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B.Fayle & Co's Railways 



At the beginning of the 19th century the company B.Fayle & Co. was formed with the board consisting of Benjamin Fayle, Alexander Jaffray and Richard Chambers. The company's purpose was to construct an "Iron Rail Way" across the Purbeck heath land from Norden to Middlebere Creek to remove the bottleneck in the supply of clay to Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters. Benjamin Fayle was a successful Merchant who had come from Dublin to London. 1801 records show Benjamin Fayle as a member of Lloyds. Eventually he received the freedom of the City of London and had many friends in high places. Alexander Jaffray (Benjamin Fayle's brother-in-law) had been the Governor of the Bank of Ireland from 1791 to 1793. He served on the economy committee 1803-04 of the Royal Dublin Society and probably arranged the finance to construct Dorset's first railway. 

The engineer who built the plateway was John Hodgkinson whose mentor and cousin was Benjamin Outram (partner of William Jessop who's first major work had been to build a canal in Dublin. Jessop had also built the Surrey Iron Railway a few years earlier). Papers held in Corfe Castle Town Museum state that the contractor was Willis. At the time the manager of the clay pits was Joseph Willis and tenant at Norden Farm, so this points to a possible "self build" by Fayle's men to John Hodgkinson's instructions. Joseph Willis was also the Chancellor of Exchequer's ( Lord Eldon) land agent and served him for over 50 years. 



Construction of the line commenced in 1805. The rails were cast iron, L-shaped 3ft long and weighing 40lb, the horse-drawn clay wagons had flangeless wheels, and the sleepers were simply stone blocks (60-70lb) numbering well in excess of 10,000. (some of the sleepers remain in place today, complete with holes where the rails used to be fixed. Others have been used as paving stones at Langton Wallis Cottage.) The cast iron rails secured to stone blocks (with metal spike and oak dowel) set in the ground. There were no  cross members between the two rails. The gauge was 3ft 9in and the line was 3.4 miles long. On 16th August 1806, Benjamin Fayle wrote to Wedgwood announcing the opening of the line and a reduction in the price of clay.  




Two horses worked  in tandem pulling 5 wagons weighing almost a ton each and with a 2 ton capacity and making 3 round trips a day, giving an annual total of 9,000-10,000 tons.  By 1865 and additional team of horses and wagons had been brought into use and passing places constructed to raise the annual tonnage to 22,000 tons.













The plateway was one of the first users of Collinge's patent axle that was designed by John Collinge of Bridge Road, Lambeth in 1792. It was already in use on the plateway in 1812 when William Stevenson visited.   Until its introduction, wheels had to be removed and axle arms greased at least once a day when traveling any distance. 

In this device, the axle box (bearing tube) revolves against a collar on the axle arm, and has an oil reservoir at the inner end. It revolves against a collet at the outer end, which is held in place by two nuts on opposing threads, with a split pin through the outer nut. A brass axle cap is screwed into the outer end of the axle box. The cap is a second oil reservoir and is used to top up the oil. There was usually a groove machined along the top of the axle arm to assist the flow of oil from one reservoir to the other and also to catch any grit that may have entered. The axle arm and axle box were case-hardened. The oil is retained by a thick leather washer between the axle box and the collar, and a thin one between the flange of the axle cap and the outer face of the stock or nave (Wheelwrights never called it a hub). The axles and the axlebox which turned on them were accurately ground together and their rotation pumped a supply of oil to the rubbing surfaces, so that a well-made Collinge axle could run for 5000 miles without attentions. Such axles were extensively used on horse drawn carriages and went on to mount the wheels of early motorcars a century later.


The railway was extended to the South side of the Wareham to Corfe road via a tunnel built in 1807. 

Drawing of 1807 Tunnel by Michael Blackmore © Chris Legg

The tunnel is still there today but now is the route for a stream draining the artificial valley formed by the clay workings. The north portal of the tunnel was buried when the road was realigned in the 1980s. The Tunnel is now a listed building. 

1807 Tunnel in 2006

By 1825 a second tunnel  to the east was built and is still there under the main road but as yet is not listed.

2nd Tunnel in 2006

1881 the pits north of Norden Farm were being worked out and the tramway was extended eastwards along a parallel route to the proposed Swanage Railway to Norden where pits were dug, clay was processed and weathered. When the L&SWR branch line to Swanage was built an interchange siding was constructed and named "Lord Eldon's Clay Works Siding" to transfer clay to standard gauge wagons by shovel (a lot later a ramp was built to enable the clay to be tipped). 

