'Barabel' and the Oxfordshire Ironstone Company

The Oxfordshire Ironstone Company Ltd. (OIC) was the second largest ironstone quarry system in the Midlands, surpassed only by Stewarts & Lloyds at Corby. Incidentally, the United Steel Companies' Exton Park system (just 'up the road' from Nene Valley Railway) was the third largest with a loop of nine miles and a two mile link to the exchange sidings at what is now Rutland Railway Museum's site between Cottesmore and Ashwell. The Oxfordshire system was centred on the small village of Wroxton to the west of Banbury where the headquarters, loco sheds and main works were located. From this 'hub', railways branched out to the various outlying quarries two or so miles away such Hornton, Alkerton and Balscott, where quarry machines - face shovels and draglines - dug out the ironstone from the massive reserves which lay, literally, just under the surface and which were, therefore, very easily accessible.

The company tended to be 'steam-minded' in the matter of equipment, purchasing one of the last steam draglines built in this country in 1937 (Ransomes & Rapier Ltd. '480' No.511, which was scrapped in 1955) and the very last steam locomotive in the ironstone industry, as recently as November 1958 (0-6-0ST Hunslet Engine Co., Works No. 3872 Frank).

This reluctance to change was emphasised when the change-over to diesel traction finally took place in the 1960's, some half a dozen makers sending locomotives for trial (Ruston & Hornsby, Hunslet, Yorkshire Engine Co., Rolls Royce Sentinel and possibly Andrew Barclay), the final choice being the Rolls Royce Sentinel standard design. This in itself was quite surprising as the Sentinel Company (before it had been taken over by Rolls Royce in 1956) had supplied a less-than-successful steam loco Phyllis (4wVBT Works No. 9615) in 1956. As Eric Tonks wrote (in his book 'The Ironstone Quarries of the Midlands Part II The Oxfordshire Field ISBN 1870754026), it says much for the Rolls Royce Sentinel salesman's persuasive powers that the OIC, despite the 'pup' they had been sold a few years before and which languished unused and unwanted in the shed, agreed to Rolls Royce Sentinel demonstrating their diesel and then decided to buy from that company after the demonstration!

The first loco, an 0-4-0 diesel hydraulic bearing no number or name simply being referred to as 'the diesel', was purchased in December 1961 and worked turn about with the steamers. Even when it had proved its worth, one more was ordered - just to make sure! The second loco, again, an 0-4-0 DH, arrived in October 1962 and it, too, had no title, the pair being unofficially christened 'No. 1' and 'No. 2'.

It was the policy of the Rolls Royce Sentinel company at that time to exhort firms to place a bulk order for locomotives rather than change over piecemeal. Accordingly, Oxfordshire Ironstone Co. took the opportunity to replace its entire steam fleet, which, since the establishment of the system in 1917, had amounted to some thirty-three locos, fifteen of which worked the system at this time in the early 1960's. Of these, incidentally, only one 'made it' into preservation - 0-6-0T Hudswell Clarke Works No.1334 built 1918 No.1 Sir Thomas at Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, similar in appearance (the standard Hudswell Clarke 'PLA' type) to Thomas at NVR (Hudswell Clarke Works No.1800 built1947). The decision was taken by OIC to dieselise the locomotive fleet completely by the bulk purchase of eleven more diesels, All built in one series, they were delivered, by rail, at regular intervals from the Rolls Royce Sentinel works at Shrewsbury between September 1964 and July 1965.

The OIC's steam fleet had consisted of two well-defined groups - the four-wheelers with girls' names operated between the quarries and the crushing plant at Wroxton, whilst the six-wheelers with boys' names hauled the trains of ironstone on the 'five mile long 'mainline' from Wroxton to the exchange sidings a mile or so north of Banbury on the BR (ex GWR) Paddington - Birmingham main line for onward transit to the iron and steel works of Birmingham, West Midlands and South Wales.

