From the Mountsorrel Post, #24, September 2008, pp10-11:
In the days before television I would sit enthralled and fascinated listening to my dad telling me about the Mountsorrel Granite Company (MGC) quarrying and its operations. A great treat for me was to be taken to see my granddad at work who was a locomotive driver on his Peckett Loco Doris 11. Sometimes he would wave to me as he travelled over the bridge in the main street, next to the 1860 bridge and onward to Barrow on Soar, with his wagons loaded with stone.
Quarrying had taken place in various locations around Mountsorrel: Buddon Wood, Hawcliffe Hill, Nunckley Hill, Cocklow Wood etc. Broadhill became the main number one quarry. The MGC Group also had quarries in south west Leicestershire, namely Stoney Stanton, Enderby, Potters Marsden, Huncote, Little Pit and Clint Hill.
My dad was a time served carpenter and joiner with the company but later moved over to the engineering and maintenance side, visiting these south Leicestershire quarries to sort out various problems from time to time, as well as at Mountsorrel, as part of his job.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I started to delve into the activities of the MGC and its history.
The Martin era: owners of Mountsorrel Granite Co for 150 years plus
The Martins had taken over the quarrying under a lease arrangement from landowner the Earl of Lanesborough of Swithland Hall in 1842. It became a limited company in 1875.
Horses and carts were the mode of transport for internal use, and local deliveries, and were also used to take stone in its various forms to the main line station at Sileby or Barrow on Soar.
The canal system was being extensively used, using the company’s own barges and contractors. It was a very time consuming operation. Eventually a railway system was a necessity, both in and out of the quarry itself and being far sighted it was decided on main line track dimension of 4 feet 8.5 inches, standard gauge throughout.
The railway network at one time extended into the old previously worked Buddon Wood quarry with proper manually operated level crossing gates across Wood Lane and a bridge nearby. With offices in Mountsorrel, Welford Place Leicester, and Caxton Place in London, stone in all its capacities was being sold throughout the UK.
Not only was the stone known for its hardness but one of its most saleable attributes was its pink colour and it became known nationally both for roads, building and monumental work (i.e. gravestones and war memorials). It became obvious that a more expedient method was required to get the stone to the Midland Counties Railway. Many hours of discussion took place between the main interested parties, namely the MGC, the Earl of Lanesborough and John Ellis, Chairman of the Midland Counties Railway. In 1858 an Act of Parliament was applied for, and passed, for a branch line as an extension to the Midland Counties Railway. The main sponsor was the fifth Earl of Lanesborough. The Act stated that the new railway line over the Soar valley will be known as the Mountsorrel Railway and that it will be beneficial to the inhabitants of Mountsorrel, surrounding villages and granite quarries. The railway will terminate at Mountsorrel north end. The drawings for the said branch line, with all its bridges and ducts, were deposited with the Clerk of the Peace for the County of Leicester at 12 noon on 30 November 1858.
With the Act of Parliament passed, and all necessary arrangements in hand, construction started and was given a four year period to complete. The engineer in charge was John Addison. The junction on the main line at Barrow on Soar was 21.5 miles from Derby and 29 miles from Rugby.
The Mountsorrel Railway
The red brick single arch bridge, with the date in blue brick built into either side and known to locals as the 1860, was constructed with a 40 foot span and 16 foot to the centre of the arch over the canal. It is reputed to be the longest single span brick bridge in England. At the same time the construction of a raised embankment was taking place across the Soar valley with periodic culverts to allow flood water to flow through.
By 1861 the new railway line was up and running and carrying in excess of 200,000 tonnes of stone per annum. Canal borne loads were severely curtailed although they did continue for a while.
Many people think that the Mountsorrel Railway was owned by the Mountsorrel Granite Company but this was not so. It was leased on a quarterly basis from the Earl of Lanesborough who had financed the project and was responsible for its upkeep. Periodic inspections by engineers form the Midland Railway would take place.
1896, some 35 years later, saw the building of Swithland Reservoir and the Great Central Railway through Leicestershire, spanning the reservoir on a blue brick viaduct. At the same time as the Central track was being laid, the necessary connection for the forthcoming rail link to Mountsorrel was put in place.
The MGC, now a limited company, with an extension to the previous Act and under the same arrangements, constructed the railway link out to Swithland sidings, giving a complete link from the Midland main line at Barrow on Soar to the Great Central, a distance of 3.5 to 4 miles.
In 1959 the Mountsorrel Granite Company Ltd was floated on the stock market and was acquired in its entirety by Messrs Redland Aggregates Ltd. It was about this time that the rail network ceased.
The locomotives that had played such an important part in the history of the company, with names like The Baron, Doris, Robbie, Willie, Kate, Gerald, Lady Winifred, The Countess, Violet, Kathleen and Elizabeth were to be scrapped, or had been along with the track and rolling stock. Elizabeth however managed to be saved and ended up in Rutland Railway Museum. It has now been bought and is in private hands for restoration.
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The Mountsorrel Railway is part of the Mountsorrel and Rothley Community Heritage Centre. This website is no longer updated. For updates see: http://heritage-centre.co.uk/