A Tollesbury miscellany

A Tollesbury miscellany

Its sixty years or thereabouts since the Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway saw its final train movements. These would have been the demolition trains that worked for a good length of time taking up tracks and removing any infrastructure a railway once had. Trackage extended for more than 3¾ from Kelvedon to Tudwick Road so there was a fair bit of track to pull up and take to Kelvedon for sorting. There’s no exact date of any final train off the line but its said this was 1963 and the motive power used was a Hunslet Class 05 shunter.

The line closed to passengers on 5th May 1951. The number of people using the line had generally been no more than five, perhaps six, passengers each day in total! It evidently lived up to its name as a ‘light railway.’ Freight was far more important – indeed it was a minor success compared to passenger carrying. Local farms and orchards benefitted from use of the railway, however the biggest customer of all was the Wilkin jam factory at Tiptree. In the final years of the line the jam factory continued to be the railway’s primary customer, and services to Tiptree continued until September 1962. The question, then is, did the Tollesbury railway get any sort of modernisation bestowed upon it?

But first, a couple of mysteries. Although the line’s services officially ended 28th September 1962, there is some evidence a brake van ride took place on 6th October 1962. Its not a surprise given such instances did occur on other allegedly closed lines too. The BR database says closure of the Tiptree line was on 1st October 1962, which suggests freight could have continued to Monday 30th September 1962. The other thing is, even though the line had been closed and the tracks pulled up by 1963, its not to say Kelvedon Low Level saw cessation of use. As a fairly regular traveller on the GER main line, I’m certain the site was used for storage of rolling stock for at least a few more years and the track did in fact extend at least towards Feering. A Highways England document suggests final use was in the early 1970s although that may be a bit on the late side.

The Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway

The Tollesbury railway was intended primarily as a freight line which purpose was to serve this rather poorly connected part of Essex. Passengers were a second best and the station facilities were often found to be in the shape of old bus, coach or train carriage bodies. The actual stock used for the passenger trains entailed a motely collection of old carriages bought from various other lines. The route was popularly known as the Crab and Winkle line though no-one knows exactly how that nickname came to be.

The line was just over eight and half miles in length and headed south east from a low level station at Kelvedon which was adjacent to the Great Eastern main line from London to Colchester. The light railway headed to Ingworth, Tiptree, Tolleshunt and Tollesbury – the terminus for most of its life. This part of the route opened in 1904. An extension later took the line to a new terminus at Tollesbury Pier on the River Blackwater, nine and three quarter miles from Kelvedon. This did not meet the company’s expectations in the hope of raising traffic and revenue – thus the extension was closed in 1921 after just 14 years of use.

This was not the end of the Tollesbury Pier extension however. During the 1939 to 1945 period the line from Tollesbury to the pier was reinvigorated and used by the War Department to employ the use of four locomotives hauling wagons fitted out with anti-aircraft ordnance. These were primarily for the defence along the Blackwater estuary. However the final bit to the pier itself was blown up as a precaution against possible invasion.

An additional station was opened in 1932 at Feering. Extra stops for goods trains to facilitate local businesses were opened at Brooklands and Heath sidings (between Kelvedon and Inworth), Tudwick Road siding (between Tiptree and Tolleshunt Knights), Church siding (between Tolleshunt Knights and Tolleshunt D’Arcy) and Old Hall siding (between Tolleshunt D’Arcy and Tollesbury). These could also be used by passengers to board or alight trains if they so desired – with the exception of Brooklands siding.

Map of the Tollesbury line created specially for this post.

Since the line had survived right through to Eastern Region electrification days, there is of course every possibility the line would have been controlled by the latest in railway signalling. Incredibly the Tollesbury line was one of perhaps just a couple of standard gauge light railways anywhere in the UK to be connected to any UK electrified main line – let alone a 25kv OHLE main line! The West Sussex Railway for example had shut its line just 3 years before Southern electrification had reached Chichester whilst the Kent and East Sussex missed electrification of the adjacent main line at Headcorn by a few years. The only other contender was the Bordon Light Railway which connected to the Southern 3rd rail system at Bentley between 1937 and 1966.

Tollesbury c1950. Quite a substantial goods train waits at the station however there’s just one carriage for the occasional passenger! Twitter/X.

In terms of the modernisation era the line was also operated by diesels – although that is somewhat ambiguous for diesels were too used on other light railways – for example the Derwent Valley line. Diesel shunters were often a feature of those works trains used to demolish many closed railways during the 1960s. But semi automatic colour light signals and a 25kv main line connection to a light railway? No chance – except at Kelvedon!

