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Dronfield station enthusiasts discover hidden secrets of Derbyshire’s Unstone Branch Line

Twenty members of the Friends of Dronfield Station (FoDS) were lead on a 5 mile walk along the route of the long dismantled Unstone branch line by Graham Gill and Peter Carr from the Dronfield Footpaths and Bridleways Society. The walk was part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the opening of Dronfield Station in 1870 (postponed from last year because of the pandemic).

Graham and Peter’s leadership was first class, as was their extensive research. Starting out from Dronfield Railway Station, the group had a four and a half hours gentle stroll with many stops to provide highly informative descriptions of, and some visits to, various historical industrial sites. Much that would not normally be visible was seen (as they had organised access to private land) and even those things on public land were revealed as to their true nature with detailed description of their use and purpose.

Starting off at Mill Lane the group were shown the site of Dronfield’s old gasworks as well as buildings which 100 years ago housed the post office and several pubs.  Moving on to Callywhite Lane where in 1872 the huge Wilson-Cammel works produced railway tracks for export all over the world, the walk followed the old railway track into the woods where they were shown the entrances to some of the 40 or so abandoned mines.  The walk also passed  houses and cottages for managers and workers as well as the remains of engine sheds and loading banks.  The group were shown examples of local industrial heritage which still existed over a century since they were last used. This was especially so of the numerous beehive coking ovens that turned coal into coke for transport to, and use in, the Bessemer steel-making processes in Sheffield.

Nearly all the route passed through delightful woodland making it startling to realise that in its heyday, the present day landscape of  trees and dense undergrowth was almost entirely absent from these hitherto heavily industrialised locations.  One of the most astounding sights was the revelation of the Unstone viaduct – its seven 50ft high arches emerging out of the surrounding woodland.  When travelling by train it is difficult to appreciate, but from the ground the viaduct is a highly impressive example of Victorian railway engineering. The group then passed beneath it and down along the River Drone and under the main line again to reach the site of Unstone Station (closed 1951), before making its way back to Dronfield, tired but mentally invigorated!

Much postponed but well worth waiting for, the walk organiser Michael Muntus thanked the guides for a truly entertaining walk.  Thanks were also due to Doctors Tony and Jill Bethell for their hospitality at Ramshaw Lodge(originally a mine manager’s house) which contained within its grounds a stretch of the railway line and the entrance to an abandoned drift mine dated 1863.  Graham and Peter themselves also acknowledged Pynot Publishing’s book ‘On the Track of Unstone’s Past’ (still available) by Jane Marson for much useful information.