Notes: Barnwell Junction was the first station on the Mildenhall branch and opened with the Cambridge - Fordham section on 2 June 1884. Whereas the Railway Clearing House and Ordnance Survey referred to the station as ‘Barnwell Junction’, and the British Railways signs carried this name, in timetables it seems always to have been simply ‘Barnwell’.
Built on the site of a former gravel pit, it was 1 mile 56 chains north of Cambridge station but still within what is today the City of Cambridge. The station was a little odd in that was immediately adjacent to the Cambridge - Ely line yet had platforms serving only the Mildenhall branch, so it was not, strictly speaking, a junction at all. The down platform was 380ft long and the up platform 370ft; the former had an ornate waiting room of a style typical along the branch. It comprised a single-storey timber building with a pitched slate roof. The structure was painted white but with diagonal and vertical details picked out in black to give an attractive half-timbered effect. The central doorway was placed under a small gable and pairs of six-light windows are either side of the door. Brick chimneystacks were placed at each gable end, their tops stepped out to give them prominence.
The signal box was located behind the waiting room adjacent to the up main line, while the main station buildings were on the up side. With the exception of Quy and Swaffham Prior, station buildings on the Mildenhall branch were built to a standard pattern. The single-storey range contained a booking hall, stationmaster's office, waiting room, toilets and staff room. The L-plan brick building under a slate roof included a two-storey stationmaster’s house with the single-storey range attached. On the two-storey section, facing the forecourt, the principal gable was under a half-hipped roof, and a slightly recessed section adjoining the office range was treated to its own pitched gable with timber braces. The door of the office range which gave access to the booking hall was sheltered by a gabled porch supported on brackets, and beyond it was a large unadorned gable. There appears to have been only one doorway onto the platform, so presumably the waiting room was also entered from the booking hall. Gents' toilets were entered from the platform while ladies’ toilets would been en suite with the waiting room. Separate brick lock-ups were provided at most stations but where they were not, station buildings incorporated a small parcels lock-up. Fireplaces were provided in each room with semi-ornate stepped chimneystacks on the roof. The building was provided with a flat canopy with a deep valance, a style favoured by the Great Eastern Railway. It stretched the length of the single-storey range and beyond the full platform width, and was supported on five timber columns. There was never any form of canopy on the down platform as far as is known.
Barnwell Junction station per se had no goods facilities, other than for parcels, for its entire life and in this respect it was unique on the Mildenhall branch - if we are, obviously, to discount the three halts. The goods yard was located on the down side of the main line and was thus remote from the Mildenhall branch. The yard was provided with the basics of most goods yards: weighbridge, scales and loading gauge. There appears to have been no provision for cattle or other livestock.
The station was also unique in that it was the only one on the Mildenhall branch to receive BR totems, running-in boards and other signage, if we are to discount Fordham which technically was located on the Ely - Newmarket / Bury line. It is not clear how many totems were provided as the existence of two (possibly 3) is confirmed by photographs. There was also a large BR blue board immediately south of the station proclaiming 'Cambridge 1 Mile' with a large arrow pointing south, although the stated distance was a little inaccurate. Quite why Barnwell Junction was given this treatment by BR is something of a mystery, more so when considering the passenger service at the station was for its entire life woefully infrequent. Furthermore and even odder, if photographs and the dates accompanying them are to be believed Barnwell Junction did not gain BR Eastern Region blue enamel signage until after Cambridge station lost its totems. Certainly, at least one (of the two) Great Eastern Railway running-in boards was still present in 1957.
During wartime, Barnwell Junction was used for unloading ambulance trains; it is believed to have done so in WW1 and certainly did in WWII, but exactly how these lengthy trains were handled at such a small station is not known.
At 4.24pm on Saturday 16 June 1962 the final timetabled passenger train called at Barnwell Junction and with its departure the station closed - there being no goods facilities for the branch goods train, which continued for a further two years, to serve. For readers not familiar with the administrative side of railway closures to passengers, the closure date is officially the first weekday following the running of the final train and this is usually a Monday. This procedure is followed irrespective of whether a line continues to be used by goods trains, as was the case with the Mildenhall branch.
Soon after closure to passengers the down platform road was lifted and the up platform road remained to serve an oil depot around the curve towards Fen Ditton. Click here for further information about the oil siding. As of May 2015 this track remains in situ but disused, overgrown and disconnected at its junction with the main line. The station itself was sold intact immediately after closure and; it was curious to see totems other signage, the mandatory closure notice, a timetable and other posters still in place long after the last train had gone but while trains still thundered by on the adjacent main line.
