Tag Archives: RAILWAYS


The stock on the railways includes the fixed assets like the permanent way, bridges and buildings. Rolling stock covers all the wheeled vehicles. More specifically the term is often used to distinguish the stock that must be moved around the system from the locomotives that provided the motive power. In modern times the use of coaching stock that is integral with the power source has removed this distinction from passenger traffic.

Modern train in the country where it all began

In its most basic form the rolling stock of a railway at first consisted of trucks alone. These were operated by gravity, so no locomotive was required; these trucks included the wagons that were used to carry the slate down from the mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales to the harbour at Porthmadog. Workers had to perch precariously on the wagons as they began their long descent, to apply the brakes. When the train was eventually brought to a halt and the slates had been transferred to the waiting ships the empty wagons had to be returned uphill. This was done by a horse, who had also made the perilous journey down in a truck at the back of the train.

Puffing Billy was one of the first locomotive to haul trains in 1815, and the rolling stock was exclusively mineral wagons. Richard Trevithick’s Catch Me Who Can steam engine ran round a circuit of track in Euston Square in London during 1808, and the rolling stock on that ‘Steam Circus’ was for passengers. The first paying passengers to be carried on a railway line were loaded into coal trucks, which may (or may not) have been modified by the provision of seating. The earliest railway coaches made to carry people looked very much like the stage coaches that travelled the roads. These were for First Class passengers, and Third Class travellers were still squeezed into open wagons. This ended in the 1840s, as public outrage at transporting the poor in such uncomfortable conditions grew too loud to ignore. Passenger carriages were all more or less the same, with only the level of internal luxury distinguishing them; that is once the lowest class of passengers got a roof over their heads. Originally there were three classes of passenger, but the Midland Railway abolished Second Class in 1872, and the other companies soon followed. First and Third classes remained until 1956, but by then standard of Third Class carriages was amazing good. I well remember the compartments where all the seats had antimacassars (which were regularly changed). There were pictures behind every seat – coloured reproductions of  paintings, photographs of beauty spots along the line – or else mirrors. They were all kept spotlessly clean by the army of railway workers that were then employed – modern rail companies please note.

Freight demanded numerous different kinds of wagon. As the working of the railways rapidly progressed all kinds of traffic developed their own specific kind of wagon – horse boxes, oil tankers and bolster cars, to name but three. With the modernisation of the railways in the 1960s this variety was simplified somewhat; the mixed freight trains disappeared and livestock was no longer carried on the railways. Short wheel-based four-wheeled rolling stock was replaced, and long wheelbase container flats became the main goods rolling stock. This container traffic predominates in East Anglia, carrying import from the docks at Felixstowe, although there are trains of open wagons for sand from Kings Lynn, and tanker wagons from North Walsham for North Sea gas distillate. Many lines now carry no regular freight services; there is for instance no goods service from Norwich to Ely. In the mid twentieth century freight was still a massive user of the railways. This transfer to carrying people is the major change on the railways, which were originally built to carry freight with passengers as an awkward afterthought. The track maintenance trains for leaf cleaning and line replacement, and the special technical vehicles that carry out the checking of the line are another kind of rolling stock. Naturally these are used over the whole network.

Wheels are what makes rolling stock roll, and I can remember the railwayman walking along a train with a long-handled hammer and banging it on the wheels as he passed. This was to check for any flaws, as a cracked wheel would not make the same ringing sound. This is far too unscientific a process to be used today, but it was undoubtedly effective.

That is my overview of railway rolling stock, from the earliest primitive trucks of the eighteenth century tramways to the sophisticated carriages of today. Everything has changed, but rolling stock still needs wheels. Eventually, if magnetic levitation ever moves from the drawing board to practical use, we will have to adopt a new terminology. Until then we will continue to refer to rolling stock.






POSTWICK GROVE. Woods near Norwich/ (John Crome)


THE FIRST ROTARY PRESS 1814; in Norwich.

BRAMERTON. Looking towards the Woods End, early 19th century, (Norwich School).

The Medieval bridge over the RIVER WENSUM at Attlebridge

Taverham paper mill 1839

Norwich cattle market, 1871.

Yarmouth sailimg smack

Whitlingham Reach (A. Sandys 1860)

CANARIES were a Norwich speciality

Whitlingham church, 18th century print

Stoke Holy Cross Church, by Ladbrooke.

SANDLIN’S FERRY, the site is now known as PULLS FERRY

Costessey Park by John Thirtle, 1814

OXNEAD HALL as it was in the Paston family’s time

Boulton and Paul’s factory in Rose Lane, Norwich, circa 1890


This container traffic from the port of Felixstowe has grown from nothing in 1960 to the huge operation it is today. Fifty years ago just a handful of containers left Suffolk for Harwich, which was the major freight terminal in the district; one or two trains a day were assembled there for onward distribution. Now Felixstowe takes 40% of all the containers that are imported into the UK and the port is the largest in the country for this kind of traffic.

