RAIL CHRONOLOGY: East of Mansfield

Page last updated 3 December 2017

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Area map

That part of Sherwood Forest between the Great Central’s Kirkby - Clipstone and the Midland’s Mansfield - Rolleston lines began to be exploited for its coal resources at the turn of the 20th century but three of the five pits in that general area were not opened until after the railways’ Grouping and their railway routes therefore did not make it to the usual reference source, W Philip Connolly’s Pre-Grouping Atlas and Gazetteer so a sketch of the rail network may be helpful. For comparison, an extract of a schematic plan of the Sheffield Division sets out the network in 1965. All the collieries originally had separate empty wagon sidings and loaded wagon sidings - each with its own "branch of a branch" - the wagons passing over colliery lines under the loading screens from empty to loaded wagon sidings. Over the years, these layouts have changed - some, such as Rufford, more than once - to today’s minimalist rapid loading facility which is no more than a large concrete pad (for mechanical shovel loading) alongside the running line; no attempt is made to chronicle all these minutiae and for detailed histories of the collieries, their internal railways and layouts the reader must look elsewhere.

The collieries

The principal traffic sources were the five collieries whose openings and closing can be summarised. Note that "started" generally represents sinking of shafts, which might take a couple of years before commencement of commercial production; "closed" usually meant cessation of production - although clearance of stocks and site would result in continuing activity on the site for some time i.

Mansfield (previously known as Crown Farm or "Crownie"): started 1904; coal reached 1905; colliery closed March 1988, washery closed 1990
Rufford: started 1911; coal produced 1915; closed 26 November 1993 (but preparation plant subsequently retained)
Clipstone: started 1912 but suspended 1914 - 1920; coal produced 1922; closed 30 April 1993 - 24 January 1994 and finally closed 17 April 2003
Blidworth: started 1923; coal produced 1926; because of downturn in demand, closed September 1928 - September 1932 xxiv ; closed March 1989
Bilsthorpe: started 1925; coal reached August 1927; closed 31 March 1997

Rail access

   Midland Railway, later London Midland & Scottish Railway

First into the area was the Midland Railway’s Mansfield - Southwell line, opened 3 April 1871 ii and from this line three branches (and the Mid-Nottinghamshire Joint Line) served the collieries (railway location names given are at closure - some varied in earlier days):

  1. Mansfield Colliery Jn to Mansfield Colliery: opened 11 January 1905 ii ; closed 18 July 1967 iii .
  2. Rufford Jn [Midland - not to be confused with GC junction of same name; also known as Rufford Colliery Branch Junction, the signal box here originally being named Rufford Colliery Sidings - not to be confused with the later box at the colliery itself] to Rufford Colliery: opened 20 June 1912 ii; closed 17 October 1983 (last train 14 October 1983) iv (when this closed, so did the final remaining section of the Mansfield - Southwell line); extended to Clipstone Colliery in the spring of 1929 xxxi; closed 29 August 1983 (last train 26 August 1983) iv . This line ran on the west side of the Rufford Colliery complex. Note: a workmen's service operated from Mansfield to Rufford Colliery from 10 February 1918 ii until withdrawn with effect from 16 July 1928 xxix .
  3. Blidworth Jn [Midland - not to be confused with GC junction of same name!] to Blidworth Colliery: line handed over from contractors to LM&SR 21 December 1925 xxviii ; colliery closed September 1928, reopened September 1932; traffic ceased 3 October 1966; line "taken out of use" by the engineer 24 June 1967 v .
  4. Mid-Nottinghamshire Joint Line (which warrants a report on its own and will not be dealt with further here vi ) gave the LM&SR/LMR access to Bilsthorpe Colliery - but only from 30 November 1931 xxvii to Friday 7 September 1962 (immediately after which the line between Bilsthorpe and Farnsfield was "temporarily taken out of use" by the engineer) vii .

The Mansfield - Southwell line itself was a bucolic cross-country branch line before the coming of the new pits in the first quarter of the 20th century and, indeed, lost its passenger service as early as 12 August 1929. Thereafter, it remained a busy freight route, with coal traffic passing out at each end. Traffic from the Mid-Nottinghamshire Joint Line at Farnsfield ceased from 10 September 1962 and the whole section Blidworth Jn - Southwell lost its remaining freight trains from 1 March 1965. Blidworth Jn - Rufford Jn followed suit from 3 October 1966 and finally Rufford Jn - Mansfield from 17 October 1983.