The goods yard, isolated on the other side of the main line, remained rail-connected until 1966 when it closed on 31 October, and the track was soon lifted. The former yard remained in use by a coal merchant at least into the late 1970s but, of course, no longer rail-served. Barnwell Junction signal box was closed and demolished soon after the goods yard was closed but its remains could still be seen dumped on the down platform for some time afterwards.
Subsequent to closure, the station became well known for the Pullman car which sat on a specially-laid length of track behind the country end of the up platform. When the station was viewed from Newmarket Road, the Pullman was largely hidden by the grounded bodies of three ex-Southern vans but it was clearly visible from passing main line trains. Named Montana, it was originally Car No.156 and was built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. in 1923 for Southern Railway use. Latterly a BR camping coach, it was sold in 1967 and taken to Barnwell Junction for residential use and there it remained for forty years. In 2007 it was removed and taken to Petworth, Sussex, for restoration. To date, it was the final railway vehicle to traverse the remains of the Mildenhall branch and was dragged round to the oil terminal by a forklift tractor from where it was removed by road and some details and pictures can be seen on the Southern E-Group website: scroll to Page 12..
Given that, until the modern island platform opened, Cambridge station had limited platform capacity , the question has been asked why certain trains could not have continued north from Cambridge to terminate at Barnwell Junction. This scenario might have been suitable for DMU services to / from King's Cross for example, with the added bonus of providing a direct service to London from the north-east side of Cambridge. In the event Barnwell Junction station was sold and track and signalling rationalised, while such potentially good ideas were just not on the accountant-controlled BR agenda in the 1950s and 1960s.
Click here to see an LNER signal box diagram for Barnwell Junction.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MILDENHALL BRANCH
The Mildenhall branch arrived relatively late on the railway scene and it could be said that its existence was owed in part to the ill-fated Newmarket & Chesterford Railway (N&C). In 1847 the N&C, with its main line yet to be opened, sought powers to extend beyond Newmarket to Thetford, linking up with the Norfolk Railway, and to Ely and Bury St Edmunds. Of those, the Thetford link was never built; had it been built it would have served the Mildenhall area.
This problem was frustrating Charles Allix (1842-1921) of Swaffham Prior House who approached the GER in 1867 with a view to the construction of a railway from the Swaffham Prior area into Cambridge. The GER rejected the proposal. The next proposal for a railway serving the Mildenhall area was for the ‘Ely & Bury Saint Edmunds Light Railway’, the company's deputy chairman being none other than Mr Allix. This railway was incorporated by an Act of 1875 and a reasonable amount of information has survived about it. Had it been built it would have served the Fordham and Mildenhall areas, but nothing came of the scheme and it was formally abandoned in 1880.
Meanwhile back at Swaffham Prior, Mr Allix remained determined to see his region provided with a railway to help revive local agriculture which was experiencing economic hardship. It is said that every cloud has a silver lining, as Allix was soon to discover. The railway north of Cambridge and onwards to Brandon had suffered problems with flooding, and during 1878 serious disruption occurred once again. This time the GER 'brass' realized that Allix's proposal could, if built, help alleviate the problems, and thus the Mildenhall branch was finally born.
While plans to build the Mildenhall branch were stampeding ahead, the GER had meanwhile re-engineered the vulnerable sections of the Ely - Thetford line. The GER therefore viewed an alternative route, i.e. via Mildenhall, as no longer warranted and this was the reason that the branch never progressed beyond Mildenhall.
Back in the boardroom, the GER was inviting tenders for construction of the Mildenhall branch. With Royal Assent having been received on 18 July 1881, the relevant Act provided for three sections of railway: Barnwell - Swaffham Prior; Swaffham Prior - Fordham; Fordham - Mildenhall. Henry Lovatt, of Wolverhampton, won the contract for the entire route with his tender of £76,327 11s 8d. During October 1882 the contractor moved in to peg-out the course of the line, and on a cold and miserable Wednesday 3 January 1883 some GER grandees and Mr Allix assembled at – unsurprisingly - Swaffham Prior for the usual 'cutting of the first sod' ceremony. During 1883 the signalling contract was awarded to Messrs McKenzie & Holland with signal boxes costing £75 10s each, while local tradesmen were recruited for the erection of station buildings. The station building at Swaffham Prior was built in a somewhat different style from the others in order to mirror the design of Swaffham Prior House.