Dr Beeching had thoughts of closing the line from Ipswich to Lowestoft, but the track would have remained as far as Leiston to carry nuclear waste from Sizewell power station. (I wonder why this hazardous substance always goes by the safe and reliable railway?!) Anyway, that would probably have preserved the goods line to Felixstowe too. In view of today’s pivot role of the port complex in the freight infrastructure of the country, the fact that it retained a rail connection is just as well. Felixstowe Pier station was the original passenger terminal in the town, on the site now occupied by Felixstowe Port. It had opened in 1877 and closed to passengers in 1951. Goods traffic continued in very small quantities.

Of course a lot of containers go by road along the A12 and A14; these highways have had money spent on them, but they are still pitifully inadequate for the 21st century. There is no motorway running into Suffolk, which shows how little priority is given to East Anglia’s transport needs. This is even more true of rail; think how many heavy lorries would be taken off these congested highways by an increase in rail capacity. The line to Felixstowe is single track for nearly its entire length – this was not the case in 1959, although traffic was much lighter then. The work of redoubling the track is not expected to be finished until 2030 moreover, and even then it will not be complete. It is hard to understand why it has taken so long to begin to return the line to its former importance, let alone why it has taken so long to start to upgrade it.

The construction the short (1.2 km) stretch of line between the East Suffolk Line and the Great Eastern main Line (technically known as a chord) means that trains no longer have to pass through Ipswich and reverse on their way to Nuneaton, where many of them terminate. The chord opened in 2014 and was constructed at a cost of £59m, but this is only a small part of the investment needed on the line to the midlands. Trains on this route are expected to more than double in the next ten years as track improvements make this feasible, but as this is one of the premier freight lines in Britain it seems impossibly slow progress.  The result will still be an inferior service. From Suffolk County Council’s point of view the port generates over 10,000 jobs and (in my opinion) much greater investment is needed to preserve Felixstowe’s attractiveness. Other ports are trying to take a share of the business, in particular the new London Gateway port on the river Thames. This will take some of this traffic in the future, but hopefully the increasing trade in the UK will be enough for both ports to prosper.

The redoubling of the line through Soham and the redesign of Ely junction are just two of the improvements urgently required on this line. Unfortunately many of these upgrades will merely be the reinstatement of track that existed in the past, until ‘rationalisation’ took place. At least we have stopped singling these lines now, but it is a pity that this was ever done in the first place. The taking up of track is not done without cost, and the relaying of it is even more expensive. The restoration of two-way working on these few miles to Ely has thrown up so many problems that the project has been abandoned for now, which means that the reintroduction of a station at Soham has also been put on hold. Even the improvements to Ely junction proved too expensive for Network Rail’s current budget and have been delayed until some future time.

The other route by rail through Ipswich to Stratford in East London at present still takes most of the containers from Felixstowe, although this is a pinch point. As more trains run on the Elizabeth Line through Stratford more goods traffic will be routed through Bury St Edmunds instead. The chord in Ipswich will go some way to make this transfer possible. The chord was planned as a freight only line, but this has been upgraded to dual use to include passenger traffic. I can understand specials being directed this way, carrying those wanting to experience the new route, but I am at a loss to envisage any regular passenger services wishing to avoid Ipswich station. The chord has the infrastructure already in place for eventual electrification, although there is no date suggested for when this might be done. It would require the electrification of a mainly freight line, and Network Rail are having difficulties even in electrifying the main line to Bristol. I do not see this electrification to Felixstowe happening any time soon.

It is not generally realised that another chord was introduced on this line nearly one hundred years ago, which created the direct line from Ipswich to Peterborough. Although the term chord was not used then, this short length of track connected the Ely to Newmarket line with the Ipswich to Cambridge line just to the west of Kennett station. The original line from Ely to Newmarket has been returned to agricultural use, but it can still be traced on Google Maps’ satellite view. Before the Soham/Kennett chord was constructed there was not a direct route from Bury St Edmunds to Ely, but a few trains a day went this way by reverse at Newmarket – quite a performance with the locomotive hauled trains of the time.

Things were very different then; there was no Bury to Ely line, but there were lines from Bury to Thetford  and Long Melford, besides the lines to Ipswich and Cambridge. Bury was then a hub for local trains; goods wagons were loaded and unloaded at virtually every station on the network, while the idea of long distance freight traffic from Felixstowe to the midlands had not entered railway planners’ minds. Now Bury is a station where freight traffic is a heavy user of the line, but obviously these trains do not stop there. It is on a long distance route that did not even exist in the heyday of steam.

