Eastern Union Railway
|Dates of operation||1846–1856|
|Successor||Eastern Counties Railway (1854)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The Eastern Union Railway (EUR) was an early English railway, initially sanctioned by Act of Parliament on 19 July 1844, with authorised capital of £200,000 to build a railway from Ipswich to Colchester. Further Acts of 21 July 1845 and 26 June 1846 authorised further increases in capital of £50,000 and £20,000 respectively. The latter Act also specified the options for connection with the pre-existing Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) at Colchester, including effectively 'buying out' the ECR's unexercised rights immediately east of that station. One of the main protagonists was John Chevallier Cobbold and the engineer was Peter Bruff.
- 1 Background
- 2 Opening
- 3 Ipswich and Bury Railway
- 4 Hadleigh Branch
- 5 Extension to Norwich
- 6 Other lines
- 7 The Stour Valley
- 8 Locomotives
- 9 1850 Timetable
- 10 The Eastern Counties Railway takeover
- 11 References
- 12 Notes
The first railway scheme for East Anglia was proposed in 1825 when a scheme known as the Norfolk and Suffolk railroad was being promoted by the swindler John Wilks. This venture failed to attract much interest as did a second scheme mooted that year aiming to join Ipswich, Eye (then a prominent market town) to Diss. However with no mineral deposits to carry and being a sparsely populated area the railway also died a natural death. Eight years later in 1833 businessmen in the Lavenham area consulted engineer James Walker about building a railway from Bury St Edmunds to Ipswich with branches to Hadleigh and Lavenham. Two prominent members of this committee were John Cobbold (17714-1860) and his son John Chevalier Cobbold (a solicitor).
The first prospectus for a railway through Ipswich came from the Eastern Counties Railway in 1834. East Anglian agriculture was in a depressed state at this time so finding supporters of this scheme was difficult; In November 1835 meetings were held with Henry Bosanquet the chairman of the ECR provisional committee putting the case for the railway. In Suffolk the Cobbolds both attended a number of meetings. The ECR acquired its parliamentary bill on 4 July 1836 with the line proposed to run from London to Great Yarmouth. The Cobbolds, whilst the ECR bill was undergoing its passage through parliament, had the 1833 scheme revisited by engineer John Braithwaite.
Construction of the ECR began from the London end in spring 1837 but progress was slow and purchase of land proved to be more expensive than expected. John Cobbold was a director of the ECR, but as it became evident that the ECR would not reach as far as Suffolk and Norfolk and after attempting various legal means to force the ECR to build their promised railway, he began to look elsewhere for a solution.
It was however Peter Bruff, an engineer recently dismissed by the Eastern Counties Railway, who formed the Eastern Union Railway and approached John Chevallier Cobbold.
Bruff had surveyed and proposed a different route via Manningtree to Ipswich and this scheme was cheaper than the Braithwaite’s 1833 proposal. The first public meeting took place on 8 August 1843 and by November the EUR were advertising their intentions of building the railway (as was required by the law). The Eastern Union Bill received its first reading on 14 March 1844 and received its royal assent on 19 July 1844.
Construction of the line commenced on 1 October 1844 near Bentley. Plant and materials were landed at Cattawade on the River Stour. The main contractor was Thomas Brassey who subsequently, as was the practice, let parcels of work to sub-contractors. Seven men were killed in the construction of the line between Colchester and Ipswich with a further three killed during the construction of Ipswich tunnel.
By May 1845 the earthworks were complete between Ipswich and Ardleigh and the timber viaducts across the Stour were completed in December although the embankments each side were not completed until May 1846 and with the last section of track being laid the line was complete. The first train to operate over the line ran on 2 May 1846, from Ipswich to Colchester took one hour and thirty minutes to complete the journey.
The inspection of the line was delayed – the inspector was elsewhere – but goods services commenced on 1 June 1846. A few days later the inspector duly arrived and the line was passed for public service. The official opening took place on 11 June 1846 and a train departed Ipswich for Colchester where it picked up a number of notaries including chairman of the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) George Hudson and engineer Joseph Locke. On return to Ipswich lavish celebrations took place for all involved in the railway and in the evening a balloon ascent over the town was made by Charles Green (balloonist).
