A short history.
It was the passing of the Light Railways Act of 1896 to ease the hardships of the agricultural depression in rural areas that the seeds of the MSLR were sown. In 1898 a London firm of civil engineers, Jeyes and Godden sought local backing for a railway with arrangements to fund half the preliminary costs with the local population backing the remaining half. A Commission enquiry was held in Ipswich and The Light Railway Order was passed on the 5th April 1900.
From the start under the chairmanship of Mr Stevenson, M.P. for Eye, Suffolk, there were disputes between the board and its financial advisers, as well as indecision and delays over routes and financial matters.
S. Pearson and Son were appointed to construct the line under Jeyes and Godden’s supervision. At the end of 1901 the company’s position continued to deteriorate and S. Pearson and Sons finally resigned, being replaced by S. Jackson and Co. of London, who took over the responsibility of constructing the line.
During March 1902 work commenced on constructing the approach at Haughley while at Westerfield arrangements were made for the MSLR cutting of the first ‘sod’. Steady progress was made and a recognisable railway was cutting its way from Haughley to Mendlesham. This stretch was completed on 23rd September 1902 and was extended to Brockford in October 1902.
On 16th March 1903 Jackson’s released to service their locomotive, an 0-6-0 Manning Wardle & Co. ‘L’ class saddle tanker (1570) named Lady Stevenson, and by July the line was completed as far as Horham. Approval was granted for the Mid-Suffolk to approach Halesworth from the North and work now started on the Ipswich-Norwich road cutting and over-bridge at Brockford.
Disputes with S. Jackson and Sons over continued changes to routes grew, but the plans were to have the Haughley to Laxfield and Kenton to Debenham sections opened by the end of September 1904. However most of the capital had now been spent and financial issues continued to mount and by January 1904 the Mid-Suffolk was refused further credit, and in May a loan application of £25,000 was rejected.
In October 1904 the Mid-Suffolk took delivery of its first locomotive. Hudswell, Clarke delivered the loco named ‘Haughley’ to Haughley but this was kept chained and locked to the rails until Hudswell Clarke received the first instalment of the payments due.
In June 1905 the directors applied for a Board of Trade inspection prior to commencing passenger traffic. The results were disastrous and £5,000 was needed to rectify faults with the railway. Jeyes and Godden who had planned and supervised the lines construction, were dismissed, and in September Jackson’s were discharged for failing to rectify faults, and the company’s debenture holders blocked the loans the company required.
The collapse of the company was spectacular. In March 1906 the incompetent Mr Stevenson resigned having lost almost £100,000 of his own money in the venture, and he would not explain why he had been trading in shares with the Midland Railway. It required little imagination to see Southwold becoming another ‘Harwich’ in the Midland Railway empire, something that the GER feared most.
Further development of the line was now shelved and in May 1907 the Eagle Insurance Company applied to the courts for a Receiver and Manager to be appointed. The receiver chosen was 78 years old retired Major J. F. R. Daniel who had gained experience of running the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway on a shoestring budget.
The major succeeded in putting together a financial package sufficient to finish the line. All efforts were to be concentrated on preparing the line as far as practical for another Board of Trade inspection so that passenger trains could at last run on the line.
On Friday September 25th 1908 Lt-Col. Von Donop, for the Board of Trade, made a second inspection of the line which resulted in a handful of minor improvements that needed to be carried out before passenger trains could run. With the improvements carried out over the following weekend passenger trains could operate on the line from the following Tuesday the 29th September 1908, the line was in business and continued to run under its Receiver for the next 13 years.
Early in 1918 Major Daniel resigned as Receiver shortly before his death at the age of 89 and in 1919 Mr Alexander Parker, assistant manager of the Great Eastern was appointed the new receiver to replace the late Major Daniel.
Under the 1921 Railways Act or ‘grouping’ the London and North East Railway (LNER) reluctantly took over the running of the Middy. The disputes continued between the Middy’s creditors and the LNER denying responsibility for the lines debts. The ensuing legal arguments delayed the lines takeover from January 1st 1924 until a court of appeal agreed with the LNER that the debenture holders were looking a gift horse in the mouth and found in favour of the debenture holders. Rather than go to appeal to the house of Lords the LNER appointed it’s chief legal adviser Mr. Francis Dunnell to negotiate privately with debenture holders and creditors. An estimate of the Middy’s liabilities was £89,794 but Dunnell was able to buy them out for £29,960 with almost half going to the Eagle Star.
The end of the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway’s independence finally came on 1st July 1924 with its transfer to the LNER. The railway now appeared on the company’s books valued at £30,231. This was against the value of £200,000 the Mid-Suffolk spent on construction and fitting out the line. The original locomotives were replaced by the LNER ‘J65’ 0-6-0 ‘Blackwall Tanks’ which continued to operate for almost another 25 years. The former Great Eastern carriages replaced the Middy’s worn out second hand stock. The railway now settled down to a few years of unspectacular life under its new ownership but by 1933, with the effects of the depression, the LNER was looking seriously at the lines future.
As late as August 1939 hopes that the track might still be extended to Halesworth were expressed, and with the outbreak of war in September 1939, the line saw an increase in use. Asphalt was moved from the plant at Haughley to both Horham and Mendlesham for the construction of the airfields and their facilities. Equipment and munitions also came via this now predominately freight line with high explosives sometimes being held at Gipping until they could be taken for rapid unloading at Mendlesham or Horham.
At the end of the war passenger services were again operated, and, under LNER management the ‘track renewal programme’ was resumed. The ‘Blackwall Tanks ‘ were replaced by the older but more powerful ‘J15’ 0-6-0’s which now took over all services until the lines closure.
The 1st January 1948 saw the creation of British Railways and the Mid-Suffolk branch was again under new management. This was to last for a further four and a half years.
The Middy now attracted enthusiasts and the attention of railway management before the axe fell on these branch lines. In November 1951 unions were notified of the planned closure of the line and appeals, made to save the line, fell on deaf ears. The end for the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway branch line came on Monday 28th July 1952 after public meetings failed to prevent the closure. The last J15, 65447, continued to run elsewhere until 1962. There is now just one preserved J15 engine operating on the North Norfolk Railway