Another chord was recently proposed at Reedham in Norfolk, this time reinstating the line of 1847 which connected Yarmouth and Lowestoft directly. This link was made redundant by the opening of Yarmouth South Town station in 1859. This chord would reopen the  direct service from Yarmouth to Ipswich (and perhaps eventually Liverpool Street) via the East Suffolk Line, but this proposal from Network Rail got a dusty answer from the not-very-impressive local MP. He merely said it was a pity the railways had been so drastically cut in the 1960s. Indeed it is, but what is the point of regretting the past? I can do it in a blog like this, but a politician should be looking to the future. It is true that the railway through the Berney Arms halt would need improvement to bring the speed limit up from the current snail’s pace, but this would only be a plus.

Will it ever happen? With the pace of progress with the vital container traffic on the Felixstowe line and the lack of local support I doubt it.






It was a decade of change across the land, and Norfolk was no exception. For us though, the change was slower than in the rest of the country. Although I spent nearly all the 1960s away from home at boarding school I was still living in Norfolk; it is a large county after all. After growing up in South Norfolk and going to school in Suffolk in the 1950s, I changed to being a North Norfolk boy. Being an East Anglian still meant a lot, and being a ‘Norfick bor’ meant even more. This distinctive character is something that many other parts of the country have lost long ago and even in Norfolk it has been diluted. My school had the great Dick Bagnall Oakley (known county-wide through his television appearances) with his authentic Norfolk dialect, which he would occasionally lapse into, and this kept the school firmly on Norfolk lines. That significant voice has long gone alas, but it was there in the sixties.

Stooks of corn in south Norfolk, 1960s

So what was Norfolk really like back in the 1960s? For one thing there was much more sea borne cargo coming to Norfolk (Suffolk is a different matter thanks to the growth of the Port of Felixstowe). There were flourishing ports at Wells and Norwich, where grain was traded and coal imported. The port of Kings Lynn had abandoned South Quay, but the Alexandra Dock saw a lot of trade. There were many more fishing boats too. The herring industry in Yarmouth had collapsed right at the beginning of the decade, but the trawler caught white fish were still plentiful just down he coast at Lowestoft. I was living less than four miles from the sea as a schoolboy, and with a few hours to spare I could go to the seaside. There I could witness the thriving inshore fishing fleet, with crab boats on the beach at Cromer and Sheringham. This inshore fishing industry still survives, but it is under increasing pressure; what does the future hold I wonder?

Things like the shrinking of the railway network affected us all in the sixties. This happened all across UK, and the change was not for the better either. It is popular to blame Dr Beeching for this, but it was basically our own fault; our love affair with the motorcar meant the railway was doomed. If we didn’t use them, the railways were bound to close. (Now with the impossibility of parking in our big cities we need the railways once again, and we have lost many of them.) In Norfolk the roads, which should have benefitted from the transfer of traffic from rail, did not have any money spent on them in the sixties. Even the main roads snaked through the centres of all villages and towns they came to; the narrow A11 (the main road to London) threaded its way through the medieval streets of Wymondham and crossed the narrow bridge over the river Tiffey, but this was normal for Norfolk at the time. Heavy lorries were routed straight through the centre of Norwich. London Street was pedestrianised in 1967, but this was a revolutionary development. Cycles were still used to carry workers to Carrow and the many shoe factories in Norwich, but elsewhere they were giving way to the motorcar.

Change was gathering pace everywhere else in the UK, but not here; there were still conductors on the buses in Norfolk, but elsewhere drivers were already issuing the tickets. Motorways were being built, jet airliners were taking to the skies and electricity began to take over as the tractive power on the remaining railways (steam had ended in 1968). However here in East Anglia we were again overlooked. None of these improvements in transport affected us. Norwich Airport opened in 1967, but no jets used it for years. My father flew to Guernsey from Norwich, but it was in a 1940s Douglas Dakota!

The old ancestral homes that had clung on by their fingertips after the war fell by the wayside; many were demolished and others were left to decay. The richest of aristocrats survived, like the Earl of Leicester at Holkham and the Earl of Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall, but many of the less elevated families had already succumbed to the changed times. The nouveau riche Colin Chapman of Lotus Cars lived in a large house in Hethel, but despite its Georgian appearance that was a new build.

Among the lower middle classes the housing situation was quite different; the home-owning democracy was taking off for them. My own family ceased to be tenants in 1960 when we bought our bungalow; we were not alone. The rent control environment made being a private landlord an unattractive proposition; you retained responsibility for letting the tenancy but could not recoup your expenditure. No wonder the rented cottages were sold off as soon as their otherwise irremovable occupants died. In Norwich the upper floors of shops were left vacant – there was little demand for city centre dwellings and no appetite to provide them. Why complicate things when you were getting a good income from the ground floor retail space?  Slightly beyond the shopping centres council housing was still available to provide decent accommodation for the working class, and those who could afford it moved to new bungalow dormitories in the suburbs.