The line opened for public service on 15 June 1846 from an end-on junction with the ECR at its Colchester station to a terminus at Ipswich. The distance was 17 miles with three intermediate stations, Ardleigh, Manningtree and Bentley. This now forms part of the Great Eastern Main Line.
Ipswich and Bury Railway
Another company, the Ipswich and Bury Railway Company (I&BR), was formed to build a line to Bury St Edmunds. Its Act of 21 July 1845 authorised capital of £400,000 and although theoretically separate from EUR it shared many shareholders and directors. The companies also shared the same head office location in Brook Street, Ipswich.
The proposed line was 26.5 miles long, with intermediate stations at Bramford, Claydon, Needham, Stowmarket, Haughley Road, Elmswell and Thurston. The route of the line followed the Gipping Valley and the trustees of the Gipping (then a navigable river) had approached the I&BR when the parliamentary acts were being prepared to lease the river in the hope that this would secure the rivers future.
The ground breaking ceremony took place on 1 August 1845 where twelve local worthies (including the mayor of Ipswich, Bruff and John Chevallier Cobbold) each filled a wheelbarrow with soil.
In Ipswich rather than have an end-on connection from the planned Ipswich station, instead a connection slightly to the west via a new tunnel under Stoke Hill was planned. The 361 yard tunnel, believed to be one of the first to be built completely on a curve, proved challenging to build with significant water ingress. In fact Bruff even considered abandoning the tunnel but in a report to the directors in January 1846 he reported: “The tunnel through Stoke Hill has anxiously occupied my attention but I am happy to state that the difficulties which at one time appeared to seriously interpose against our progress have now been surmounted”
There was considerable public unrest in Ipswich between the miners building the tunnel and the navvies working on the track with the former being much better paid than the latter.
The tunnel was completed in September 1846 and on the 19th some 50 diners enjoyed dinner in the tunnel to the (no doubt) loud accompaniment of a brass band. A further challenge for the railways engineers was in the Stowmarket area where local marsh swallowed up a lot of material with test probes finding the bog was 80 feet deep! The railway employed George Stephenson’s solution for the Chat Moss bog (a mere 40 feet deep) and a raft of brushwood and faggots was used to give the embankment a firm footing. The River Gipping was also diverted to aid the project.
On 26 November 1846 the first test train ran to Bury St Edmunds with stops at most stations on the route with the inevitable lavish celebrations. The station at that time had not been completed so a temporary station sufficed. The official opening followed on 7 December 1846 when a special train ran from Shoreditch (later Bishopsgate railway station) to Bury. The Board of Trade inspection took place on the 15 December 1846 and the line opened for traffic on 24 December. The station at Bury opened in November 1847.
In order to call at the original Ipswich station, trains from Bury St Edmunds would work past the site of the EUR station and then reverse in so passengers could alight.
The EUR and I&BR were worked as one from 1 January 1847, and formal amalgamation was obtained by Act of 9 July 1847.
The small market town of Hadleigh was seven miles away from the Eastern Union’s new line at Bentley. Local man Rowland Hill [notes 1] formed the notionally independent Eastern Union and Hadleigh Railway (EUR&HR ) and obtained an act of parliament on 18 June 1846 to build a branch from Bentley to Hadleigh. The act authorised the company to raise £75,000 but the Board of Trade stipulated that the company would have to double the line after a year of operation if the government requested it.
John Chevalier Cobbold was elected chairman and his after and a number of EUR directors were also on the board. The company shared the same secretary and engineer (Bruff) and in fact a lease was agreed months before the act had been passed.
Work commenced on 5 September 1846 at Hadleigh with formal opening on 20 August 1847 and goods traffic commencing the following day. The station buildings at the stations at were not completed on opening and on 16 September 1847 a wall collapsed at Hadleigh station injuring 65 people waiting for an excursion to Ipswich.
The act allowing the purchase of the EUR&HR by the EUR was passed in June 1847 and formally completed on 20 October of that year.
Extension to Norwich
The extension of the EUR with a line to Norwich was not popular with the ECR who had planned their own extension through Debenham, Eye and Harlaston. The EUR route left the Bury line at Haughley and ran through Diss to Norwich Victoria. The line was laid out by Joseph Locke assisted by Peter Bruff and contractor Thomas Brassey.
