The Skipton Rock Company was incorporated in December 1895 and worked the
Haw Bank quarry independently until April 1968 when it merged with
Hargreaves Quarries Ltd.
The Skipton Rock Company
Formerly, under previous ownership, trains of wooden wagons had been worked
from Haw Bank Quarry down to the Bailey in Skipton by use of a stationary
winding engine. From there, the wagons were lowered to the Springs Branch
of the Leeds - Liverpool canal and the stone loaded into barges. This was
the Haw Bank tramroad and was 4' 1" gauge.
From 1893 onwards, locomotive haulage was used within the quarry and along
the tramroad using a Leeds-built Manning Wardle 0-6-0 saddletank
No 1264, also of 4' 1" gauge. The tramroad was eventually strengthened
and steel hopper wagons of 4 or 5 tons capacity were provided. At the
Bailey the locomotive gave way to a self acting incline which completed the
journey to the canal. The weight of full wagons descending the self acting
incline was used to raise empty wagons back up from the canal side to the
Following the incorporation of the Skipton Rock Co., the quarry line was
widened to 4' 8½" standard gauge and a short spur was provided from the new
Skipton to Ilkley line on the east side of Embsay Station into the quarry.
Locomotive 1264, named Wyvern, was also converted to the standard gauge of
A further locomotive, Darfield, was purchased in 1920, this being an
ex-Ministry of Munitions Hunslet 0-6-0 saddletank No 162 of 1876. Both
Darfield and Wyvern continued in Skipton Rock service until 1932/4, Wyvern
going first followed by Darfield two years later.
Hudswell Clarke Ltd, of Leeds, provided replacements in the form of 0-6-0
saddletanks Nos. 1650 Wyvern of 1932 and 1651 Darfield of 1934.
Road traffic overtook the rail network within Haw Bank quarry and by 1952
both locomotives had been sold for scrap. Stone was no longer shipped out
of Skipton in barges and the Army had built a road into the quarry using
Italian prisoners of war as a workforce.
At its peak in 1934 the quarry had some 5 miles of track available and
employed fitters for locomotive repairs/maintenance, joiners for wagon
repairs, blacksmiths for locomotive and wagon parts and 5 lengthmen to look
after the tracks.
In addition to the large numbers of internal user wagons for the quarry and
tramroad, the Skipton Rock Co. also operated a fleet of private owner wagons
for carrying stone to customers via the Midland Railway and connected
through the Embsay spur.
Following the disposal of Darfield in 1952, a tractor was used to shunt
wagons down from Haw Bank quarry to the British Railways siding.
The Skipton Rock Co. was purchased by Hargreaves in 1968 and they later
sold out to Tilcon Quarry Products. The quarry has, in recent years, been
used only for coating limestone brought in by road from Tilcon’s Swinden
Quarry. An inspection of the quarry reveals no trace of the former rail
use apart from some buried sleepers at the point where the spur joined the
Skipton to Ilkley line.
The Embsay & Grassington Railway Preservation Society was formed in October
1968 when it was realised that the former Yorkshire Dales Railway branch
from Skipton to Grassington was threatened with closure. The aim of the
Preservation Society was to preserve this branch and operate trains for the
enthusiast and tourist market whilst saving from extinction a part of the
Yorkshire Dales’ railway history. The Grassington branch has something of a
celebrity status in local railway circles and throughout the wider railway
The Yorkshire Dales Railway Museum Trust
The branch is still operating today, owned by Railtrack and featuring stone
trains worked using the latest English, Welsh and Scottish Railway
locomotives and wagons. This explains why the aims of the infant Society
were never realised.
However, a name change to Yorkshire Dales Railway Society (YDRS) in 1969
saw the Society undeterred and still determined to preserve something of the
Midland Railway in the local area. A plan to re-open a part of the recently -
closed Skipton to Ilkley line was conceived.
The YDRS took possession of Embsay Station on a rental basis, in 1970, until
arrangements for the line purchase could be made and the necessary funds
raised. The station building was oil-lit, without power supplies and was to
all intents derelict.
Track lifting on the line was well advanced by this time and the YDRS was only
able to secure approximately 880 yards, from Embsay Junction up to a point
just on the Ilkley side of Embsay Station near to where the spur into Haw
Bank quarry was once located.
The first priority for the Society was to establish a base from which future
developments could build and, in order to raise capital, the ‘steam centre’
plan was formulated. Trolley buses found a home in Embsay’s former Goods
Shed and a simple railway operation was introduced, with one or two former
Manchester South Junction and Altrincham electric railway trailer cars
sandwiched between two steam locomotives.
In the mid-1970’s the climate changed for preserved railways. The move was
towards authenticity and a greater respect for railway heritage was prevalent
following the early years when the battle cry had been, of necessity, ‘save
everything’. It was realised that the push-pull shuttle was insufficient and
could not sustain the desires of the Society. The trolley buses had gone and
the YDRS decided that it was high time that they became a railway.
