Article from Winter 2010 Athelington, Horham & Redlingfield News
Tales of the ‘Middy' from Horham station master Albert Borrott: The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway ‘Middy' was built in 1902 - financed by shareholders and collections from businessmen from the villages through which the railway was laid.
It was a single-line track running from Laxfield to Haughley, a distance of about 201/2 miles. It was in two sections: Laxfield to Kenton; and Kenton to Haughley. It was of a standard gauge, with 10 stations and sidings. The stations were: Laxfield; Wilby; Stradbroke; Horham; Worlingworth; Kenton; Aspall; Brockford; Mendlesham; and Haughley, where it connected with the main line from Norwich to London and Cambridge.
The rolling stock consisted of three engines, two first class and eight third class coaches, with two goods-guard brake vans. The staff consisted of: five station-masters; 11 porters; two engine drivers; two firemen (engine cleaners); a yard man for unloading coal etc.; four guards (two for each train); a traffic inspector stationed at Laxfield; and a permanent way inspector at Haughley. There were also five gangs of 15 men in the permanent way staff.
The service was as follows: the up service to Haughley departed Laxfield at: 7.25am (it was a passenger train); 9am (goods); 11.05am (mixed); and 3.25pm (mixed); the down service to Laxfield departed Haughley at: 9.10am (mixed); 10.40am (goods); 1pm (mixed); and 4.25pm (passenger).
On Tuesday mornings a train left Laxfield at 3.40am to pick up wagons of cattle from each station and convey them to Ipswich for the cattle market.
Up to 1924 it was a well patronised railway. There were millers and grain and coal merchants at Laxfield; two grain and coal merchants at Stradbroke, E.G. Clarke and Son and S. Skinner and Co; and at Horham there were millers, grain, coal and coke merchants.
The passenger and mixed trains conveyed passengers, dogs, small parcels, milk, bicycles and passengers' luggage. Every morning there were: two churns of milk picked up at Laxfield; two at Wilby; three at Stradbroke; eight at Horham; four at Aspall; and four at Mendlesham. About 16 scholars travelled to and from Stowmarket secondary school every day. There were cheap day tickets issued on Tuesday for Ipswich and on Thursday to Stowmarket.
I entered the railway service on October 16th 1916, and served at each of the stations during the two years to November 1918.
I was posted to Horham Station on November 11th 1918. It was not long before I got to know most people in the village. I had complete charge of the station, being station master, clerk, shunter, porter and signalman. The smallest parcel ever recorded as being received was a queen bee. The ordinary return fare to Ipswich was 4s 3d to Liverpool Street was 19s 7d.
In the year 1919-1920 Messrs Roe & Sons, erected a grain store and installed a power mill on land near Horham Station yard. The firm consisted of F. B. Roe, the father, and three sons.
The private telephone was not provided for the railway until 1919.
About 1921 road transport came into being - passenger coaches, buses, lorries, cattle trucks, and people getting their own cars - so that traffic began to leave the railways and went onto the roads. It was about 1917-18 when this little branch was taken over by the Great Eastern Railway. The railways were losing money and so instead of running each section as they were doing, it was decided to make the whole of the railway system into four regions, namely: The Great Western; London, Midlands and Scottish; London and North Western; and London North Eastern, the latter to which we were attached.
This little railway was nearly doomed on several occasions until 1939 when the Second World War was declared. In 1940-41 an air base was built at Horham and the railway known as the Mid-Suffolk Branch Line was one of the busiest in the region, what with building materials, stores, tools, personnel and luggage, bombs etc., coal and coke. Besides inward traffic there was traffic loaded out: straw; hay; vegetables; sugar-beet; and truck loads of air force stores; and personal belongings of airmen who had been killed or wounded. We used to receive daily 40 wagons in for the air base and an average of 10 out, including parachutes. Practically all the airmen's clothing, boots etc., came to Horham.
There were three accidents involving persons: a woman run over between Mendlesham and Haughley about 1930; a soldier on leave was run over between Horham and Stradbroke, not a local man, he was not killed but had his ankle broken; the train was derailed 1912 on Laxfield Flower Show Day, no bad casualties.
All the area served by the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway was severely hit by its closure, and the old engine whistle is still missed by all who took interest in the railway.
However, the cost of maintaining it was far beyond the receipts, so there was no other sensible thing to do but close. Some of the younger men were found jobs in the railway. The older ones left and found other work.
● The station buildings from Horham and Laxfield are preserved at Mangapps Railway Museum, Southmister Road, Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex (www.mangapps.co.uk/), and the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Museum at Wetheringsett, on the site of the Brockford and Wetheringsett railway station, (www.mslr.org.uk/), is a heritage railway and preservation museum run by a dedicated band of volunteers celebrating the ‘Middy'. It operates from April to the end of September on Sundays and Bank Holidays, with Santa specials in December. Most of the open days have a special event to accompany the running of the steam locomotive.
● Albert Borrott was a sergeant in the Home Guard and on one occasion when his men were parading by the school in Horham one of them accidentally shot the church tower. Albert was also landlord of the Denham Green Man. The station itself was strafed by German aircraft during WW2. The bullets narrowly missed children who had just got off the school bus.
Many thanks to Alan Johnson for contributing this article and pictures, and Eddie Coe for the EADT cutting. They are in the Horham picture gallery.