The building of the line provided a number of challenges another marshy stretch known as Thrandeston Bog [notes 2] which was overcome in a similar manner to that at Stowmarket. The River Waveney was bridged by a three-arch viaduct near Diss but more problematic was the viaduct at Lakenham just south of Norwich. The EUR was short of capital and the slow progress on the viaduct which had been started in 1847 was causing concern in Norwich. Samuel Bignold of the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society was elected to the board and he immediately raised the money required to finish the viaduct. It was in fact Bignold who laid the last two bricks to complete the viaduct.
The line was opened in stages: from Haughley to Finningham (4 miles) on 7 June 1848, from Finningham to Burston (11 miles) on 2 July 1849 and finally through to Norwich Victoria (18½ miles) on 1 December 1849. Interestingly the station building at Victoria had once housed a circus and entertainment centre known as Ranelagh Gardens.
Goods traffic commenced on 3 December 1849 with regular passenger services commencing nine days later.
Unfortunately Victoria offered no onward rail connections, so a one mile connecting spur was built (at a gradient of 1 in 84 and the steepest on the EUR system) to join the Norfolk Railway (by now controlled by the ECR) route into Norwich Thorpe station. The first trains - specials to Great Yarmouth races - ran on 9 September 1851 although regular services did not start until 1 October. This was the last section of railway built by the EUR before takeover by the ECR.
The City Corporation insisted some trains continue to serve Victoria and managed to get a clause inserted into the 1854 act allowing the lease of the EUR by the ECR which meant trains had to continue to serve Victoria which they did until 1916.
The opening of the Norwich extension saw the EUR close the station at Haughley Road and open Haughley railway station in its stead. New intermediate stations on the extension were (from the south proceeding northwards), Finningham, Mellis, Diss, Burston, Tivetsall, Forncett, Flordon and Swainsthorpe (which actually opened in 1850).
Lines to Ipswich Docks
The EUR built two freight only lines into Ipswich Docks.
One of these left the main line at Halifax Junction, crossed Wherstead Road and served Griffin Wharf. Construction commenced in 1846 and was completed in spring 1847. One early use of the line was coke from Ransome's Coke ovens and coal that had been delivered by river.
In fact the railway in this area was extended the following October to accommodate this traffic.
The other was built as a branch off the Bury line in 1848, crossing the River Gipping adjacent to the station and serving the northern side of the docks area. The town corporation would not allow steam engines to pass over Stoke Bridge.[notes 3] so the dockside tramway was worked by horses until the corporation relented in 1880.
An early customer of this line was a carriage building company called Quadling. Initially starting business as Catt and Quadling they built a number of carriages for the EUR at a works in Handford Road in Ipswich. This premises which had no railway access was blown down in a gale in February 1847 damaging several carriages under construction and after that Catt withdrew from the rail side of the business but continued making road carts. Quadling relocated to new premises (located in the modern day Quadling Street in Ipswich) and had a siding off the branch. The company built further carriages for the EUR and Great Western Railway as well as some coal wagons. However this premises also suffered significant gale damage in February 1863 leading to Quadling becoming bankrupt.
Ipswich Lower Goods Yard was constructed by the ECR on this line in 1860.
Following the loss of the contract for carrying mail to Holland and North Germany in 1832 there was a need to revive the economic fortunes of Harwich. As early as 1836 a line was surveyed from Colchester and in 1841 the railway speculator John Attwood announced he would use £20,000 of his own money to fund a railway as part of his campaign to become one of the town’s MPs. With the assistance of other bribes he was elected.
The mayor reminded him of his promise in 1843 when the ECR had reached Colchester and Attwood presented a bill to parliament in 1844. Attwood was so confident that he had ordered the rails for his line before parliament rejected his (and another competing scheme) in May 1844. Further attempts were presented to parliament and failed in 1845 and 1846. In fact the 1846 scheme failed because the House of Lords (allegedly) felt it had passed too many railway schemes that session! It was the EUR who presented a bill to parliament that succeeded in getting the requisite parliamentary act which became law on 22 July 1847 authorising £200,000 worth of shares. Work started near Manningtree in October 1848.
