The Lost Railways of Essex

Presenters: Tony Crosby and Tim Murphy

Physical Meeting at Shenfield Parish Hall

This was our best turnout so far this year and we enjoyed a slightly different perspective from our speakers who are professional archaeologists charged with looking after our railway heritage by the local authority – Essex County Council. This seems to be in good hands. We had an overview of a number of branch lines, but this also included detailed explorations of the architecture and structure of some of the “assets” and the steps that are being taken to preserve them. The bridges, viaducts and station buildings covered are variously at risk from natural deterioration, vandalism and from redevelopment. Some buildings are listed, others not, so destruction may be their fate. One or two have been sympathetically treated.

One of the routes discussed, Bishops Stortford to Braintree, now forms the Flitch Way. Other routes have been lost. Our speakers were able to show us the challenges facing those in charge of our railway heritage. Of particular note is the unique wooden trestle bridge on the Witham-Maldon line. The Elsenham-Thaxted Light Railway and Saffron Walden branch were also discussed. Some of the buildings under discussion exist on active routes, but are thought unsuitable for present conditions. Of particular interest was a line that was never completed; it would have run from Mistley on the Harwich branch to Thorpe and Walton. As we know, some apparently similar routes have been treated very differently; a case in point involves the two branches from Witham. The line to Braintree now enjoys an electric service with through trains to Liverpool St., whilst the equivalent line to the important town of Maldon is no more. We finished with a brief discussion on the rationale for building lines apparently unlikely to be profitable and the possibility in the nineteenth century of military justifications.