Ipswich Railway Station was not always where it is now.
Croft Street, situated in the south side of Ipswich in the area known as “over Stoke” (meaning “on the other side of Stoke Bridge from the town centre”) is today a strange mixture of the ancient and the modern. Stand at the bottom of the Street, on the old Wherstead Road, and look up the hill. On the left you see modern houses and flats. On the right you see the terraced housing of the mid/ late 1800s.
In the days of my youth (1960s) Croft Street had the old houses on one side, but the other side (looking left up the hill) was dominated by a long boarded fence. Behind the fence was the buffer-end of the sidings and yard for Ipswich “shed” (locomotive depot and sidings).
In fact the railway was the prime reason for much of the housing in the Croft Street area being built. The Eastern Union Railway was on the Ipswich scene as early as 1846. It ran from Ipswich to Colchester where it met the tracks of the Eastern Counties Railway line from London. Stoke Hill was a major obstacle to further northerly traffic, so before it could be tackled, the Eastern Union opened its first Ipswich station just to the south of Croft Street in the area still known as “Halifax” (note the name of the current Halifax Primary School).
Why is Station Street nowhere near Ipswich station?
From Croft Street a short connecting street took you to “Station Street” – still named as such but actually some distance away from the current station – being a relic of something that hasn’t existed in that area for 150 years!
“Over Stoke” was not initially a poor location for a railway station, despite its distance from Ipswich town centre, because it was close to the old quay from which plied the steamers of the Ipswich Steam Navigation Company, which for a time ran steam boats to London. (Note the aptly named “Steamboat Tavern” located on a straight line from Station Street to the river).
It was less than a year before the Stoke tunnel was completed and the Eastern Union was able to run trains direct to Bury St Edmunds. The steamer boom was not long lasting after the coming of the railway but the first station stayed in use until 1860, when the current Ipswich Station was opened. That made the first Ipswich Station redundant. The site became “Halifax Junction”, with the main line continuing through the tunnel and the original station site south of that line becoming engine sheds and sidings.
Have you ever wondered why the houses get bigger as you walk up Croft Street?
You could trace the career promotion of men by noting where they lived. The smaller housing, very close to the depot at the bottom of Stoke Hill, was where the labourers lived. Walk up the hill and you find the quality of the housing gradually improving as the foremen, managers and senior staff found better accommodation.
The Eastern Union Railway merged with the Eastern Counties Railway and other smaller concerns in 1862 to become the Great Eastern Railway. This survived until after the First World War when Parliament amalgamated it into the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER – often referred to as “Late and Never Early”).
Ipswich depot had been a major railway centre in the days of steam traction and before the much maligned Dr. Beeching “rationalised” the local railway system. It had a 14 track marshalling yard and a locomotive shed that was the third biggest on the Great Eastern Railway system – only being bettered by Stratford and Cambridge. Its allocation of engines numbered about 130 of which 50 odd were either Great Eastern Railway “S69”/ LNER “B12” class 4-6-0s, or GER “Y14”/ LNER “J15” class 0-6-0s.
Ipswich engine shed offered a variety of work. Primary was the London to Norwich main line. Then there was “the line to the north” running initially via Bury St Edmunds and on from there to Cambridge, Ely, March, Peterborough, Spalding, Sleaford and Lincoln for Worksop, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool and also via Gainsborough for Doncaster.
Another prime job was the Harwich – Liverpool boat trains. Ipswich shed also served the East Suffolk line (then a main line) to Great Yarmouth, the branches from Bentley to Hadleigh (Suffolk), Manningtree to Harwich, Ipswich to Felixstowe, Mellis to Eye, Wickham Market to Framlingham, Saxmundham to Aldeburgh, a short freight only branch to Snape Maltings, The Mid Suffolk Light Railway, two sidings at Brantham and the complex of marshalling yards and sidings and the Ipswich Griffin Wharf branch and the docks tramway (haunt of the “J70” tram engines).
Up until the 1950s Ipswich depot comprised two two through track engine sheds as well as a three track fitting shop, a two track coal shed, turntable, offices, stores and a smiths shop. The depot was a major running and maintenance centre. Before the London and North Eastern Railway (predecessor of British Railways) started to run down its maintenance facility Ipswich employed 82 “workmen” on locomotive repairs. There were also about 100 footplate crews (engine drivers and firemen).
I am familiar with the location because I used to be a trainspotter. Like Chris Hughes of “Eggheads” I am now a “Ferroequinologist” (a follower of the iron horse). I recall one Sunday morning in May 1962 I “bunked” Ipswich shed – i.e gained unauthorised entry – when I heard that one of the last few Great Eastern J17 0-6-0 freight engines was resting there on its final journey having just been withdrawn from Norwich depot to be cut up at Stratford works. (This was, of course, as you will understand, a rare “illegal” act on my part). Entry was gained from Croft Street (about as far away from the depot’s 1950s administration and signing-in building as you could get).
The Croft Street pubs
Croft Street rejoiced in having two pubs sitting virtually opposite each other, across the street from the shed yard. The workers obviously got very thirsty and this was in the days when it was still alright for engine drivers to have the odd pint!
The larger of the two pubs was “The “EUR” – officially the “Eastern Union Railway Hotel” opened around 1850 and named after the first railway to reach the town. The other pub was “The Great Eastern” (usually referred to as “The GER”). The GER closed in 1996 and the EUR soldiered on until 2005.
Although both pubs have subsequently been converted into domestic accommodation there are still clear hints of their past as public houses. The EUR still has a stylish circular plaque showing the three letters of its title interlaced together in the ceramic faced lower part of the pub frontage. You will appreciate that my knowledge of these pubs was/ is purely aesthetic.
Don’t you just love the way we all find ourselves connected to the past? In later years my son and daughter in law lived at No 18 Croft Street – the very house in which Manchester enginemen used to lodge when staying overnight in Ipswich on the Liverpool/ Harwich “boat train” turn.
Find out more about Ipswich Engine Shed at Wikipedia…
Find out more about Ipswich Stoke Hill railway station at Wikipedia…
Find out more about The Eastern Union Railway at Ipswich Lettering…
Ipswich Croft Street Railway Station gallery
Last Updated on March 3, 2023
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