Has it all changed in the last fifty years? In some respects we have joined the modern world, but in others we are still at the bottom of the heap. It has taken half a century for us to get just one complete dual carriageway road, and the nearest motorway ends miles short of Norfolk. There are flats now above all the old shops – it is retailing itself which now is feeling the pinch. Instead of rent control we have greedy landlords everywhere you look. We got electrification on the Great Eastern main line relatively early, but that was done at the disadvantage of making the Wensum bridge single track. Here as elsewhere the property-owning democracy is a distant memory, except for us favoured baby boomers. Those who can afford to join their numbers must squeeze into new three floor terraced houses with a tiny footprint and next to no garden. Bungalows, so useful to house the elderly, are hardly ever built today. Yet in most respects we all have untold wealth – personal computers, smartphones, cars, clothes and so much food that we will all soon be too obese to move. It’s a funny old world.




THE GRIEF FAMILY (and other relatives)

Robert Grief was born in Trowse in 1802 and lived all his life there. Until he was over forty he worked as a labourer, but once the railway was opened through the village he got the responsible job of signalman at Trowse signal box. It was not up to the management to look for workers with experience; this was a novel kind of employment, and all comers were welcome if suitable; apparently Robert was. His grandson James was born in 1853, and as a teenager he was grinding corn at the local watermill in Trowse. He later transferred to another watermill further upstream on the river Yare at Marlingford.


Elizabeth Buxton was an elder sister of my great-grandmother Rebecca. The Buxton family lived in Easton, the next village to Marlingford. She met James Grief there and married him at Marlinford church in 1874, and her first child was born in the village. James Grief moved back to Trowse when he got a job grinding mustard at the mill at Carrow. His uncle Hamlet Grief was already working at the starch mill there. Once established James progressed to become a fireman at the works, a job that was combined with the position of police officer. It is amazing what a complete community existed at Carrow works; besides its own fire brigade and police force it had a staff canteen, a school, medical facilities, musical societies, sports teams and even an illustrated magazine. No other employer in Norwich came anywhere close to Colman’s as far as looking after its workers went.  The Colmans were such good employers that a job there was highly sought after.

 Rebecca’s husband was Charles Mason, a native of Staffordshire, who had met his wife-to-be while she was working there in service. They came to Easton to get married, but Charles (my great-grandfather) was earning a precarious living; the family was living in Northamptonshire when their eldest child was born. His strong point was working with animals, but that hardly led to secure employment; he was a kennel-man while his first children were born. It must have been James Grief who heard that Carrow works had a position for someone to look after the carthorses, and following his recommendation his brother-in-law Charles Mason secured employment as a carter there.


It was while Rebecca his wife was living at her mother’s that her son William was born. (William Mason was my grandfather.) At the time Charles Mason was working far away with the hounds belonging to a hunt in Kent. Once Charles had a secure job as carter with Colman’s mustard the family moved to Trowse. There the connections between the Mason and Grief families continued. As a schoolboy William would have been taught by his cousin Florence Grief, a 15-year-old pupil teacher and eldest daughter of James and Elizabeth. It seems as if Trowse school was almost entirely staffed by members of my family over a hundred years ago. Sisters Thirza and Ruth Peachey were my great aunts on my grandmother’s side of the family, and they were both teachers at Trowse school in the early years of the 20th century. Bertie Hardy (who went on to marry Ruth) was another pupil teacher at the school.

After teaching for twenty years Florence married a widower with a young daughter. Having been born in Bombay of a German father he was a newsagent in Colchester. His shop has been redeveloped, but the area is still a flourishing centre of retail trade. Florence had no family connections in Essex, and when her husband died she moved back to Norwich where there were many cousins. Her mother Elizabeth had four daughters, of whom Florence was the eldest. Another was Edith who married a young man from Ipswich. He had risen from shop assistant to tailor’s cutter at the time of their marriage, and ended up as the designer of clothing patterns. Although Edith had children, all her siblings were sisters, so the Grief name died out with her generation.





