Louth to Bardney Railway

At a public meeting at the Kings Head in Louth on November 3rd 1865 it was unanimously agreed to investigate the possibility of building a railway from Louth via Wragby to Lincoln. Mr. Heneage, the largest landowner in the area, agreed to act as Chairman of the provisional Committee. By the 16th of November a route had been approved, leaving the Great Northern Railway at Louth to run a line south to Hallington, Withcall, Donington-on Bain, South Willingham, East Barkwith, Wragby, Kingthorpe, finally to Bardney.

Powers to construct the railway were obtained in 1866 by the Louth and Lincoln Railway. Investors were attracted by forecasts of the large amounts of iron ore waiting to be extracted in the area; it was even forecast that blast furnaces would be built at Donington-on-Bain. No such building took place, and no ore was extracted. The Company had difficulties right from the start, and tried to abandon the project. However the Board of Trade refused to support any such abandonment and the Company had to continue with the building. The Construction was further hindered by the steep gradients of the Wolds, and the requirement to build two tunnels, one at Withcall and one at South Willingham.

South Willingham

The first section of the line from Bardney to South Willingham was opened on 9th November 1874. The completion of the tunnel, at South Willingham, enabled a three mile extension to be opened to Donington-on Bain on 27th September 1875. The final eight miles, including the construction of Withcall Tunnel, opened to goods traffic on 26th June 1876, and opened to passengers on 1st December the same year. An initial service of five trains each way was soon reduced to four within a month. In 1887 the service of four trains a day from Louth to Lincoln, calling at all stations took one hour and twenty minutes for the journey.

Image of train at South Willingham Station heading to Louth

Train at South Willingham Station possibly 1930s

Kelly’s Directory of 1905 gives some indication of the goods carried by the railway

  • Wragby – William Mawer and Son, miller and corn and cattle cake merchant
  • East Barkwith – Alf Duckering, nursery man, seedsman, bonecrusher and chemical manure manufacturer
  • South Willingham – miller
  • Donington-on-Bain – John Brocklebank, brick and tile maker, coal merchant and white sand pits
  • Coal merchants – found at most stations

Kelly’s Directory of 1926 – South Willingham

  • Post Office – Miss Edith Mary Johnson, sub-postmistress. Letters through Lincoln. Hainton 1 mile distant, is the nearest money order office; telegrams can be sent from the railway station and messages received there if called for.
  • Railway Station – John Edward Paul, station master. Carriers through to Market Rasen, Tuesday.


Commercial Businesses in South Willingham

  • Miss Mary Babbington, dressmaker
  • Dennis Bartholomew, farmer
  • John William Bett, overseer
  • William Bett, farmer
  • Mrs Jas Brumpton, cottage farmer
  • John Fotherby Brumpton, cottage farmer and parish clerk
  • John W Cordey, cottage farmer
  • George Firth, cottage farmer
  • Richard Gourley, farmer
  • William Greenwood, blacksmith
  • John Harrison, miller (windmill)
  • Edward Harrison, farmer
  • John William Hunt, wheelwright
  • Thomas Copping Johnson and Miss Edith Mary Johnson, grocers
  • George Kent, cottage farmer
  • Henry Pickering, bricklayer
  • Mrs Mary Pickering, smallholder
  • John Pickwell, cottage farmer
  • Mark Pickwell, cottage farmer
  • Rushby and Pickering, smallholders
  • Levi Taylor, cottage farmer
  • William Tharratt, farmer
  • Thomas Wallis, coal merchant
  • William Webster, farmer
Postcard image of railway bridge near station with horse and cart

Railway bridge with possibly the millers horse and cart - looking toward village

The only increase in activity on the line came in the Second World War when a Maintenance Unit, No233, was formed in January 1943. It was named Market Stainton, but in fact comprised mainly of sixty miles of roadside verges where the bombs and munitions brought by the railway were stored. This Unit was used to store and supply bombs to RAF Kelstern and RAF Ludford Magna. 267 airmen manned it, and in December 1943 1,632 loaded rail trucks arrived plus 218 lorries delivering bombs to the area. At the same time 543 trucks and 481 lorries went out to the eastern airfields. The first Tallboys arrived in April 1944. This Unit was closed in 1948, when peace and tranquility returned to the railway along with financial hardship.