Exactly the same differentiation between duties was envisaged for the diesel fleet. It was decided to standardise on the 325 hp 0-4-0 Diesel Hydraulic type. The eight quarry locomotives, at 30 tons, were lighter than the standard 40 ton design, to take into account the lightweight nature of the track in the quarries - the weight of the loco being determined by the addition or omission of ballast weights during construction. For the 'mainline' traffic, instead of the Rolls Royce Sentinel standard 0-6-0 DH design as originally envisaged (as per Corby Quarries 22/London Transport DL83 which is, of course, preserved at the NVR), Thomas Hill (Rotherham) Ltd. (who had been Sentinel's steam waggon and then Rolls Royce Sentinel's rail locomotive agents since the 1930's) persuaded, according to Eric Tonks, OIC that the standard 0-4-0 DH design of 40 tons and vacuum fitted, would be quite adequate. Increasing the gearbox ratio enabled the 'boys' to travel at a higher speed on the OIC's 'main line' and, with the 40 ton standard design weight, gave the same axle loading as the six-coupled steam locos that the diesels replaced. The five-month delay between the deliveries of the last 'girl' (Jean) and the first 'boy' (Alex) was due, it is thought, to specification of the 'main line' locos being under some discussion. Possibly, too, Jean (the last quarry loco) was subjected to some trialling as it, too, had its gearbox ratio changed and certainly had a faster turn of speed when compared with the other 'girls'. Fortuitously, and 'right on cue', Rolls Royce Sentinel's records specifically relating to the Oxfordshire Ironstone Company's diesel locos have surfaced so further light may well be thrown on this particular subject. However, despite these differences, the outwork appearance of all the locos was the same.

Even the names were the same. The eight quarry machines and five 'mainliners' received the nameplates from the displaced steamers - girls for the quarries, boys for the mainline. They were (according to the Rolls Royce Sentinel records) refurbished and fitted to the diesels by Rolls Royce Sentinel free of charge. The plates, of course, revealed their origin as each steam locomotive manufacturer had had their own distinctive style of lettering - easily recognised by the 'railway enthusiast'! During the changeover period, the loss of the nameplates from the steam locos was, according to Eric Tonks 'felt far beyond the bare patch on the tanks'. The driver of Barabel (Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0 ST, Works No.1868 of 1953) made his own replica wooden nameplates, which were carried by the steamer until it was scrapped, by G Cohen Sons & Co. of Cransley near Kettering, in September 1965.

Alas, the wholesale changeover from steam to diesel belied the real state of the Midlands' ironstone industry and, indeed, the British iron and steel industry as a whole. No sooner had the new diesel fleet settled down to a regular operating pattern of moving the ironstone than the accelerating decline of the ironstone industry generally meant that the writing was on the wall for many Midlands' ironstone quarries - especially those some distance away from the iron and steel works where the transport costs to get the ironstone to the furnaces was high. The Oxfordshire system's output of 40,000 tons of ironstone per week at the end of 1965 dropped dramatically by mid-1967 to a mere 2,000 tons per week and the workforce reduced accordingly - from 190 in the mid-1950's down to 52 working a two-day week in 1967.

Consequently, in September 1967, the system closed - an event that could hardly have been foreseen when the Rolls Royce Sentinel fleet was ordered three years before! With the reduction in the locomotive requirement, some of the 'new' diesels had already been transferred to other quarries and works within the Stewarts & Lloyds 'empire' prior to closure, but by May 1968, they had all gone, the system dismantled and the quarries restored.

The locomotives - the oldest a mere six years old, the youngest less than three - were all found employment within the iron and steel industry, but the subsequent retrenchment has meant that most of them have been 'shoved from pillar to post' and it is not easy to have kept track of them. Apart from those which transferred to other works and to the giant S & L Corby Steelworks itself, some continued in ironstone service elsewhere with the initial aim of displacing steam working at Irchester, Storefield, Cranford (all in Northamptonshire) and Pilton (Rutland) - but here again events outpaced their movements and the last two places never received diesels because closure intervened. The locos at the Stewarts & Lloyds Minerals' quarries 'North of the Welland' (Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Rutland) fared better and put in some years' service at Woolsthorpe (Leicestershire), Harlaxton, (Lincolnshire), Market Overton (Rutland) and Buckminster (Leicestershire) and, indeed, helped with the track-lifting at some of these sites. Again, as Eric Tonks remarked, a rather sad end to a fine fleet.

