[Source: Darren Kitson]

Date opened: 20.11.1922
Location: West side of Newmarket Road
Company on opening: Great Eastern Railway
Date closed to passengers: 18 June 1962
Date closed completely: 18 June 1962
Company on closing: British Railways (Eastern Region)
Present state: Demolished - no evidence remains other thand some wooden fencing at the top of the path from the road to the platform. Only visible in winer.
County: Cambridgeshire
OS Grid Ref: TL599661
Date of visit: 25 May 2015

Exning, population 1,960 in 2011, is a village just north-east of Newmarket. Historically in Lackford Hundred, Exning is today within the Forest Heath district of Suffolk. The story goes that in the fourteenth century the then much smaller population of Exning abandoned the village to escape the plague and looked for a new location from which to trade. The new market they established, so the story goes, was the beginning of what is now Newmarket - once described by James I as a ‘poor little village’. Today Exning is very much involved with what Newmarket is famous for, horses and horse racing, and to all intents and purposes physically adjoins Newmarket but is divided from it by the A14 Newmarket Bypass. The village is two miles from the centre of Newmarket and two miles from the centre of Burwell.

The Great Eastern Railway opened Exning Road Halt on 20 November 1922; one of three halts opened on that day in an attempt to attract extra revenue in the face of increasing road competition. This was during a period of economy measures being implemented along the Mildenhall branch, so the GER must be given credit for looking at ways of increasing revenue rather than merely settling for cost-cutting initiatives. However, until DMUs and railbuses appeared on the branch a large number of hauled coaches were converted over a period of time to serve the halts and in view of the cost of this it is doubtful whether the three halts ever justified themselves. Details of the rolling stock converted to serve the halts can be found in the branch history and also in the Cambridge feature.

People familiar with railways and their terminology will know that when a rural station or halt name contained the word 'Road' alarm bells ring as it usually meant the station or halt was nowhere near the place it was intended to serve. Exning Road Halt was situated adjacent to bridge 2242 carrying the B1103 Burwell - Newmarket road over the railway and was 10 miles 50 chains from Cambridge. This stretch of road is named Newmarket Road and it then becomes Burwell Road near the site of the halt but whether or not the road was once officially named Exning Road is not known. The halt was close to the south-east corner of Burwell village, ¾ mile from Burwell village centre and 1½ miles from the centre of Exning village. Unsurprisingly, it was the least-used halt of the three. Like the other halts, Fen Ditton and Worlington, Exning Road was located on the up side of the line and on the Cambridge side of the bridge. Each of the three was reached via a path cut obliquely into the road embankment and had a sleeper-edged clinker ground-level 'platform', a nameboard and an oil lamp. Posters and notices were fixed to the adjacent bridge wing but in the early years this practice seems to have been inconsistent.

The location of Exning Road Halt is interesting in itself. In the nineteenth century Newmarket was partly in Suffolk and partly in Cambridgeshire; north of the High Street in the former county and south thereof in the latter, to give a 'nutshell' description. A series of boundary changes commenced in the 1890s which ultimately saw Newmarket placed wholly within Suffolk. The part of Suffolk which is the Newmarket area is a sort of appendage connected to the rest of the county by a narrow strip of land to the east of the town and this remains the case in 2015. Bridge 2242, as it was, sits upon the Cambridgshire - Suffolk boundary and as a result was known locally as the 'Border Bridge'. The county boundary then followed the down side of the railway north-east as far as North End before turning west and then north before winding its way back south-east to leave Fordham remaining with Cambridgeshire. South of bridge 2242 the boundary followed the up side of the railway and a few yards to its east, thus Exning Road Halt was within Cambridgeshire while the line on the Fordham side of the bridge was just inside Suffolk. The spur known as Stephenson's Siding, between Exning Road Halt and Fordham, was also largely in Suffolk with the boundary crossing the spur just as it turned westwards to enter the cement works.

As can be determined from pictures of all three Mildenhall branch halts, one had to be reasonably agile to use them. The pathways down the embankments were steep and very probably slippery in wet, frosty or icy conditions while the steps, retractable or portable, had to be clambered up or down whilst holding the grab rails on the side of the carriages. The halts were certainly not friendly towards the elderly, people loaded up with shopping, people with perambulators and the physically disabled who would have found the halts virtually impossible to use. But then, as in so many aspects of life, it was a different world over half a century ago. There was not the obsession with health & safety, no disability discrimination laws, no 'compensation culture'; people just got on with life as best they could and seldom made any great fuss.