   Great Central Railway, later London & North Eastern Railway

Then came the independently-promoted Mansfield Railway, linking the GC at Clipstone (later provided with the triangular junction) with the same railway at Kirkby South Jn. The whole main line was finally completed and opened for freight 4 September 1916 and for passengers 2 April 1917, and was leased by and worked as an integral part of the Great Central viii . It provided an outlet for the Nottinghamshire collieries to the Humber, for export, and a shorter route for fish traffic between Grimsby and Marylebone. Its route provided access to the the following five colliery branches:

  1. Mansfield Colliery Sidings to Mansfield Colliery: opened 6 June 1913 (first coal train - regular traffic 10 days later) with the first part of the Mansfield Railway, to Clipstone Jn viii ; last fresh wrought coal rail movements week commencing 25 April 1988 ix (but subsequent movements from the washery); rail tour 26 November 1989; line "taken out of use" by the engineer 18 July 1990 (101b points clipped) x . The line north to Rufford Jn (GC)/Clipstone Colliery Jn closed at the same time, the line southwards had already closed 2 October 1967 xii .
  2. Rufford Jn [GC] to Rufford Colliery: opened 8 July 1918 viii ; closed from Blidworth Colliery Jn [GC] to Rufford Colliery 12 December 1983 xiii ; last coal train (inwards) over the remaining section 29 March 2003 xxvi . For subsequent history see below. This line ran on the east side of the Rufford Colliery complex.
  3. Blidworth Colliery Jn (on the Rufford Colliery branch) to Blidworth Colliery: opened 30 April 1934 (even though the private siding agreement was dated 9 March 1931) xiv ; traffic ceased after closure of pit and clearance of stocks in 1989; rail tour 23 April 1989; line "taken out of use" south of the headshunt for Rufford hopper dischage pit by the engineer early December 1989 xi .
  4. Bilsthorpe Colliery Jn (on the Rufford Colliery branch) to Bilsthorpe Colliery: opened January 1925 as a "temporary" line to facilitate construction of the pit and converted to a "permanent" line early in 1928 xv ; last coal train 29 April 1997 xvi . For subsequent history see below.
  5. Clipstone Colliery Jn (controlled by Rufford Jn [GC] when that signal box existed) to Clipstone Colliery: opened 13 June 1916 viii ; last coal train 24 June 2003 xx.
Note: the word "colliery" properly appears in the GCR/L&NER junction names mentioned in this paragraph xxv - although sometimes omitted in operating publications.

The Mansfield Railway (Clipstone - Kirkby South Jn) lost its regular local passenger service 2 January 1956 (although it retained summer Saturday services until Saturday 8 September 1962). It lost its freight service south of Mansfield colliery from 2 October 1967, while the demise of the section north to Clipstone is dealt with in items 1 and 5 immediately above.

   Dual servicing

All the collieries were, for major periods of their working life, dual served, i.e. by both GC/L&NER and Mid./LM&SR routes.

Mansfield: June 1913 - July 1967
Rufford: July 1918 - October 1983
Clipstone: spring 1929 - August 1983
Blidworth: April 1934 - October 1966
Bilsthorpe: November 1931 - September 1962

Subsequent developments

On the Rufford Colliery Great Central branch, when the sub-branches to Blidworth and Bilsthorpe opened, the impecunious L&NER provided not manned signal boxes but no-signalman instruments. Each of the three branches from these two junctions (Bilsthorpe Colliery Jn - Bilsthorpe Colliery, Blidworth Colliery Jn - Blidworth Colliery and Blidworth Colliery Jn - Rufford Colliery) were one engine in steam / one train only, with simple train staff. Rufford Jn (GC) signal box was abolished 4 July 1981 and control passed to a panel at Mansfield Concentration Sidings signal box (that panel can just be seen, in situ, at the rear of the box in the lower photo. on this link). At this time, Bilsthorpe Colliery Jn was brought under direct control of the signal box xvii . The change was relatively short lived, for from 14 July 1986 Mansfield Concentration Sidings signal box was closed and its area of control passed to a panel at Clipstone signal box xxiii .

