Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Nocton Estate - The Lincolnshire Potato Railways

Nocton Estate Light Railway

This extract has been taken from 'The Lincolnshire Potato Railways' - by Stewart E Squires
Oakwood Press - ISBN 0 85361 352 4

The most prominent potato producer and the greatest user of railway line were W. Dennis and Sons who owned large estates at Nocton (8,000 acres), Deeping St Nicholas (2,000 acres) and Kirton (2,000 acres). W Dennis and Sons established their Nocton Estate in 1919 – the annual production in the 1950’s being some 17,000 tons of food, consisting primarily of potatoes.

The Estate Manager (a Major Webber) inspired the purchase of the narrow gauge line from an Army Surplus Depot in Arras, France. The track had been used as a resupply line during the First World War.

Initially just 4 miles of the one foot eleven and a half inch gauge was established at Nocton... on the heavy fenland east of Wasp's Nest. After 1926, the narrow gauge line was greatly extended in order that it could be connected to the railhead on the Lincoln to Sleaford mainline. The weight of the line at Nocton, because of the intensive use of locomotives, was 20lb per yard.

In the end, the route amounted to almost 23 miles of single track (on the Nocton Estate alone). Eventually they were to operate over 30 miles of line in total. Almost every field on the large estates was reached so that produce could be harvested straight onto trucks.

The railhead (located near the old Dunston/Nocton Station) consisted of Estate workshops, a mill, greenhouse and engine shed. There was a 'dock' for offloading produce into lorries or the standard gauge railway waggons (located in a siding - a loop of the Lincoln/Sleaford main line).

At the mill was a large green baize covered board with an Estate field plan and the railway route marked on it. Each field was numbered and each wagon number was attached to a pin. Every wagon movement was noted by a traffic controller.

In 1927 the Bardney Beet Factory was built. Sugar beet from the Nocton Estate was transported to the factory by a mechanical grab running along a gantry over the River Witham, where it was picked up from a dump, from rail trucks dispersing their load.

The Estate's main customer was Smith's Potato Crisps and it was this company that finally bought the land from W. Dennis & Sons in 1936. At its peak, Nocton estate was using 220 working horses, had 1,000 cattle, up to 3,000 pigs and 2,000 sheep (their food was also transported by the narrow gauge railway from the mill).

Tractors were introduced in 1948 (24) and increased in number in 1951 (32). In 1955 the Estate was still producing some 17,000 tons annually - however since World War 2 and the growth of road transport, the rural roads had improved allowing articulated lorries to gain access to each farmstead. By 1960 almost all fields were accessible by road, thius sounding the death knell for the light railway. It was finally closed in July 1969.

The engines and rolling stock from Nocton have survived to this current day and can be seen at the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway.


  1. The Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway left Cleethorpes in 1985 and stored all their assets. The good news is that they set up again in Skegness, where they can still be found. Their website is http://www.lincolnshire-coast-light-railway.co.uk/page1.php

    Please note that the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway is NOT the same animal as the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway (CCLR), which still runs in Cleethorpes. The two railways were not rivals when they were both in Cleethorpes, just amiable neighbours. The CCLR's website is http://www.cclr.co.uk/

    1. Many thanks for the clarification. Much appreciated.


Note: All comments are moderated and will not be posted until screening has taken place. This is to ensure no foul language is posted online. Please leave your name if you are making a comment, even if it is just a first name - thank you.