Hidden Heritage: the disused Ely and St Ives Railway

LogosIt seems a long time ago that I wrote for the Ouse Washes LP blog, but in fact it was only last summer when I was working with Mark as a summer placement on the development phase of the scheme. I wrote some articles on the hover train and the airfield at Mepal and to continue the theme of hidden heritage I thought I would look at the disused Ely to St Ives railway.

1860s: construction of the Ely to Sutton line

The line opened between Ely and Sutton in on 16th April 1866 and was the idea of two local landowners, Frederick Camps of Haddenham and Oliver Claude Pell of Wilburton. The original route was to, logically, go along the ridge from Ely to Sutton via Witchford, but due to the fact that the two main backers were from Haddenham and Wilburton that route was dropped in favour of one that went south of the ridge. This change proved to be a vital factor in the lack of success of the line; more about this later.

The Ely, Haddenham and Sutton Railway Act was passed on 23rd June 1864 and the construction contract was given to W.S.Simpson, Park Farm, Ely for the sum of £48,000. Great Eastern Railway was contracted to run the service and provide the rolling stock and manpower for 50% of the gross receipts. A third class return fare from Sutton to Ely was 2 shillings and at the time was around one fifth of the average farm worker’s wage. In the first year income was very low with twice as much being earned from freight than from passenger services.

1870s: extension of the line to St Ives

In 1875 an application for an extension of the line to St Ives was put to parliament and permission was given on 7th April 1876, construction started in that year and the extension was opened on 10th May 1878.

The new line was originally due to have just one station between Sutton and St Ives at Bluntisham but an extra station was built at Earith on the request of a local landowner who sold the land at a reduced rate. The line opened on Friday 10th May 1978 although passengers did not take advantage of the new service until the following Monday when St Ives market was on!

Even after the new line was opened passenger traffic remained low and freight was the mainstay of the railway. The lack of passengers was probably due to the position of the stations; Stretham, Wilburton and Haddenham stations were all at the end of the village or considerable distance away, the same can be said for Earith as it was at the Hermitage where the marina is now.

The line running through Earith

Earith Station, with the rail line running around Earith

Post WWI: Falling passenger numbers

Freight increased during the First World War due to home-grown produce being carried but after the war passenger numbers decreased dramatically, which was also not helped by a bus service that started in 1919.

The numbers continued to fall during the 1920s and the service for passengers was finally closed in 1931, although goods traffic continued. There were some special passenger services put on for excursions; Mepal resident Roly Ransome, for instance, remembers day trips to Hunstanton from Sutton station on Sundays during the summer.

Closure of the line

ticket2

The Second World War saw an increase in freight to service the airfields at Mepal and Somersham, but after the war road transport became cheaper and more widespread and eventually the line closed from Sutton to Bluntisham in October 1958. Goods such as sugarbeet and vegetables continued to be carried from Sutton to Ely but the amount decreased and the whole line was shut in July 1964.

What’s left in the landscape?

There are still remains of the track bed and stations but much of it was put back to arable land and the stations became private dwellings or commercial premises. The line was always affected by a lack of income and was really only supported by the freight traffic for many years.

I wonder how popular a line from Sutton to Ely would be today?

Please let us know if you have any memories or stories of the line.

Related posts:

Advertisements

The new OWLP Landscape Boundary

Logos

As part of the development phase works we have reconsidered the boundary for the OWLP scheme area. This was included in the work done as part of the Landscape Character Assessment , commissioned by the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership to Sheils Flynn.

Redrawing the boundary

For our stage 1 submission, back in early 2012, the boundary drawn was still relatively simple. Not anymore. Following the recent finalisation of the Landscape Character Assessment for the OWLP area and the Landscape Conservation Action Plan as part of our stage 2 submission, I can now show you the final results of this work.

First of all, spot the differences:

A4_Boundary

Boundary as drawn for the OWLP’s stage 1 application, February 2012

337-LA-10 - Parish Boundaries

OWLP boundary as defined for the stage 2 submission, November 2013. Map created by Sheils Flynn for OWLP. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013 – not to be reproduced.