The 19m 3ch route between Barnwell Junction and Mildenhall had no fewer than 70 level crossings. To put this into a less dramatic perspective, only seven were on public roads with the remainder being foot or occupation crossings.
Major General Hutchinson inspected the Barnwell - Fordham section on behalf of the Board of Trade on 28 May 1884. Whilst the inspector found the general standard of construction to be high, a number of issues with fencing and signalling were noted. Permission was given for the line to open if these issues were dealt with quickly - which they apparently were. The inspector also required all trains to call at all stations. Inspection of the Fordham - Mildenhall section, on 28 March 1885, went well, with only a couple of issues at Fordham station. Otherwise, the inspector was impressed with the general standard of construction and gave his consent for the immediate opening of this section.
Passenger services on the branch were never frequent although in the early years they were more or less on a par with other rural branch lines. Despite the possibilities offered by the connection at Fordham with the Ely line, the original timetable offered only four Cambridge - Fordham (and return) services stopping at all stations conforming to the Board of Trade inspector's requirements. Later that year, 1884, this was increased to five return journeys, Thursdays excepted. On that day, Ely market day, advantage was taken of the connection at Fordham and one train continued to Ely, the 12.30pm ex-Cambridge, which returned from Ely at 3.30pm.
With the opening of the Fordham - Mildenhall section the following year, five return journeys travelled the full length of the line although on Thursdays one did not operate between Cambridge and Fordham, and vice versa. Tuesdays and Thursdays saw an additional Mildenhall - Fordham (and return) service but at different times on each of those days. Timetables do not indicate that these trains continued to/from Ely so they were probably connecting services. By 1890 there were additional Thursdays-only/excepted services plus one mixed train. Things then trundled on in much the same fashion until the first decade of the twentieth century.
Despite increases in traffic, especially following the opening of the Fordham - Mildenhall section, the GER was perpetually worried about poor traffic receipts for the line. In 1914 the GER's James Holden decided to experiment with Push - Pull trains as a cost-cutting measure. He borrowed drawings from the London, Brighton & South Coast railway of their Westinghouse (compressed air) Push - Pull control system and converted Y65 2-4-2T No. 1311 and two clerestory bogie coaches into a Push - Pull train with further conversions following later. This train operated trials in service on the Mildenhall branch from 5 October 1914 but the experiment was not considered a success.
The First World War brought considerable extra goods traffic to the line as a result of the government urging farmers to produce more food, but otherwise the war had little effect.
By 1922 the timetable showed just three trains per day operating via Burwell, with the first down train not departing from Cambridge until 10.30am. There was, however, an earlier service to Mildenhall via Newmarket which left Cambridge at 6.47am.
In an attempt to encourage more business, on 20 November 1922 the GER opened three halts on the line at Fen Ditton, Exning Road and Mildenhall Golf Links. They were on the up side of the line, i.e. on the left side of Cambridge-bound trains, and on the Cambridge side of adjacent road overbridges (Bridges 2236, 2242 and 2257 respectively). They were rudimentary affairs: a footpath led down the embankment from the road to end at a low cinder 'platform' faced with what appears to have been old sleepers.
The Railways Act of 1921 saw the GER become part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) on 1 January 1923. On this date Mildenhall Golf Links Halt was renamed Worlington Golf Links Halt. The ‘Halt’ suffix appeared in timetables and on tickets but not on the halt nameboards. As the halts had no proper platforms, the GER introduced carriages fitted with retractable steps. Initial conversions were of increasingly antiquated 6-wheeled stock. Because the halts lacked booking facilities the GER introduced ‘conductor-guard’ working, and for this purpose the carriage stock had to be modified to allow the guard to move through the train. Tickets from Quy were also issued on the train.
Following the end of passenger services, Isleham and Mildenhall signal boxes closed with immediate effect. The once-daily goods train continued to run, but in the up direction only between Fordham and Cambridge; the down goods ran from Cambridge to Mildenhall via Newmarket. The train was withdrawn on 13 July 1964, the final run being on Friday 10th. This left the Fordham - Burwell section which continued to enjoy a goods service until it was withdrawn on 6 April 1965. Fordham station and its neighbour, Soham, closed on 13 September 1965, and Fordham signal box closed on 28 October 1973.
The LNER viewed the former GER system it had inherited as something of a millstone around its neck and considered the withdrawal of a number of branch passenger services in the east of England. At around the same time the LNER made further economies by reducing the status of Quy and Swaffham Prior signal boxes to shunting frames. In 1935 these two boxes were abolished altogether and at the same time the goods loops through these stations were lifted.
World War Two broke out in September 1939 and this brought some increase in traffic to the Mildenhall branch. As with the First World War, the line saw an increase in agricultural traffic and, as indicated above, of military personnel using the line. Goods traffic vital to the war effort was generally routed from Cambridge via Newmarket during the night. Nevertheless, the need for the railways to focus assets where they were most needed meant that services on the Mildenhall branch remained infrequent. For the duration of hostilities there were still three trains per day each way with the first down train operating via Newmarket. Two goods trains per weekday were provided, one of which commenced from sidings at Coldham Lane Junction, Cambridge.
After the war things returned to pretty much the way they had been previously. On 1 January 1948 the Mildenhall branch became part of the Eastern Region of British Railways. Bradshaw for that date shows three trains each way: down trains at 6.33am, 10.28am, and 4.27pm; and at 7.42am,11.50am and 5.48pm in the up direction. The 6.33am ex-Cambridge omitted the halts, but did call at Quy, and all trains ran via Burwell. By the 1950s there were four passenger trains per day, the final departure being at 9.00pm from Mildenhall, omitting Worlington and operating via Newmarket to Cambridge. The BR 1954 timetable tells us the service had reverted to that of January 1948, as outlined earlier, apart from slight re-timings.
From November 1955 diesels made their first appearance when two brand new sets of Metropolitan-Cammell 79xxx DMUs were sent to Cambridge for timing trials: E79047+E79263 and E79051+E79278. These trials included the Mildenhall branch, commencing on 20 November. By this time more Mildenhall services ran via Newmarket, plus the occasional service from Ely to Mildenhall which involved a reversal at Fordham. From 7 July 1958 diesel railbuses were introduced on Mildenhall branch services. These vehicles lacked retractable steps, as did the DMUs. For the halts, therefore, sets of portable wooden steps were provided and were usually left at the lineside to await their next call of duty.
Goods traffic prior to 1962 was much as previously, with one train per day. By this time, goods trains were usually hauled by Brush Type 2 (Class 31) locomotives with J17 steam locomotives still putting in occasional appearances.
The Mildenhall branch closed to passengers on and from Monday 18 June 1962, with the final trains running on Saturday 16th, there being no Sunday service. On the final day the first down train and its return up working to/from Mildenhall was operated by a 4-car Cravens DMU. A 2-car Wickham unit sufficed for the remainder of the day. The Wickham unit, E50416/E56171, operated the 4.21pm ex-Cambridge and this was the last passenger train along the Barnwell - Fordham section. This train then departed from Mildenhall at 5.15pm to Cambridge via Newmarket. The same DMU then operated the 5.56pm to Mildenhall via Newmarket and the corresponding 7.31pm Mildenhall - Cambridge via Newmarket; this was the final passenger train to and from Mildenhall.
The Burwell & District Motor Service, having suspended its Mildenhall - Cambridge Service 11 at the outbreak of war, had reinstated the service at the cessation of hostilities but truncated it to operate only between Cambridge and Isleham, and it ran only on Saturdays and Sundays. Following withdrawal of the Mildenhall branch passenger trains, B&D modified Service 11 to operate daily and thus it became the rail replacement bus service.
Tickets from Michael Stewart, except 1034 David Pearson. Route map drawn by Alan Young. Totem from Richard Furness.
Click here to see a 17 minute colour film of a steam locomotive travelling from Cambridge to Mildenhall in 1959. Includes all the stations on the line, Fron Cambridge Community Archive Network.
Click here for a fuller history of the Mildenhall branch
Click here for special feture: Last Train to Mildenhall
- Quick, Michael Railway passenger stations in Great Britain: a chronology (RCTS 2009)
- The Great Eastern Railway (Cecil.J.Allen, Ian Allen 1955)
- The Mildenhall Branch (Peter Paye, Wild Swan 1988)
- Burwell & District Motor Service (Written and published privately by Jim Neale c.1979)
- The London Gazette, November 28th 1879 (Abandonment of Ely & Bury Saint Edmunds Light Railway)
- The National Archive (Information on the Ely & Bury Saint Edmunds Light Railway)
- http://landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk/ (Information on the Allix family)
See other stations on the Mildenhall branch:
Fen Ditton Halt, Quy, Bottisham & Lode, Swaffham Prior, Burwell, Exning Road Halt, Fordham, Isleham, Worlington Golf Links Halt & Mildenhall
See also Cambridge