Railway line walk
This land is owned and maintained by the Parish Council of Great and Little Whelnetham. Although it is not a public footpath you are welcome to enjoy it at your leisure. Dog bins are provided at each end of the walk. We do not insist that dogs are not on leads but the land is not fenced so please keep them under close control. Please use the land as you would use a public footpath; please do not hunt, shoot, lay traps or ride horses, motorbikes, scooters or vehicles.
The eastern end of the land has been designated by Suffolk Wildlife Trust as a County Wildlife Site. Its chalky banks support a good flora; field scabious, twayblade, bee orchids and wild basil amongst other plants. Other areas of dense scrub provide an ideal habitat for breeding birds. Slow worms have been recorded here in good numbers. The Parish Council receives regular advice from Suffolk Wildlife Trust on sensitive and appropriate management of the site.
The land was formerly part of the main railway line from Bury St Edmunds to Long Melford, opened in 1865. The line brought work and benefit to the area, enabling farmers to sell produce further afield.
Trains left the “Eastgate” station in Bury; a station that stood where the A14 now crosses Eastgate Street. Whelnetham’s station was at the eastern end of this walk, in the area still called “Station Hill”. After Whelnetham trains called at Cockfield, Lavenham and Long Melford. At Melford connections could be made to Marks Tey and London.
In the Second World War airfields were built in the area and the line was used to carry construction materials, soldiers and munitions. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth used the line to visit troops, travelling incognito, under the name “Mr and Mrs Groves”.
In the 1950s Whelnetham’s residents had a choice of four trains a day to London. An example appears in the Suffolk Free Press of 1955;
300 people from the Lavenham and Bury area took advantage of excursions to Aladdin on Ice at the Empire Stadium, Wembley. The train travelled direct to Wembley Hill Station, only two minutes from the theatre. Food was served on the train, programs distributed and railway officials toured the compartments making sure that passengers were conversant with the arrangements. An official said “we believe this approach is paying long term dividends”
Sadly for Whelnetham those dividends were not long lasting. Many branch lines were closed during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Whelnetham was no exception. The fact that its station was some distance from the villages it served made other modes of transport more convenient. By the 1960s the line was making large financial losses. It closed to passengers in 1961 and shut for good on the 19th of April 1965.
For more information visit www.whelnetham.com