Station Name: ISLEHAM

[Source: Darren Kitson]


Date opened: 1 April 1885
Location: West side of Station Road
Company on opening: Great Eastern Railway
Date closed to passengers: 18 June 1962
Date closed completely: 13 July 1964
Company on closing:

British Railways (Eastern Region)

Present state:
The main station building survives as a private residence with only minor alterations. All other buildings have been demolished and the trackbed has been filled up to platform level. The Station Road bridge survives as does the gate on the approach road.
County: Cambridgeshire
OS Grid Ref: TL646732
Date of visit: 25 May 2015

Notes: The Fordham North Junction - Mildenhall section differed from Barnwell Junction - Fordham South Junction in that no level crossings over public roads were provided. Where there would have been public level crossings, bridges were built instead. Some sources imply that this was at the initiative of the contractor, Lovatt, but the GER would almost certainly have had an input and the most plausible reason would have been a reduction in the number of staff required. East of Isleham the section crossed countryside more undulating in nature, resulting in a number of shallow cuttings and low embankments as well as a number of curves, none of which were severe and the maximum radius was 40ch. One mile east of Isleham the line passed out of Cambridgeshire and into Suffolk. We have already mentioned the long-running process whereby public road bridges became the responsibility of the County Council, those on the branch within Cambridgeshire doing so in April 1934. East of, and including, bridge 2254 at Four Cross Ways, east of Isleham the public road bridges became the responsibility of Suffolk County Council; 2254 in May 1931 and the remainder in May 1923. At the time of writing, bridges 2250 (Station Road, Isleham) and 2254 are the sole surviving public bridges between Fordham and Mildenhall.

Another feature of the Fordham - Mildenhall section was that the main station buildings at Isleham and Mildenhall were identical to Burwell.

Isleham, pronounced 'Eyes-lam', is an average- sized village in East Cambridgeshire served by the B1104 road. The village became internationally renowned in 1959 with the discovery of the 'Isleham Hoard', believed to be the largest hoard of Bronze Age artefacts yet discovered. In 1881, four years before the railway arrived, the population of Isleham stood at 1,697 and ten years later the census showed it had increased by just one. During the first half of the twentieth century the population fell but only by a couple of hundred or so, until increasing from a low of 1,342 in 1951 to 1,592 in 1961. These figures correspond to the agricultural depression of the early twentieth century and the advent of road motor transport, the latter especially after WWII. The railway appears to have had little effect on the fortunes of the village either way, a situation perhaps not helped by the inconvenient siting of the village's station. As with most remote railway stations, siting was less of a problem in the days before road motor transport as people had no choice but to trudge in all weathers or rely upon horses but, and especially following WWI, road transport sounded the death-knell for remote rural stations.

Before the coming of the railway, Isleham made much of river traffic - the River Lark passing to the north-east of the village. Being, as was much of the Mildenhall branch, situated on chalk uplands to the south of the Fens, Isleham had some chalk-related industries such as limekilns. These structures produced lime mortar and were once common in the region wherever there was chalk. Indeed, lime mortar was used extensively on the Mildenhall branch for bridge and culvert construction. The Isleham limekilns survive today and are Grade II listed; located on Limestone Close, and now surrounded by modern housing, they are nevertheless accessible to the public externally.

Isleham station, 16m 58ch from Cambridge, was located about one mile from the centre of the village and to the south south-east, adjacent to and west of bridge 2250 carrying the B1104 over the railway. The down platform, location of the station buildings, was 360ft long while the up platform, at 380ft boasted the usual style of waiting room* found on the branch which, apart from having a tiled roof, was identical to that on the down platform at Barnwell Junction. 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, as at Burwell, was located at the Cambridge end of the up platform. There was a lengthy 860ft crossing loop, and Isleham was to retain all these features until the end of passenger services, the signal box being closed with immediate effect. Thereafter Fordham - Mildenhall was worked on the 'one engine in steam' principle.



*A little bit of a mystery surrounds this. Apparently all such waiting rooms along the branch, Fordham excepted of course, were based upon the style of Quy station building. It is on record that the GER decided that waiting rooms at Barnwell Junction, Burwell, Isleham and Mildenhall should all follow this style. This mystery is:(a) there was no mention of Bottisham; ( b) that Barnwell Junction as built had no down platform waiting room or, if it did, it was later modified; and (c) the implication that Mildenhall was originally intended to have two platforms. The latter is strange because plans to extend beyond Mildenhall to Thetford had been abandoned by the time the branch was under construction. Had the line have been extended it is quite likely that Mildenhall would have had two platforms. Possibly the Thetford extension plan had not been formally abandoned but merely shelved, and this may explain the dithering over whether to provide a turntable at Fordham or Mildenhall.

