Hadleigh is a small town in the south of Suffolk near the river Stour.
The Eastern Counties Railway had run out of steam by the time it had reached Colchester in 1843, and in the ensuing pause a number of schemes were promoted for continuing its progress towards its ultimate destination, Norwich. It was mooted that the town of Hadleigh was to be on the mainline to Diss, with Ipswich being relegated to a branch. The traders of Ipswich would have none of this, and floated the Eastern Union Railway’s proposal to link the town to Colchester directly. It was this line that was built and now is part of the Great Eastern mainline.
As built the nearest that the line came to Hadleigh was Bentley station between Manningtree and Ipswich, some seven miles away. The line to Ipswich was opened in 1846; Royal Assent was given to the Bill authorizing construction of the branch to Hadleigh in the same year and work proceeded rapidly. Up to 300 navvies were employed on the project. and the beer consumed during the evenings after work had ceased for the day was phenomenal. This was appreciated by the local publicans if few others. The branch to Hadleigh was opened on Friday August 20th 1847 to great celebrations. A public holiday was declared in the town. The train had left Ipswich at 3.25 and arrived in Hadleigh three quarters of an hour later. A brass band had accompanied the train and at Hadleigh the Town Band led the assembled multitude through the town. Two hundred and fifty invited guests sat down to a meal at five o’clock. Despite the enthusiasm, the line was not opened to the general public for another fortnight to allow the necessary inspection to take place. There were two intermediate stations on the line, at Capel and Raydon, although both stations were located over a mile away from their respective villages.
A disturbing event occurred during the first year of operation. A special train was arranged to run to Ipswich for the regatta on the 16th September 1847. It was a windy day and the construction of a wall at Hadleigh station had only been competed that morning. The mortar was not yet dry, and a gust of wind of near hurricane force blew down the the 14 foot high wall and injured over fifty of the waiting crowd.
Barley for the maltings and malt exported from the town was a major commodity handled by the railway at Hadleigh. Hay and straw for the cattle carried by rail were kept in the good shed, and arrangements to provide water were at first precarious. In the days before piped supplies all water came from wells, including that needed by the steam engines themselves. Wood was taken from Raydon station and cattle from all stations on the line. Goods traffic was important to the railway, but so too were passengers. There were initially five passenger trains daily in each direction, and three on Sunday, though these weekend services were not well used and were soon abandoned. However the number of daily passenger trains increased during the nineteenth century. There were occasional accidents on the line, mostly of a minor nature, but all were reported to the authorities.
The First World War produced a growth in freight as the farms around Hadleigh were required to make up for the food that could no longer be imported from abroad. After the war the decline in passenger traffic was exacerbated by the the growth of motor omnibuses built on the chassis of ex-army trucks. The fact that the journey from Hadleigh went direct to Ipswich by road, whilst the railway journey required a change at Bentley did nothing to encourage passengers to travel by rail. Passenger traffic was ended in 1932. The effect of the Second World War was similar – the building and then the subsequent supply of the USAAF air base at Capel made for extra business for the railway, but this again declined after the war. Ultimately the line closed to freight traffic on the 15th April 1965. The station at Bentley which had been the junction with the Hadleigh branch was closed in November of the following year. A part of the track has been opened as a Wildlife haven.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA