The Railway comes to Newmarket
Rail transport in Britain had its crude beginnings in 1825 when the first rail line was laid by the Stockton & Darlington Railway Company. By 1829 George Stephenson had designed his much improved ‘Rocket’ engine that proved it could haul wagons carrying heavy loads of coal or passengers over the 26 mile stretch at an average speed of 12 miles per hour.
The new age had begun and from then on railways spread fast across the country as a railway boom developed. Many different companies, small and large, competed for a share of what, for at least over the next 10 years, proved to be a lucrative market, attracting much Stock Market capital.
This new means of transport offered great advances in speed and comfort over horse drawn coaches. Motor road vehicles would not appear for another 50 years, the roads were bad and those wishing to travel any distance had to put up with the discomfort, possible overnight stops with change of horses and even the danger of highwaymen. The spread of the railways was by no means planned or orderly being driven mainly by profit motives. Here follows a Timeline of how the development affected Newmarket:
1836: The Eastern Counties Railway was the dominant force in East Anglia having been the benefactor of take-overs of many of the small East Anglian railways and in subsequent years the Newmarket Railway, Eastern Union, East Anglian and the various Norfolk Railways. Huge investment money was being poured into rail stocks as it seemed that this new technology would bring continued high growth and large dividends
1843: Eastern Counties Railway completed the London – Colchester line.
1845: A prospectus was issued for a seventeen-and-a-half-mile line from Gt Chesterford to Newmarket. The former was on the main London – Cambridge line so this would provide Newmarket with a rail connection to the capital.
1846: The Newmarket and Great Chesterford Railway (Later known as the Newmarket Railway) gained an Act of Parliament in July to build the new railway, with an additional branch from Six Mile Bottom to Cambridge.
The first spadeful of earth was dug at Dullingham in September to the accompaniment of party mood celebrations. Within a month up to 3000 ‘navvies’ were at work on the line.
The Colchester – Ipswich line was completed by Eastern Counties Railway and by December Eastern Union Railway had extended it to Bury St Edmunds. The frenzied stock market bubble was coming to an end, companies were getting into financial difficulties or were amalgamated and fortunes were being lost.
1848: (January) Newmarket Railway opened the twin track Gt Chesterford to Newmarket line to goods and passenger traffic, with intermediate stops at Bourn Bridge (Gt Abington), Balsham Road, Six Mile Bottom and Dullingham. Four passenger trains each way operated on weekdays, The rolling stock included six tender locomotives built by Gilkes, Wilson and Company of Middlesborough, first class, second class and third class carriages, luggage vans and horse boxes.
Newmarket Railway started to lay the line from Six Mile Bottom to Cambridge but lack of funding forced the work to be stopped. The new station building opened at the Newmarket end of the line at All Saints Road and was graced with a splendid terminus building of grandiose design and Baroque style columns.
No attribution has been given for the architect but is was probably either Philip Hardwick or John Braithwaite, the latter also responsible for building work on the line. The Goods Yard with sidings, coal yard, turntable, water tower and stables were constructed with access from Granby Street. Passengers wishing to go on to Bury St Edmunds had to hire a horse carriage at Newmarket.
1850: In June financial difficulties and industrial/political pressure from Eastern Counties Railways forced the closing of the Gt Chesterford /Newmarket Railway, so Newmarket lost its rail connection, only to be reopened in September of the same year by enthusiastic but inexperience businessmen in an attempt to stave off insolvency. The line was reduced to single track.
1851: The reclaimed track was used by E.C.R. to build a new line from Six Mile Bottom to Cambridge
1851: (October) The Six Mile Bottom to Cambridge line opened. At the same time the Six Mile Bottom to Great Chesterford line finally closed. From then on passengers travelling between Newmarket and London would go via Cambridge.
1852/54: The single line 1km long Warren Hill Tunnel was built under Warren Hill training grounds, Moulton Road and Bury Road thus enabling extension of the lines to Bury St. Edmunds and subsequently to Ely (see more detailed description below)
Contrary to some belief the tunnel was bored, not cut and covered. At the start, to cross Old Station Road, it was bored but that collapsed and so that part was eventually a cut and cover, but the rest, under the Heath was bored all the way
1854: With the completion of the tunnel Eastern Counties Railway laid the rail to Bury St Edmunds, therefore completing the line to Ipswich. ECR abandoned plans for an extension to Thetford which would have threatened its London – Norwich line running via Ely.
A new station known as the Lower was built to avoid through trains having to back-track out of the dead end of the Upper station. For some years, in effect, two separate stations existed at All Saint’s Road, side by side but at different levels, connected by stairs and sharing a restaurant room. The Upper was for the termination of the old line from Six Mile Bottom, the Lower served the new through line to Bury.
