Ipswich Icons: The Spring Road viaduct was the greatest engineering structure in Ipswich before the Orwell Bridge was built

PUBLISHED: 18:30 31 March 2015

The Spring Road viaduct takes all rail services to and from Felixstowe.

The Spring Road viaduct takes all rail services to and from Felixstowe.


There are few major engineering structures in Ipswich, with the obvious exception of the Orwell Bridge, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

The Spring Road viaduct.The Spring Road viaduct.

Before the crossing of the Orwell was completed in the early 1980s, Spring Road viaduct was the only major multi-span bridge, and the only above-ground engineering work of note.

The railway bridge was constructed in 1876 as part of the line from Westerfield to Felixstowe Pier; that is the old pier which was within the confines of Harwich Harbour and not the “new” concrete pleasure pier at mid point of the seafront.

Spring Road valley is the only major obstacle on an otherwise reasonably level route along the Felixstowe peninsular. There are cuttings and embankments but these are minor in comparison to what might have been if a different route had been chosen. Ipswich Corporation made it very clear that the new railway to Felixstowe should not pass through the urban area of Ipswich, and the line selected should not destroy any houses.

Trains leave Ipswich station towards Bury St Edmunds, completely the wrong direction, but soon branch off the main line and take a sweeping curve around the west side of town, across open country to Westerfield where the Felixstowe trains branch off again, heading south, skirting the cemetery, across Spring Road viaduct and then through the suburbs of east Ipswich (most of which hadn’t been built when the railway came).

By the time it reaches Derby Road station the train has travelled more than six miles but is, as the crow flies, only just over one mile from the main line.

The railway was financed by Colonel George Tomline who lived at Orwell Park and also owned considerable areas of land on the peninsular including the seafront at South Felixstowe. It was here he intended to develop a sea bathing resort and the railway would bring travellers from Ipswich and beyond.

He also owned land adjacent to the River Orwell in Harwich Harbour where he built the train pier to enable the swift transfer of passengers from train to ferry.

The surveyor charged with selecting a feasible route was a Mr E Wilson, who had worked for the Great Eastern Railway. He put forward three possibilities, one of which, the Orwell route would have passed much closer to Orwell Park, through the centre of Nacton village and then into the land of Sir George Broke-Middleton who lived at the adjacent Broke Hall.

Sir George was one of the principal objectors to the proposal when the act was presented to Parliament. The railway would then have needed further engineering work to cross the valleys either side of Levington.

In the selection of a contractor to construct the railway, Tomline needed experience and manpower and he chose the Lucas Brothers of Lowestoft. The Lucas Brothers had a wealth of experience which included the building of Liverpool Street station and the Royal Albert Hall as well as a substantial number of railway miles. The company had grown by their association with Samuel Morton Peto of Somerleyton Hall and together they had developed most of south Lowestoft.

Spring Road viaduct is a three arch structure some 70ft high which today carries the heaviest freight trains from the Port of Felixstowe. It has recently been inspected and pronounced fit for purpose. The railway was opened on May 1, 1877 with a train from Ipswich running directly to Felixstowe Pier. Permission to dig the dock basin and dredge the river mouth was granted by Parliament in 1884, the start of Felixstowe as an international port.

Colonel Tomline’s lasting legacy is the railway, in 1875 it was the Felixstowe Railway and Pier Company and planned as a single track line directly into the port and onto the pier to enable passengers to transfer to the waiting ferries. There were stations at Derby Road, Orwell Halt (for Nacton and the Orwell Park Estate), Trimley (built 1891), Beach and Pier, the latter being on the landward end of the jetty. A branch line into Felixstowe Town station was constructed in 1898. Beach Station was constructed in South Felixstowe on the land he had purchased to create the resort.

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