[Source: Darren Kitson]

Date opened: 2 June 1884
Location: At the end of a short approach road running north from Newmarket Road (A1303)
Company on opening: Great Eastern Railway
Date closed to passengers: 18 June 1962
Date closed completely: 31 October 1966
Company on closing:

Passengers: British Railways (Eastern Region)  Goods: British Rail (Eastern Region)

Present state:

Platforms extant with track still in place on the up side but now out of use. Station building at the end of a gated approach road is now a private residence.

County: Cambridgeshire
OS Grid Ref: TL472596
Date of visit: 25 May 2015

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Barnwell Junction Gallery 1: May 1957 - c1960

View from a down train as it departs Barnwell Junction in May 1957. The position of the shadows tells us it is early in the morning, so the train will be the 6.28am from Cambridge. This train did not call at the halts and by June the following year it ran non-stop to Fordham and then called only at Isleham on its way to Mildenhall. At the time of the photograph, BR Eastern Region signage had yet to appear. The small building behind the running-in board is recorded as being a store and was the only part of the station not to survive, signal box excepted. Similar store buildings appeared at other stations along the branch. The white cylindrical objects on the platform were planters.
Copyright p
hoto by RM Casserley

1888 1:2,500 OS map. This map shows Barnwell Junction station in the form in which it was to remain for its entire career as a passenger station. The double-track junction with the main line was also to remain until withdrawal of passenger services. To the west of the station and on the other side of the main line is Barnwell goods yard with its two 440ft loop sidings, headshunt and single-ended 510ft siding (the so-called Back Road) via a trailing connection with the down main. The single-ended siding served the Brick & Tile Works (not to be confused with the similar works at Coldham's Lane) while the loop sidings seem to have dealt primarily with coal and coke. What is now Newmarket Road curves across the bottom of the map while the road heading north-east from the Globe Inn is today Ditton Walk. Note that at this time the Borough boundary was just east of the station; to the east of the boundary was the parish of Fen Ditton and this remained the case until 1928. The tramway serving the Brick & Tile works was, in all probability, a horse -or man- powered narrow gauge effort.

1909:2,500 OS map. The slightly more detailed map shows little has changed since 1888 other than some residential development on Ditton Walk. At top right we can see the malthouse, better known as the Commercial Brewery, with its sidings and connection to the Mildenhall branch. The malthouse still stands today, albeit long since put to other uses.

1927 1:2,500 OS map. Still nothing has changed on the railway with the exception of an additional trap siding on the spur to the malthouse. The spur was gated and reached via a ground frame in a hut positioned on the down side of the Mildenhall branch. The ground frame was unlocked by Annett's Key obtained from Barnwell Junction. By 1927 there had been further development along Ditton Walk and Newmarket Road. This part of Cambridge was quite industrial; apart from the Brick & Tile works there were once further quarries and gravel pits, the gasworks, the sewage pumping station and, marked on the map, a creamery and the paper mills. The latter gave rise to the now all-but-forgotten name Paper Mills Road and the railway companies referred to Newmarket Road bridge as 'Paper Mills Road Bridge' for a long time after the name became defunct. At some point after 1926 there was a curious addition to the sidings west of the main line, although no maps have yet come to light showing it. In the space immediately north of the bridge on the down side another siding appeared; it was not connected to any of the other sidings and was entered via a trailing connection from the down main just north of the bridge. A ground frame unlocked electrically by Coldham Lane Junction signal box allowed access. We know of its existence owing to surviving signal box diagrams but it seems to have been removed by, or soon after, 1935.

1964 1:2,500 OS map. A number of changes are apparent. The Mildenhall branch had closed to passengers two years previously; the down platform road through the station had been lifted; the junction with the main line simplified while the Brick & Tile Works had gone and its siding used for coal traffic. At the bottom of the map what is generally known as the Leper Chapel is shown with its proper title. A couple of builders’ yards have appeared on the left; this was a time of a boom in construction but unfortunately many 1960s creations were quite ghastly and, perhaps fortunately, did not
stand the test of time.

The date of the above image is not recorded but it was almost certainly taken around the same time as the previous view. On the down platform the waiting room is seen and behind it the signal box. The Ely line ran directly behind the down platform (see next image). The fence post in the right foreground is curious. There is a tale which says these posts were made from sections of rail used by the contractors building the line. However, given that contractors’ rail was through necessity usually of a lightweight flat-bottom type and that these fence posts were extremely common throughout East Anglia, the tale would seem rather unlikely. If the posts were once rail, it is more likely they were an early type of Bullhead rail which had been discarded by the Great Eastern Railway.
photo from John Mann collection

To complement the previous view, we have a scene taken from Barnwell Junction signal box at around the time of nationalisation. On the right the down platform can be seen with the track of the Mildenhall branch curving away towards Fen Ditton Halt. This is the section of track which, as of 2015, remains in situ disused and overgrown. A Class K3 2-6-0 approaches on the up main line with a goods train. To the left of the K3 is the down main and to the left of that are the two loop sidings of Barnwell goods yard. The track on the far left is the single-ended siding which once served the Brick & Tile works. Barnwell Junction station was gas-lit from the outset until closure, including the lamp seen adjacent to the signal at the end of the platform. Despite being within the City of Cambridge, the scene is deceptively rural. It is a pity that the above image is black and white as the staff kept the station in a quite delightful condition, as can be deduced. Sadly, few passengers sampled its delights - Cambridge station dealt with more passengers each month than Barnwell Junction did in its entire 78-year life.
Photo by John Ford from David Ford's Flickr photostream

A view of station buildings and up platform from the country end of down platform c1959-62. On the left the Eastern Region blue running-in board can be seen; one of two, the other being on the down platform. The backboard has either been salvaged from elsewhere or made specially to suit the pre-existing mounting posts. One has to wonder why BR did not simply provide a running-in board to suit the original GER backboard onto which the name was applied in one line. BR enamel signs, including totems, were actually manufactured by contractors - close examination reveals at least two totems (possibly three) under the canopy. At the far end of the buildings is the stationmaster's house while nearest the camera is the lock-up store. Identical stores were provided at several stations on the Mildenhall branch. Note the wheelbarrow and stones around the bottom of the running-in board; evidence of efforts to keep the station neat and today. This was common at smaller stations where staff had the time to attend to such matters. In the right background the Leper Chapel can be seen; it still stands to today.
Photo from John Mann collection

The view in the opposite direction to previous image and from London end of up platform c1958-62. The goods yard is still in use at this time but stacks of what appears to be building materials have appeared. By this time there are two builders’ yards on the down side of the main line, one of which occupies the site of the former Brick & Tile works. No totem signs can be seen on the down side so it would appear that the only totems are those under the canopy on the up side.
Photo from John Mann collection

Looking north-east along the down platform at Barnwell Junction station c1958-62. The shadows suggest that the photograph was taken just before sunset.
Photo from John Mann collection

Click here for Barnwell Junction Gallery 2: 1962 - 1975




[Source: Darren Kitson]

Last updated: Sunday, 04-Jun-2017 09:10:42 CEST
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