Gallery: Kindred Spirits - days of steam... and chips and collecting engine numbers from trains passing through Ipswich

The spectacular days of steam locomotives is captured in this photograph taken on the main Ipswich t

The spectacular days of steam locomotives is captured in this photograph taken on the main Ipswich to London line in the 1950s, as Britannia Pacific 70037 Hereward the Wake thunders through. (Photo by Aubrey Frost)

Trains pulled by steam locomotives used to attract children, mostly boys, to stations and track sides to collect engine numbers, writes David Kindred.

The spectacular days of steam locomotives is captured in this photograph taken on the main Ipswich t

The spectacular days of steam locomotives is captured in this photograph taken on the main Ipswich to London line in the 1950s, as Britannia Pacific 70037 Hereward the Wake thunders through. (Photo by Aubrey Frost)

This simple pleasure is mostly a thing of the past. When I was a child, in the late 40s and 50s, few families had a car and a day out to Felixstowe meant catching a bus or train.

I lived about a mile from Derby Road Station and would walk there with my parents to travel to Felixstowe Town Station and then on to Beach Station. There was a delay at Felixstowe Town Station while the locomotive was moved to the other end to pull the train to Beach Station.

The trip home usually saw me with a bag of chips from the fish and chip shop in Beach Station Road!

During the school summer holidays and at the weekend the trains were packed and often full with passengers from Ipswich and Westerfield stations. Families would have to wait for the next train.

Kindred Spirits reader Rod Cross has sent me his memories of steam locomotives and visiting Derby Road Station. He has researched the history of this Victorian station which was, when it was built, three-quarters of a mile from the nearest built up part of Ipswich.

The spectacular days of steam locomotives is captured in this photograph taken on the main Ipswich t

The spectacular days of steam locomotives is captured in this photograph taken on the main Ipswich to London line in the 1950s, as Britannia Pacific 70037 Hereward the Wake thunders through. (Photo by Aubrey Frost)

Sharing theses memories, one reader wrote:

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Back in the 1950s most young lads had a fascination with steam trains and had aspirations to become an engine driver when they grew up. I was no exception and spent many a blissful hour watching the trains pull in and out of Ipswich Station, revelling in the smell and the noise and listing the engine numbers of the great leviathans at their helm.

However, it was Derby Road Station where I first cut my teeth. My grandparents lived in Orwell Road, a stone’s throw away, and whenever I heard a train pull in, I’d dash out of the gate, race along the road to the corner of Stanley Avenue and balance precariously on the lowest of three strands of wire that was all that separated the railway from the road. The station buildings obscured my view, but once the train began to pull out I could see quite clearly the shiny-capped driver and his blue-coated fireman in the cab; the passengers, one or two leaning out of the drop-down windows, but most now settled contentedly in their seats and finally, the guard standing in the open door at the rear, still with green flag in hand, acknowledging the wave of the station-master as the train puffed its way out of the station towards Felixstowe. It was like a scene from a film.

Derby Road Station was opened on May 1, 1877, by the Felixstowe Railway and Pier Company in what, at the time, was described as ‘the most inconvenient, and out-of-the-way spot which could have been selected’. Initially, there were just six trains a day to and from Felixstowe and four to and from Westerfield, but once sold to the Great Eastern Railway (GER) in 1887, most trains continued through to the main Ipswich Station, just over six miles away.

When I first knew it, railways were already past their heyday, but Derby Road Station was still popular with day trippers to Felixstowe. On sunny summer days, they would cycle in from all over eastern Ipswich, pay a few pence to leave their machines in the garden of the general stores on the corner of Pearce Road and Derby Road and walk down the gravely approach road to the manned ticket office. Here, they would purchase their return ticket (2s 6d in the late 50s) and find a space on the gently curving platform to await the train’s arrival.

At weekends the train was often pretty full and one soon learned that because it filled up from the rear at Ipswich Station, it paid dividends to brave the smoke and steam and wait near to where the engine would stop to be sure of a seat.

The train was inevitably pulled by a tank engine with a five-figure number that always began with 677. Occasionally, a goods train might pull through with a more distinctive number, but otherwise Derby Road Station was hardly a train-spotter’s paradise!

As well as the ticket office there was also a station master’s office and a waiting room on the Felixstowe-bound platform. Certainly in my time, I never saw anybody ever make use of the latter facility. However it had a fireplace and a grate, so maybe served a purpose in the cold winter months. A wooden canopy stretched out from these buildings to the edge of the platform to offer protection against summer sun and winter rain.

On the Derby Road side of the station, there was another canopy above some green-painted wooden seats and further down the line a signal box. The signalman controlled not only the comings and goings of the Felixstowe trains, but also the points which governed the sidings on either side of the line. These were mainly used by coal merchants: Rowland Manthorpe, E. A. Stow and Thomas Moy Ltd, amongst others.

My mother, who was born in Orwell Road in 1912, remembered Thomas Moy stabling their horses in the yard opposite her house and, half a century later, the horse and cart was still the most common means of delivering coal to the customer. My mother also remembered how, as a schoolgirl, she used to stand on the two-arched footbridge that linked the two platforms. The down line trains tended to have their engines standing directly under this bridge and with her friend, Winnie Fisk, she delighted in running in and out of the grey-black smoke that enveloped it. This game was prolonged if the fireman of the train below had to refill the engine’s boiler with water to complete the journey to Ipswich Station.

Unlike today, when the station is totally unmanned and the signalling is controlled from Colchester, Derby Road boasted not only a signalman, but also a station master and a porter. Their main job was to issue and collect tickets and to help passengers with their enquiries. They also ensured the station was kept spotlessly clean and maintained the beautiful floral beds that were a feature of small stations of that era.

It was in 1959 that things began to change when the first diesel-powered service was introduced to the line. This meant the journey from Ipswich to Felixstowe was reduced from 35 to 24 minutes, but signalled the beginning of the end for the little tank engines.

Eight years later, in 1967, ‘Pay Trains’ took over with all fares being collected by the guard. Platform staff were no longer needed and from that moment on, Derby Road Station lost any personality it may have once had. The offices were boarded up and with no welcoming faces to greet the passengers, the station became a cold, purely functional place.

The massive expansion of Felixstowe Docks also meant that an ever-increasing number of container trains clunked their way between Derby Road’s soulless platforms, each train seemingly consisting of more wagons than the one before.

Today Derby Road is still well-used, the number of annual rail passenger usage having increased dramatically from just over 30000 in 2005 to 45000 in 2013. From the original six trains to and from Felixstowe in 1877 and 13 trains each way in 1973, there were 18 trains running an hourly service in 2012. That may sound like progress, but at what price?’

Rod Cross

Do you have memories of travelling by steam train? E-mail info@kindred-spirit.co.uk

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