The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Local group - events and information.

Meetings and activities, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For more information on recent events and current programme, please email or contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434

 East Anglian Railway Museum visit - July 2021

On 13th of July, some members of Foxearth History Society were treated to a guided tour of the East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel and Wakes Colne station. Anyone who travels on the Marks Tey line will have noticed a variety of rolling stock and buildings, probably not knowing the museum’s story, and just how much there is to be seen there.

Our group arrived (by train and road), to be met by Peter Martin, a FHS member, EARM volunteer, lifelong railwayman – and a very knowledgeable and entertaining speaker!

He explained that, although the line was opened in 1849 after the building of the massive Chappel Viaduct, the original plans for the route had been rather different. The viaduct – with 7 million bricks the largest brick structure in East Anglia - enabled the current line to be built, with the objective of connecting Colchester Hythe docks to Sudbury, and later Norwich, Cambridge and beyond. Other branch lines were built, often by different Railway Companies, such as the one from Chappel to Halstead and Haverhill.

By the late Victorian era, East Anglia was criss-crossed with many small branch lines, that had largely replaced canals and horse-drawn carts for carrying bulk goods – wheat, coal, bricks in our case – and passengers. The original Chappel station building was replaced in 1891 by the elegant and grandiose building we see today. In those days the railways’ long-term future would have seemed secure.

But by the time the Railway companies were nationalised in 1949, much had changed: road transport and private car ownership were growing fast, and many lines were overmanned and underused. In 1960 Dr Beeching was commissioned to report on how to modernise British Railways and, without long-term foresight or vision, in 1963 he recommended (and the Government largely accepted) that all unprofitable lines should simply be closed. This included the Marks Tey to Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds line, so “the axe” seemed inevitable.

The railway museum group was first formed in the hope that they could operate a steam ‘heritage’ railway on the line, and took on board a largely empty site with some unwanted artefacts. But by a ‘quirk of fate’ the Sudbury to Marks Tey line alone survived. British Railways had failed to realise that a second Act of Parliament was needed to close this section, and by 1970 public pressure and growing demand caused a change of heart. So now the line could not be used by the East Anglian Railway Museum, which then set out on its 50 year (and ongoing) project to preserve and restore as much of the local railway heritage as possible.


Our tour began by crossing the footbridge, from where we had a marvellous view of the Colne Valley and the track crossing its viaduct (which looked surprisingly low from this vantage point). We were told that almost everything on the other side – tracks, signal box, rolling stock and most buildings – had been acquired by the museum, and moved and restored by museum volunteers. Even the footbridge had travelled from the old Sudbury station!

The signal box had come from Mistley, and visitors were given the opportunity to work the points and signals. Peter explained how accidents in the early days of rail transport had led to the stringent safety protocols in place today.

The rolling stock included a wide variety of engines and carriages, some on static display, and others fully functional that were used to give visitors short rides on Museum open days. One of these was a newly restored Railbus (seen on our visit flyer) which had worked this line before it was ‘retired’. It is one of only five in existence now, and unusually for British Railways it was a German design.

We were shown the old Goods Shed, a large brick building used for loading, and as a temporary store for goods being transferred at Chappel. We also saw the little hut outside for the Goods Clerk, whose daunting task was to ensure that everything passing through was recorded and sent to the correct destinations. As Peter pointed out, a goods train from Colchester to the Midlands would add and drop off wagons at most stations, and may end up with none of its original cargo at the final destination! “Cargo” could include anything from live cattle to private parcels to bulk goods! The logistics and admin involved, using only paper, pen and ink, is difficult to imagine for us now.

The goods shed now houses some beautifully restored carriages, and an original railway crane. (It is also home to beer kegs, when the Chappel Beer Festival takes place!)

Much restoration work is progressing behind the scenes, and our group had the chance to visit the Restoration Shed which is not usually open to the public. We saw a large dismantled locomotive with its boiler away for certification – it is planned that it will be restored to working condition and active again before long. Also a variety of wooden passenger carriages that had typically been scrapped by BR and ended up as private sheds, beach huts, and so on – then rescued to be preserved and restored by the volunteers. One particular example had been bought privately for £350, then donated to EARM – the cost of a full restoration was estimated at over £100,000 - so fund-raising activity is always vital.

The museum is a charity, funded totally by donations and staffed by volunteers. It runs open days at weekends, when a short section of track alongside Chapel station is used to carry passengers for a real taste of the old railways. Our visit ended with thanks from Clare Mathieson to the volunteer guides, and a thank you in return from Peter for the donations made by the Society and individuals to their museum funds.


Programme of events: 2021


Sat 12th

  Ashley Cooper 

Guided visit to the site of the Roman Villa and Museum, Gestingthorpe


Tues 13th

Peter Martin

Visit to East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappel & Wakes Colne station.

7.00pm start, convenient for train from Sudbury.  (Fully booked)


Tues 10th

Isobel Clarke

“10 years in the Arab world”

Venue: The Pinkuah Arms, Pentlow, CO10 7JW  -  7.30 start.


Tues 14th

Peter Jones:  

A showing of archive 1936 Film ‘The Night Mail

With a talk on the background to the making of the film.  


Tues 12th

Richard Humphries 

 What it takes to make a yard of cloth (55 years in textiles)


Tues 9th  

Martyn Lockwood:

19th & 20th Century Law & Order in our Rural North Essex. 


Tues 14th

Members’ Christmas meal - The George, Cavendish.  Details TBC



Meetings are held in Foxearth Village Hall 7.30pm (unless otherwise stated).

New members and friends are always welcome.

 Visitors £2 per visit   Members £10 per year


For more information, contact:

Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787  281434