cement works (8 miles south of Leamington Spa), has often been confused with ironstone traffic, of which there used to be a variety from around Banbury; the limestone traffic outlived it all.

There was a history of cement making near Harbury and when a new works was established 1855 by Greaves, Bull and Lakin, generally called Greaves'. it was placed by the GWR main line between Paddington and Birmingham and the GWR connection was named "Greaves Siding". The GWR was famously lax with apostrophes and dropped it here, just as it did further south at King's Sutton, ignoring the actual names in both cases. This was the company's logo:

Greaves logo Aerofilms Greaves

The site was large, as seen in this picture from 1927. Reception/despatch sidings can be seen by the main line and a cluster of sidings by the works. To the left there appears to be an internal system with a small tank engine just visible. At the time, this may have been a connection to a local quarry; lorries took over later. Photo: Copyright English Heritage - NMR Aerofilms Collection, Cat.No 19692.

Over the years there were a couple of takeovers, from 1931-1970 by APCM (Blue Circle) and the plant's capacity rose steadily to around 25,000 tonnes p.a. in the years after WWII. The plant ceased operation several years after the end of steam in December 1970, when it became a depot. Complete closure of the site came in 1994.

Portland Cement was produced and the main raw materials were Blue Lias Limestone and clay which came from relatively local quarries and Great Oolite Limestone by rail from Ardley. In BR days the latter was being carried in BR-built ironstone hoppers which were branded "Return to Ardley".

Track and signalling arrangements for Greaves Siding, dated 1952:

Greaves Siding

The two sets of sidings can be seen, as on the aerial photograph, serving the east side of the works. Note that there was only one facing connection and that was into the Down Goods Running Loop, presumably to speed intake of trains from Ardley and get them off the Main Line quickly and into the reception siding. The far end of this loop was controlled by the Southam Road and Harbury signal box and when that closed in 1967, the loop was made a dead end. Sources: The Signalling Record Society and WarwickshireRailways.com (see Useful Links)

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Ironstone hopper

An example of the all-steel hopper wagons used in BR days is taken from a south-bound train of empties in which the leading wagon, No B436917, is branded "IRON ORE" as well as "EMPTY TO ARDLEY W.R."

All-steel hopper wagons like this, of modest size because of the high density and weight of the ironstone, were developed by the LMS and LNER during the 1930s to replace wooden hopper wagons; note the heavy leaf springs over the axleboxes. The basic designs were copied by BR, in this case from an LMS design in 1950 when 1,500 were built to this particular Diagram (1/162) and rated to carry 24 tons. Limestone would have been lighter than ironstone but these wagons seem to have been deployed on this ex-GWR service as part of BR modernisation. Although designed as Ironstone Hoppers, in service they were branded "IRON ORE", which was was retained to indicate the purpose of the intended design. As the pictures show, application of the livery varied in detail.

All the pictures from the 1950s and early '60s show this design being used exclusively but, by the mid-1960's, the uniqueness seems to have been eroded for, in the late 1965 picture at Banbury with the train behind Beachamwell Hall, two interlopers can be seen: what appears to be a pair of 21 ton coal hopper wagons.

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A map showing the route between Ardley and Greaves Siding, and the bottleneck at Banbury. The cement works at Harbury had its own quarried; these I have not shown. Ardley was also surrounded by quarries and I have only shown the ones to the north of the station which are know to have been mined for Harbury. Map: Author.

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A section of the gradient profile between Paddington (off to the left) and Birmingham (off to the right). The focus is between Ardley and Greaves Siding, the latter being relatively close to Southam Road and Harbury station. The light engine trips are picked out in red. Note the distance between Banbury Junction and Astrop where the empties train was side-lined, and when coming back with the loaded train, the long climb through Banbury. The numbers along the lower axis are miles from Paddington.

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The workings

A good idea of the arrangements can be gained from a specimen year from among the BR-period photographs and this an outline for the summer of 1962, for Greaves Sidings-Banbury-Ardley and return. Note that the Working Timetable used the plural version of Greaves Sidings:

10.50am Greaves Sidings (empties)

11.30am (pass) Banbury Junction - turned onto the Goods Loop to Astrop

11.36am (pass) Astrop

12.35pm (arr) Ardley


2.30pm (dep) Ardley (loaded train)

3.00pm (pass) Banbury - Main Line

3.36pm (arr) Greaves Sidings

3.51pm (dep) Light Engine to Leamington Spa

In brief, the working was initially operated from the Leamington Spa end and both out and back workings ran non-stop, albeit with differences in the passage through Banbury. Heading south with the empties, Banbury Station was avoided in a relatively leisurely manner via the Up Goods Loop from Banbury Junction as far as Astrop. On arrival at Ardley, almost two hours were allowed for loading (or collection of a loaded train)?