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. Route map drawn by Alan Young. Bradshaws from Nick Catford.

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, From 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)
  • (Information on the Allix family)

See other stations on the Mildenhall branch:
Barnwell Junction, Fen Ditton Halt, Quy, Bottisham & Lode, Swaffham Prior, Burwell, Fordham, Isleham, Worlington Golf Links Halt & Mildenhall
See also

This is one of a number of photographs of Exning Road Halt which exist but which are unfortunately undated. This appears to be a fairly early view, perhaps 1930s, as everything is neat and tidy. The nameboard is in good order and in later years it had become very shabby. There is one notice board on the bridge wing; later there were two. The photographer is standing in Cambridgeshire and immediately beyond the bridge is Suffolk. Quite why the GER did not provide simple wooden platforms of a proper height, instead of tolerating the ongoing expense of converting rolling stock to suit the halts, is something of a mystery. Remember that from 1922 the 6-wheel conductor-guard stock conversions were quite drastic and by no means involved only the provision of retractable steps. Over a period of 18 years some 40 of the 6-wheelers were converted - hardly a cheap solution and at a time when the GER was very economy-minded.
Copyright photo from Tony Harden collection

Exning Road Halt on a 1927 1:2500 map. Burwell is to the west on both road and railway while the road to the east eventually comes to Exning and then Newmarket. Apart from nearby Burwell, the only other evidence of human life in the area of the halt was a couple of cottages and a farm along the road towards Exning. Like all the halts, Exning Road is sited on the up side of the road. No platform is indicated here but the steep path down from Newmarket road is seen.

Exning Road Halt viewed from a Mildenhall-bound train on 5 October 1957. The elevated position affords a good view of the access path down the embankment. The nameboard is beginning to look just a tad shabby and two notice boards are in position on the bridge wing - not that there were ever many passengers to read them. An enlargement of this image suggests that the notice on the left gives timetable details among other information. To the right of the metal sign, which either warns against trespass or advises it readers to 'Beware of Trains', is what appears to be the oil lamp casement lying on the ground. Given the month and the service level at this time, the lamp would be out of use. The portable steps have yet to appear, but their arrival is imminent as Gresley brake thirds were due to be introduced and not all of these vehicles were fitted with retractable steps. The train is the 10.23am ex-Cambridge, the locomotive is tender-cab J15 No.65438 and the stock comprises a Gresley composite, from which the photograph is taken, and an ex-GER brake third. This same train was photographed on its return to Cambridge departing from Burwell. See the page covering that station.
Copyright photo by R M Casserley

Exning Road Halt looking towards Burwell. The date is unknown but examination of the finer details, such as the condition of the nameboard, suggests that it was taken around the time of closure. Lighting conditions have made the image somewhat deceiving; the cinder 'platform' appears to be raised, but in fact it is flat, and by this time had all but weathered away leaving the sleeper facing standing proud.
Copyright photo from Tony Harden collection

Looking towards Fordham we see Exning Road Halt on 16 June 1962, the final day of the passenger service. There is no sign of the portable steps or the oil lamp, although in June the lamp would not be required. The poster boards on the bridge wing have also vanished. As explained on the Fen Ditton Halt page, the suggestion that Tilley lamps replaced the wick lamps at the halts is open to question. Above the nameboard the gate at the top of the access path can be seen, while the path itself appears to be quite grassed over. This is not surprising given that the halt saw little use. In the right background another of the diamond-shaped road signs, as described on the Burwell page, can be seen. Also on the right the chimneystacks of the nearby cottages are visible above the road. Burwell was within walking distance to the left but the cottages and a farm were the only habitations near the halt. On the extreme left the cast iron plate bearing the bridge number, 2242, is seen.
Photo by David Pearson

