The Hadleigh Branch (LP230)
The Suffolk town of Hadleigh, at one time famous for its clothing industry, was a political pawn on the chessboard of railway development in East Anglia. The Eastern Counties Railway, incorporated in 1836 to construct a line linking London with Yarmouth, had by 1843 only reached Colchester. Despite difficulty raising capital a northern extension was envisaged, linking up with the Norfolk Railway at Brandon, and with the Suffolk county town of Ipswich served by a branch line from Hadleigh. Businessmen at Ipswich were infuriated and promoted their own Eastern Union Railway, incorporated in 1844 to link Ipswich with Colchester. The ECR plans failed to materialise and the traders of Hadleigh were in a dilemma, their own town now isolated seven miles from the nearest railhead.
The solution came with the proposal for a nominally independent branch line to Bentley, but the railway was quickly absorbed by the EUR and the line was subsequently opened in September 1847. In the ensuing power politics the line was taken over by the ECR, and from 1862 became one of the many branches lines of the Great Eastern Railway.
The new company encouraged trade and passenger and goods traffic developed so that by 1901 there were plans to extend the line as a Light Railway from Hadleigh to Long Melford, there to join up with the Mark Teys to Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge cross country line. Unfortunately this scheme failed after World War I retrenchment came to the Hadleigh branch as local competitive bus services removed much of the passenger traffic from the line.
Despite the introduction of conductor guard working and rationalisation of operating methods and infrastructure, receipts continued to fall and passenger train services were withdrawn from the Hadleigh branch as early as February 1932. Freight traffic, however, continued to prosper accentuated during World War II by military consignments, but after hostilities the ever-encroaching motor lorry took much traffic from the line and the branch was closed in April 1965. Today the trackbed between Raydon Wood and Hadleigh can still be followed as part of the Hadleigh Railway Nature Trail.
The complex story of the scenic Hadleigh Branch is fully documented in the latest of Peter Paye's accounts of East Anglian branch lines.
Softback, 208 pages, maps, drawings
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Updated: 1 July 2021