In the return direction with a much heavier load the line climbed for ten miles from King's Sutton, rising gradually through Banbury to the summit just before Fenny Compton, peaking at 1:179. The train was allowed to pass through Banbury Station on the Main Line and pictures taken on the approach captured the locos getting up speed for the increasingly stiff climb ahead.

Motive power was at first provided by Leamington Spa which sent a loco light engine to Greaves Siding - which in BR days was being quoted by the Working Time Table in the plural, as "Greaves Sidings": a useful recognition of the size of the place. Tank engines were employed and normal practice was to collect the empties and work to Ardley bunker first, returning chimney first with the loaded train. During the 1950s "Prairie" tanks were used.

Outward bound with the empties

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Leamington Spa's "Prairie" tank No 4125 pulls away from Greaves Sidings in March 1962 with the empties for Ardley. Photo: author's collection, an unidentified copy and alas not very sharp.

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Ban N 6671

Collett 0-6-2T No 6671 with a long train of ironstone wagon empties for Ardley has been routed onto the Up Goods Loop at Banbury Junction and is passing through the marshalling yards and Banbury North signal box on 19th August 1963. As the signals show, It will continue on the Goods Loop to pass the station on the east side.

Barely visible in the distance, a DMU is approaching on the Up Main. After calling at the station it will overtake the Ardley empties near Astrop.

In the middle distance, an unidentified "Hall" pauses in one of the spurs while serving as station pilot with lamps over each buffer. Photo: R.A.Blencowe.

Ban 4178

Another one of Leamington Spa's "Prairies", No 4178 (which came to Leamington in 1963) is on the Up Goods Loop as it passes the north end of the station and the station master's house, with the empties for Ardley on 13th July 1963. Photo: F.A.Blencowe.

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High summer looking across the running lines south of Banbury, near the loco sheds, sees Leamington Spa's "Prairie" No 4151 continuing towards Ardley with the empties on the extension of the Up Goods Loop to Astrop. The date is 4th July 1964. This was one of six "Prairie" tanks sent to Leamington Spa in 1962-63 as replacements for withdrawals of "Prairies" and 0-6-2Ts as described below. Photo: Author's collection.

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Returning with the limestone

Ban S 5184 5194

The quality is poor but this pair of pictures is useful for showing two "Prairie" tanks off Leamington Spa, Nos 5184 and 5194, on the Ardley-Greaves Siding traffic in 1961 or earlier. At the time, Leamington had five of the these tanks, Nos 4118/71, 5101/84/94. Photos: T.E.Titley.

Ban S 4118

Recently out-shopped "Prairie" No 4118 at Banbury South with a northbound train from Ardley, in 1961 or '62 when this loco is known to have been at Leamington Spa. Photo: T.E.Titley.

Ban 5614

In 1962 an attempt was made to replace the "Prairie" tanks on this mineral traffic and five Collett 0-6-2Ts (Nos 5614, 6618/44/63/71) were transferred (from Aberbeeg, Barry, St.Philip's Marsh and Worcester) to Leamington Spa and this rare colour picture shows a loaded train behind No 5614 on 14th May making its way through Banbury station under a high sun. The train has been stopped in No 1 platform to take water. The loco is still carrying an 85A Worcester shed plate.

In the event, three of the quintet seem to have been old stagers and this one, along with Nos 6618/63, were withdrawn the following year, leaving just two, Nos 6644/71 to soldier on - along with the "Prairie" tanks, whose allocation was raised from 5 to 7. Photo: Author's collection.

Ban S 6663

Recent arrival at Leamington shed, No 6663 is seen heading past Banbury South with the loaded train on 23rd June 1962. Photo: R.K. Blencowe.


An extremely rare picture of the complete train! It's high summer in 1962 as Leamington's "Prairie" tank No 4176 descends Aynho Junction with 25 loaded wagons. Photo: M. Mensing.

Ban S 6671

Leamington Spa's 0-6-2 No. 6671, approaches Banbury with the train from Ardley. 27th April 1963. Photo: R.K. Blencowe.

Ban 6671

Collett No 6671 passes Banbury North signal box c1963 with the loaded train from Ardley to Greaves siding. My apologies for the slope but the print is close to the edge and fixing it would mean cropping into the image. Photo: T.E.Titley.

