rAIL TRANSPORT
 
9 -11 Victoria Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HZ - Tel: 01502 726097 email
 
 
 
 
 
In the beginning
The Sea
Natural Southwold
Fishing
Southwold at war
Christianity in Southwold
Industry
Arts & Crafts
Holidays & Leisure
Southwold the town
Southwold Shops & Trades

 

 

 
 
 

The mid 1800s was the time of railway mania when speculators were flocking to invest in the new transportation system. Close to home, engineer and entrepreneur Morton Peto was the driving force behind the development of Lowestoft, including bringing the railway to town. The 1840s & 50s saw a network of lines criss-crossing Norfolk and Suffolk. In 1854 the Halesworth, Beccles and Haddiscoe Railway (renamed the East Suffolk Railway Co.) was opened between those towns and extended via Darsham to Ipswich in 1859.


The River Blyth presented the major civil engineering challenge for the Railway. The bridge featured a pivoting span to allow boats to pass.
Click the picture to enlarge

Map of the Southwold Railway

Red line denotes the Southwold Railway with its Harbour extension.
Blue dashed line denotes LNER

Click the map to magnify.


 

Prior to that, a number of schemes for linking Southwold with the main network had been promoted but failed to gain enough support. However, the existence of a thriving fishing and commercial port and the growing attractions of Southwold as a holiday destination, led a number of local businessmen to try again - this time successfully. The Southwold Railway Act was passed by Parliament in 1876 and the Southwold Railway Co was formed with a capital of £53,000. It constructed a railway linking Southwold to Halesworth which opened in 1879. The route of the line can be seen on the diagrammatic map above.

Unusually for an English railway it was narrow gauge (three feet) and had a speed restriction of 16mph. Mostly it had easy gradients and the only major civil engineering work was the swing bridge over the River Blyth. A branch to Southwold Harbour and Blackshore Quay was opened in 1914 just as war broke out and the fishing industry collapsed. It was never a success.

The carriages had no heating. Straw was strewn on the third class carriage floors to keep passengers’ feet warm in winter. The seats were unupholstered bare wood but First class passengers had the luxury of carpeted seats and the option of a carpet-covered copper hot water bottle for their feet.

A model of a Southwold steam locomotive with passenger and goods rolling stock.


LIFE ON SOUTHWOLD RAILWAY
Click on the images below to get the whole picture

 
Southwold Station 1887 - Official visit by representative of Japanese RailwaysSouthwold Number 1. Thomas More on the footplatePassenger coach in 1879
Southwold Station 1905Southwold Station in about 1900
Southwold StationSouthwold Station in the 1890s
Southwold Station Platform with advertising postersWalberswick Station in 1926Wenhaston No 4 Locomotive
 
 

Initially it was a highly successful enterprise. The year after opening it carried 65,000 passengers and 5,000 tons of assorted freight. This rose to 108,600 and 13,8000 respectively by 1913 but this proved to be the peak. After that there was a slow, inexorable decline. In 1928 there were only 60,000 passengers.

By the 1920s the rolling-stock and equipment were old and worn, the speed restriction and need to transfer the goods between different gauges were commercial handicaps and motor transport was eroding traffic. All of these created serious financial problems. The final nail in the coffin came in 1928 when bus operators were licensed to pick up passengers in the town. The railway closed in 1929. There were some attempts to reopen it but in 1940/1 the whole railway was broken up for scrap to aid the war effort.

Use the links below to explore the history of Southwold’s other forms of transport:

By Road
By water

 

Elderly residents remember the fun they had with the railway as children - before the invention of 'Health & Safety'!



"When we heard the train we used to belt across the Common..."


"Now First Class was exactly the same as Third Class except that you had a piece of carpet on the seat."


"The boys used to jump off, run across the loop and get on it again on the other side."


"We'd go onto the bridge and wave at the engineer..."

Reg Carter signature
Cartoon postcard by Reg Carter

The mischievous local artist who couldn't resist having a pop at the railway.

Click the picture to learn more about Reg Carter

BRIDGE ON THE RIVER BLYTH
 

Train crossing the River Blyth
The piers for this original railway swing-bridge, pictured in the early 1900s, are still there, supporting the present pedestrian Bailey Bridge - a shortcut to Walberswick. P017

Click the picture to enlarge

 

Link to movie of Southwold Railway

   
 
 

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Southwold Museum & Historical Society, 9 -11 Victoria Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HZ
Tel: 01502 726097 email

A Charitable Incorporated Organisation, Registered Charity No 1159790,