It was built to alleviate trains from Bury and Cambridge having to reverse in and out of the Upper Station. The New Station of 1902 rendered both Upper and Lower stations obsolete. By August of this year an Act of Parliament gave The Eastern Counties virtual control of railways in East Anglia.
1858: The remaining track from the obsolete Gt Chesterford line had been removed and used for other rail extensions.
1862: Under an Act of Parliament The Great Eastern Railway amalgamated The Eastern Counties, East Anglian, Newmarket, Eastern Union and Norfolk Railways, who in turn had taken over some thirty odd smaller companies.
1874: Liverpool Street Station opened giving an improved connection to the capital
1879: The Newmarket to Ely line opened, allowing rail connections to the north.
1885: Warren Hill Station was completed at the northern exit of the tunnel to cope with increasing race going passengers from the east and north.
Warren Hill Station was reached down a flight of steps from Bury Road.
It included sidings, a ticket office and waiting room. The picture (right) was taken in 1938
1896: The Newmarket/Cambridge Line had a new junction with the main Ely/Cambridge line at Coldham’s Common, thus avoiding the delays caused by the previous difficult crossing of main lines to enter Cambridge Station.
1902: Newmarket’s grand ‘New’ station opened together with the construction of the access road ‘The Avenue’ giving better connections to the town and racecourses. Both were made possible by substantial financial backing by millionaire racehorse owner Colonel Harry McCalmont of Cheveley Park (for a more detailed description of the station see below).
From its opening in 1902 the imposing station at the top of The Avenue dealt with much increased passenger traffic, especially on race days.
The Avenue 1906. The elegant approach to the new station.
Houses for the wealthy are being built and trees have been planted bordering the road.
1902: Coincident with the opening of the new station came the closure of the ‘old’ (All Saints) station to passenger traffic although it continued to deal with increasing horse and general parcel traffic. Cattle destined for the Cattle Market and slaughterhouse at the rear of The Waggon and Horses Inn, were unloaded into pens built on the north side of the wide bridge above The Avenue at the point where it becomes New Cheveley Road. Six rail lines crossed the bridge, including the two main up and down lines, the Ely line and shunt lines.
The adjacent goods and shunting yard grew over the next decades, heavy horses were used for shunting individual goods wagons and were stabled adjacent to the turntable (see more details below).
As locomotives became larger the original small 45ft turntable was replaced by a 60ft table. Eventually even that was insufficient, and engines were turned using the Warren Hill/Snailwell Junction/Chippenham Junction triangle. This involved proceeding engine first up one side of the triangle. then reversing tender first along the Snailwell/Chippenham connection to return engine first to the Goods Yard, down the other side.1910 Rail travel reached its peak during the late 19th and the first decade of the 20th centuries.
1914-18: During the Great War the railway and goods yard were busy moving troops and armaments. The old All Saints Station building was used as a temporary respite/hospital for wounded soldiers.
1923: The L.N.E.R. (London and North Eastern Railway) company took over the lines from the Great Eastern company, but already there had been a slow decline in rail travel due to emerging road transport.
A train heading towards the tunnel passing the Old Lower station platform, circa early 1920s.
The termination of the original line from Gt Chesterford can be seen at high level on the right of the picture (see 1854 above). The engine appears to be a T19 4-4-0 (R.Harris)
1935: Warren Hill Station ceased dealing with regular rail traffic.
1939 – 1945: The war years created an exceptionally busy period for strategically positioned Newmarket Station when traffic increased by 600%. The Goods Yard proved invaluable for the handling of armaments including tanks and armoured vehicles, as well as thousands of tons of road making and building material for the many airfields being constructed in East Anglia. Race meetings continued throughout the war years and many race specials had to be dealt with in addition to the military traffic.
Click here to go to the IWM website, where there are several wartime movie clips for you to explore. In the search box just enter Newmarket, it is amazing what you can find.
This crossing allowed the signalman to walk from the Newmarket Yard signal box to pass/collect the single line tablet from the engine driver after entering/leaving the tunnel. The tablet ensured only one train on the single line through the tunnel.
A crossing keeper had a small hut on the Cambridgeshire (south) side of the line in which he sat all day, Rick Harris recalls his name as Mr Charlie Dickens. The pedestrian crossing of the Goods Yard from Granby Street to Cricket Field Road lies about a hundred yards back. The rest of the Goods Yard and Newmarket Station are still further behind. The main line leading to the tunnel is on the right.