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A picture from 1964, with apologies for its dreadful quality, printed on stippled paper (which scans like a snow storm) in a filthy darkroom (so the dust adds to the blizzard)... ugh, good job that it's anonymous! However, it is a relatively late view of Collett passenger tank No 4154 a year before Leamingto Spa shed closed. It's a misty winter's day at Banbury South as the loaded train of limestone in approximately 18 hopper wagons attacks the gradient through Banbury. A clear road would have been given to allow speed to be built up for the steepening ascent to Fenny Compton which peaked at 1:179. 27th March 1964.

Records show that this loco was allocated to Banbury at the time and I have two pictures showing it there but Prairie tanks from Leamington Spa were normally used for this working and I would suggest that 4154 had been borrowed. It's looking tired, its smokebox number is missing and after Leamington Spa shed closed in May the following year, it was moved around briefly and scrapped. The traffic continued powered by locos from Banbury (see below). Photo: authors collection.

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Modernisation at last in the shape of Riddles 2-6-4T No 80072 (Leamington Spa) which, on 23rd May 1965, is held on the Down Goods Loop with the train from Ardley. The loco was much-travelled having previously been at Swansea and, before that, at Tilbury. To the right stands the loco repair shop in the depot. Photo: R.A.Blencowe.

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Banbury takes over

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Leamington Spa engine shed closed in June 1965 whereupon Banbury took over. In this scene from 5th September 1965, Banbury's "Hall" No 6934 Beachamwell Hall is departing from the Up Goods Loop with the empties and the points set to take the loop as far as Astrop.

In the Up Bay, No 7029 Clun Castle is waiting with a full head of steam to take over the "WRS Hants and Dorset" tour whose route was Solihull, Banbury, Basingstoke, Eastleigh, Weymouth, Westbury, Oxford and back to Solihull. Locos employed were 60145, 7029, 73085, 34019. Photo: author's collection.

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For info, I ran this picture in the Banbury Guardian on 3rd September with the following description:

The attached picture was taken almost exactly fifty years ago on 5th September 1964 and shows Banbury station in the final years of steam. In some ways, little has changed, at least outwardly with the station that had been modernised in 1957; even the odd semaphore signal remains. But the goods shed on the left was demolished, while the large building in the distance, Clark's flour mill at the time, burned down relatively recently.

The steam locos have gone too, albeit not entirely. In the south bay, now Platform No 4, stands No 7029 Clun Castle, waiting to take over a steam special. This loco has been preserved and, ironically, steam specials are still operated. Nearer the camera is a mixed-traffic loo that didn't survive, Banbury's No 6984 Beachamwell Hall, which is setting off for Ardley where limestone was quarried for the Blue Circle cement works near Leamington Spa. This traffic ceased a few years later when cement making at Harbury was abandoned.

To the right stands a coal wagon with the station coal yard beyond; all this was replaced by the roads but some of the sidings remain, now named the "Cattle Market Sidings" after Banbury's cattle market, which once stood just out of sight to the right. These sidings now hold Chiltern Railways' passenger trains for the early morning rush hour towards London,

If any railwaymen from the steam era could get in touch, I would be pleased to hear.

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Borrowing of locos has stumped many a caption writer and this view of B1 No 61384 in Harbury cutting is a fine example. The B1 was allocated to Doncaster and may have worked a train between Doncaster- or York-Banbury before being borrowed, but not for the limestone working as I originally thought - the load is too dark for that - but the Oxfordshire Ironstone Co. working to Bilston or Brymbo. Thanks for the correction go to Mick Whittle who was in Banbury's No 3 Link which had some of these jobs, and who recalls a borrowed B1 more than once. Another possible explanation comes from Bob Humphris who suggests a Hull-Morris Cowley car-flats working, the B1 working light engine to Banbury, and being borrowed there. The irregularity of the hopper wagons is another clue. 21st September 1965. Pho: M. Mensing

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In the final phase, a mere four years after ageing Collett 0-6-2Ts had been thought adequate for the traffic, Riddles 9Fs began to operate, doubtless covering the ground faster. Banbury's 9F, No 92013, is in charge of the empties and has been given the direct route through Banbury station with only around 16 wagons for Ardley. The signalman has already returned Banbury's starter to danger. Friday, 29th April 1966. Photo: G.W.Sharpe.

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Banbury's double-chimney No 92234 is passing the engine shed on the Down Main line on the approach to Banbury South at a fair lick in April 1966. At least twenty of the 24 Ton wagons are visible. Photo: R.K. Blencowe Negative Archive.

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To be continued....

Banbury station pictures are here.

Banbury signal box pictures are here.

Banbury yards and freight pictures are here.

Banbury express passenger pictures are here.

Banbury loco shed pictures are here.

Banbury light engines are here.

Banbury Merton Street station is here.

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