The site of Exning Road Halt in the late 1960s. The only remaining evidence of the halt from this angle is the old sleepers which formed the facing to the ground level cinder 'platform'. Even the bridge identification plate has been removed. The relatively clear trackbed at this point might be explained by a higher level of oil contamination in the ground as a result of forty years of trains slowing and stopping at the halt. Track-lifting, apart from the Fordham - Burwell section on which the halt stood, had commenced in March 1965 following withdrawal of the goods train over the entire branch in July of the previous year. The Fordham - Burwell section closed for good on 16 April 1965 (the day of the final train) and track-lifting of this section simply continued as an 'add on' to the original contract. As a result, Exning Road Halt was trackless within weeks of the final train on the Fordham - Burwell section. BR had, however, commenced dismantling everything bar the track the day following the final passenger train back in 1962.
Copyright photo from Tony Harden collection

The site of the halt in the late 1960s looking towards Burwell. The sleeper facing to the ground level cinder 'platform' remains visible on the left of the trackbed. There is evidence of the bridge beginning to deteriorate, but nevertheless it was to stand for another thirty years before being declared dangerous, and infilled.
Copyright photo from Tony Harden collection

Newmarket Road bridge in the late 1960s. A 1965 Ford Anglia, complete with perambulator undercarriage on its roof, is seen on the brow. Percy Shaw's 'Cat's Eyes' make sure motorists stay on the correct side of the road as they cross the bridge in this view looking towards Burwell. On the left is the gate at the top of path leading down the embankment to the halt while more of our old friends, the posts made from redundant sleepers, can be seen.
Copyright photo from Tony Harden collection

A close-up view of the site of the halt in July 1969 looking towards Burwell. Obviously summer, the undergrowth is flourishing and the sleeper 'platform' facing is only just visible towards the bottom right of the image.
Photo by John Mann

A July 1969 close-up view of the gate at the top of the embankment assault course. When comparing this view to that showing the Ford Anglia, the gate appears to have gained a further degree of dilapidation. Note the period bicycle with its comfortable coil-spring saddle, proper rear mudguard, plastic handlebar grips and obligatory wicker basket. One suspects the bicycle conveyed the photographer to the location. The sturdy fencing around the gate was necessary not just for public boundary purposes but also to prevent people from falling down the side of the embankment. Fencing continued down one side of the footpath to track level for the same reasons. On the left, the trackbed can be seen curving towards Burwell station, out of sight beyond the belt of trees, while on the right and in the distance some houses at the south-east corner of Burwell village can just be seen - probably on Isaacson Road which then had only a scattering of houses. Since the railway closed a further, small, estate has been built between Isaacson Road and the site of the halt, which now lies only a quarter of a mile from the edge of Burwell village.
Photo by John Mann

The site of Exning Road Halt looking west towards Fordham in 1975.
Photo by David Burrows from his Flickr photostream

An August 2008 view from the top of the infilled bridge and looking towards Cambridge. Burwell station was behind the trees in the right background. The dark patch, or cropmark, curving away across the field marks the course of the railway which was in a shallow cutting. Exning Road Halt was in the grassed area towards the left of the image. Border Bridge was infilled c2000 as its condition had become a cause for concern and crash barriers now mark the site of its parapets. The overhead power lines are visible in other images but the pole which once stood on the up side of the railway has vanished. Contrary to popular belief, this area is not in the Fens which lie to the north. The ground here is on chalk while a mile or so to the east is the start of the heathlands for which the Newmarket area is well known.
Photo by Tony Lewis reproduced from Geograph under creative commons licence

Looking towards Burwell along the B1103 in August 2008, the site of the former bridge over the railway is very obvious. The gap in the hedge on the left was not the entrance to the halt; this was further up the gradient. One may well ask the obvious question of why the halt entrances were not located at, as it were, ground level, thereby avoiding the need for precarious paths cut into embankment sides. The answer is because the railway predated the halts and property boundaries established, a ground level entrance would involve a path being laid parallel to the embankment on private land, which would have necessitated the purchase of land from the adjoining landowner plus all the associated legal costs.
Photo by Tony Lewis reproduced from Geograph under creative commons licence

Looking north-west at the site of Exning Road Halt in May 2015. A slight lowering of the hedge alongside the road marks the position of the demolished parapet; a car is seen crossing the infilled bridge. The platform was in the centre of the picture with the path down the embankment where
the taller bush is seen.
Photo by Nick Catford

Top of access path from road to the platform in March 2021.
Photo by Paul Dewey




[Source: Darren Kitson]

Last updated: Tuesday, 23-Mar-2021 10:09:12 CET
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