Halesworth was a town of under 1,000 inhabitants in the 19th century, but nevertheless it had several banks, a theatre, three non-conformist chapels and supported a maltings, a brickyard and a gasworks. Now the residents are up in arms about a housing development that was given planning approval last year. This will add 160 houses to the Hill Farm Road area, while another development, approved this year, will add a further 200 properties to the opposite side of town. These are fairly hefty numbers for a small market town with a population of around 5,000 today. If this level of development were planned for Bungay, Hadleigh or Eye* (other small Suffolk towns) I would be much more sympathetic to the protesters’ cause. However, Halesworth differs from these other towns; it still retains its railway station. As for numbers, the station is already doing just fine – it has increased the journeys that start or end there by 20% in the last five years; but a town that has the luxury of a railway service cannot then turn round and say: “Oh no; we don’t want anybody else coming here.” Attleborough in Norfolk has experienced an even greater increase in inhabitants, rising from a population of one thousand a hundred years ago to one a dozen times larger now, and I approve of this for the same reason; it too has a railway station.

Halesworth Railway Station

By my reckoning these lucky towns should get the lion’s share of the new houses we so desperately need. Planners seem oddly blind to this great resource of a railway link, however.  They are as likely to build new homes in Wymondam and Thetford, towns that get a regular rail service, as they are to dump new housing on Aylsham or Dereham, places that no longer have a real railway link, only one to a Heritage line. At least in the case of Halesworth local government is getting it correct and are putting the housing in a town that merits it. North Walsham is another place that should be seeing increased development, to capitalise on its railway station. This is popular for commuters into Norwich, with over a quarter of a million passengers a year. I would go further and develop little places like Gunton and Spooner Row to take advantage of their stations. Spooner Row near Wymondham would need a substantial increase in the number of trains that stop there, but Gunton in North Norfolk has a two hourly service; trains regularly stop there, although it caters for few passengers. As I have said before, such places should be given a choice; take the development or lose your station. There is no way these hamlets should be able to preserve their rural tranquility while having access to the rail network, which connects them to the four corners of the land with only a few changes of train. It is a pity that the pub by the station there closed a few years ago. If my suggestion of developing the area had been taken up it would have had a thriving trade.

Until 2010 Halesworth had a daily through train to Liverpool Street, and with the introduction of the new rollingstock there is talk of reintroducing this service. It would still be a far cry from the time in the 1950s when the named train The Eastern Belle was steam hauled from Lowestoft to London via Halesworth, but it would be a start in restoring the service. Think of the luxury of getting on the train in Halesworth in time for breakfast (yes, the trains were complete with restaurant cars) and getting to London by mid-morning. In 1922 you could board a Pullman car in Halesworth at 7.19 a.m. on weekdays (a porter carrying your luggage to the guard’s brake third) and alight in Liverpool Street three hours later, refreshed and ready for the day. If the demand from the new residents was sufficient, who knows what might happen? We can always dream.

Further south on the East Suffolk Line is the town of Woodbridge. There RAF Woodbridge, now used as the barracks for the 23rd Engineers Regt, is due to close in 2027, and the airfield is to be used to build housing. This seems a good idea, because it would be a brown field site and it would not impact the old town. Woodbridge also has a railway station, though in fact Rock Barracks (as the facility is called) is nearer to the station just north of the town at Melton. (Melton was closed to passengers in 1955, but was reopened in 1984 following a local campaign, and now boasts a healthy number approaching 70,000 users a year.) The platforms on these stations could take much longer trains than the two car units that currently trundle along the line. Perhaps with all these extra passengers potentially using them the trains  will need to be longer and more regular. The singling of long stretches of line north of Saxmundham, that impairs the running of more frequent services, was a false economy, because these penny-pinching measures will all eventually have to be reversed, if the development of towns like Halesworth and Woodbridge continues. This has already happened at Beccles, where at great expense it is once again a two platform station.

Halesworth was also the terminus of the Southwold Railway, the narrow gauge line that served the two towns until it was abruptly terminated in 1929. There was no seeking the views of the local residents on these alterations in their environment in those far-off days; I wonder if they were as opposed to such changes then as they are nowadays? It should never surprise anyone when protests are made about new developments, often from the very people who are living in the houses that were erected in the (equally unpopular) development before last. What would astonish me is if a group of locals got together and said : “Yes, we definitely approve of these new houses being built in our back yard.” Don’t worry; it will never happen.

*Bungay lost its rail passenger service in 1954, Hadleigh in 1932 and Eye in 1931.








Nellie (Ellen Lydia) was one of my great aunts. I was seven years old when she died, but as she lived all her adult life on the South Coast I never met her. I have written about my close relative and  her husband Maurice Lawrence before; then I claimed that they were shadowy figures of whom I did not even have any photographs.  Since hearing from a not-so-distant cousin, I can state that they have emerged from the shadows. I now have multiple pictures of both of them. The children of Charles Mason all grew up in Norfolk, but his three eldest daughters all ended up living in Kent. Two were childless, but one had a family who also grew up in Kent; how did this move to the Garden of England happen?