This old photograph shows the lines curving away from the Smithy towards Eldon Sidings

The Middlebere Plateway was abandoned in about 1907, but it had been in continual use for over 100 years.

The quay at Middlebere Creek has gradually fallen in to disrepair and almost vanished. The photo's below show its decline.

                                1935                                                                                                1965

Click here to see photographs of the Middlebere Quay area today. The area in not accessible by members of the public. The location is in full view of two bird hides and part of an important bird sanctuary. However the National Trust do run a number of guided walks to the site throughout the year.  For further information contact  the editor

2) Newton Tramway

In May 1854 B.Fayle & Co opened a railway from the clay pits at Newton to Goathorn Pier on South Deep in Poole Harbour. The Admiralty had given permission for the building of the pier in 1852. The opening was attended by the board of B.Fayle & Co ( Miss Charlotte Fayle, Rev Richard Fayle of Torquay, Dr. Benjamin Guy Babington of Guys Hospital) and Rev J. H. Evans of Corfe, Joseph Willis (B.Fayle & Co's agent), and 170 clay workers. They were all served a dinner of roast beef. After the dinner many toasts were made including one to her Majesty the Queen. The Rev. Richard Fayle (Benjamin's son) rose and addressed the workmen at considerable length. His address was marked by a sympathy towards the workmen and a just appreciation of the mutual interest of the employer and the employed, such as was rarely witnessed at that time. (January 1854 had been a hard winter and because the miners were unable to work as much as normal (they were paid according to what they produced), B.Fayle and Co supplied them with 240 loaves a week as long as the bad weather lasted.)

The railway was initially horse worked and built at 3 foot gauge but was re-gauged to 3ft 9in  to take a Steam locomotive that was built by Stephen Lewin of Poole Foundry in about 1870. The engine was named "Corfe" but was nicknamed "Tiny" because of its size. The nickname became its real name. An engine shed was built at Newton to house "Tiny" and was located alongside clay workers' cottages. The water required for "Tiny" was obtained by hand pump from a well to the south of the engine shed. The coal for "Tiny" would have been brought in by ship via Goathorn Pier.

 Another well located close to another row of clay workers' cottages to the south, was used to provide drinking water for the workers and their families. This water was also supplied to the ships calling at Goathorn pier.

In 1907 the railway was joined to Norden and part of it became the "Fayles Tramway" 

The clay was worked out by about 1937 and the clay workers cottages were eventually taken over by the Ministry of Defense during the Second World War and used as target practice by ships.

3) Fayle's Tramway

In about 1907 the Middlebere tramway fell out of use and a link to Newton was constructed to a gauge of 3ft 9in, rails were laid from a point just south­east of the Slepe Road bridge at Norden across the Heath (Rempstone Forest was not planted until 1950's) to join the Newton tramway, giving an outlet to Goathorn Pier. The line was 53/4 miles in length. Another locomotive was purchased "Thames" (Further information on "Thames" can be found below). The railway enabled some of the clay from Norden to be exported via Goathorn pier and in turn some of the clay from Newton to exit Purbeck by train via Eldon Sidings. The railway was also used in 1924 to construct the Training Bank to maintain a navigable approach to Poole Harbour. It was constructed from limestone blocks (Portland and Purbeck stone) which were carried by the railway from Norden to Goathorn where they were loaded on to barges. 

The line was constructed using flat-bottomed rail spiked to wooden sleepers with earth ballast in a conventional way. There was an additional locomotive shed at Norden and trackwork included a short branch at Bushey. Other features included a wooden bridge over the Corfe river.


The layout at Norden was constantly changing, with wooden buildings being put up or moved; after World War 2 a large building was put up where the Newton line had diverged, to process the ball clay. Basically in the 1930 to 1970 period there was a large depot with Mines and pits west of the main road; the line crossed the main Corfe to Wareham road (guarded by a stub catch point) passing some sidings to cross the Swanage branch to a dead end which had once been the head of an incline down to lower pits.

Trains reversed out of here and ran down via weathering beds alongside the S R branch to a long loop having a weighbridge on its north track, and on to pass under Slepe road to the loading platform of Eldon's sidings (renamed Norden siding by British Rail). The track to the locomotive shed and Newton ran down from the north end of the weighbridge loop. Eldon's siding was not used after the late 1960's, and clay was loaded into lorries at a chute located at a track underpass near the northern end of the present Norden station.

Norden Works 1965 from Slepe Road © Mike Day   

In the photograph above it is possible to see the lorry drop between the Skew Arch Bridge and the Processing Shed. To the left of the photo can be seen V-Skips on their way to the weighbridge.

