SK 24236 62808 to SK 25085 63286; SK 24720 62758 to SK 25023 to 63142; SK 24757 63018 to SK 24830 63068: LIGHT RAILWAY & SAWMILL. During the course of a RCHME survey in 1987 a forgotten light railway and sawmill was recorded. The earthworks were recorded as narrow, flattened banks averaging 1.5m wide and 0.2-0.3m high. They were formed of earth and sand and flanked by strings of small pits. They are the remains of a narrow gauge animal-drawn light railway of the WW1 period. (1)
Local enquiries have established that during the early part of WW1 the coniferous plantations were systematically felled to produce trench timber for shipment to Europe. Demands for the supply of timber led to the setting up of a Home Grown Timber Committee in 1915 to organise home supply, as needs became more urgent the Committee was absorbed into the Board of Trade Timber Control in 1917. (2)
Cartographic evidence confirms a massive clearance of woodland on Stanton Moor. (3-4)
Residents of Birchover remember that the clearance was carried out by local female labour under the direction of the Canadian Army, and that to facilitate the movement of timber from the moor to the sawmill an animal drawn light railway was constructed. (5)
It appears that light railways or tramways were mosly laid in light 9lb/yard rail and extensively on 60cm gauge systems and were worked by men, horses or small petrol locomotives; these were used extensively in forest clearance in France, the work often undertaken by Canadian Foresters. (6-7)
A detailed description of the railway on Stanton Moor was provided by a resident of Birchover, who remembers riding on the rail-mounted trolleys hauled by two donkeys. He describes the railway as being flanked by small pits, which supplied material for the ballast bank upon which the rail was laid. He describes one line as running from the junction of the path to the Cork Stone and Birchover Road (SK 24200 62800) close to where the sawmill was situated, up a steep slope where trolleys were braked by cable and winch toward the highest point of the moor and on toward the Reform Tower. Further lines are remembered reaching toward the Nine Ladies and along the 'middle ring'. This would appear to be the middle of three 'rides' then existing through the woodland with the Duke's Drive forming the E of the three; the track from cairn SMR 12936 past the embanked stone circle, SMR 12978 toward the Nine Ladies forming the W ride; and the middle one corresponding to the present day path.
The single, longest section of the earthworks runs SW-NE across the moor. Near SK 24212 62813 are the earthwork remains of a small rectangular building, which are probably the remains of the sawmill.
The ballast bank of the tramway is composed of earth and sand dug directly from the borrow pits. At the centre of the moor the construction of the bank may have been responsible for the partial destruction of three cairns (T52, T53, T54) SMR 12921. Across the central area of the moor, the route has a gradient downslope to the NE where it has been artifically ramped down and uses the route of a pre-existing hollow way at SK 24928 63156 for a length of 90m N before being ramped out again. Along the line of the re-used hollow-way, a metal plate (23cm by 3cm) pierecd by four holes - possibly a fish-plate - was found.
The second major route follows the line of a track depicted on the 1898 OS map (3), this is less well defined, largely due to its use as a footpath. The most northerly ballast pit located along this track is at SK 25023 63144.
The third section of ballast bank is 90m long and situated 15m NW of the main route, running in a straight line across the general E-SE facing slope on a similar gradient to the main line. This detached bank, which terminates abruptly at both ends, is of earth and sand and flanked by ballast pits. At the E end of this line a further metal fishplate was found lying on the surface. The plates are held by the Royal Commission office at Keele University.
No evidence of a line up to the Nine Ladies was identified.
It is alleged that, after WW1, the railway continued working, operated by a private company, until around 1920, but this is unconfirmed.