MAURICE, signalman at Folkestone

Nellie, the eldest daughter of my great-grandfather Charles Mason, went into domestic service in Folkestone in the last years of the 19th century. Bessie was nearly seven years younger than Nellie, but as soon as she was old enough she travelled down to Folkestone to be near her elder sister. Both sisters were married to young men who were working for the railway in Kent; Nellie was married in Trowse in Norfolk in 1908, and Bessie  was married during the war in 1915, in Kent.  Nellie’s husband was a signalman, and Bessie’s husband was a goods clerk called Douglas Hughes. When he was called up 1916 he worked in a similar capacity in Flanders. Nellie had no children; in 1920 she moved with her husband Maurice from Folkestone, where he had been assistant signalman, to be the signalman at Walmer near Dover.

BESSIE (left) & son Charlie on Folkestone beach (1933) .

Bessie had two sons; the eldest was Charles, and on leaving school he applied to the Civil Service Commission to take their examination. Being entered at all was great honour, but he came second in this exam, out of the entire country. This was an astonishing achievement, and he was appointed to a senior position in the Civil Service. As part of his training he received a law degree from London University. This was in 1938, aged 22. Charles worked in Somerset House in London before his employment was interrupted by the Second World War, in which he served in the Royal Navy. After the war he returned to work in the Estate Duty office in West London.

It is remarkable how the grandson of Charles Mason, who had sprung from the very poorest levels of society, should achieve so much, but it is in large part due to the great opportunities that British society provided at the time.

Bessie’s husband Douglas worked at Shorncliffe Camp station, which serviced the Army Camp there even before the First World War. This station was the terminus of the Elham Valley Line, but it was a located on the mainline to Folkestone, so when the Elham Valley line closed before the Second World War it remained open. Nellie’s husband sometimes worked the signalbox at Deal, the next station up the line from Walmer. He retired shortly after the end of the Second World War in 1945.


When the third of the Mason sisters, Millicent, retired from nursing, she too made her home in Kent. She also had excelled in her chosen field, being the midwife of choice to members of the Royal Family. I used to think that we Masons were of minor importance in the scheme of things, and that intelligence that my children might exhibit came from the another side of the family.  I have learnt differently however. The first member of my family to get a university degree was not Marion Hardy (as I had thought), who picked up her degree in 1944; it was Charles Hughes, who qualified before the war. This all happened  years before the Beveridge Report allegedly opened up society to the lower orders. In many ways it is far harder today for the exceptionally able members of the working class to excel than it was in first half of the 20th century.  It was also possible for these people to buy their own houses; Bessie’s husband bought their property in Folkestone in 1926, and Nellie followed in Walmer in 1930. Today similar couples would find it impossible to become owner-occupiers. They would be lucky to be able to afford the rent on a pleasant property on the South Coast of England. It has by no means all been progress in the last hundred years. We have gone backwards in social mobility.





The first kind of motive power to work railways was the horse. Primitive railway tracks were used to transport coal and other minerals by gravity to the harbours on the coast; the empty trucks were returned by horse power. This occurred as long ago as the eighteenth century, but horses were still being used on the sidings at Wells-Next-the-Sea until the track itself was lifted sometime in the twentieth century. The sidings used to run from the station to the docks.

The next form of motive power to appear was the steam locomotive. Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly were two of the earliest, built over two hundred years ago in 1814. By an extraordinary coincidence both locomotives still survive, one in London and the other in Edinburgh. Steam locomotives survive in large numbers, both in museums and preserved in working order on Heritage Railways. On British Railways the last steam loco to be made was Evening Star, a class 9F freight engine. She was made at Swindon Works and was completed in March 1960, thus bringing to an end more than a hundred and fifty years of development in steam engine production.


Only few years after the steam engine, the next kind of motive power to appear was electric traction. A locomotive powered by Galvanic cells was made in Scotland as early as 1837, and was run on a section of the Edinburgh to Glasgow line in 1841, but the locomotive had far too little tractive effort to have any practical application. The first practical electric railway in Britain was Volk’s Electric Railway in  Brighton, which opened in 1883; it is still running along the beach today. Electric powered railways were given a great boost by the development of the London Underground, where the smoke of steam locomotives filled the tunnels. Electricity was clean, but the use of steam continued on the Underground until some years after the last steam engine had been withdrawn on British Rail. They were used to haul works trains when the current had been turned off at night. Electric traction required an infrastructure of power supply. The most common form was initially third rail; overhead cables would not fit in the tube. These were only used once electric traction became common on overground routes, and even then the first mainline railway (the Southern) to make extensive use of electricity used the third rail system. Overhead power lines are much safer for the public, although visually intrusive; Crossrail (the Elizabeth Line) is underground for its central section, but uses overhead power. Because they require an external power supply electric trains are not prime movers like the other forms of motive power referred to in this article.