Fayle's tramway used normal railway track, to gauge of 3 ft 9 inches, and had two steam locomotives. One was a very small 0-4-0T built by Stephen Lewin of Poole about 1870, named Corfe and later Tiny.  

Tiny  © R.W.Kidner 

The engine Tiny like all Lewin engines seems to have been unique, her principal dimensions were:  

Cylinders                                    5 in. x 9 in.
Boiler pressure                            120lbs (later 1601bs)
Wheels                                       1 ft 9 in. diameter or (later 1 ft 7 in.) 
Wheelbase                                  3 ft 10 in
Boiler diameter                             2 ft 4 in.
Water tank capacity                     30 gallons
Coal                                            4cwt
Weight in working order                 7 tons  

She was certainly rebuilt at various times, she had new cylinders in 1916, these being stamped 'Dorset Iron Foundry', a firm with some connections with Lewin. In about 1930 she had a stovepipe chimney, large brass dome, boiler ring and polished bands around the cylinders. This engine had the top of its cab back plate, with two square windows, able to hinge down presumably to pass through the narrow bridge over the line just short of Eldon's siding. The buffers were wood-faced, and the brake blocks were also of wood and the cylinder lubricator was mounted in front of the chimney.  

In 1938 Tiny got her last new boiler, from Bagnalls, and this was the one which later was remounted on one of the Pikes engines Tertius, at about the same time she was fitted with a proper cab.

The second engine "Thames" was a larger Manning, Wardle 0-4-0 ST (its works number 1552 built 1902) purchased in 1909 from the Northern Outfall Sewerage line of the London County Council at Barking, and converted from 3 ft 6 inch gauge. This must have been purchased for the long haul to Goathorn, as it was too high to pass under the road bridge between Norden depot and the exchange sidings. (In 1938 the track was lowered under the bridge to enable it to do so) This engine retained its name Thames on cast plates on the saddle tanks and No. 48 on cab-side.

This was the engine used to run the Line's 'passenger service'. "Thames" and a converted clay wagon with a corrugated iron roof (nicknamed - "The Hen House").

  The Newton school (which was used as a chapel on Sundays before a purpose built chapel was built and consecrated in February 1920) had been closed for some time when on 27th June 1934, the Hen House conveyed schoolchildren daily from Newton to Corfe. The County Council paid B.Fayle & Co. a sum of 7s 6d  per day for this service. This was to encourage attendance at school for the children who should have gone to Studland school ( a very long walk) and had not attended school for a year. The school children alighted from the train at Arfleet and walked into Corfe to the Junior and Senior schools in East Street. When the train stopped in January 1937, the children eventually returned to Studland school but by taxi instead of walking.

Parishoners of St Mary's Swanage financed a new building at Goathorn for use as a Mission Chapel, and traveled by train to Corfe Castle, and walked the short distance to Arfleet. There they were seated in clean clay waggons for the journey to Goathorn for a concretion service. The chapel had a short life at Goathorn and was brought back to be positioned alongside St.Mary's Swanage. It has since been replaced by a Purbeck Stone building 


  Parishioners of St. Mary's Swanage 
  outside the Chapel at Goathorn/Newton 
  © Elsie Tombs (nee Surface) 





    School/Chapel building moved to Swanage © Mike Day 





By 1937 the Newton line seems to be little used. The pier at Goathorn ceased to be worked with the Second War requiring the peninsula as part of a bombing range. Much of the line that crossed Newton Heath was taken up in 1940 and there was no working north of the engine shed at Norden

In 1948 it was decided to re-gauge the remaining part of the line in the Norden area to 1ft 111/

To work the narrow-gauge line one steam-engine and several internal combustion engined rail tractors were purchased. The steam-engine was "Russell" a 2-6-2T Hunslet (1906) with a chequered history. She had been built for the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway, which never got as far as opening, and she went to work for the associated North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway. When this railway became part of the Welsh Highland Railway she was a rather severely butchered to reduce her vertical clearance enough to go through the notorious Moelwyn tunnel on the Festiniog Railway, it being intended to haul through trains from Dinas Junction to Festiniog. She got through the tunnel just once!!

In 1936 when the line was closed she spent a spell of five years in the Dinas shed and was followed by six years working for the Ministry of Supply at Hook Norton Mines in Oxfordshire, in 1948 Russell came south to Norden.

