For enthusiasts,researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

 Report of the 2006 half-yearly meeting

held at Hills Road College, Hills Road, Cambridge, 21st October 2006

by Bill King

Around 70 members and guests gathered at a new venue - Hills Road Sixth Form College - for this year's half-yearly meeting. This is a smart modern college and we were located in the Science department lecture theatre at the rear of the complex - this did make discovering the rooms somewhat akin to finding one's way out of a maze! It was also necessary to avoid the "Sculpture for Surgeons" class - I kid you not! - which was just about to commence at the front of the buildings. A quick review of the results at the end of the day did reveal some pretty good artwork.

We were very pleased to be joined at the beginning of the meeting by local resident, Lew Adams, former General Secretary of ASLEF and now a member of the British Transport Police Authority - for some of his views see here. He has recently been involved in the collection and creation of an aural history archive which will be available for consultation at the NRM. Over 500 former railway employees - the oldest over 100 years of age - have been interviewed as part of this project.

As usual, the day consisted of a number of presentations, and on this occasion for the first time they were all made using "modern technology". All of our speakers worked with a laptop hooked up to a projector. This does have the advantage over the old-fashioned slide projector that some striking effects can be achieved. For example, multiple images can be made to appear on the same screen. On the downside, a "slide" which has been skilfully prepared prior to the event, but which contains an image the wrong way round or in the wrong order cannot easily be changed "on the fly". Nevertheless, this was a milestone - how long before the presentations are made entirely automatically? - Or even by a remote speaker over the Internet? Who says we are an historical Society?

As described in the most recent News and on the website, the programme consisted of illustrated talks:

  • Mistley, its railways and its Maltings by Keith Gardner
  • The Railway Record of the British Isles by Dave Challis and Andy Rush - with examples from the Cambridge area
  • The Saffron Walden Branch by Alan Hardy

Lunch was to be had between the Mistley and Railway Record talks and the opportunity could be taken to purchase a book or two or even a new information sheet. As ever, Barry Jackson was on hand with all the latest Society updates and Nigel Bowdidge and Dave Taylor were doing their best to shift all those books that have been clogging up the back of Nigel's garage! There are always bargains to be had - it really is worth a visit to one - or both - of our meetings each year.

Mistley, its railways and its Maltings

Keith Gardner professed himself neither a railwayman nor even an engineer but said he was determined to build a model of a Great Eastern station. His chosen subject was Mistley which was pretty comprehensively covered in Journal 97's A-Z feature. Keith's interest lay in topography and this gave a less than usual slant on his presentation. He started by showing a map of the East Anglian coast identifying that the Yarmouth via Beccles main line ran in a generally north-easterly direction and that there were a number of coastal estuaries interlaced with railway branches.


He next demonstrated that far from being the flat main line that so many GER-detractors claim, it was, in fact, very much a switch back as the railway rose from a river valley, crossed the separating upland and then descended into the next valley. Interestingly, the total length of the branches between London and Yarmouth was greater than the length of the "trunk".


Mistley station is positioned on the branch which runs by the side of the Stour and is positioned at a "pinch point" between the river bank and the high level land to its south. Rail and river - two important means of 19th century transport - were close together at this point and this led the town to develop as an important industrial centre.


Comparison with Manningtree was made and although this town is a railway junction laying on a line with direct connections to London it did not develop in the same manner. In fact, although Mistley was at one time expected to become a Spa town, with a number of Robert Adam designed Georgian buildings, it has the largest group of Maltings in the country. This has all made for a most interesting model to be created.

The station building, which is surrounded by the Maltings, is attributed to Frederick Barnes, was built on the downside platform in 1854 and largely consists of the station master's accommodation together with a booking hall and waiting room. The latter has an unusual oriel window projecting onto the adjacent platform. It can be compared with its close neighbour at Dovercourt Bay which is similar but larger, although from an architectural point of view not so attractive. Keith noted that it was not a typical Swedey station.

Malting is an industrial process whereby grain - often barley - is steeped in water for three or four days until it germinates and is then dried in two stages by air circulation and kiln drying. The latter was undertaken using anthracite or coke as the combustion products are in direct contact with the malted grain. The associated buildings are robust brick structures with strong steel-supported intermediate floors - they need to support a substantial mass of water - with low between-floor height. The works at Mistley were labelled "Edme" - which is an abbreviation of English Diastatic Malt Extract Company - and the process is still carried on in the town, albeit soon to be in more modern industrial/warehouse type buildings - the old Maltings are presently being converted into flats and apartments.

The traffic at the station was consequently very varied, with incoming fuel and grain and outgoing malt and derivative products. The steeply graded branch which ran down to the Maltings and quayside is well known and there was also a local passenger service and through express boat trains serving Parkeston Quay. Our speaker illustrated all these features, and more, with his own slides. He then went on to describe, briefly, the failed Mistley, Thorpe and Walton Railway. Some earthworks from this scheme still survive and Keith was also able to explain and illustrate these. The show was finished with a number of views of Keith's model. Following the conclusion we heard a number of amusing tales of the difficulty of taking a train up the incline with an 800hp BTH diesel (and see here) in charge and of a brake van which was let loose by vandals down the slope and which disappeared for some time amongst the overgrown track. (The story of the up-travelling diesel is recounted in the Journal article, with some more detail.)