Diesel motive power is used where the more lightly used lines do not justify the installation of electric power. The development of the internal combustion engine for use on the railways took place in the inter-war period, as methods of power transmission were improved. For relatively small loads mechanical transmission via a clutch and gearbox was adequate, and was used in diesel shunters and dmu (multiple unit) passenger trains. For the demands of higher speeds and heavy loads diesel engines are used to power electric motors which transfer the power to the wheels. Diesel-electric was the most common form of motive power used in the first generation of locomotives on British Rail in the 1960s. The alternative was diesel-hydraulic power, and this was used on the Western Region in particular. The first diesel-hydraulics had problems in with the transmission oil overheating, but these have been resolved and all three methods of transmission are used today. The use of separate locomotives is however becoming rare in passenger trains, and motors are increasingly located on the axles under the carriages. This method of applying traction has removed the distinction between motive power and other kinds of rolling stock on passenger trains, but is not applicable to freight trains, where diesel-electric or electric locomotives are still used.





This village near Newmarket is well served by transport links, and it has been for thousands of years. In prehistoric times it was served by the Icknield Way that went from Wiltshire into East Anglia. The ancient trackway runs along the edge of Kentford village. The name hints at the Iron Age tribe the Iceni.

In the Middle Ages the river Kennett was a much more substantial waterway than the weed-choked stream that now runs through Kentford. The river was wide enough to require a ferry to aid those who needed to cross it, although (as the name suggests) it was originally traversed by a deep ford. Until the beginning of the 17th century, when the first bridge in Kentford was built, traffic from Newmarket went across the bridge in the adjacent village of Moulton, upstream of Kentford.  This 14th century packhorse bridge (which still exists) has four arches and was, apart from ferries, the most northerly crossing point into Cambridgeshire from East Anglia. The little village of Moulton was historically of major importance; the bridge carried medieval travellers to the great centre of pilgrimage (Bury St Edmunds) from the west. I am sure a toll was payable, and doubtless a chapel too existed to safeguard those who used the crossing. Today it is very near to its modern replacement, the A11/M11, the route from Norwich to London. Those who pass by have no idea of this long march of history as they speed along. It is also close to the A14, a much newer road that runs from Felixstowe to the midlands, built in the 1980s. In the Middle Ages the river Kennett allowed boats to pass up the Great Ouse river basin via the river Lark to Kentford and beyond. The head of navigation on this watercourse is now just above the confluence of the river Lark with Lee Brook, which leads on to the river Kennett.

The village is also served by Kennett railway station with its two hourly service from Bury St Edmunds to Cambridge, via Newmarket. From Kennett station it is under an hour and a half’s journey to London Kings Cross, and the fare to Liverpool Street Station can be as little as £10 one way! It is also on the line from Ipswich to Peterborough via Ely, but trains on this route do not now stop at Kennett; perhaps they should? I am sure there used to be trains to Ely in LNER days. Under the Great Eastern it was possible to catch a train from Kennett to Ely without changing, but you had to call at Newmarket first and then reverse; the short link south of Soham to the Bury St Edmunds line must have been built in the 1930s. You can still trace the old line if you  use the satellite view on Google maps. It is a very basic station today, but back in the nineteenth century it had a resident stationmaster and several staff – a ticket clerk, porter and someone to load the goods vans.  From 1930, until it became an unstaffed halt in 1967, there was just a porter at the station, and a signalman in the adjoining signalbox. The old station has been demolished and the signalbox was removed to the Colne Valley Railway Museum after the semaphore signals were replaced in 2011. Before the days of Dr Beeching it had a freight service, and even after the general cargo of coal trucks and goods wagons was discontinued, it retained a siding and freight service to the adjoining granary store. This continued until the 1980s, and there is still a siding to the east of the station, though I doubt it is much used if at all. It provides access to a facility for aggregate produced from the stones discarded in the processing of sugar beet by the local British Sugar factories.

The Bell, Kennett

Kentford is on that narrow isthmus of Suffolk that is sandwiched between Kennett to the north and Ashley to the south, and both these villages are in Cambridgeshire. The river Kennett flows through the village of Kentford and formed the border here, although the course of the river has varied slightly since the border was fixed. The river gives its name to both villages, Kennet and Kentford (the ford on the river Kennett).

Like the river Kennet that flows into the Thames (and is familiar from the Kennet and Avon Canal) the word is of Celtic origin. However, in the Domesday book the Suffolk village is spelt Chennit, while the Wiltshire river was formerly known as the Cunnit.