Russell  © George Moon 

The leading axle gave trouble (due to the poor quality of the track) and she latterly worked as a 0-6-2 T. But in 1953 a further boiler certificate was refused, and she was purchased by the Birmingham Locomotive Club for exhibition at the narrow-gauge Museum at Towyn in North Wales, being moved in August 1955. In April 1965 she was moved yet again to the Welsh Highland Railway Society, where she was fully restored to working order, taking her first WHR passenger train on Easter Saturday 1987. Russell was 100 years old in 2006 and is subject of an appeal to carry out boiler repairs.   Russell has left WHR to be rebuilt at Alan Keefs  

In the final years of the Norden system a number of internal combustion engines operated on the line.

 Ruston 392117 © Mike Day

392117 was built at the Ruston & Hornsby works at Lincoln in 1956 and it is a 48DL class, which is a 48hp 0-4-0 compression ignition engined loco, with a four cylinder Ruston engine, driving both axles by a chain drive via a three-speed gearbox. Upon completion, the locomotive was sent- with several others – to work on the building of the new tunnels at Hadley Wood on the ECML, when the line was being quadrupled. At the end of this contract, 392117 was moved to the Ball clay works at Norden, where it worked until it was preserved in the early 1970’s, along with Orenstein & Kopple 20777, at the then Hampshire Narrow Gauge Society’s base at Durley near Bishop’s Waltham. At some point in the locomotive’s career at Norden, the exhaust arrangement was altered. The four exhaust pipes originally combined together into a manifold before existing through the side of the engine compartment to a vertical silencer. However the exhaust pipes were modified, with the use of some brass tubes from one of the steam locos at Norden, to extend through the top of the engine compartment to give this Ruston a unique appearance. The loco was purchased by a Swanage Railway Fireman (Dave Knott) in 1992 and was moved to the Old Kiln Light Railway, near Farnham. Richard Bentley purchased it from Dave Knott in 1999 and it still remains at the Old Kiln Light Railway.

Early Lister engined Ruston © Mike Jackson 

2 older Rustons 175413, 179889 with Lister engines were used:- 

RH 175413 A 18/20 hp loco, was sold to  to Alan Keef Limited August 1972. Exported to BHH Pty Ltd Singapore around October 1972

RH 179889 A 20 hp loco, was sold to Alan Keef Limited August 1972. Then to Sheppey Light Railway on 15 May 1973. Returned to Alan Keef Limited on 16.10.73 and returned to Sheppey towards end 1973. Alan Keef Limited was then involved in exporting the loco to Singapore in March 1978.

 Also used for a while was a Motorail simplex c/n 5252)

2 Orenstein & Koppel Diesels at Norden  © George Moon 

Orenstein & Koppel 20777(above left) was a type RL3 and was built in 1936 and delivered to "Marine Sperrzeugamt Kiel". It was then "imported" via George W Bungey Ltd. at Hayes Middlesex and sold to ECC Ball clay Mines at Norden. In November 1972, it was purchased by Hampshire Lt. Rly. Soc. & Museum, Durley, Hants. It was privately owned by the late Barry Curl at Durley, Hants and in October 2012 was sold at auction to Graham Lee of Statford Barn Railway as "a present for his Grandson to play with". Having said that, Graham has a reputation for keeping his engines in first class running order. 
Rumour had it that it was used to pull V2s during the War, but no record or proof of this has been found. As it was delivered to the German Navy in Kiel (a major submarine construction area), it is more likely to have been used for the more mundane task of pulling stores around the dockyard. The facts that the British captured Kiel and the American captured the V2 works and the O&K ended up in Britain, the Submarine construction and not the V2 construction is the more likely original use of the Diesel. No one knows for sure.


Orenstein & Koppel 21159(above right) was a type RL3 and was built in 1938. It was delivered to "F.Dannhauser". It was then "imported" via George W Bungey Ltd. at Hayes Middlesex and sold to ECC Ball clay Mines at Norden. In November 1972, it was purchased by Hampshire Lt. Rly. Soc. & Museum, Durley, Hants. In 2003 this diesel was "converted" into the steam engine "Emmet" by Jim Haylock and resides at present at the Moors Valley Railway Complex. It is hoped that one day "Emmet" will return to Norden. 


Click here for Norden Diesels slide show 

Eldon's Sidings  © George Moon

After the closure of Eldon sidings all clay exports were via lorry. For several years the clay was carried from the mines across the A351 by trains to the "Lorry Drop". It was realised that the lorries could take the clay directly from the mines and the cost of maintaining a railway system avoided. The transhipment buildings were raised to accommodate the lorries beneath them and in the early 1970s the railway system sold partly into preservation and the rest scrapped.

Lorry Drop  © George Moon

Use of narrow gauge railways continued underground at Norden No 6 & 7 mines until all mining operations ceased in 1999. The sites around Norden are now reverting to nature and support a wealth of wildlife.


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