This post is by no means a reposte on the K&TLR or its history, but a reminiscence rather. For many years I owned a copy of N.R Stapleton’s The Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway simply because of a need to have something of the line, and Stapleton’s work was about the only thing in the sixties. Interestingly, the book was published in 1962, the very year the line finally closed, so it was perhaps good timing for others wanting a memento too.

Aerial of Kelvedon station with its low level station and Tollesbury line clearly visible. Historic England.

I certainly remember Kelvedon Low Level with its diesel shunter present and the line curving away through the nearby cutting towards Tiptree and this was when the Chelmsford to Colchester section of line had been electrified, thus unlike the other practically defunct junctions leading off the GER (eg Bentley, Tivetshall, Mellis) this was the only one to even remotely see any sort of modernisation encroach upon its territory. All these junctions and their defunct branch lines fascinated me because regular travelling up and down the line meant their progress was observed – at first these places were sort of stagnant, abandoned stations, with tracks rusty, and nothing happening – then suddenly changes were occurring tracks were being lifted, platforms demolished, and finally the signal boxes themselves before electrification and signal control from Colchester was enabled.

There were also various sidings and yards, including one on the Upminster branch that’s no longer extant and its site is difficult to even discern. Chadwell Heath had loads of sidings and there was in fact a six track railway between Romford through Chadwell Heath and part of this for the GER electrification (this explains the unused southern bridge hole at the latter station.) There was also the incline down from the GER main line at Mile End down to a coal yard and canal wharves and I remember Class 08 shunters working this. Traces of that can however be found especially at the lower level. Not forgetting the narrow gauge railway system at Stratford which suddenly disappeared in the mid sixties perhaps – about 15 years ago (before the levels in the Waterworks Rover were raised to fit in with the modern Olympics 2012 scene) I discovered a fair bit of the system’s trackage had been dumped in the Waterworks river!

Kelvedon circa late 1940s to early 1950s showing its staggered platforms to good effect. The new platform extension on the down line (right) was built in 1911. The track leading off the up line goes down to the low level K&TLR station which can be seen at bottom left. Twitter/X.

Modernisation for the Tollesbury Railway?

Its back to Kelvedon and the question of whether the K&TLR (Kelvedon low level) actually ever got controlled by colour light signals. But first, the Tollesbury line had closed to passenger services in 1951 and this included the stations at Tolleshunt Knights, Tolleshunt D’Arcy and Tollesbury. In BR parlance the line would be in future be known as the Tiptree branch. For the purposes of freight from 1951 onward, the line extended as far as the Tudwick Road siding – about a quarter mile south east of the jam factory at Tiptree. This was a distance of three and three quarter miles from Kelvedon.

Was this ever ‘modernised’ given that the adjacent main line was getting all the bells and whistles of BR’s fifties and sixties modernisation programme. Since the Tiptree branch was, well, getting by and not quite dead yet, BR had no choice but to accommodate it – and this they did by making special signalling arrangements for the Tiptree branch without actually impinging on the general GER main line modernisation effort.

Previously it was Kelvedon signal box that had overseen movements to and from the Tollesbury line – however a separate signal box (more of a ground frame actually) supervised the low level station side of operations. In the last years of the line the station loop remained, however the sidings were taken out. The loop was essential for marshalling trains in readiness for trip workings to Colchester and further afield if necessary. This arrangement remained basically the same right to the end.

One of the Hunslet diesels used on the line in its final years. D2554 at Colchester. Key Model World.

Kelvedon box was operational until the 2nd of December 1961 hence there would have been localised control at the commencement of the Chelmsford to Colchester electrification which would have meant any movements required down to the low level station and thence to Tiptree were controlled locally. After the box had closed however, the main line was then controlled from both Witham and Colchester boxes (that at Marks Tey being an intermediary for control of the Sudbury branch junction and the Stanway sidings). The Tiptree line (as it had been known since 1951) had stop boards warning engine drivers to not proceed onto the main line until they had authorisation from the shunter.

Kelvedon’s goods sidings were rationalised from the 3rd December 1961. The down sidings were locked out of use pending removal. The up sidings were reduced from two to one and there appears no other need for that other than facilitate movement to and from the Tiptree branch if not undertaken directly via the pair of crossovers which would remain in use.

In lieu of Kelvedon signal box, a new 10 lever ground frame was provided at the goods yard (London) end of the station. This ground frame had the capability to override three of the semi automatic colour light signals on the main line, including U43 and U43B. This was necessary in order to enable movements to the rationalised up goods yard or to and from the Tiptree line proper. U43 was the one that ensured the up main line was at red whilst any movements were being undertaken to the Tiptree branch. With this arrangement the route down to Kelvedon Low Level and the Tiptree branch remained much as they had been – hence there no modernisation of any sort except this new stop board warning drivers and crew waiting to pass onto the up main: ENGINES MUST NOT PASS THIS BOARD UNTIL AUTHORISED BY SHUNTER.