The EUR in the meantime was having difficulty funding its Norwich extension considered using the £200,000 on that line rather than the Harwich branch. Harwich MP John Bagshaw objected violently and took out an injunction to stop the EUR using the money for this purpose. Meanwhile work on the railway was in abeyance. Work finally began on the single track branch [notes 4] in January 1853 and on 29 July 1854 the first train ran. The Board of Trade inspection was undertaken on 4 August with the line fully opening for traffic on the 15th.
However since the beginning of 1854 the ECR had been taken over the working of the EUR and this had been confirmed by Act of Parliament on 7 August so the first services were actually operated by the ECR. 
A local bard commemorated the opening thus:
"Hurrah for Harwich – now the rail
And stately ship with crowded sail
Shall soon bring Harwich trade and wealth
And sick'ning commerce bless with health"
In November 1846 both the EUR and I&BR proposing schemes to link Ipswich with Woodbridge, some 8 miles from Ipswich, were submitted to parliament. Both schemes were drawn up by Bruff and the EUR scheme involved a 1000 yard tunnel under Ipswich reaching Woodbridge via Kesgrave and Martlesham. The I&BR scheme was similar to the line that was in fact built and the act was passed on 9 July 1847 authorising share capital of £200,000.
In 1853 the East Suffolk Railway started to extend from Halesworth southwards towards Woodbridge and the EUR plans were amended to accommodate through running. As mentioned above the EUR was taken over by the ECR on 7 August 1854 and it was under the ECR that saw the line completed and opened on 1 June 1859. That day the ECR also took over operations of the East Suffolk Railway.
The Stour Valley
The Colchester, Stour Valley and Halstead Railway was promoted in 1845 with Bruff as engineer. The line consisted of two geographically separate sections - a 12 mile branch from Marks Tey to Sudbury, Suffolk, a branch from this line at Chappel to Halstead and a separate branch from Colchester to Hythe Quay. The plan was that trains would run over ECR metals between Marks Tey to Sudbury.
The act of parliament for the line was passed on 26 June 1846 with share capital authorised at £250,000 with up to £85,000 additional borrowing also authorised. A few weeks later the board, led by Thomas L’Estrange Ewen, agreed with the directors of the Ipswich & Bury Railway that they would lease the railway when completed. Work on constructing the line commenced early in 1847.
The line is notable for the viaduct over the Colne Valley at Chappel and preparation work started on this in July of this year although the foundation stone of the viaduct was not laid until 14 September. The viaduct consisted of 18 piers mounted on mass-concrete platforms. By February 1848 the foundations were complete and the piers were being built and the viaduct was complete one year later. Unusually, as most viaducts are level, the Sudbury end of the viaduct is 9 feet and 6 inches higher than the Marks Tey end.
In June 1848 the I&BR were in talks with the EUR and thee terms of the lease were rejected but fear of an ECR takeover saw that a deal was done. On 30 May 1849 a special train was run and after Board of trade approval was received trains started running on 2 July.
The EUR had running rights over the ECR line between Colchester and Marks Tey.
Hythe Quay Branch
This 1¾ mile freight only branch opened on 1 April 1847 using wagons purchased by the company and locomotives hired from the EUR. The first train carried coke and malt for Hanbury and Trumans brewery. A small goods station was established at Eastgate and in 1852 at Hythe in addition to the quay facilities.
In June 1851 the EUR had 31 locomotives breaking down thus:
|Builder||Wheel Arrangement||Number in service||Notes|
|Sharp Brothers||2-2-2||13||Some with 5' driving wheels , others 5' 6". Nos 1-6, 14-19 and 26|
|Hawthorns||2-2-2||3||Introduced 1846, 6' driving wheels Nos 11,12,13|
|Stothert & Slaughter||2-2-2||4||Nos 7,8,20,21|
|Stothert & Slaughter||0-4-2||6||Goods engines Nos 9,10,22-25|
|Sharp Brothers||2-2-2WT||4||Branch line use. Nos 27,29-31|
All locomotives carried a green livery and would have been maintained at Ipswich engine shed which at that time also functioned as the works facility for the EUR. The following locomotives were named:
- 1 - Colchester
- 2 - Ipswich
- 3 - City of Norwich
- 4 - Bury St Edmunds
- 5 - Orwell
- 6 - Stour
- 10 - Essex
- 11 - Suffolk[notes 5]
- 28 - Aeriel's Girdle
The March 1850 Bradshaw’s Guide saw Eastern Union services on page 33. Swainsthorpe was shown in the timetable although no trains were calling indicating it was not actually open when the guide went to print.