On the Rufford Colliery Midland branch, when a signal box was opened at the colliery it took the name Rufford Colliery Sidings so the junction signal box was renamed Rufford Junction; it closed from 16 June 1968. The Colliery Sidings box closed from 29 November 1981, being replaced by a "no signalman key token hut" for the section from Mansfield Colliery Junction. xxxiv

The most recent major layout change (as opposed to closure) was on 11/12 December 1983 when a link was opened from a new north-facing Rufford Colliery Jn on the GC Rufford Colliery branch to the LM&SR Clipstone Colliery branch, thus restoring access to the west ("Midland") side of Rufford Colliery and enabling the closure of Rufford Colliery to Mansfield South Jn by the Midland route, and also the Blidworth Colliery Jn to Rufford Colliery section of the former GC Rufford Colliery branch xiii . The "Midland" side of the Rufford site was now used for outward traffic, the "GC" side for inward traffic, for a feature of operations at Rufford had been the facility for blending coal received from other sources, to produce coal to meet particular specifications or to deal with coal that had been rejected as failing to meet specification - hence the discharge facilities (including those for m.g.r. wagons) provided here. For this purpose, two adjacent sets of coal stocking facilities, with rail reception sidings, had been created in the 1960s xviii immediately to the east of the Blidworth line, bordered to the north by the Bilsthorpe line and to the south by Rainworth Water (a river running west-east). The west-east Inkersall bridleway bisects the whole site. To its south was Rufford No. 1 Coal Stacking Site xix , served from the Blidworth line by siding (later removed and superseded by a hopper discharge pit actually in the Blidworth line); a concrete loading pad for reloading trains was also provided but went out of use with all outward traffic being dispatched from the loading pad on the "Midland" branch. The smaller element of stocking ground north of the bridleway was Rufford No. 2 Coal Stacking Site xix , served from sidings (removed, probably in the 1980s) off the Bilsthorpe line. The terms "stocking" and "stacking" seem to have been use indiscriminately here (although the railway usually favoured the latter). When Rufford colliery ceased production in 1993 its coal preparation plant was retained so rail movements inwards and outwards continued. The last recorded coal movement out of the loading pad on the "Midland" side at Rufford Colliery was in the first quarter of calendar year 2002, while the last recorded coal movement at Rufford No. 1 Stocking Site (on the "GC" side) was on 29 March 2003; the lines were "mothballed" in 2004 xxvi. By June 2007 the stocking sites were cleared to bare earth while the colliery had been demolished - apart from a weighbridge (for sand lorries), some sheds and the inevitable detritus; the only activity seemed to be a sand pit in the north west segment of the site where Elmsley Lodge, the former manager's house, once stood.

At Clipstone Colliery - which sports the only remaining headstock of the five pits - the final rail layout was a rapid loading pad accessed solely via the GC loaded wagon sidings line. The last recorded coal train was on 24 June 2003 xx .

In about February 2007, relays at Rufford Junction relay room were stolen, rails cut and stolen, and point controls and signalling stolen or vandalised at Rufford Colliery Jn and Bilsthorpe Colliery Jn xxx. At Bilsthorpe Colliery Jn the junction points had been removed and placed to one side. In the same year, a freight operating company declared a wish to resume moving trains to/from the Rufford stocking site so in June/July 2008, Network Rail began work to restore the line (as single line between Clipstone triangle and Rufford Junction, using the former Up Mansfield line, and moving Rufford Junction 105 points nearer to Clipstone). The work was completed (apart from tamping and connecting up the set of points). However, the project was put on hold before traffic could restart and theft and vandalism resumed to the extent that it became physically impossible for any train movement to proceed more than about ½ mile south from Clipstone triangle xxxii . The line between the Clipstone triangle and Rufford No. 1 Coal Stacking Site remained notionally "available for traffic" in the London North Eastern Route Sectional Appendix. The entries for the branches to Clipstone Colliery and to Rufford Colliery were endorsed as "Lines out of use (temporary)" on 3 March 2007, the former being deleted entirely from 22 January 2011, while the latter became "permanent" (instead of "temporary") from that date. From 22 January 2011, also, the line south of Clipstone triangle was categorised as "out of use" (permanently, although not deleted), while the two southern arcs of the triangle were categorised as "temporarily out of use" xxxiii . However, the east junction of the Clipstone triangle was to have been plain lined over the weekend of 18/19 August 2012 (utilising rail from the eastern curve, which had been lifted in readiness) but the work was postponed and eventually undertaken on 27 August 2013; the down points of the west junction were similarly plain lined on the weekend of 8/9 March 2014. During week ended 16 January 2016, the double track western curve was lifted for use elsewhere and during the following week the remainder of the eastern curve was likewise lifted. Finally, the remainder of the west junction was plain lined on 28 June 2016 xxxv . Thus, there remained no track south of the east-to-west former LD&EC main line - the final demise of the erstwhile Mansfield Railway and of hopes that the triangle would be retained as a turning facility. Finally, from Friday 3 March 2017, the remaining signalling equipment at Clipstone box controlling the former routes from the main lines towards south junction (the signal arm CJ37 from the Up Main and position light junction indicator at signal CJ29 from the Down Main) were removed (although other redundant signals away from active lines remained in situ, serving no purpose) and the bureaucracy caught up by the deletion of the branch pages from the Sectional Appendix from that date (curiously described as the abandonment of lines from October 2016....) xxxiv .