When the branch was completed in 1885 and matters outstanding attended to as required by the Board of Trade inspector the contractor held an auction of surplus materials and equipment in Isleham goods yard and a special train ran for attendees. (The only requirement of the inspector on record was the removal of a set of trap points at Fordham, presumably at or near Fordham North Junction.) Later the same day, 30 July 1885, a second auction was held at Mildenhall, and for reasons unknown this auction included one of the contractor's locomotives; the other three were retained by the contractor and moved to contracts elsewhere.

Quy excepted, station buildings on the Mildenhall branch all bore a family resemblance. The single-storey range contained a booking hall, stationmaster's office, waiting room, toilets and staff room. The L-plan brick building 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 was one doorway to the platform from the booking hall and waiting room with a second doorway serving as the Way Out from the platform. Gents' toilets were reached from the platform while access to the ladies’ toilets would have been from the waiting room. Fireplaces were provided in each room with semi-ornate stepped chimneystacks on the roof. A brick lock-up was provided at the west end of the main station building; this comprised a single-storey square brick building with a hipped slate roof.

On Isleham down platform, as at Burwell and Mildenhall the canopy was cut back in length from nine to six columns in the 1920s. The only other economy measure, of sorts, inflicted upon Isleham affected the stationmaster. In 1921 Mr D Webb became stationmaster, having been promoted from his position of relief signalman at Cambridge. Mr Webb was then promoted to Trimley (on the Felixstowe branch) in June 1922. Isleham than came under the jurisdiction of Mr C Sparrow who had been stationmaster at Holme Hale (on the Roudham Junction - Swaffham branch). The economy measure took effect in 1927 when Charles Sparrow was put in charge of both Isleham and Mildenhall but it is not known if he remained based at Isleham or if he moved along the line to Mildenhall. Mr Sparrow was forced to retire on 14 August 1933 for health reasons, having given almost 43 years’ service to the railways. His position of joint stationmaster over Isleham and Mildenhall was taken by Stanley Porter who held the position for seven years. There was then a succession of stationmasters until Nathan Sykes became the final incumbent prior to closure.

Isleham goods yard was neatly laid-out on the down side and west of the station. Access to a 580ft refuge road was via two sets of points trailing in the down direction. There was a 180ft dock road which served the dock on the north side of the down platform as well as three cattle pens. The only other station with three was Mildenhall, the rest either had none or two. At the west end of the yard, and served by a 310ft siding, was something unique to Isleham insofar as the Mildenhall branch was concerned. Coal merchants were provided with a large shed with integral staithes, the siding running along its south side and coal carted away by road from its north side. The entire shed was of wood and it remained in use until the end, despite being in a fairly dilapidated condition by then. Records hint at the original arrangements for coal being unsatisfactory but this rather broad description is not defined. The shed was provided in 1890.

The GER, despite being almost permanently cash-strapped, was surprisingly accommodating of requests for goods facilities. This was particularly the case where coal traffic was concerned, and rightly so because coal traffic was, at one time, a year-round money earner. It still is insofar as deliveries to power stations are concerned, almost all arriving by rail. Indeed, coal traffic was often the main reason why branch lines remained open for a time following closure to passengers and the Mildenhall branch was no exception.

On the north side of the goods yard a weighbridge and a public weigh house were provided. As elsewhere along the branch, Pooley scales were installed. Unlike at Fordham and Barnwell Junction, but in common with other branch stations, access to the goods yard and the station itself was via the same approach road which, at Isleham, came in from the B1104 to the north of the bridge. In between the B1104 and the station approach road were two staff cottages, still standing at the time of writing.

Like all other stations on the two sections of the branch, Isleham closed to passengers on 18 June 1962 with the final departure being the 7.40pm DMU to Newmarket and Cambridge on Saturday 16 June. The next day BR removed various fixtures and fittings and the platform canopy was removed soon afterwards. The up platform waiting room and signal box appear to have survived until the withdrawal of the goods service from 18 July 1964 but were then quickly demolished. Removal of the canopy included its six remaining support columns;  by 1984 the columns had reappeared but what happened subsequently is not known.

