The Colne Valley & Halstead Railway
In 1855 the first discussions took place relating to the creation of a railway between Chappel and Halstead. The initial section of line was completed in 1860 and continued to operate until April 1965 having provided one hundred and five years of continual service carrying goods and passengers through the Colne valley.
The impact of the railway can still be seen in many places along it’s route including buildings, bridge sites, embankments and cuttings. If you are of a mind to spend some time looking at “Google Maps”, or a similar resource, it is still possible to trace the route of the line from Chappel all the way to the outskirts of Haverhill.
During its time the railway played an important role distributing products from the Colne Valley for eventual delivery in all parts of the world. Items carried included bricks from The Langthorne Brick Works and The Highfield Brickworks, Sible Hedingham, products from Rippers Joinery, Sible Hedingham, earth moving and agricultural equipment from Whitlock Brothers of Great Yeldham, Textiles from Courtaulds, Tortoise stoves, ovens etc. from Charles Portway & Sons in Halstead and agricultural equipment from Hunts of Earls Colne.
Many will recall day trips to the seaside from Halstead station where the trains were crowded with excited children, sandwiches packed ready to explore the exciting destinations of Clacton and Walton.
Timeline, key dates in the history of the Colne Valley & Halstead Railway
- Early 1855, local businessmen and land owners joined forces to promote a railway from Chappel to Halstead, key participants:
- Edward Horner (Chairman)
- Robert Ellington Greenwood (Halstead Gas Works)
- James Brewster (Landowner)
- Samuel Courtauld (Businessman)
- George De-Horne Vaizey
- John R Vaizey
- November 1855, notice of intention to apply to Parliament for authorisation published in the London Gazette.
- 30th June 1856, application approved by parliament.
- 25th July 1856, public meeting held in Halstead Town Hall, decision taken to make a further application to extend the railway line from Halstead to Haverhill and Cambridge.
- 1857, William Munro of Dornock, Scotland engaged as main contractor by the new “Colne Valley Railway” company.
- Also in 1857, the first compulsory purchase orders were issued.
- 16th February 1858, Chairman of the Colne Valley & Halstead Railway cut the first sod near Langley Mill just outside Halstead.
- Also in 1858 following a lengthy battle with the Eastern Counties Railway, plans to extend to Cambridge were revised to extend to Audley End, and eventually a compromise was reached to extend only as far as Haverhill.
- 13th August 1859, an Act of Parliament passed allowing the construction of the railway between Halstead and Haverhill.
- During the construction of the railway some 400 labours (navvies) would have been employed.
- All of the land used for the station platforms, buildings and forecourt belonged to a William Cook (Beer house keeper) and was obtained via compulsory purchase order for £1000.
- End of 1859, the section of line between Chappel and Halstead was completed, a dispute with Eastern Counties Railway relating to the junction with their line at Chappel and a requirement by the Board of Trade to provide a footbridge over the goods yard in Halstead delayed the opening of the line.
- 16th April 1860, the Chappel to Halstead line opens.
- 10th May 1863, the Halstead to Haverhill line opens.
The "Halstead" at Halstead station on route to Haverhill
- 8Th December 1899, a goods train driven by H. Bartholomew went through buffer stops at Parsons Bridge Halstead and completely demolished the signal-box. No injuries were recorded.
- 1st January 1923, the line was absorbed into the L.N.E.R.
- July 1924, Haverhill south station closed to passengers, all passenger services terminate at Haverhill north.
- May 1958, rumours circulating that the Colne Valley Railway would close.
- 5th August 1960, The Halstead Gazette reported that the Transport Users Consultative Committee were reviewing the future of the railway and that it was likely that passenger services would cease in a few months time.
- 14th February 1961, The Transport Users Consultative Committee held a public enquiry in the Halstead Co-Operative meeting hall.
- Early July 1961, the decision of the public enquiry was announced. Passenger services would be withdrawn but the line would remain open between Chappel and Yeldham for goods traffic.