Kentford is fifteen miles south of the market town of Brandon, which is on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, so all three East Anglian counties are close together here. Coming into the 21st century, the most modern form of transport, air travel, is available only 35 miles away at Stansted Airport in Essex. This has services to Europe and the USA. It truly is a transport hub, but that is not the reason why I am writing this blog. Although it is only a couple of miles from the A11, I never even knew that the village existed until this year.

The only reason that I found out about it then is because there is a large veterinary hospital there, belonging to a charity The Animal Health Trust. Our dog Wesley had a slipped disc in March this year, and we had to take him there for surgery to repair it. Wesley was in a bad way, unable to move his back legs at all, and until recently there would have been nothing we could have done for him. Fortunately, modern surgical techniques mean that a remedy is now possible, and he is well on the road to recovery.

There is an attractive looking pub on the corner of the road to Red Lodge; the old half-timbered building (which is in fact in Kennett) also offers accommodation. I would like to sample a pint of beer there, but I doubt I will ever again pass that way, except when Wesley has his check-up, and he will not wish to wait while I indulge myself in this way. Perhaps when we go again in May the weather will be pleasant enough for us to sit outside and take a drink while Wesley sits at my feet.





It was an extension of the Great Eastern Railway along the rich agricultural land from Wisbech to Upwell. Opened in 1883, the line was built to standard gauge and powered by steam locomotives; in 1952 it became the first line in the country to be entirely diesel hauled. The wagons that brought the produce from the market gardens and fruit farms of the Fens were then dispatched to the towns and cities of the East of England. It ran largely along the A 1101 road and was unfenced, so it had to be restricted in speed. It was limited by law to 12 mph; there frequent stops on the journey from Upwell to Wisbech. The distance of just seven miles included five stations and took an hour to accomplish.

It was designated a tramway when it was opened. It was very well used for the transport of vegetables and fruit from the area, and, rather surprisingly for a rural line, it was also popular for bring the local population into Wisbech. The coming of the motor bus destroyed this side of the business, and it closed to passengers in 1927, but a coach was retained for use on trains as a mobile office for the fruit trade. A coach from the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway survived to be used (and then destroyed) in the making of the Ealing Comedy film The Titfield Thunderbolt.  The goods traffic continued for nearly another forty years after the loss of the passenger traffic. The line was closed in 1966 as part of the Beeching Axe, and even the fact that it paid its way was not enough to save it. Upwell is in Norfolk and Wisbech is now in Cambridgeshire, although in the for all the tramway’s existence the town was still part of that mini-county, the Isle of Ely. It was definitely an East Anglian line.

By the time the line closed I was 17 years old, and during its final years our occasional visits to stay in Kings Lynn (West Norfolk) to see family members meant my father could drive me out to see the tramway.  Nothing was moving on the occasion that we were there, as this at Easter and the traffic was highly seasonal. However the permanent way and rolling stock were visible alongside the road. During the winter months the traffic was reduced to one train a day by the sixties, and by then the train had to make frequent halts to accommodate buses stopping and the parked cars that blocked the line.

Tram at Upwell

The steam-powered tram engines have become a popular example of railway history, out of all proportion to their number in real life. As a teenager I had a loco (made from a kit) on my model railway, and Toby the Tram Engine even features in one of the stories that the Revd W. Awdrey published in 1952. These J70 locomotives were built at Stratford Works in East London by the Great Eastern Railway. Designed by James Holden, these verticle-boilered double-ended locomotives had cow catchers and side skirts to protect people and livestock. The fuel used was coke to emit no smoke, and the steam was condensed to emit no water vapour. The wooden cladding of the upper part was painted brown. This type of engine was also employed on the docks around the East Anglian coast, where the railway also ran along public roads; although I remember seeing wagons being pulled across the square outside the town hall at Great Yarmouth, I cannot now recall the type of motive power. I know from old photographs that ordinary steam shunters were used on this dockside railway, but so too were J70s.

The carriages used on  the line were originally four wheelers, but a bogie coach (no. 7) survives and now forms part of the Vintage Set of coaching stock on the North Norfolk Railway. The coaches were low and squat looking to make access from the stations possible, as some of them had no platforms. The remaining carriage is now painted in GER vermilion, which is the authentic livery used until World War I.

[This FENLAND TRAMWAY video may be viewed if you click here.]




Come to the launch of my book St Edmund and the Vikings on April 19th at Jarrold’s shop in Norwich. Arrive at the Book Department from 6 p.m. for the presentation at 6.30. Have a glass of wine (or a soft drink) with me; both attendance and the refreshments will all be completely FREE.

This will be a great opportunity for so many of my readers to meet me. My book will be available to purchase for the first time. I will say a few words about how I came to write the book. Don’t forget to book your place; enquire may be made at Jarrolds on 01603 660661.  I want to see as many of you as possible. I really do hope to see you there!