The station survives today and for many years has been a tyre depot (Tenrich Tyres), while the platforms have been incorporated into attractive gardens which include a swimming pool. The site is now heavily wooded and the station is not visible, even from the bridge. Unless visiting on legitimate business, the entire site is private property.

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.

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 0064 David Pearson. 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

Sources

  • 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:
Barnwell Junction, Fen Ditton Halt, Quy, Bottisham & Lode, Swaffham Prior, Burwell, Exning Road Halt, Fordham, Worlington Golf Links Halt & Mildenhall
See also
Cambridge


Isleham Station Gallery 1: c1913 - July 1969

In this view of Isleham, known to date from 1913, it is difficult to distinguish the station from that at Burwell. The signal, which is the Down Starter, had a lower quadrant arm on a wooden post. At some point after the LNER, if not BR, was formed this signal was replaced by an upper quadrant arm on a precast concrete post. The post looked suspiciously like a product of the M&GN works at Melton Constable. Among the group of staff, second from right is the stationmaster but assuming c1910 to be reasonably accurate his name is not known. Isleham's first stationmaster was George Vipan who was promoted from Ryston (Stoke Ferry branch) and he was replaced by Henry Butters in 1894 when Mr Vipan took charge of Soham. Mr Butters left Isleham in 1900 to take charge of Elsenham, including the Thaxted branch. Sadly Mr Butters was to die in service, as did his replacement at Elsenham, Mr George Nunn. At Isleham, the trail goes cold from Mr Butters’ departure in 1900 until Mr D Webb was recorded as being at Isleham in 1921. Just behind the nearest lamp beneath the canopy is what appears to be a wall-mounted tablet bearing the station name. Such tablets also existed, at least, at Burwell as one from that station has survived.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection


Isleham station on a 1902 1:2,500 OS map. The road is now the B1104 and Isleham village is one mile north north-west of the station. The map shows the station with its original full platform canopy. As was often the case with these early maps, some details are either confusing or absent. The weighing machine (W.M.), actually the weighbridge and adjacent weigh office, is the small black square above the letter 'W' of W.M. The public weigh house is shown but not labelled; it is the black square just below the 'C' of Cattle Pens. The square building to the right of W.M. is the goods lock-up. The long, narrow hatched rectangle towards the bottom left is the coal shed provided in 1890. The longer unhatched rectangle was possibly the original coal staithes; if so, it is clear why the original arrangements were unsatisfactory. In the triangle formed by the railway, the B1104 and the station approach road, the two staff cottages can be seen. The letters P and W are pump and well. The pump would have been the manually operated type with a long, curved handle. They were very common in rural areas as late as the second half of the twentieth century and some can still be seen today.

It is difficult to judge if this view is earlier or later than that from 1913. It is late Victorian or Edwardian (a period which is loosely applied and popularly extends beyond the reign of Edward VII) but a number of differences are apparent. The station building has more chimney pots but the lock-up lacks what is assumed to be a stove flue. There is no signal wire run on the face of the down platform as there is in the 1913 view. Some sort of pole, or perhaps a vent pipe for a drain, is present on the near corner of the roof, while the pole at the rear of the roof is not present in this view. The people on the platform all appear to be members of the public and there are a number of items, some on barrows, waiting to be loaded onto a train. Note the lady on the left in period dress and with what appears to be a rather ornate pram, but typical of the time. There is a wide range of posters and advertisements to be read; this was typical of railway stations of the period. Epps was the name of a very well known family during, in particular, the nineteenth century. They were purveyors of provisions (in other words, grocers), exporters, butchers and homeopathic chemists. Homeopathy is what we would today refer to as Alternative Medicine and Epps's Cocoa was produced by the chemist side of the family and its packets and tins were often so-labelled; 'Epps's Homeopathic Chemists Cocoa' being an example. Advertisements for Epps's Cocoa were common on railway stations, especially in south-east England, and the product was available until the London factory closed down c1930.
Photo from Jim Lake collection

