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Railways of the Wissey (August 1997)

What follows is a series of extracts outlining the story of the construction and life of the King's Lynn to Ely railway and the Wissington Light Railway.  They come from an article published in I know not what magazine but duly credited to the author Geoffrey Body.

Contrary to what might be expected from its nature, the area through which the River Wissey flows has had more than its fair share of railways. In addition to the main line from King's Lynn to Ely there was a short branch line to Stoke Ferry and a network of agricultural lines connected to this and known as the Wissington Light Railway.

The East Anglian railway (opened 25th October, 1847) experienced many financial difficulties and eventually became part of the Eastern Counties Railway which in turn helped to form the Great Eastern Railway in 1862. Seventeen years later, on the 24th July, 1879, the Downham & Stoke Ferry Railway was incorporated. ……. The enabling Act provided for a line 71/8 miles long from a junction with the main line at Denver through Fordham, Abbey and Wretton to a point just south of Stoke Ferry village.

The Stoke Ferry line ….opened, the 1st August, 1882.

The first train of the day would leave Stoke Ferry's single platform at 8.30a.m. and then work to and from Downham, eventually arriving back at Stoke Ferry with the last train at 6.21 p.m. The passenger service disappeared as early as 1930 but the line still functions for traffic to and from the BSC factory at Abbey.

The Wissington Light Railway started its life just after the turn of the century as a sort of cross between an oversize private siding and a farm railway. It was severely damaged by floods when the Little Ouse broke its banks in 1915 but when the sugar beet factory was opened in 1925 the railway was acquired under a long lease and was nearly doubled in length with the specific object of providing transport facilities for sugar beet from areas which were not easily accessible by road. At this time there was 18 miles of track, one locomotive and nearly 100 wagons.

At the height of its development the light railway served over 30 loading points and even as late as 1954 carried nearly 25,000 tons of traffic. Its main function was the carriage of sugar beet to the factory and of agricultural traffic generally to and from the main line railway. From the Wissington factory the light railway headed south towards Larmans Fen with passing loops at Barretts, Cross Road Junction, Decoy and Poppylot siding. A branch from Cross Road Junction headed towards Hemplands, serving Halfway, Severals Siding and terminating at Common Dyke Loop. After Martingales Siding the main line divided into two with one arm passing through Methwold Fens and the other veering southwards towards Feltwell.

The Methwold arm terminated near the bank of the Ouse midway between Ferry Bank Farm and Flint House Farm. En route it came by way of Larmans, Six Oaks, Poppylot Farm, Fourscore, Wannage and Sedge Fen Farm, having also a short branch to Bourne. In the other direction there were three arms. The first ran from Cross Bank via Spinney to Anchor Sidings. The second left the main tributary at Black Drain and served Glead Farm and Old and New Shrub Hill in Feltwell Fen. The remaining arm ran via Corkway, Spencers, Whitedyke and Felt Road Siding to Whitedyke Farm. In all, quite a complicated system.

The Ministry of Agriculture requisitioned the line with effect from the 24th August, 1941 in view of the importance of wartime food production.

…it continued to serve a useful existence until the end finally came on the 1st July, 1957, when the Ministry ceased to operate a service. Thus, after a full life, the light railway was replaced by road transport leaving the Stoke Ferry branch to go on dealing with its freight trains in the area of the Wissey.

On a different but related note is this quote from 'The Wissington Railway, A Fenland Enterprise by Roger Darsley, published by The Industrial Railway Society in 1984'

The aerodrome at Feltwell, built for the Royal Flying Corps, was started in 1917, but the War ended before it was completed. To carry materials for constructing the runways a 2ft 0in gauge railway was laid by contractors, Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, from Lakenheath GER station to the airfield site, running on the grass verge of the left (west) side of the Lakenheath to Feltwell road.

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