Barabel, Works No. 10202, was delivered new to the Oxfordshire Ironstone Company from the Shrewsbury factory by rail on 29th December 1964, the sixth delivery of the fleet and within the second 'quarry' batch of five locos weighing 31 tons. The nameplates were transferred from the original Barabel steam loco (Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0 ST). The OIC's steam loco boys' and girls' names all had some reference to company officials and the unusual Barabel was named after the wife of Mr A G Stewart who was Chairman of the Oxfordshire Ironstone Company 1949 - 1951 and Chairman of the OIC's parent company, Stewarts & Lloyds Ltd., 1945 -1964.

As the need for the diesels decreased with the decline in the industry, Barabel became the first of the thirteen diesels to be transferred - to Stewarts & Lloyds' Bromford Tube Works, Erdington, Birmingham on 17th July 1967, this being, in fact, two and a half months before the complete closure of the Oxfordshire system.

During the 1970's, Barabel received parts from a similar, but older, Rolls Royce Sentinel loco No. 59 (Works No. 10099 built 1962 which was also at Bromford Works. At some stage, the design's sliding bonnet door arrangement was changed for the as-presently-carried lighter door arrangement (to aid ease of maintenance) and the original distinctive side sheets were replaced by hand rails. As well as losing its nameplates and identity, the loco also lost its superb OIC crimson, lined out black and yellow livery and red buffer beams, being repainted the ubiquitous 'industrial' yellow with wasp stripe ends.

From around 1983, there was little rail traffic in or out of Bromford Works, any rail work being of an internal nature, and with closure, Barabel had been sold on by December 1994, eventually ending up at the Round Oak Rail Terminal in Brierley Hill, West Midlands. Here a train air brake system was fitted to enable the loco to shunt air braked wagons of steel delivered by mainline rail. By this stage, Barabel received its present royal blue paintwork with black and yellow wasp stripes on the buffers and sides below the running plate. This steel terminal, which eventually became Innovate Logistics, was on the site of part of the former Round Oak Steel Works - which itself had been supplied with ironstone by the Oxfordshire Ironstone Company all those years before!

Barabel was acquired for preservation by members of the Iron & Steel Traction Group and moved to Nene Valley Railway on 15/16 March 2006. In working order, and with its former identity reinstated - albeit with 'temporary' nameplates, apart from minor maintenance (which includes attention to a leaking radiator) and servicing, the loco has been immediately made available for general yard shunting duties at Wansford.

Within the ISTG work programme, Barabel will eventually be fully restored with original style bonnet doors and distinctive side sheets reinstated. Whilst the loco was never vacuum fitted (only the heavier 'mainline' boys and the last 'quarry' girl were so fitted) at OIC, it is intended that a vacuum brake system will be installed in addition to retaining its current air brake system. As a fitting 'history' of the Oxfordshire Ironstone Company and its fine diesel fleet, Barabel will be restored to its original crimson livery, resplendent in yellow and black lining out and red buffer beams.

To those 'in the know', the 'Oxfordshire Sentinels' were easily recognisable! At OIC the locos were fitted with buckeye couplings to haul the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Co type 'dumpcars' which were in use on that system to bring the iron ore from the quarries to the crusher at Wroxton. As with the nameplates, the buckeyes were transferred to the diesels from the steamers, being fixed to the loco with a large casting bolted onto the buffer beams. Of course, when the diesels were transferred from the Oxfordshire quarries, these unique couplings were quickly removed and replaced by standard draw gear, but the eight bolt holes in the buffer beams can be easily seen on Barabel and, indeed, on all the other locos that survive.

At the present time, a total of six locos survive from the original thirteen Oxfordshire Ironstone Company's thirteen - not a bad record considering their subsequent movements! Of these 'survivors', four locos are actually preserved with, at the time of writing, it is believed that only Barabel is in operational order and working - at Nene Valley Railway.


Table 1: Rolls Royce Sentinel 0-4-0 Diesel Hydraulic 'Barabel'

Builders: Rolls Royce Sentinel, Shrewsbury (Works No. 10202); Year: 1964.

Engine: Rolls Royce C8SFL, supercharged, 325 bhp @ 1800 rpm.

Transmission: British Twin Disc, torque converter CF.11500; Self Changing Gears Ltd. RF11 final drive.

Driving wheels diameter: 3' 6''; Wheelbase 6' 0”; Length over buffers: 24' 4¾”

Maximum locomotive speed: 21 mph; Max. tractive effort: 24200 lb.

Locomotive weight: 31 tons.


Table 2: The Rolls Royce Sentinel Diesel Locomotives of the Oxfordshire Ironstone Co.
Works No. Name Delivered to OIC Subsequent History
10090 Grace 20/11/61 To Corby Works (Northants.) 23/10/67 (D21, renumbered D37), Scrapped on site 19/2/74.
10142 Maud 18/12/62 To Market Overton Quarries (Rutland) 2/68,
To Irchester Quarries (Northants)2/69.
To Glendon East Quarries (Northants)1/70.
To BSC Panteg Steelworks (S. Wales) 5/72.
Preserved Dean Forest Rly.
To Long Marston Workshop (Warwicks.), subsequently scrapped by Hursts of Dorset (supplied parts for Joan , Jean and Barabel).
10165 Joan 22/9/64 To Harlaxton Quarries (Lincs) 3/68.
To BSC Panteg Steelworks (S. Wales) 5/72.
Preserved Dean Forest Rly.
To Long Marston Workshops (Warwicks.).
To East Somerset Rly. (under restoration).
10200 Gwen 28/10/64 To Harlaxton Quarries (Lincs) 9/67.
Exported to Italy (per RE Trem Ltd. 7/74). Located complete in scrapyard 10-11/06/2002 (Rotamfer, Castelnuovo, Italy).
10201 Betty 30/11/64 To Harlaxton Quarries (Lincs) 9/67 (hauled last train of ironstone from the quarry marking the end of 100 years of ironstone quarrying 'North of the Welland' ie. Leics., Lincs. and Rutland, 14/2/74).
To Andrew Barclay Co. (Repairs) 7/74.
To NCB North East Area Blackhall Colliery (Co. Durham) 12/74.
To Easington Colliery (Co. Durham) 10/75.
To Derwenthaugh Coke Works (Blaydon, Tyne & Wear). Preserved Rutland Railway Museum 12/86 (under restoration).
10202 Barabel 29/12/64 To Bromford Tube Works (Erdington, Birmingham) 7/67.
To Round Oak Rail Terminal/Innovate Logistics (Brierley Hill, West Midlands) by 12/94. Preserved Nene Valley Railway 15-16/3/06 (in working order).
10203 Mary 5/1/65 To Woolsthorpe Quarries (Leics) 9/67.
To Harlaxton Quarries Lincs) 3/74.
To Andrew Barclay Co. (for resale) 5/74.
To NCB Barnsley Area Darfield Main Colliery /75.
To Smithywood Coking Plant (Sheffield), Scrapped c. 1988 (supplied parts for Betty).
10204 Jean 21/1/65 (Retained at OIC for track lifting upon closure of the system).
To Glendon East Quarries (Northants) 5/68.
To Storefield Quarries (Northants) 1/69.
To Corby Quarries (Northants.) 6/73.
To Thomas Hill (for resale) 11/74.
To Midland-Yorkshire Tar Distillers Ltd/Croda Chemicals (Kilnhurst, Yorks.) 2/75.
To London Carriers International Ltd (Paddock Wood, Kent) (via Rutland Railway Museum for servicing/repaint c.1989).
To East Lancs Rly (pending opening of London Carriers (became Bibby Distribution) distribution depot (Heywood, Lancs.) which did not materialise).
Preserved Long Marston Workshops (Warwicks.) (under restoration).
10205 Alex 9/6/65 To Corby Works (Northants.) 23/10/67 (D22 renumbered D38), Scrapped on site c.1974.
10206 John 9/6/65 To Corby Works 23/10/67 (D23 renumbered D39).
To Thomas Hill Ltd. (for resale) 4/7/77.
To Albright & Wilson Ltd. (Marchon Works, Whitehaven, Cumbria) /77.
Preserved Steamtown Railway Museum (subsequently West Coast Rail Co.), Carnforth (Lancs), numbered 12 by 1/1/94). Reported scrapped on site by EMR Metals 2003.
10207 Graham 7/7/65 To Stanton & Staveley (Stanton Works, Ilkeston, Derbys.) (Stanton No.61, 689/171, LBH44), latterly out of use. (Still with original 'Graham' nameplates whilst at Stanton in 2006). To Rutland Railway Museum 9/3/07 (following announcement of impending closure of Stanton Works in 8/2007).
10208 Allan 7/7/65 To Corby Works (Northants.) 23/10/67 (D24 renumbered D40).
To Thomas Hill Ltd. (for resale)15/7/77.
To Tees & Hartlepool Port Authority Grangetown (Tyne & Wear) (R.A.No.3) 12/77, Dismantled 1982, Scrapped on site by 1/1/87.
10209 Frank 15/7/65 To Market Overton Quarries (Rutland) 10/67.
To Buckminster Quarries (Leics) 10/67.
To Market Overton Quarries1/68.
To Buckminster Quarries (Leics.) 12/71.
To Harlaxton Quarries (Lincs) 5/72.
Exported to Italy (per RE Trem Ltd.) 7/74. Current fate unknown - presumed scrapped.