Isleham station looking towards Fordham from the overbridge. The photograph is undated but there are some clues to the approximate date. Close examination shows the open wagons to be in GER livery and seemingly in a style introduced in 1910. The platform canopy has been shortened; this occurring in 1921. The photograph therefore dates from around the time of the Grouping of 1923. The tall chimney in the background is at Isleham Pumping Station on Fordham Road. Although the pumping station survived at least into the 1980s the chimney appears to have been demolished by the end of the Second World War. To the left of the chimney, but much nearer the camera, is the coal shed, erected in 1890, while between the two sets of open wagons the loading gauge can be seen. These gauges were once found in almost every goods yard and, excluding Barnwell Junction and Fordham, there were seven in total on the Mildenhall branch. They consisted of a gallows-type structure from which an arc-shaped gauge was suspended by two chains. If loaded wagons could pass beneath the gauge without fouling it and loads were no wider than the gauge, the load was then within gauge and could pass safely beneath bridges, through stations, tunnels and so on.
Photo from John Mann collection

Unfortunately, and due to image availability, we now have to leap ahead to British Railways days. This is the view from the down platform looking towards Mildenhall. Like most stations on the branch. Isleham was never to receive any form of BR signage other than poster headers which, in any event, were not permanent fixtures. The game of ‘Musical Chimney Pots’ has been played yet again and the lock-up now boasts a much taller stove flue. On the left the end of the dock can just be seen, the brickwork of which appears to have had some repair work undertaken. The Down Starter signal stands at the end of the down platform, by now with upper quadrant arm and concrete post. The original had probably rotted, this problem becoming quite frequent along the branch in later years. Keen-eyed readers will have noticed that the bridge has been rebuilt and now has plainer parapets. Many bridges along the branch were originally of the style partly visible in the 1913 image but some were rebuilt into the form seen above over a long period of time. With the exception of the addition of iron railings, the bridge at Burwell retained its original form until the end. Mildenhall branch bridges were built with Greaves Lias blue brick and lime mortar, with copings of Portland Cement. A couple of bridges were of the Jack Arch type, one of which was No.2248, Fordham Moor Road, west of Isleham and which still stands at the time of writing. Beyond the bridge, and in the distance, the track curves to the right. This is the start of the rather sinuous section to Worlington. An aerial has appeared on the station house but the image is not clear enough to determine what precisely it is for.
Photo from John Mann collection

The scene from Station Road bridge on a wet day in the 1950s. There is no sign of activity in either passenger or goods departments, other than somebody watching from the house and a van parked on the forecourt. The lamp on the right has received attention, or is about to, while the wheelbarrow suggests flower-bed attention; it is probably in use on this occasion to carry items around the station for servicing the oil lamps. Oil lamps would be refilled with paraffin, have their wicks trimmed and adjusted if necessary and the casement glass cleaned. The level of train service on the Mildenhall branch, especially during the summer would, however, mean the lamps saw little use. As at other stations, Isleham had a series of lamps suspended beneath the canopy but otherwise lighting provision was poor. Oil lamps issued a very low number of Lumens; just about adequate to see where you were going but that was as good as it got. Isleham station remained oil lit to the end. The wheelbarrow will be familiar to those of a certain generation; it is of the once common type with riveted heavy-gauge steel hopper and chunky pneumatic tyre. The rain has highlighted the platform flagstones which were laid only in the vicinity of the canopy and, it would appear in this case, in front of the up waiting room. These flagstones were quoted as being 'Wilkinson Patent Granite Cement Concrete Paving' and the total cost was £390/8/0d. This was a large sum of money in the nineteenth century and probably explains why the paving was not applied over entire platforms as to do so would increase the cost by, perhaps, twelve times over. Contractors, then as now, submitted tenders so costs of items such as paving were no minor matter. In the far distance bridge 2249 (now demolished), Fordham Road, can be seen. Just beyond it, but not visible, is the surviving jack arch bridge, 2248, at Fordham Moor Road. The other such bridge, 2239 near Swaffham Prior, also survives at the time of writing but is an underbridge with wrought iron plate parapets
Photo from John Mann collection

The view from Station Road bridge looking towards Fordham in October 1957. The Up Starter signal has been pulled Off; perhaps a train is due or perhaps it has been done for the benefit of the photographer, who was very well known. A few wagons can be seen in the goods yard. As in all views taken from the bridge, the isolated location of the station is apparent.
Copyright photo by HC Casserley