A dramatic episode occurred in October 1946 when a goods train to Louth of eleven wagons was approaching Donington-on Bain Station. A spark from the engine ignited the straw packing of a truck laden with propane gas cylinders. The straw was burning fiercely but the guard and fireman successfully uncoupled the rear wagons. The train moved on, the burning wagon was detached, and the remainder of the train moved on again. Once isolated, the gas cylinders began exploding, causing the wagon to run back and set fire to coal wagons behind it. The guard and fireman were injured, and subsequently received bravery awards.


South Willingham incident

Disaster was narrowly averted on another occasion. The guard of a goods train carrying out shunting movements at South Willingham omitted to put on his van brake. As the van ran away towards Bardney, the guard had time to warn East Barkwith and Wragby Stations, and the gates there were hurriedly closed to road traffic. The van eventually came to rest a few yards short of Wragby.

On the 5th November 1951 the line lost its passenger service, the last train running on Saturday 3rd November. The very last train was hauled by C12, 4-4-2 Tank, No 67379 of Louth Shed. On its smokebox it bore a wreath inscribed “Louth Bardney Passenger Service, In Memoriam, Born 1876, Died 1951”.

Goods traffic continued, ceasing in stages as the line had opened: from 17th September 1956 Donington-on Bain became the terminus of the line from Bardney; from 1st December 1958 Wragby became the railhead, with one train a day from Lincoln; and the final stretch closed on 1st February 1960. By October 1961 the track bed had completely gone.

Is there anyone out there who once upon a time used to take the train from South Willingham to Louth, Lincoln or wherever? If so, do you remember how many times the train chuffed through our station, or the times of the services? In case you’ve forgotten or you moved to our village after dear Mr Beeching went mad with his axe, here’s a reminder of an early example of a train timetable.

Louth to Lincoln service in 1878*

There were four return trips per day, the three other arrival times for South Willingham (to Lincoln) being 10.58, 15.29 & 18.05.


  • Louth (depart)            08.05
  • Hallington                   08.13
  • Donington–on-Bain  08.25
  • South Willingham      08.31
  • East Barkwith             08.37
  • Wragby                        08.47
  • Bardney (arrive)        09.02
  • (depart)                       09.10
  • Five Mile House        09.19
  • Washingboro’            09.25
  • Lincoln (GNR)           09.35
  • London                        14.00

*Taken from the Market Rasen Mail, January 1878


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5 Responses to Louth to Bardney Railway

  1. Stewart Scott says:

    An incident of note during WW2 was when East Barkwith station witnessed the spectacle of a runaway train in 1944 as ‘Pom-Pom’ crashed through the gates on its mad dash from South Willingham to Kingthorpe Bottom, where it see-sawed itself to a standstill.

    Could this be the same event recalled in your ‘South Willingham incident’?

  2. William says:

    This is all very interesting to read. Having explored the tunnels myself with permission it interests me to know if there where any pictures ever taken of them back in their day.

  3. Chris Padley says:

    The photograph of the train at South Willingham appears to be rather earlier than the 1930s. The locomotive is a Great Northern Railway 0-4-2 tender engine. All of these were withdrawn before the grouping of the railways in 1923. It is not a very clear image but I would suggest somewhere nearer 1900 as the likely date.

  4. I would like to know if there are still any Brocklebanks living in the area today as the John Brocklebank mentioned in artical above was a brickmaker in the era of 1905 and the railway formation section. He would be my Gt Granmothers brother and I would love to be put in touch with other members of his family. All my forbearers were born in this little village dating from the 1600’s until they departed for greener pastiures in New Zealand and in deed if there are any stories of the past or photos you are willing to share with me or any stories, I would welcome.
    I was last there in 2004 and I could not find anything out about the past so I guess you have been going for less than 10 years or maybe the internet has made things easy. Even the St. Martins church grounds look different with the grass being cut (Looked at the church website).
    At the time we visited we were shown through the thatched roof cottage at the beginning of lane to church behind the phone box and the house was up for sale I believe it was built 1602 from memory.
    Can you please advise me if the Barkworth church has a website, the same as yours.
    Last time I was there the headstones were all lined up along the back fence. Maybe you could pass this email along to other like groups and maybe they can give me feed back as I have lots of Wattams from all around the area.
    Kind regards
    Ronald Wattam
    32 Carroll Pl.
    New Zealand

  5. olivine2013 says:

    I also see under John W Cordy businesses in South Willingham about 1923 – are there any of these families still in the area?. There are several other names that I recognise in my research of family history but they are too far removed all this is in connection with the Wattam families.
    Thanks. – Ron Wattam.

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