By May 1979 a shuttle service was inaugurated centred on the Embsay station
to Embsay Junction line. The trackbed, track and station had been purchased
from the British Railways Board and an impressive collection of locomotives,
carriages and wagons was being formed, with Yorkshire-built steam locomotives
at the core.
The YDRS continued to progress its aims over the next few years. It became a
Charitable Trust, the Yorkshire Dales Railway Museum Trust (YDRMT), and, later,
a Registered Museum. Embsay station was restored to LMS condition, locomotives
were overhauled, carriages refurbished and given a livery identical to the
early British Railways colours but with a YDRMT crest on the flanks.
At this stage in the Trust’s development it became obvious that the Grassington
Branch had found a new lease of life, truncated at Swinden Quarry near Cracoe,
and would not be succumbing to the ‘closure axe’ as had been earlier feared.
This left the Trust facing a crucial decision as to its own future.
As the Trust owned the trackbed for some distance from Embsay towards Ilkley,
it seemed a logical idea that the way ahead was to commence rebuilding the old
Midland Railway line in that direction. Discussions with the owner of the next
section of trackbed proved to be fruitful and a lease was negotiated.
Tracklaying proceeded satisfactorily and an extended operation, to Skibeden
Loop, was introduced. The lengthened train ride proved very popular with visitors
and volunteers but the Railway still lacked a true destination.
The next target to be set was to further extend the line to a location known
as Holywell. A Halt and picnic area / nature trail would be built and passengers
would be able to leave the train in order to view the Craven Fault. A this point
on the line, where the railway passes through a cutting, there is an unrivalled
view of the geologic feature and the area is designated a Site of Special Scientific
Interest. A viewing area and interpretative panel were created giving our passengers
an opportunity to understand a little of this significant geological phenomenon.
Trains commenced operating to Holywell Halt in July 1987 as a result of some
considerable effort by the Trust volunteers and other organisations who helped
with various stages of the project. These included Pendle Heritage Trust
(training unemployed young people in building skills), the Christian Youth
Fellowship Association, local Venture Scouts and the sterling efforts of the
Yorkshire Dales Conservation Volunteers (affiliated to the BTCV).
Holywell Halt and the associated Hartington Hollow picnic area / nature
trail were declared open by the Marquess of Hartington, whose Bolton Abbey
Estate borders the line, and have proved to be very popular with our visitors,
particularly in Summer. The Halt also provided the Trust with a second station
but not, alas, a real destination.
The Trust continued to operate services to Holywell Halt whilst plans were
formulated to extend the line further towards the derelict Bolton Abbey
The proposal was to extend the line to a location known as Stoneacre, near to
the village of Draughton, which approximates to the half way point between
Embsay and Bolton Abbey. Trains could terminate here, it was envisaged, for a
few years to allow the Trust to complete the remainder of the railway to
Bolton Abbey and rebuild the derelict station building.
At this time the Trust underwent a further change of identity purely for
marketing purposes. The name Embsay Steam Railway would be adopted for publicity
and marketing use with the YDRMT identity would remain as the title of the
owning and operating body. Embsay Steam Railway was a descriptive title allowing
no misinterpretation as to the location and purpose of the railway.
The line to Stoneacre opened in 1991, tracklaying being considerably speeded
up by the involvement of the Territorial Army Royal Engineers, and once again
the extra length of railway was well received providing a new dimension for our
visitors and an enhanced railway experience.
Bolstered by the success of Stoneacre, the Trust started negotiations with the
trackbed owner with the aim of securing the purchase of the remaining two miles
of trackbed into Bolton Abbey and the station there. These proved to be protracted
but, ultimately, the Trust was able to agree a price and ownership was taken in
The final push to Bolton Abbey proved to be the largest project undertaken
by the Trust so far; the most challenging with two bridges to reinstate, two
miles of trackbed to reclaim, track to construct and a station to rebuild.
Trains ran again between Embsay and Bolton Abbey during 1997 and this state
of affairs would not have been possible without welcome grant aid from the
European Regional Development Fund and English Partnerships plus some superb
support from the railway and construction industries. A new station, of Midland
Railway design, was constructed to replace the original, dangerous and derelict
timber building. This construction was undertaken by Sir Robert MacAlpine &
Co Ltd free of charge with 90% of the materials donated to the project, including
all architectural works by DLG+P - an amazing feat.
An official opening was conducted by Sir William MacAlpine in 1998 and the
YDRMT entered a new phase with a transformed railway. Visitor comments since
re-opening have vindicated our efforts in rebuilding the line and passenger
numbers have reflected this new dawn for the YDRMT.
Settling down after Bolton Abbey and the commencement of a time of consolidation
have been the key since re-opening. The loop at Stoneacre has been adapted
to form a passing loop allowing trains to cross and thereby increase the frequency
of service. A newly built signal box to an early 20th century design, innovative
‘alternative’ power supplies and imaginative use of old equipment have led to
Stoneacre being awarded the Westinghouse Award in the 1999 National Railway
For the future, the Trust intends to create a Museum dedicated to
Yorkshire industrial locomotive building and operation
together with a conservation area where vehicles in the collection can be
lovingly restored to former condition and placed in a protective environment.