Southwold Railway #2

Southwold Railway #2

The railway’s route from Southwold to Halesworth:

From the station itself the line headed across Southwold common and soon entered the largest cutting on the entire route. This present day view on Google Street shows the start of the cutting itself. Its been a public footpath for the last seventy years or so. This footpath was what enabled me to begin my explorations of the old railway line from 1970 onwards.

The cutting on Southwold Common seen from the footbridge built in 1902.

As the line traversed Southwold Common it gradually fell towards the River Blyth and soon the junction for the Southwold harbour branch was passed. Almost straightaway the line crossed the River Blyth by means of a twin span bridge, one of which was a swing bridge. The need for this swing bridge was because the River Blyth was navigable to Halesworth. The navigation was sporadically used just a few years after the railway was built and ceased altogether in 1911.

The bridge over the Blyth near Southwold. The right hand span was blown up by the army in 1942. Source: Twitter

The next station, Walberswick, was nearly a mile from its namesake, and consisted of a simple affair. There wasn’t even a proper road to the station in those days. However complaints soon ensured the railway put in a bigger station building – no doubt to give the passengers more comfort at this isolated spot!

Walberswick station looking towards Southwold. Source: Twitter

Present day view of Walberswick station. This is actually a view to the rear of the station. The seat marks roughly where the station building was. The former railway alignment can be seen in a straight alignment from left to right. The lane the photograph is taken from can just be seen in the old picture. Source: Google Streets

After Walberswick the line ascended towards the Heronry. It is popularly said the line wasn’t much in terms of gradients or scenery however the railway cut across the land rather than follow the course of the river and it meant substantial gradients were necessary.

The line used cuttings and embankments to navigate this part of the route through the woodlands and even managed a minor overbridge! The following pictures show the section through the woods was quite spectacular, the line itself having gained a considerable elevation away from the Blyth estuary.

A train for Southwold about to enter Blythburgh Woods (otherwise known as the Heronry or Hill Covert.) The Blyth estuary can be seen in the background. Source: Facebook

In the next picture it can be seen how the line climbs through the Heronry woods towards Blythburgh, the substantial gradient to the rear of the train can be seen quite well.

Most publications show a somewhat cropped version of this view of the line through the Heronry, however this in my collection is clearly a wider shot and this shows the gradients hereabouts to good effect. The train is bound for Southwold, sometime between 1909 and 1914 and the engine is no.3 Blyth.

The railway approaching Blythburgh. I think this is the bit that passes behind the White Hart Inn. Notice the locomotive’s crew leaning out of their cab, curious as to what the photographer – or these two men – are doing! Source: Twitter

Besides Southwold and Halesworth, the only other station of substantial importance was Blythburgh which had a passing loop and a goods yard. The passing loop was quite new in terms of the railway’s age, it was installed in 1908 previously there was just a siding here. This was also where the line tokens for the Halesworth – Blythburgh – Southwold sections were exchanged.

A view of Blythburgh station from from the A12 road bridge. The goods shed building in the distance still exists! Source: Twitter

The same view today as seen from road level. The bridge was removed in 1961 and the gap filled in to provide a continuous embankment. However that too was levelled in order to make the road wider and the approaches more safer.

Exchanging the line tokens at Blythburgh. The larger one for the Blythburgh to Southwold section can seen in the station master’s hands. This consisted too of the keys for accessing the railway’s harbour branch. This token is now in the Southwold museum. In the background can be seen part of the bridge that carried the A12 road from London to Norfolk.

Another view of Blythburgh station in 1909, this time from the main London A12 road. The huge church can be seen. Source: Wikipedia

Blythburgh church is a pretty substantial building full of history. It stands on a hillside overlooking the estuary and because of its imposing presence is known as The Cathedral of the Marshes.

Wenhaston was the next stop, there’s very little trace of this station even though it was a much pictured one. The line crossed the River Blyth once again about half a mile west of Wenhaston station. Here too was the line’s one and only important road level crossing although there were some other minor crossings along the line.

Lovely view of the signals at Wenhaston! All the Southwold’s signals were of the simple slotted type. Source: Twitter

Two lorry drivers from Beccles posing on the locomotive for the camera at Wenhaston. Source: Twitter

Wenhaston station prior to 1906. Source: Twitter

This photograph of Wenhaston station is one of the most notable – being one of the railway’s official pictures. That alone explains why its of such high quality. The engine is of course No.1 Southwold. After the line had closed, this official picture was used as the subject for a real photo postcard, evoking reminders of the erstwhile railway. It explains why those words on the card say ‘Southwold Railway train. Sep 1879 – April 1929.’

