Archive for April, 2019

Foxearth and District Local History Society – 9th April 2019

The Foxearth and District Local History Society meeting on 9th April attracted railway enthusiasts  when Robyn Lloyd Hughes talked about the rise and decline of the Stour Valley Railways. Between 35 and 40 members and guests heard an expert description of the origin of the line and of the development of railways in general.

The lecture included many photographs and Robyn began  with one of some Roman gates. These were constructed to allow the passage of two centurions, side by side, with their baggage/weapons. Carts were then built of the same width and as these were used in the countryside uniform ruts would be created which in turn became supported by wooden planks (plateways); then iron was used for more strengthening. Along these reinforced routes horses could pull linked carts – and the idea of moving wagons along tracks was born. It took some 1,800 years of course but eventually we had railways! Stephenson’s “rocket” of 1825 was the first engine.

The concept of a local rail network was the brainchild of John Wilks junior – a Sudbury lawyer born in 1793 who served as a Whig MP for the town.In 1824 he promoted a company called The Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex Railroad Company. He was however an unscrupulous character – involved in forgery and fraud – who earned the nickname of “Bubbles Wilks” because of the number of joint stock companies he floated all of which failed. In 1849 the businessman John Chevallier Cobbold was influential in constructing the line that linked up Colchester,  the Stour Valley, Sudbury and Halstead; Norwich was later connected and the company amalgamated with the Eastern Union Railway. The project included the building of the Chappel Viaduct with its impressive 32 arches. At 1,020 feet it is the longest bridge in East Anglia and one of the largest brick-built structures in the country. There were many illustrations of locomotives in various stages of development and it was not unusual for them to be servicable for 50 years. For some years the railway did not dispense with “horse power” as the beasts continued to be used for shunting rolling stock into sheds. The Stour Valley Railway line from Shelford to Marks Tey opened in 1865 with connections to Melford and Bury St Edmunds following soon after. In 1967 the Beeching axe was wielded with just the Sudbury to Marks Tey section (the Gainsborough line) surviving after a protracted battle. Robyn presented some interesting fare comparisons. In 1849 the Sudbury to London single fare was 4 shillings and 10 pence equating to one penny a mile – this was for 2nd class travel with 1st class being half as much again; in 1956 the figure was 9 shillings and 3 pence and today it is £33.90! In 2004 the possibility of reopening the Cambridge to Haverhill route was raised and this is an ongoing campaign with local MPs voicing strong support more recently.

This was a fascinating talk in which Robyn demonstrated his detailed knowledge of the subject including the evolving types of locomotives over the years. He dealt expertly with some related questions and was warmly thanked on behalf of a most appreciative audience by Secretary Clare Mathieson

Clare drew attention to the Lavenham Festival on the weekend of 17th to 19th May. There will be celebration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the US Army Air Force at Lavenham  airfield ,  a craft fair and various other attractions.

Next meeting: Tuesday 14th May at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall  when David Burnett will talk about Chilton – the first three thousand years.

Ken Nice.