Weekday Down direction
In the down (from London) direction there were services from Colchester at 7:30 a.m. (all stations except Ardleigh and Claydon) to Norwich Victoria. The 10:50 a.m. departure to Norwich Victoria called all stations whilst the 1:10 p.m. omitted Ardleigh, Bramford, Claydon, Finningham, Burston and Flordon. The 3:30 p.m. was the last train from Colchester to Norwich and called all stations although Colchester departures at 8:05 p.m. called all stations to Ipswich whilst the following 10:49pm omitted to call at Bentley Junction on its way to Ipswich. This service also carried mail.
At Bentley Junction a connection from all the Norwich trains was available for the Hadleigh branch and connections to Bury St Edmunds were available from all the Colchester services at Haughley Junction although it is not clear whether these were through carriages or passengers had to change.
Weekday Up direction
In the up direction services departed Norwich Victoria at 7:20 and 11:10 in the morning and 4:15 and 5:30 in the afternoon. All of these services had connections from Bury St Edmunds although only three of them had connections at Bentley Junction. In the up direction there were also two early morning services from Ipswich to Colchester with the 1:20 a.m. mail train and the 7:00 a.m. giving a connection via the ECR to Liverpool Street arriving at 10:05 a.m.
There was one daily train between Colchester and Norwich (both directions) and three between Colchester and Ipswich. Hadleigh had no services on Sunday but it is not clear what the service to Bury St Edmunds was as it shows three services in the up direction and none in the down. This might be a printing error and the Ipswich starting trains may start from Bury St Edmunds.
The Eastern Counties Railway takeover
Throughout the EUR’s short life ECR chairman George Hudson and David Waddington were keen to protect their business and at various times the ECR was obstructive to the EUR. For instance at one point at Colchester the EUR would propel trains into the ECR station lest the ECR impound their locomotives whilst at Norwich EUR locomotives were not permitted to work into the ECR controlled Thorpe station. Sabotage of through connections at Colchester was another trick tried on occasion and the EUR even resorted to taking statements from their passengers with the intention of taking the ECR to court.
However there was co-operation as well and the two companies agreed in 1850 to pool all the London - Norwich fare revenue (the ECR owning the longer Cambridge route) and divided on a 75% (ECR) to 25% (EUR) basis. This reflected the route mileage split owned by the two companies on the two routes.
In November 1850 Cobbold presented a bill to parliament requesting running powers to London, Lowestoft and Yarmouth all over ECR operated lines. Indeed it looked like that year all through working of traffic may have ceased although this was averted in March 1851. It was just as well as the EUR finances were in a serious state with considerable debts from building the Norwich extension.
A series of cost cutting measures followed including closure of its London office, redundancies and wage reduction. In early 1851 the EUR directors discussed leasing the operation to the ECR and a proposal was made but rejected by the ECR.
The EUR debts were converted to creditor shares so the creditors got paid before the other shareholders and one of the significant creditors, Brassey, joined the board at this time. It was Brassey who was fundamental in negotiating the eventual takeover of the EUR. Waddington and ECR had in the interim been, making things difficult for the EUR and operating costs which had risen to a crippling 60% in 1850 and continued increasing.
In late 1853 negotiations began and were approved on 19 December 1853. David Waddington (Essex) who led the negotiations for the ECR drove a hard bargain leading Cobbold to remark "a strong minority of our Board consider that you have done us”.
The ECR took over the working of the EUR on 1 January 1854, a situation formally sanctioned by the Act of 7 August 1854. The two companies did not formally merge until they amalgamated with other railways to form the Great Eastern Railway in 1862.
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- It is not known whether this was the postal reformer Rowland Hill who was at one time on the board of the LB &SCR
- This section was subject to stabilisation work in 2009 and details can be found here - https://www.mottmac.com/article/5125/thrandeston-bog-embankment-stabilisation-uk
- At that date the first crossing point of the river
- The line was doubled in 1882 by the Great Eastern Railway and the Manningtree North Curve was added at that time
- It is possible that 10 was named Suffolk and 11 Essex