Isleham station looking towards Mildenhall from the up platform in October 1957. There is some goods activity in the dock and the upper quadrant, concrete post signal can be seen by the bridge. Beyond the station, the 1 in 150 rising gradient is apparent. The heavy smoke stain on the bridge was caused by locomotives blasting out of the station but there is no such stain on the up side as locomotive regulators would be closed well before reaching the station. Many such smoke stains can still be seen today and where bridges span an abandoned railway the stains serve as ghostly reminders of the past. All overbridges on the Mildenhall branch were built to accommodate double track should doubling ever be required. This was more a case of standard procedure rather than wishful thinking, in much the same way as bridges today are built to span potential overhead electrification as a matter of standard. Underbridges on the branch were built with single-track spans but with abutments designed to allow for future widening. Again, this was standard procedure. In this view, above, the wheelbarrow has found its way to the up platform and on this occasion it is well loaded. The signal box steps are just visible on the right.
Copyright photo by HC Casserley

Isleham signal box and a Newmarket-bound diesel railbus in July 1958, just days after railbuses were introduced onto the branch. The occasion was an outing by the Railway Club of The Friends' School, Saffron Walden. The signalman is exchanging tokens; he will receive the Mildenhall - Isleham token from the driver and hand him the Isleham - Fordham token. The Annett's Key was attached to these tokens and it is just visible at the bottom end of the token held by the signalman. During the period 1962 - 4 when the branch was freight-only, one token sufficed for the Fordham North Junction - Mildenhall section which was worked under the 'One Engine In Steam' principle but the Annett's Key was still required for unlocking points. The token, with key, from the freight-only period is known to have survived. One may wonder quite how the above photograph was taken. The photographer was actually onboard the railbus; the driving cabs both had a droplight but the other two opposite corners, in the passenger section, also had one. Not a lot of people know that. It is from one such droplight that the photographer is leaning. One of the ventilation louvres can be seen on the roof of the railbus; there were two each side above the cantrail. In the distance can be seen bridge 2249, Fordham Road.
Photograph by Peter Jamieson and reproduced with his kind permission

Looking along Isleham up platform towards Fordham not long before closure. Although the station is tidy, it is not as neatly kept as Fordham. It will be noticed that as the years have marched on, Isleham and other branch stations have become less adorned with advertisements. Advertisers who, of course, wanted a return for the fees charged by the railway, probably thought the low passenger numbers did not warrant the expenditure. Beneath the canopy a couple of suspended oil lamps are visible. After the canopy was shortened it appears that just two lamps sufficed. The biggest mystery is Burwell which, at the time of closure to passengers, did not appear to have retained any canopy lamps. The number of lamps suspected beneath the original canopies seems to have varied from station to station; Isleham, photographic evidence suggests, originally had four.
Photo from John Mann collection

A track-level view towards Fordham not long before closure. Bridge 2249, Fordham Road, can be seen in the distance. The barrow crossing in the foreground would have been used by passengers going to and from the up platform. There was another at the other end of the station, visible above, primarily for use by the signalmen. Although black-and-white images can be misleading, nevertheless the main station building appears to have became quite dirty by this time: the joys of steam locomotives, some might say.
Photo from John Mann collection

Isleham station from the overbridge in July 1969. Passengers were always few but tyres have now arrived in abundance. Already there is little evidence of the goods yard from this angle and the coal shed has long gone. The up platform is also devoid of buildings by this time, the signal box, at least, having been demolished very soon after closure. On the down platform the canopy and its columns have gone but the support brackets on the wall remain and would continue to do so. The lock-up has been demolished. Close examination of the trackbed shows sleeper indentations to be present, the track being lifted soon after final closure in 1964. From the author's memory, ballast remained in situ on much of the branch for quite some time after everything else was dismantled and removed.
Photo by John Mann

Isleham down platform and station building looking towards Worlington in July 1969. By this time one of the two larger doorways had been replaced with a window (one doorway was ’Way In’, the other ‘Way Out’) and both the two smaller doorways, at the near end of the building, have also been replaced with windows. The original windows are the sash-drop types which are all aligned; five in the single-storey building and one in the wing of the house.
Photo by John Mann

Isleham station forecourt in July 1969. Despite alterations to the platform side of the building, at this time it is not clear if the house was occupied. Beside the former public entrance a British Railways noticeboard is still in situ. The general air of gloom notwithstanding, the building appears to be in good condition apart from the gable above the entrance.
Photo by John Mann

Click here for Isleham Station Gallery 2:
July 1969 - May 2015





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