The Railway Record of the British Isles - An Introduction

After an enjoyable lunch and chat with some old - and new - acquaintances the day's second session kicked off with a talk from Dave Challis and Andy Rush on their project to harness the power of the computer. They have been recording many images, plans and drawings for some time using the database program, Microsoft Access, and have been assisted in their quest by Microsoft Research. Many of the images included in their work were photographed by the late George Pring and have been catalogued by Industrialogical Associates, who are our two presenters together with Michael Senatore and Peter Lewis.

Their project was originally a paper-based record and is divided into three broad areas:

  • administration
  • infrastructure
  • rolling stock

Dave and Andy's main interest is in infrastructure, which includes bridges and tunnels, signalling, buildings, lineside equipment and so on.

Each record in the database includes a note on sources and, at present includes about 5,500 images. There is no plan, nor money, at present to make the database more widely available, for example by selling copies. Nor does there seem any likelihood of a national body, for example the National Railway Museum, publishing it. Dave noted that the Signalling Record Society had a similar recording system.

All-in-all this is a most interesting project and one which should offer a unique historical source in the future. Anyone who missed Dave and Andy's presentation or who would like a second chance to see it should note that they will be making a similar talk to a Cambridge University Library Seminar in February 2007.

The Saffron Walden Branch

Originally, Alan Hardy hailed form the North West, but moved to Saffron Walden in 1976. (I have to say that his accent didn't sound altogether local.) Originally he intended to join the LMS Society, but discovered that they were a "snotty-nosed bunch"! (Quite why I cannot understand - what have they to be stuck-up about?) His nearest (former) station on the line is Bartlow and he now drinks in the pub next door - so he switched his allegiance to the Great Eastern Society and has remained a member ever since. Having played a cameo role and provided an amusing introduction, Alan handed over for the main presentation to Adrian Dyer who had, apparently, travelled over the line - in his push chair!

The line commenced at Audley End, where the Neville Arms Hotel is situated. This establishment takes its name from the family of the Lords Braybrooke, who were the local nobility. Our first picture was a 1909 view of Audley End station and this was closely followed by a newspaper cutting of the notorious Samuel Dougal being escorted away from the station by two policemen in 1903. This chap was responsible for the Moat Farm Murder in which the unfortunate Camille Holland lost her life. He was hung at Chelmsford gaol in the same year. Less threatening were views of a G4 tank at the station in the 1930s and a C12 on the branch train in the late forties. Holland flour mill was seen in the background of a slide of an E4 on a passenger train.

Leaving the junction, we headed towards Saffron Walden, only four minutes away.


The branch line was heavily promoted by George Stacey Gibson who became the Saffron Walden Railway's chairman and was a tee-total Quaker banker; he lived in the town. There were a number of fascinating views of the platform, buildings and goods shed, dating throughout the early to mid-twentieth century. A view unseen these days was the transfer of cattle from train to lorry for onward transport. Many of the pictures were taken by D. Campbell and his mode of transport - a bicycle - figured in a number of them. Diesel railbuses were introduced on the branch on the 15th September 1958 with the intention of halting the decline in passenger numbers, but unfortunately, were unsuccessful - these machines continued the passenger service until the line's closure and locomotives, especially of the larger variety, were uncommon. An exception was in 1961, when B1 4-6-0 No. 61119 brought the Royal Train with Prince Philip on board, for a stay on the line.

Next was Acrow Halt, so named for the next-door factory where the famous building props were made. Not many people know that the equipment got its name from the solicitor, Arthur Crow, who first registered the company on behalf of its owner William A. de Vigier. The intention was that it should appear at the top of every alphabetical list of industrial firms. The halt was opened in 1957 and is still in existence, albeit heavily overgrown. The stop after this was Ashdon Halt. This was put in somewhat earlier than the previous halt, having been built as a simple wooden platform in 1911 - a former Great Eastern coach body was added, for waiting accommodation, in 1916. On the approach to Bartlow was the location of that infamous scene from the 1969 film Virgin Soldiers in which a heavily made-up Black 5 masqueraded as a ruined locomotive somewhere in the Malayan jungle. Adrian noted that the poor locomotive - hoisted into a hole and leaning over at a drunken angle - was "in quite an appropriate state for an LMS engine." Perhaps that snooty lot in the LMS Society might have something to say about this!

Our arrival then was at Bartlow, junction with the Haverhill to Cambridge line. There were a number of views of the station, in the 1950s and quite recently. Alan is fortunate enough to know the present owners of the station building and has been able to visit and take a number of photographs. Locally, there are three Romano-British burial mounds; these were created one generation after that infamous Essex Lady, Boadicea, had roamed the area. Alan also had a close-up of the hedge that has been carefully manicured into the shape of an engine and which is in the gardens here. Society member, Ron Gooch, who was at the meeting, remembered seeing the topiary when he was a driver on the Stour Valley line and his engine was stopped on the bridge at Bartlow on a Colchester bound train.



Our chairman, Geoff Ashton, proposed a vote of thanks to all of our speakers at the end of each session. We had had a good variety of very interesting talks and I am sure that everyone one of us left the meeting more entertained and informed than when we arrived. And so another GERS get-together had come to an end. Until the next time - and note that the 2007 AGM will be at The Brentwood Theatre courtesy of Dave Zelly - here's looking forward to the next Great Eastern Journal and the Society News.


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