THE MID-SUFFOLK LIGHT RAILWAY

The line closed in 1952 so I was too young to have known it as a running railway, but as the family had occasion to go to Debenham in the 1940s my sister Christine travelled the line as far as Aspall Station on the Mid-Suffolk Light and walked to Debenham from there. I became aware of it a few years later. In the 1950s we would pass the abandoned railway bridge on the proposed branch which they even started to build, but never completed. This was a sure draw to my father. We would stop the car and get out to scramble along the track bed. It had only been closed a few years, but already nature was rapidly taking over. The station buildings mostly remained but even they were rapidly disintegrating. Unlike most railway architecture which was built to last, that on the Middy was done on the cheap. The stations were made of corrugated iron. It was among the last railways to be opened in the early years of the twentieth century (1908), before the advent of the motor car spelled to end of such minor railway lines.

It is a completely rural line, with hardly a house to be seen along its route. The centres of the villages it served were not that close. Laxfield was a strange place for a terminus; completely surrounded by fields it seemed more like the place where the railway builders finally ran out of money. They did indeed run out of cash but a mile or two further down the line; for a few years a goods only service struggled on to Cratfield. The line beyond Laxfield was lifted in 1914. The ultimate objective was for the line to meet the East Suffolk line at Halesworth, where a narrow gauge railway continued the route to Southwold. It almost got there, and if they had not wasted time and effort on starting the branch from Kenton to Westerfield they would surely have done so. On the short length of this branch via Debenham, where track was also laid, they even went to the expense of building a bridge over the road. I believe this was the only bridge on te Middy.

In 1922 there were three trains each way Monday to Saturday. As a Light Railway, speeds were restricted to 25 mph and the 19 mile journey from Laxfield to Haughley Junction took one hour five minutes with eight intervening stops. The fireman on the engine had to get out at every level crossing (and they were frequent) to open and then close the gates. Once you had got to Haughley you were on the mainline to London, so you could leave Stradbroke (for example) at breakfast time and be at Liverpool Street for lunch.

In the latter years the usual motive power was an old Great Eastern vintage J15. One of these locomotives(number 65462) is preserved on the North Norfolk Railway. A slightly earlier loco, no 65447 (BR numbering) travelled at a stately pace through the Suffolk countryside in the Middy’s last years. The trains consisted of a rake of two ex-Great Eastern bogie coaches, which provided far more accommodation than was ever needed. That is apart from the Second World War, when nearby American airbases provided large numbers of a wholly unexpected type of personnel.

The “Middy” is now Suffolk’s only Heritage Railway with a short length of track alongside the rebuilt Brockford and Wetheringsett station. They have three locomotives, two steam tanks and a Ruston Hornsby diesel shunter. One of the steam engines in undergoing a thorough overhaul, but one is working. They have a number of pieces of rolling stock and open on weekends and Bank Holidays April – September.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

www.joemasonspage.wordpress.com

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