In their comments on our stage 1 bid, the HLF considered the OWLP area boundary somewhat vague and arbitrary; despite numerous hours of discussion between partners had already gone into this.

A coherent landscape

A requirement for the stage 2 submission was, thus, to come up with a better described, understood and more coherent boundary. The new landscape boundary is based on careful consideration of a number of related factors:

  • The boundary surrounds a strongly coherent landscape. The vast majority of the OWLP landscape is below the 5 m contour line.This is a distinct landscape, with a unique history, linear waterways, significant wetlands and which plays an important role in food production, drainage and flood prevention.
  • The boundary is driven by the landscape using natural boundaries.
  • The boundary is understood by local people – as part of the community consultations held during the Audience & Access work, people were shown draft versions of the new map, to which people responded positively, as the boundary line follows local landscape features such as roads, drains and other, locally recognised landscape features.
  • The boundary reflects historic patterns of land use: the ‘territory’ associated with the Fen Isle villages, including for instance historic field patterns, droveways and outlying farmsteads, together describe historic patterns of land use and the present-day sense of community in this part of the Fens. Settlements developed on ‘islands’ of higher land in an otherwise expansive and historically marshy landscape. The most productive arable fields were concentrated on the more elevated, relatively well-drained land surrounding the villages, with pasture on seasonally water-logged meadows. The marshy fenlands, which covered vast areas of the Fen Basin, were an important economic resource, used for cutting peat, reeds and sedge and to provide a constant supply of wildfowl, fish and eels.
  • The boundary contains a relatively empty landscape, with a scatter of settlements on the areas of higher land on and around the edge; relatively well-drained soils fringe the low-lying fen that was the focus of the Ouse Washes drainage scheme. The settlements function as individual gateways to the central, lower landscape.
  • The boundary coincides with the historic road pattern: the alignment of roads and causewayed tracks connects the villages and forms a loose ring around the Ouse Washes.
  • The boundary contains an internationally significant wetland landscape: recent wetland and fen restoration projects and opportunities for new wetlands as part of the Great Ouse Wetland and Fens Wetland Vision projects contribute to the international value of the Ouse Washes and have the potential to provide superb opportunities for public access, recreation and environmental education.

Crossing multiple boundaries

The OWLP area covers two Counties (Cambridgeshire and Norfolk), five different Districts (Kings Lynn & West Norfolk BC, Fenland DC, East Cambridgeshire DC, Huntingdonshire DC and South Cambridgeshire DC) and no less than 29 Parishes.

In the process of redefining the boundary for the OWLP landscape, the total area increased from 199 km2 at the stage 1 bid to 243 km2 now, stretching for 48.5 km between Denver and Downham Market at the northern end and Fen Drayton and St Ives to its south.

The OWLP residents

The OWLP area contains 25 villages/settlements which are either fully or partially within, or directly abutting the area’s boundary:

  • In Norfolk these are Denver, Salters Lode, Fordham, Nordelph, Ten Mile Bank, Welney, Tipps End and Lakes End.
  • The Cambridgeshire settlements are Manea, Pymoor, Wardy Hill, Coveney, Witcham, Mepal, Sutton, Earith, Aldreth, Over, Swavesey, Fen Drayton, Holywell, Needingworth, Bluntisham, Colne and Somersham.
  • Close by are also the settlements of Hemingford Grey, Willingham, Haddenham and Little Downham (Cambridgeshire) and Hilgay (Norfolk).

The resident population of the LP area is 33,010. Outside the Ouse Washes LP area the neighbouring towns within a c10km zone are Downham Market, Littleport, Ely, Chatteris, March, St Ives, Huntingdon and Cambridge; they have a collective resident population of 236,688. The OWLP scheme’s delivery phase focuses on both the local residents and market town residents.

337-LA-001 - Location Map

Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area – Location Map. Map created by Sheils Flynn for OWLP. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013 – not to be reproduced.

Click on the above map (X 2) to zoom in; the maps displayed here can also be viewed in our Resources section.

What do you think?

What do you think? Does this boundary indeed reflect local people’s perceptions of what makes a coherent landscape? Let me know your thoughts – click on the balloon at the top to leave a comment, or contact me directly. Thank you.

 

Related Posts: