Co-op grant brings dividends for Rocks by Rail

Rocks by Rail volunteers receive donation from Co-op
Rocks by Rail volunteers receive donation from Co-op

Members of the volunteer run Rocks By Rail are celebrating the offer of a grant award from the Central England Co-operative approved under their Making a Difference Community Dividend Scheme.

The grant award of £2,000 is to facilitate the purchase of museum display equipment. This will be sited within the new Simon Layfield Exhibition Centre at their Rocks by Rail museum site which specialises in the local industrial heritage associated with quarrying and quarry railways in the East of England.

Interestingly there is a historical link between quarrying for ironstone and the Co-op. In 1899 the Desborough Co-operative Society purchased Manor Farm Estate on the southwest outskirts of the town.

Trial boreholes in the land showed the presence of some 800,000 tons of iron ore. In contrast to other mineral land owners the Society elected in 1904 to open up the land and operate the quarry themselves with local labour.

The Society built an industrial railway to link the quarries to the mainline and purchased their own steam locomotive named “Progress” to pull wagons of extracted ore. The quarries were later extended to near Thorpe Underwood and intensively worked during the First World War to produce ore to aid the war effort. The Co-operative ceased direct control over quarrying in the early 1920s when the workings were taken over by a subsidiary of the South Durham Steel and Iron Company. Ironstone extraction continued up to the late 1960s.

Commenting on the grant award Mr David Atkinson, Museum Trustee said: “We are very grateful for the support of the Central England Co-operative in helping to support our project to establish enhanced display equipment for our new museum building. This will enable more interpretive material, artefacts and some of our archives to be viewed by museum visitors giving them a fuller appreciation of our industrial past.”