In the centre is the platform that once divided the Upper and Lower stations. The Old Station complex is almost out of sight to the far left. (Picture P .Norman)
1945: Warren Hill Station finally closed
1945: After the arduous work and neglected maintenance during the war the rail network and rolling stock was in a poor condition, the L.N.E.R. company suffered near bankruptcy and could not afford the repairs and improvements necessary.
1948: (January) Nationalization of the Railways, British Railways became the owners of all the main privately run railways, the L.N.E.R. then no longer existed
1960: Newmarket Station was still very busy. The records show that 64,679 passenger tickets were issued and 17,461 parcels handled during the year. On the goods side, caravans, agricultural implements, fertilizers and barley left the station and much paper imported from the USA was received. Horse traffic amounted to 1,073 sent and 1.573 received. The station building itself still retained its old importance, including the spacious booking hall with oak panelled walls on the up platform..
1963: The Dr Richard Beeching Rail “Reshaping of British Railways” report resulting in the closure of many branch lines.
1963: The last steam powered engines on scheduled routes gave way to diesel.
1964: Ely junction and signal box removed.
1966: The Newmarket Goods Yard remained busy with Newmarket based Caravans International exporting up to 50 Sprite caravans a day. These were loaded on to flat top trucks and taken by rail to Harwich for export to Europe.
1967: The ‘old’ All Saints station closed to rail traffic and the line was lifted a year later. The Newmarket Ely link also closed which meant that passengers could no longer travel directly between the two towns
1970s: The Cambridgeshire side of Newmarket’s ‘New’ station was demolished but left two lines and two platforms.
1980/85: Newmarket Station was down to one line and one platform The twin tracks to Cambridge and Bury were reduced to single track. Eventually the remainder of the once important station became commercial premises. All that was then left was the present day unmanned ‘station’ with entry from Green Road, with no facilities other than a short boarding platform and passenger shelters.
1981: After much debate Newmarket’s ‘old’ Gothic style station building was demolished despite being a listed building, it had become too costly to maintain and the money to preserve it could not be found. The land would eventually be used for the Armstrong Close residential development
circa 1993: Newmarket Goods Yard tracks lifted.
1994/7: Privatization of British Rail which was split into different companies.
2003: Newmarket’s Green Street ‘station’ benefited from new passenger shelters. better signage and security cameras in a ï¿½20,000 improvement project carried out by Anglia Railways.
The Building of the Tunnel under Warren Hill Training Ground
The tunnel which is almost exactly 1 km long was built between 1852 and 1854 under an Act of Parliament obtained to build an extension from Newmarket to Bury St Edmunds. The engineers were Robert Stephenson and John Braithwaite, the contractors Thomas Jackson of Cambridge. The maximum depth is stated to be only 30 ft and it is built on a curve. For a length of 170 ft from the Newmarket end the ground was opened out but the rest of the tunnel was bored in the conventional manner.
Great care had to be exercised to avoid collapse due to the relatively shallow depth of soil over the tunnel. However in 1853 two separate cave-ins of earth occurred at the Newmarket end resulting in some delay but no casualties.
During World War II several famous figures visited Newmarket by train, including Churchill, General Eisenhower and Montgomery. Members of the Royal family including King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the Princesses also passed through, and it is believed that the carriages were sometimes shunted into the tunnel so that their V.I.P passengers could spend the night safe from air-raids.
The Goods Yard Shunt Horses
Up to the mid-1960s heavy horses were used to shunt individual wagons among the various sidings in Newmarket’s Goods Yard, where they were stabled within the Yard complex. In the 1950s/60s one of their main tasks was the shunting of wagons loaded with caravans, the output the Fordham Road factory of CI (Caravans International), destined for export.
The three longest serving horses were Charlie, Tommy, and Butch, with handlers Lawrence ‘Lol’ Kelly, Terry Cummings and Bill Hulyer.
Lol Kelly explained: “The shunting operation began with hooking the tug chain from the harness onto the box car. Then the driver would take a firm hold of the reins, pulling well back, and letting the horse move gently forward until it was down almost on its knees with hindlegs extended. Sometimes the driver didn’t keep a firm hold and then the horse would snatch forward, the load remaining static. It would be like hitting a brick wall”.
Charlie was a cross-breed but basically Clydesdale weighing a mere 16 Cwt, who at six years of age had started his rail career at Camden Town goods yard and had worked at various other rail yards around the country before coming to Newmarket. He was renowned for his good temper and obedient nature.
Butch could have his off days, when he had to be coaxed to work as he suffered from a bad back from an earlier injury. Rather poignantly, when Butch retired in April 1965, the horsebox taking him to his retirement home in Somerset was shunted by his old working partner Charlie.