Table 3: Steam Locomotives of the Oxfordshire Ironstone Co. from which names were transferred to the Diesel Fleet.
Name Wheels Builder Works No. & Year To OIC Scrapped
Grace 0-4-0ST Peckett 1894/1936 new 9/1936 9/1965 c
Maud 0-4-0ST Peckett 1937/1938 new 1/1938 9/1965 c
(303 No2)
0-4-0ST Avonside 1822/1919 toOIC 1/1957 9/1965 c
Gwen (No6) 0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke 1662/1936 new 4/1936 5/1965 s
Betty 0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke 1869/1953 new 7/1953 9/1965 c
Barabel 0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke 1868/1953 new 7/1953 9/1965 c
Mary 0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke 1818/1950 new 8/1950 9/1965 c
(Betty to 5/1958)
0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke 1696/1939 to OIC 1/1958 9/1965 c
Alex 0-6-0ST Hunslet 3716/1952 new 2/1952 9/1965 c
(Joan to 8/1957)
0-6-0ST Peckett 1981/1940 new 12/1940 9/1965 c
(Hellidon to 4/1953)
0-6-0ST Hunslet 2415/1941 to OIC 1/1943 9-10/1965 s
Allan 0-6-0ST Peckett 1997/1941 new 7/1941 9-10/1965 s
Frank 0-6-0ST Hunslet 3872/1958 new 11/1958 9-10/1965 s


s = scrapped at OIC by James Friswell, Banbury
c = sent to George Cohen, Cransley, Kettering for scrapping.
To OIC = Joan – ex Steel Co. of Wales, Margam
Jean – ex Royal Arsenal, Woolwich via EL Pitt (dealer) Brackley
Graham – ex Park Gate Iron & Steel Co. Charwelton Quarries
ST = Saddle Tank locomotive


A detailed account of the Oxfordshire Ironstone Company can be found in The Ironstone Quarries of the Midlands (History, Operation and Railways) – Part II The Oxfordshire Field by Eric Tonks (ISBN 1870754026) and in The Development of Corby Works by Sir Frederick Scopes (pub. Stewarts & Lloyds Ltd., 1968). Various railway magazines and publications have also produced articles/features on the OIC – eg. Industrial Echoes, Banbury's 'secret' railway by Mervyn Leah (Steam Railway 1988). Information on Sentinel/Rolls Royce can be found in The Sentinel 1930-1980 by Anthony R & Joseph L Thomas (ISBN 0863171400).

Note: The ISTG would welcome any further information, photographs etc. about the Oxfordshire Ironstone Co. Rolls Royce Sentinel locos generally and Barabel. The wherabouts of Barabel's nameplates would be particularly welcome! If you can help please contact through NVR General Office. Thank you!

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