Some Early Lines
Mid-Suffolk Light Railway
The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway (aka The Middy) is a heritage railway in Suffolk, which in its heyday it was a branch line which ran for just 19 miles (31 km) from Haughley to Laxfield, Suffolk. The line became part of the London and North Eastern Railway in 1924 and the last trains ran on 26 July 1952. The Railway is now both a heritage railway and preservation museum run by a small but dedicated band of volunteers. The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway is currently the only steam preservation railway in Suffolk. There are plans to extend in each direction along the line.
The line was intended to run from Haughley to Halesworth, with a second branch running from Kenton station to Westerfield near Ipswich. The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, or Middy as it became affectionately known, was built to provide transport to the rural Suffolk communities who had no reliable transport links. It was built in accordance with the 1896 Light Railways Act, which allowed for cheaper construction methods in return for a speed restriction of 25 mph. The railway was built as cheaply as possible: the buildings were constructed using corrugated iron, and the route followed the natural contours of the land to minimise the need for embankments and bridges. The section from Haughley to Laxfield was completed and open for passenger traffic. Beyond Laxfield the line was built for approx mile to Cratfield over which an occasional freight train was run but the section fell into disuse. Some earthworks were begun between Cratfield and Halesworth but these were soon abandoned with now no evidence remaining. The section of about two miles of the branch from Kenton to Westerfield was completed as far as Debenham and a few goods trains were run but this also was soon abandoned. Some sections of trackbed and embankments still survive.
The railway was built too late, long after the great railway boom that had affected the country in the Victorian age, and soon came into financial difficulties. The planned railway had troubles from the very beginning, having disputes with the neighbouring Great Eastern Railway (GER) and local landowners. The railway was bankrupt before it opened. It was pure determination that kept the Middy running. The Railway opened to freight traffic in 1904 with the hope that this would bring in enough income to complete the line, but by 1908, although the line was making an income, it still was not enough to cover its original debts and for work to continue. Finally on Tuesday 29 September 1908 the line was opened to passengers with two trains in either direction on weekdays, but this failed to bring great trade as many of the stations were sited miles from the communities they were meant to serve.
London and North Eastern Railway
In 1924 the Middy lost its independence and was grouped together with the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), but apart from the replacement of second-hand rolling stock, the railway continued as it always had done. The railway’s original LNER Class J64 locomotives were replaced by LNER Class J65 or “Blackwall Tanks” which were eventually replaced by the older but stronger LNER Class J15.
The passenger traffic began to decline over the next couple of decades as more people bought motorcars and goods traffic was increasingly going by road. This all changed with the beginning of the Second World War. With petrol rationing, the Middy became an important transport link and with US airbases built near the Mendlesham and Horham stations, the line was relied upon for transporting military equipment and regularly used by American serviceman. The war brought more traffic to the line – both goods and passengers – as the railway became important in helping the war effort. This all came at a cost to the railway. No effort was made to maintain the rolling stock or the line itself, like the rest of Britain’s railway network.
After the war the Middy entered into the ownership of British Railways in 1948. Although business was dwindling and the line was in a state of neglect and decay after being exhausted during WW2, the line became an attraction for enthusiasts and railway management due to the picturesque landscape through which the railway ran; and its informal atmosphere. The end of the war meant a surplus of ex-army lorries which took away the agricultural business, the main source of income for the line. The Middy eventually closed in 1952, 44 years after it had opened for passenger traffic.
Nearly 40 years after it closed, a group of enthusiasts formed a Company to recreate the Middy on the site of the Brockford and Wetheringsett railway station, now the corner of a large field.
The Mid-Suffolk line closed on Saturday, 26th July, 1952. Here is the 11.15 am from Haughley headed by a sparkling clean J15 class 0-6-0 No.65447 climbing the 1 in 42 out of Haughley. There are four, instead of the usual two coaches to accommodate enthusiasts. G.R. Mortimer
The task ahead
The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Society had an ambitious task ahead of them due to the temporary nature of the original line. As far as is known, no coaches or locomotives of the Middy are still in existence and the corrugated iron buildings were either left to rust or sold to become farm sheds. However, the Company has been recreating typical scenes from the Middy’s past by using restored coaches and wagons that would have run on its bigger neighbour, the Great Eastern Railway, and its successor, the London & North Eastern Railway. The Society has been able to collect a number of Great Eastern coaches, two are now in working order, with many more under restoration. The museum has also been able to collect the remaining station buildings from former Middy railway stations.
The one aim of the society which makes it stand out from any other railway museum is that they are not just interested in getting a locomotive and coaches and taking passengers up and down the line. Goods wagons, road going railway delivery vehicles and line side artifacts are given just as much care and attention as the main attractions.
Another aim of the society is to bring together an archive of photos and original artifacts from the working life of the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway. Many of these are on display at the museum.
The museum operates from April to the end of September on Sundays and Bank Holidays, with Santa specials in December. Most of the Open Days have a Special Event to accompany the running of the steam locomotive.
A full list of the events and activities can be found on the Mid-Suffolk light railway society’s web site. http://www.mslr.org.uk
The small railway museum at Wetheringsett, Suffolk. First started in the 1990s collecting has meant a good variety of items. Now including many articles of pre-grouping rolling stock mostly of Great Eastern Railway origin. Steam is the main form of traction with Hawthorn Leslie 0-4-0ST Falmouth Docks and Engineering Co. Loco No. 3 running services. © Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.