What better way to tire yourself out than to wander round a railway yard! In fact what appeared at first sight to be a small railway sidings became larger with each turn that appeared. A siding here a building to visit there, in the end I was pooped! A wonderful display of static railway stock, most of course concerned with East Anglia and the Great Eastern Railway, but not all.
This 'heritage Railway' arose in the years after Dr Beeching's famous report that closed hundreds of what he claimed were loss making lines throughout the UK. The lines around this one were closing and by 1970 is was intended to end the Marks Tey to Sudbury line and the station at 'Chappel and Wakes Colne' was leased in 1970. By 1986 the site became fully operational as a museum. However the line to Sudbury did not close and plans to run trains was abandoned as the line refused to die! One train of two coaches runs back and forth at hourly intervals to this day and very useful it is too! This is very much a working museum in which visitors can walk through the shops where coaches and engines undergo renovation. On 'operating days' engines run on the short line using diesel or steam as available. Also a miniature railway operates and other attractions for adults and kids are on offer.
The signal box allows the chance to operate the levers, heavy enough when not connected to anything, imagine if working daily on these? Almost everything in the past involving physical labour appears to have been designed to increase the heart rate. The station offices have been returned, if they ever left it, to a time when such lines were common throughout the nation. Railways had a place for many people until the arrival of the cheap bus after the first world war. These buses ran up to the door, or near enough in small villages thus taking away the long walk to the nearest station. Goods traffic however continued for many years after that in spite of the abundance of ex-army lorries on the streets.
The man in the signal box had a somewhat lonely existence some think but the responsibility was great. One mistake and it could lead to two trains meeting unexpectedly! This line, quiet today, was however carrying passengers and goods for some distance there fore it could be very busy. The man in the box was however kept warm and fed by the heating and cooking arrangements provided. Coal on offer from passing engines and water from many sources. A pub stood outside the gate at the time so he was well cared for!
The station master had an office to himself with a much better fire than that in the signalbox, as indeed he would have said it ought to be. Working on the railways was a job for life then and well worth it as a good pension was on offer. Families would follow on for generations on the railway, throughout the land they would be loyal to their company. Here it was the GER, Great Eastern railway, and like the others everything was embossed with their name. Shame about the old queen mind. Or is that paper boy just late?
The waiting rooms were decent enough in those days of yore but why were the ticket offices always seen through a small opening? I remember Edinburgh Waverley also having large brown wooden ticket offices approached behind a barrier with only a small opening to speak through, not that I ever did, that's what dad's are for. The GER have an opening only a foot high and a couple of inches for allowing cash to pass through. Were they so scared of robbery or tantrums from passengers then I wonder? I admit they remain behind glass today but at least you can see them!
Like most such places the EARM attempts to save items that no longer run on the lines. The rusty green train is the last of those electric trains that carried millions of commuters in days of old. One day it will be restored to its finest livery. Sugar beet was a large part of agricultural output in this region and this wagon reflects the sights often noticed on the lines in the sugar beet heyday.
It became the thing for disused coaches to be turned into camping holidays for many. These died out during the 60's but some are still available in coastal regions. While the coach looks a bit austere today many folks came from homes a lot less luxurious than an ex-railway coach turned into a tidy sleeping area. I like the idea and would try one if I were rich enough. In the past many old railway wagons could be seen in gardens used as huts, sometimes old coaches also. This appears to happen less today possibly because of the reuse of materials and a stricter control of the staff!
Onwards through the crossing gates, past the shunter 'John Peel' into the shed where engines, coaches and anything else is restored to pristine condition. I will save you the technical details and I don't understand them. If I get involved in anything technical it breaks so I move on. The greenish bulk in front is a railbus undergoing slow restoration. One day this will transport folks on the short line, one day.
The renovation of tank engine No 11 shows how efficient the workers are. Some of these men, mostly retired, have been working here for forty years. Friendly, enthusiastic and highly efficient they all appear to enjoy their work. You can see 'Thomas the Tank Engine,' a must in all such places, being worked on at the rear. The Reverend Wilbert Awdry who wrote the original books understood how railways worked and his books always kept to railway procedure. Once he, or his descendent's sold out to the BBC the stories were not always as accurate as they ought to be.
Ah the days when milk was transported by such containers and dropped off at each station. Tesco would bring it back if it was cheaper! The cattle trucks are used less today, except when football specials are on order.
The variety of equipment, all operational or soon to be operational, is fantastic.
The view from the small office once used by the man in charge of coal is delightful, when it doesn't rain. He would be charged with caring for the income and outgoings of all coal deliveries, and probably others also. Coal was used by industry and home until the late sixties and it is hard to imagine the stour hanging over the streets darkening the houses when all and sundry lit their fires. The first page or two of Charles Dickens 'Bleak House' shows the effect of rain mixed with chimney smoke as folks moved about London in his day. Worth reading just that page. Edinburgh was not called 'Auld Reekie' for nothing and I remember the blackened buildings showing the effects of a society dominated by smoke! It is unusual now to see smoke coming from a chimney and the smell is somewhat romantic, even though it chokes you.
Fancy driving an electric train? This heritage centre does offer the chance to drive a steam engine on occasions. I just mention this when you are next wondering what to do with your charity money....
And where do you go to after a hard days work? The pub, well the English working man does anyway.
And after that...?
That was a great day out! This is a well run operation with many good plans for the future. Many attractions are planned and hoped for to attract people to see their heritage, know and understand their history and have a good time also. Good people with a lot of care for their past and much to tell the generation today.