J69 with train approaching Feering in 1950. Note the switchback line. Facebook.

The subsidiary ground frame had no control of any signals. This was released by an Annetts Key kept at the 10 lever ground frame. What it means is movements to the Tiptree branch were controlled by the subsidiary lever frame, and that was enabled by unlocking it, whilst the 10 lever ground frame controlled the adjacent colour light signalling. It does seem that two staff on the ground at least were necessary to operate the Tiptree branch. If that was not the case then a sole member of staff – the shunter – would have to first operate the 10 lever ground frame and unlock the Annetts key before walking down the platform to operate the subsidiary ground frame. Evidently if any trip workings were kept to the quieter hours of railway operation that wasn’t a problem.

Essentially the electrification and new signalling between Witham and Colchester meant freight movements were at an end – except for the considerably busy traffic to Stanway sidings and the occasional workings onto the Tiptree branch. It does seem from the arrangement it was known traffic on the Tiptree would be sparse anyway given the slightly awkward arrangement evidently most suited to times when the main line was at its quietest.

Feering Halt 1932

Feering Halt. A later addition to the line in an attempt to boost patronage. Flickr.

As regards modern era signalling onto the former Tollesbury route, the simple means of stopping arriving Tiptree freights in Kelvedon’s up platform was sufficient to cause the preceding signals to turn red and the others back in sequence through the yellows. As long as the freight remained in the platform the signals would remain against main line traffic.

In full the arrangement went something like this – trains destined for Tiptree would be invariably be from the Colchester direction. If signalled correctly, these would first pass the branch junction and that would cause U43 to turn red (and the preceding signals yellow etc) automatically. The 10 lever ground frame would be used to lock down the signals and then the subsidiary lever frame would be unlocked, permitting movement down to the low level.

For movement to Colchester the reverse would occur and then the train would be signalled via the trailing crossover towards Colchester with signal D41B (controlled by the 10 lever frame) held at red to enable the movement to take place and once the trailing crossover had been switched back and D41B cut out (eg reverted back to semi-automatic mode) the other down line signals (eg D40, D41 etc) would follow in the correct sequence as the Tiptree freight headed off back towards Colchester.

Tiptree 6 April 1957 and its one of just two railtours to have used the line. The other tour was in September 1958. Tudwick Road siding was the furthest trains could go. Twitter/X.

The maximum speed limit for trains on much of the route between Chelmsford and and Colchester in those days was 90mph. This counted for the stretch through Kelvedon too which was a pretty fast section by way of being downhill towards London. That was a 1 in 222 down gradient from Hill House (midway between Kelvedon and Marks Tey). Railway writers such as PB Siemens and CJ Allen wrote of some exceedingly fast transit times on this section of line. No doubt some of the most able Class 37s could achieve this. I would think the drivers and secondmen were trained to keep an extra lookout on the approaches to locations such as Witham, Kelvedon and Marks Tey even though many of the signals had a very good sightline.

In terms of modernisation on the GE mainline and freight operations down to Tiptree, the arrangement described officially lasted no more than two years from closure of Kelvedon box to the final demolition train used to lift the tracks from the Tiptree branch. No doubt it was after that the connection down to Kelvedon Low Level was locked out of use. As I have said however, it seems the low level site was used somewhat for a further amount of time hence there’s no record of when the points were finally removed.

The Class 05 Hunslet used to operate the final freight services was D2571 – this had first seen operations on another about to be closed railway – the M&GNJR. Its earliest duties were at Yarmouth Beach during 1958/59. Hunselt diesels were used for the last years of freight trains and then the works trains used to demolish the permanent way. Another, D2554, was one of those to undertake such duties. That one was later transferred to the Ryde-Shanklin line to operate alongside the Standard Tube Stock which was employed from 1967. D2554 is now part of the Isle of Wight Railway’s heritage fleet.

One of the line’s carriages – No.8 which had originally come from the Wisbech and Upwell and numbered 60461 by the GER – was featured in the 1953 Ealing film The Titfield Thunderbolt (as shown in the picture).

Remnants of Kelvedon Low Level station survived until at least the 1980s. A picture can be seen on Railscot.

The Kelvedon & Tollesbury Light Railway terminus (just to the right of the viaduct) is once again with nature. This is a screencap from the Google Street view.