The Bilsthorpe Colliery line had been out of use since the last coal train left on 29 April 1997 xvi ; the junction points at Bilsthorpe Colliery Jn were put out of use 9 May 1998 xxi . The line was not officially "closed" (although allowed to become impassable), having been retained in conjunction with redevelopment of the colliery site as an industrial estate, which was due for completion late 2006/early 2007 xxii. The units (at the north end of the site) thus far occupied showed no sign of interest in rail. The junction points and track have been illegally removed, so the line could not actually generate rail traffic without total relaying - a fact finally, if beltedly, recognised by its deletion from the Sectional Appendix on 10 July 2010. The cynic will assume the prospect of rail traffic was merely a developers' sop to town planners.

That section of the L&NER Blidworth Colliery line south of Rainworth Water (or, more precisely, south of the stop block on the Rufford No. 1 Coal Stacking Site headshunt) is accessible as part of National Cycle Network route 6.


Some interesting pictures and signalling sketches of the Midland's Rufford branch can be found at the Rufford Branch website - follow the links immediately under the heading. A photo of a train in the Midland loaded sidings of Clipstone colliery (23 June 1972) is at this link and a photo of the starting signal of Rufford Colliery Sidings box, leading to Rufford Junction (Mid.) is at this link. Photos of Rufford Junction (GC) and Mansfield Concentration Sidings boxes are on the Signalboxes.com site. The aditnow website's list of mines and the late Terry Blythe's website (now archived) lead to collections of photos of the various relevant colliery locations. David Hopewell's gallery of photographs taken on the Rufford Jn (GC) to Blidworth line showing the state of devastation on 2 August 2006 disappeared with the demise of the fotopic hosting facility, but five of his later photographs show the abandoned line.

If any reader can correct or amplify any chronological details, source details will be gratefully received.


Unless otherwise specified, dates are "with effect from" (i.e. the first day from which the changed circumstances obtained, rather than the last day on which the old circumstances prevailed); where engineering work was involved, this often took place on the Sunday immediately prior to a Monday date.