As the line climbed towards Halesworth the more hilly terrain meant overbridges were necessary (although there was a small one in the Heronry.) In fact the line’s climb from Blythburgh (12 feet above sea level) was in the order of sixty feet and with the line’s summit at Halesworth station at roughly around the 72 foot mark.

Rather curiously Corner House bridge is never mentioned in the annals of the Southwold Railway ‘s history nor by most authorities on the railway – yet this bridge and its adjacent cutting can be seen on Google Streets. Here’s a tweet however from the HalesworthNGRS that shows it.

Descending Holton embankment no.4 Wenhaston is seen happily chugging its way to Southwold sometime in 1928. Source: Twitter

The section westwards from Wenhaston was more steeply graded and there were a number of embankments and minor cuttings to keep the line’s gradients as even as they could be. The final bit into Halesworth was on a 1 in 66 gradient – which caused problems sometimes when shunting operations were being undertaken.

No.1 Southwold heading along the hilly section of line to the west of Holton, having just left Halesworth. Source: Internet Archive

Although the larger of the overbridges along this section across the B1123 has gone (see tweet news article) the one a littler further east at Birds Folly is still extant. There is a bit of track on top of the bridge itself however this was laid down in 2000. Just beyond here the line meets the Great Eastern Railway and this final section into Halesworth is by all means the line’s summit. For a view looking from beneath the Great Eastern line itself towards Bird’s Folly bridge here’s this nice perspective from Google Streets.

The railway’s other engine shed was just here. There was a siding too which served the gravel pits nearby. Engine no.3 Blyth languished in its shed for many years after the railway closed.

The bridge across the B1123 at Halesworth with its huge advert for the railway was also extant for many years. It was finally removed in 1962 as this Twitter post from the Halesworth & Southwold NGRS details.

The derelict railway at Halesworth, probably 1942. Source: Twitter

No.3 Blyth is seen arriving at Halesworth in September 1910. Source: Twitter

In the early days of the railway, this is a picture of no.3 Blyth at Halesworth in charge of a Southwold train. Source: Facebook

The final Southwold timetable can be seen from this entry in the January edition of my ABC Rail Guide for 1929. Generally it was four hours or more journey time from Liverpool Street. The times of the services barely changed over the years except the later train 7.15pm ex Southwold and 8.00 ex Halesworth no longer ran.

The Southwold Railway closes just short of its half-century:

Inevitably the less happier days arrived… the final week of the railway. Here is Southwold’s station staff with A. B. Jenkins (at right) with his cine camera ready to record the railway’s last days of existence. Some rued the the fact the line shut five months short of its 50th anniversary. The end came very suddenly – the most notice any of the staff had was just two weeks.

These were the years of the depression and its perhaps no surprise the railway suddenly threw the towel in. The previous two summers, 1927 and 1928, had been dismal in terms of passenger loadings. The railway did not even bother with any closure notices. It was very late in the day that newspapers got wind of what was happening.

The last passenger train was in the evening of April 11th 1929, doing the usual round trip from Southwold to Halesworth and back. This would have been the 5.23 from Southwold and the 6.41 from Halesworth. The last train had about 150 passengers on it. The return from Halesworth was considerably delayed when it was found none of the lamps in the train’s carriages had any wicks! This meant the train could not proceed until new wicks had been sourced and the carriages lit up for that very last trip to the coast. Many well-wishers waited in the cold and dark at Southwold in order to pay their respects to the late running final passenger train ever to run into the town’s station.

Captured on film – huge numbers turned out to bid farewell to the last train ever to leave Southwold. This video is at the East Anglian Film Archives but can also be seen on You Tube.

Southwold’s Station Master, Mr VC Girling, shakes hands with, John Stannard, the driver of No.3 Blyth, on the very last day of operation, April 11th 1929. Source: Twitter

Yes that was the last passenger train – but not quite the final train on the line. Like a lot of the narrow gauge railways in these isles which had officially closed down (but still had matters needing attending to) the Southwold too soldered on just that little a bit longer in order to wind up its affairs properly.

No.4 Wenhaston was employed for a further week and half to help sort final goods consignments including coal supplies for customers and clear all outstanding stock from the stations and sidings. Once this had been done, all of the railway’s rolling stock was moved to Halesworth. The job was completed on the morning of Saturday 20th April 1929 with Wenhaston returning to Southwold engine shed and everything being locked up for the last time.

Two of the railway’s staff took up new careers managing garages servicing the railway’s successors – those new fangled cars and motor buses – whilst the engine crews found work at the local mills. The older men found little or no work, this being the years of the depression and employment wasn’t easy to find.

Part three – the railway’s decades of dereliction and decay.

Southwold Railway Posts:

The Southwold Railway #1

The Southwold Railway #2

The Southwold Railway #3