OUTNEY COMMON This is Bungay, showing Richard Clay’s printing works – the big modern building – from Outney Common in 1976. This was after the closure of the railway in 1964 but before the building of the by-pass in the 1980s. This road now goes straight through where the Bungay station once stood; here you can see the old railway goods shed in the foreground, and the station was just beyond the right of the picture. A view of this building when the railway still ran for freight is to be seen in a following photograph. When I first remember Outney Common steam engines used to shunt their goods wagons while we played football and cricket on the common, within yards. This was what St Mary’s School used as their playing field, and this is where the photo at the head of this article was taken from. The grass was quite rough at the time, though not of course as rough as it was when this picture was taken. The goalposts we used were just two pieces of 3 x 3 timber stuck into holes lined with small planks. There was no cross bar and definitely no net. We had to fetch the goalposts from the green-keeper’s shed at the golf club before we played, and carry them back on finishing. I left St Mary’s School in 1959, and in the following year the railway to Bungay became a stump, with the track lifted between there and Harleston. Until then goods trains went right through from Beccles to Tivetshall, but for four years the Waveney Valley line became two stubs, one from the East Suffolk line to Bungay and the other from the main London line to Harleston.
The bridge taking the railway over the river Waveney at Bungay was demolished when the line was divided. All this can be seen in the second photograph of the former passenger station. This had been shut up and abandoned in 1953, but it still had its roof on and awning to keep the people dry while waiting for a non-existent train. The line went right up to the station building even when the Waveney Valley branch was severed. This was to give the steam engines – and steam was still in use the early 1960s – access to the water tower. There was still an operational signal box at Bungay until 1960, and the goods shed was still in regular use. What it contained I do not know and this puzzled the journalist Adrian Bell too, as he wrote in an article that was recently reprinted in the Eastern Daily Press. The line was finally completely closed by 1966, just over a hundred years after it opened. The final closure was a result of the “Beeching Axe”, but the writing had been on the wall since the war.
I have played football and cricket on the common, walked our dogs across it, and even paddled my canoe around the great loop of the river Waveney that almost completely encircles it. I have seen it in all weathers, winter snow and summer sun; as the spring shoots appeared and as the autumn colours tinted the common with gold. Sky larks sang in the clear blue sky above the common as I used to lie on the grass waiting my turn with the cricket bat during school games. The time spent at the stumps was usually brief as I swung wildly at the ball, either to miss it and be clean bowled or (less commonly) to to hit it skywards for a simple catch. The cricket was pretty basic; we had no pads or gloves, and just one wicket. The absence of protection did not matter that much because the ball was just a soft tennis ball – we were young, after all.
On a more professional level of the game. cricket bat willow used to be a major crop grown on the water meadows round Outney common. There is a Pathe film of 1963 detailing the production from planting saplings to felling a mature tree to be cut into timber for cricket bats. The firm of Edgar Watts Ltd is still involved in the cricket bat willow business in Bungay, although garden centres occupy a more important place in the current local economy.
The by-pass has swept away the remains of the level crossing in Ditchingham and the little shop where you could buy crisps – but not crisp crisps, soft ones. This was because in those days they were sold in greaseproof paper bags and the shop was damp. Greaseproof paper doesn’t really keep out the damp, and plastic bags were still some years in the future. The only crisps were plain ones, with a blue square of paper screwed up round a pinch of salt, unless it had been left out (which happened quite often). Ditchingham Dam was the only way into Bungay from the Norfolk side, and all the traffic (including the double decker buses) had to wind its way up narrow Bridge Street. In Ditchingham there was no roundabout and no chickens there either. The chickens have come and gone since that time; when I knew Ditchingham there was a working maltings and trains still passed through the village.In the 1970s, when I had got my dog Fido, we quite often went to Outney common walking him and Suki, my sister Tiggie’s dog . We had fun clambering across a fallen tree that almost bridged a creek near the river. This last view of the common shows Tiggie and me with our other sister Christine (centre, wearing dark glasses), who was over on a visit from her home in Canada. (She is shortly due to arrive from Canada again on a 2013 visit.) An interesting old shepherd’s hut sits on a slight hill in the background. These wheeled sheds were once a popular part of rural life, although their usefulness has long gone. Outney Common was very much part of the first half of my life, but since 1985 I haven’t been there once.