The accompanying sketch is adapted from a drawing by the late J M "Jim" Lloyd.
The National Archives (Public Record Office) is shown below as TNA
i opening dates from the late Terry Blythe's website (now archived); Malcolm Marples' Bolsover Colliery Co webpage (now archived); BENDALL, IAN R, Industrial Locomotives of Nottinghamshire, Industrial Railway Society, 1999; PRICE, GEORGE, Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 - Report on the Value of the Coal Industry Assets of the Nottinghamshire Valuation District as at 31st December 1946, (publisher not known - copy in Nottinghamshire Archives)1947; WALKER, ROBERT J. The Dukeries Transformed, 1983; closure dates confirmed by Mining Records Manager, The Coal Authority, communication 6 December 2006
ii GOUGH, JOHN, The Midland Railway - A Chronology, Railway & Canal Historical Society, 1989
iii London Midland Region Weekly Operating Notice ME1/29/67 of 1967 (which made clear that the closure was exclusive of the colliery sidings)
iv Area Traincrew Manager, contemporaneously
v Journal of the Stephenson Locomotive Society, December 1966; GOUGH, JOHN, The Midland Railway - A Chronology, Railway & Canal Historical Society, 1989
vi see, for example, LMS Journal no. 15 [2006] (alas, an incomplete and unreliable study); Branch Line News 863.863, 865.10, 866.43, 1032.1035 and 1035.98 (inter alia)
vii Eastern Region Weekly Operating Notice dated 7 September 1962 (under reference NR.2/42267)
viii DOW, GEORGE, Great Central. Vol III, Locomotive Publishing Co Ltd, 1965
ix BR sources, contemporaneously
x Eastern Region Weekly Operating Notice 19 of 1990 [TNA AN 140/5]
xi Eastern Region Weekly Operating Notice 42 of 1989 [TNA AN 140/3]
xii Journal of the Stephenson Locomotive Society, December 1967
xiii Branch Line News 484.44 and 485.46
xiv TNA RAIL 390/620 : construction of branch started summer 1926, suspended August 1928 and not resumed until early 1934. TNA RAIL 398/27: traffic commenced 30 April 1934; BENDALL, IAN R, Industrial Locomotives of Nottinghamshire, Industrial Railway Society, 1999: private siding agreement 9 March 1931. Note: references to the line opening in 1931 are not borne out by L&NER papers at TNA RAIL 390/620 and 398/27.
xv TNA RAIL 390/376 : the contract for conversion to a "permanent railway" was not sealed until 21 October 1926, with a target for completion within 15 months; this suggests early/mid 1928 as the opening date for the "permanent railway". TNA RAIL 1110/268 : comparison of Part II Section I(B) of the L&NER's Annual Accounts for lines under construction, December 1928 against December 1927, confirms opening in calendar year 1928. The Railway Clearing House Handbook of Stations amendment leaflet L62 belatedly adds an L&NER entry for the colliery from 24 November 1926.
xvi Mike Addison’s Diary 1997 and information from Chris Booth (note that the date given in Railway Route Changes in Railway Magazine, February 1998, is in error)
xvii Signalling Record Society Signal Box Alterations 1981; Branch Line News 425 p.195. The diagram itself is actually the paper overlay from the technicians' panel in the relay room at Rufford Junction (source: Lymm Observatory website).
xviii various Eastern Region Sectional Appendices from 1960
xix the relative locations of the two stacking sites are shown on the diagram of the 1981 signalling changes and - somewhat less schematically - on the plan of the 1983 layout changes.
xx Branch Line News 951 p.170
xxi Branch Line News 894.798; Mike Addison’s Diary 1998; Eastern Region Periodical Operating Notice
xxii Website www.emda.org.uk/news/newsreturn.asp?fileno=2915
xxiii Signalling Record Society Signal Box Alterations 1986. Panel photo: Peter M Churchman
xxiv TNA RAIL 390/620, 398/23
xxv TNA RAIL 798/137, 798/166
xxvi Information from Network Rail 8 January 2007 and Chris Booth
xxvii LMS/LNER notice (extract in Clinker Collection, Brunel University) - opening postponed from 21 October 1931
xxviii Construction of the line rested on agreements with Nottinghamshire County Council of 6 September 1924 (for road overbridge) and with Newstead Colliery Co (on whose land all but 7ch of the line rested) of 2 October 1924 and 9 March 1931 (the latter presumably to reflect the joint working arrangements with the L&NER) - there were no parliamentary powers [BRB (Residuary) Ltd records]. LM&SR operating notice N1/200.2/86 dated 15 September 1925 [TNA RAIL 957/9] shows train working to Blidworth Colliery Sidings (i.e. the branch junction) commencing 21 September 1925 - this was probably only construction materials for the branch and colliery (for coal production was not then expected before 1927) over a temporary contractors' line. Line handed over by contractors by year-end 1925 [TNA RAIL 1110/273 and GOUGH, JOHN, The Midland Railway - A Chronology, Railway & Canal Historical Society, 1989]. Line initially worked by colliery company. LMS Journal no. 15, page 46, has reproduction of LM&SR plan dated January 1926.
xxix Not in Midland Railway working timetable for January 1918 but had appeared by Notice for April 1918 [TNA RAIL 963/111]; deleted by LM&SR working timetable notice dated 3 September 1928 [TNA RAIL 957/15].
xxx Information from Peter M Churchman
xxxi No service beyond Rufford Colliery is shewn in the Working Time Table of 24 September 1928, nor is any shown in supplements or notices up to and including 4 March 1929 [TNA RAIL 957/19]. The LMS Chief Engineer reported to the January 1929 LMS Works Committee [papers at RAIL 418/176] that “arrangements have been made to bring [the lines] into use 1 February 1929” so trains may have commenced running under local arrangements. The Working Time Table of 8 July 1929 is the first to shew services [TNA RAIL 957/20].
xxxii Information from Chris Booth and Nick Kelly
xxxiii National Electronic Sectional Appendix, as at 28 January 2013
xxxiv relevant Weekly Operating Notices
xxxv Information from Chris Booth and Flickr website

Richard Maund

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