Towards the end of their career the horses had acquired almost celebrity status and Charlie even appeared on the TV ‘Tonight’ programme and was interviewed by presenter Fyfe Robertson. In 1965 Lol Kelly appeared with Charlie at the Horse of the Year Show, Wembley, before the Princess Margaret.
An affectionate bond existed between horse and handler and when Charlie retired in February 1967 Lol felt he had lost an old friend. Charlie spent his final years in a paddock in Somerset, near to where he had been foaled.
NEW: Dec.2020..Pathe News film clip of Lol and Charlie … select here.
The ‘New’ (1902) Station
The imposing station, together with The Avenue connection to High Street, opened in 1902 and was funded by local millionaire racehorse owner Sir Harry McCalmont, who saw the great benefit to the Newmarket racing industry.
Some of the Jockey Club hierarchy had at first opposed the new station as they thought it would bring in the wrong class of visitors. High Street shopkeepers were apprehensive too as they thought that the more direct route to the racecourses afforded by The Avenue would lose them trade. Attitudes changed, however, when it became obvious that the railway had brought considerable new wealth to the town.
The station was entered through a wide concourse with ample parking for the many horse carriages plying for hire.
The two platforms, covered by decorative canopies and linked by a passenger subway, were some of the longest in East Anglia and were designed to accommodate race day specials. The platform on the town side was entered through an imposing oak panelled booking hall leading in to the ‘down’ line to Bury. Facilities included the Station Master’s office, Parcels Office and cloakrooms.
The platform, for the Cambridge ‘up’ line, had a smaller panelled booking hall accessed from Crockford’s Road, where there was a wide forecourt enclosed by iron railings. Passengers had the use of comfortable 1st and 2nd class waiting rooms and restaurants on both platforms and a W. H. Smith bookstall on the upside (the bookstall was destroyed by fire sometime after 1953).
A dock ending with buffers was provided on the Crockford’s Road side of the ‘up’ platform for passengers using the Ely line. Two separate side by side lines entered the dock, this enabled the engine to uncouple, crossover to the second line and then back-up to the turntable to rejoin the other end of the carriages, facing in the right direction for the return journey.
For some 70 years this prestigious building was the main Newmarket station and it was not until the 1970s that the decline started. By this time much passenger and goods traffic had moved onto the roads.
David Rippington, who took this photo, says that he remembers the box was later shifted off its foundations by a freak whirlwind that hit Newmarket. Peter Norman remembers that the box was hit by a tornado in 1978 and was subsequently demolished.
Local railway historian Rick Harris has sent these details:
The box shown was known as Newmarket Station a name the Box Diagram carried in my days, although the box running board only ever carried the name Newmarket. I have the board in my collection.
The yard itself had its own box known as Newmarket Yard Junction on its diagram but the running in board showed Newmarket Yard. This was the bigger of the two boxes and was brick built.
The Station box had approximately 30 levers and the Yard box 50 levers. The Station box also had a small subsidiary box near the Woodditton Road Bridge which housed a ground frame of about twelve levers. This was used at one time when the Down platform was used in tandem with the Up platform for Race Day specials.
The Station box was still in use at the time of the gales and although most of the levers had gone, it housed the Tyler machine for working the single line between Chippenham Junction and Newmarket, having taken over from the Yard box when it was demolished. This was later moved to Dullingham box.
Newmarket Station Today
Today Newmarket can hardly boast the possession of a railway station, certainly not in terms of the grandeur of stations of the past. The unmanned rail stop accessed from Green Road can perhaps more aptly be described as a halt. Its facilities are confined to a long broad platform, some decent enclosed shelters and cycle racks.
Two-carriage diesel powered Sprinter trains provide an hourly service during weekdays.
Update February 2016: The photos below were taken in March 2013 and the Station facilities have now been much improved and there is an impressive Newmarket history Timeline display bordering the entrance road.
Several sources have been delved into for material for this article. Our own NLHS archives contain many pictures, reports, Newmarket Journal newspaper cuttings etc.
Much detailed information on the chronology of the railways development and its general history has come from knowledgeable local railways historian Rick Harris.
Thanks are due to various suppliers of photographs, including Peter Norman, Roger Newman, Derek Coombes and Keith Watt
December 2014: Since the launch of this article in 2013, Nick Catford has added to his website on disused stations to include stations on the Newmarket and Chesterford line. Of particular interest are many pictures and descriptions of Newmarket and Dullingham stations,
Article compiled by Rodney Vincent (webmaster NLHS) 2013.