- 14th July 1961, the main Halstead Gazette headline read “The End of the Line for the Colne Valley”.
- Early November 1961, the date for the withdrawal of passenger services was fixed, 30th December 1961.
- 30th December 1961, the last passenger services arrived at Halstead station at 7.30pm.
A rail bus at Yeldham station during the final months of passenger train operation
- End of 1964, the goods service between Yeldham and Halstead ceased.
- April 1965, the Colne Valley Line closed completely.
The story since closure
In 1973 two railway enthusiasts, Dick Hymas and Gordon Warren, had a vision to create a working railway between Castle Hedingham and Great Yeldham. A long-term lease was eventually acquired on a section of the former trackbed and in 1974 the Colne Valley Railway Preservation Society (CVRPS) was formed. During its days of operation there were no buildings on this site so everything needed to be created from scratch. Fortunately the society was able to obtain the old Sible & Castle Hedingham station building which remained intact within the Rippers Joinery works site. The building was dismantled brick by brick, transported to the new site and re-built to form the heart of the new attraction.
Volunteers dismantling the Sible & Castle Hedingham station building
As you can see from the above picture, health and safety was not taken quite so seriously back in the 1970’s! I worked on this project for a while and recall some fairly hot and dusty weekends spent painstakingly taking the building apart brick by brick.
Here I am (Andy Harris) with Dick Hymas posing for the Gazette in 1974
The site was further developed over the years to become a major tourist attraction and centre for conservation and education. The track was extended to a mile in length following the addition of a bridge across the river Colne. This bridge was the only remaining example which had been retained by the water board to enable access to one it’s sites, the preservation society were given the bridge in return for providing a replacement footbridge.
In 2004 Dick Hymas announced that he was considering selling the operation and offered the Colne Valley Preservation Society the opportunity to purchase it. The Colne Valley and Halstead Railway Trust chaired by Jeremy Dunn was set up to secure funds to buy the railway but, despite having secured a Lottery grant of nearly £1m, they missed two deadlines to complete the purchase and the railway was sold to a private Australian buyer in 2006.
The railway continued on a leasehold basis and during 2014 the Australian company that owned the land on which the Colne Valley Railway operates announced that it wanted to sell it and gave the preservation society a year to secure funds to complete the purchase.
In March 2015 it was reported by the local press that the owner of the land had decided that they were no longer interested in selling to the railway preservation society. The report stated that the landowners agent had put forward development proposals for the site including housing, businesses a shop and cafe as part of Braintree Council’s call for land in the area. This was a shock to the preservation society which announced that it intended to operate as normal until the end of the 2015 season and would be looking for a new site from which to continue.
In July 2015 further reports were published stating that the land owner had once again given the preservation society the option to purchase the land and granted a one year extension to the existing lease.
In December 2016 it was annonced that The Colne Valley Railway Preservation Society had received a grant of £1,757,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) providing long term sustainability for the Colne Valley Railway (CVR) including the provision a new entrance and building which includes visitor facilities together with the development of two important centres on the CVR’s main site. Following the announcement Nick Ellis, the railway's Collections Manager, said; 'not only will this grant from the HLF allow us to tell the story of the Railway and the local community through an innovative approach combining an on-site museum and web presence, we have now gained ownership of the site which allows us to work toward becoming an accredited museum'.
The Halstead & District Local History Society have been able to loan a number of Colne Valley and Halstead Railway artefacts to the Colne Valley Railway Preservation Trust.
Waiting for the next train at Halstead station
The dates used in the timeline within this article have been taken from “From Construction to Destruction. An authentic history of the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway” by Edward P. Willingham. This detailed book is available to buy in our museum, through the website or via your local library.
Also recommended is “Colne Valley & Halstead Railway Through Time” by Andy T. Wallis, this book is widely available in bookshops and online or via your local library.
Halstead & District Local History Society