Birdbrook Station & the Railway

The coming of the railway dramatically changed the landscape of the north and east of Birdbrook parish.  Not just the physical impact of building cuttings, embankments, bridges and the station but changing the road lay-out to Whitley and cutting in two Whitley Gardens.  Eventually even changing the name of Honicks Lane to Station Road. Nearly 50 years after the closure all these are still clearly visable.


The map on the left is dated around 1835 and shows Whitley House and the garden layout before the railway. The map on the right, from around 1893, shows the railway and how the road layout changed.

We do not know how much of the gardens remained when the line came through.  Thomas Walford who created and lavished vast sums of money on them died in 1833, did his decendants maintain their up keep? 


After many failed promises of a rail link from Chappel to Halstead fed up local citizens formed The Colne Valley and Halstead Railway.  They were sanctioned by an Act of Parliment on the 30th June 1856 to build the line.  It took nearly four years to build and in 1859 they were granted permission to extend the line to Haverhill via Hedingham, Yeldham and Birdbrook.  Work started on 19th June 1860 and took 3 years to complete.  A temporary halt/station opened at Whitley in May 1863 and closed in October when Birdbrook Station opened.

The above map shows the lay out of the station, three goods sheds remain today.  Hunwick's Lane in now known as Station Road.

Halstead Gazette, Friday, December 29,1972

The Colne Valley Railway

On the last day of December 1961 the last passenger train ran on the Colne Valley line, and a few years later the last goods train followed it and the end came for the line "that never killed a passenger, and never paid a dividend."

The line resulted from the determination of prominent Halstead residents that the town should have its own railway.  They formed a company in 1856, and after discarding a proposal to build a branch line from Braintree, decided to build one from the existing railway at Chappel to a terminus at Parson's Bridge.

Mr. Hornor, of The Howe, presided at the public meeting at Halstead Town Hall to launch the project, and Mr. James Brewster of Ashford Lodge, cut the first sod near Elms Hall in February 1858, after the sponsors had, with difficulty, raised the cash for the contract.

When the line was opened to Halstead in April 1860 the occasion was marked by running an excursion to Colchester for one shilling return. 

That year it was decided to extend the line to Haverhill, and miss Gurteen cut the first sod of the extension in June.  The line was opened to Hedingham in July 1861, when the chuch bells were rung at Halstead, and the band of Essex Rifles played to celebrate the event.

Cheap fares were offered on this great day - Hedingham to Halstead 4d return, and 6d to Chappel.  As a result 1,700 people went on trains, and cattle trucks had to be pressed into service to carry them all.

The line reached Yeldham in May 1862, and Haverhill the next year.  For most of its existence the company was dogged by financial troubles, but it was one of the few small companies to remain independent until the amalgamations in 1923.

In 1922 the staff agreed to a 10 per cent cut in wages to help stave off crisis, but the year turned out better than the board had expected, and the cut was restored at the end of the year.

Smallest station on the line was at White Colne, where the waiting room was an old coach, and passengers had to buy their tickets at the level crossing cottage, then cross the road to the station.

Earls Colne station was at first called Ford Gate, but the name was later changed to Colne.  The buildings were very ramshackle, and in 1903 Mr Hunt gave the company the land and lent the money to build a new station.  And the name was changed to Earls Colne to avoid confusion with Colne in Lancashire.

At Halstead the company had their repair shops, and also carried on the manufacture of tarpaulin sheets as a sideline.

When the company was amalgamated in the LNER it had 174 goods vehicles and a travelling crane.  There were 143 open and nine covered wagons, three special wagons, 10 cattle trucks, six timber trucks and three brake vans.

It also had two "rail-cycles" pedalled along like an old-fashioned tricycle, and eight drays and horses for their local deliveries in Halstead, as well as one horse for shunting.

It was regular practice on the Colne Valley to mow the grass embankments and cuttings along the line, and use it for hay to feed the horse.  It was collected by a special train and taken to Earls Colne, where there was plenty of space in the station yard for stacking.

Usually there were four trains a day in each direction on weekdays, and two each way on Sundays.  When Sunday excursions were first started they were strongly opposed by the local clergy who found their congregations dwindled considerably.

When the line was first opened to Haverhill the company ran an excursion to Cambridge in September, 1865.  In Halstead the day was like a public holiday.  Most shops closed for the day, houses and shops were decorated with flags, and the Halstead Gazette was brought out a day early so the staff could go on the trip, which took place on a Thursday.

Although the line could boast it "never killed a passenger" there was one fatal accident - when a child playing with a door-handle fell out on to the track when the door opened.  In 1902 an engine driver was struck by lightening while on the footplate, but was not seriously injured.

In 1887 a workman on the permanent way was walking back to work at Hedingham, along the track after dinner, when he found a man lying with his head on the rail.  The would-be suicide had chosen a bad time, as no train was due for another hour, so the ganger tried to talk him out of it.  The man was not easily put off, however, and he still had his head on the rail when two o'clock and the train arrived.  The ganger ran down the line, stopped the train, and enlisted the help of the driver and another man.  The three lifted the man out of the way, and handed him over to the police.

Above picture from the Halstead Gazette. Oil lamps were still in use at Birdbrook station right up to the time of closure.  The waiting room was open to the weather.  The only other buildings were a small office and a signal box. 

The above picture was taken by D. Thompson in 1952.

J15 leaving Birdbrook, August 15th 1957 photo B.P Pask. Note the p-way trolly to the right infront of the vanfit waggons.  Picture sent to us by Paul from Haverhill 

We have no date for the above picture but was sent to us by Paul from Haverhill.

We have no date for the above picture but was sent to us by Paul from Haverhill.

We have no date for the above picture but it was sent to us by Paul from Haverhill.

The above picture of a photograph album has been sent to us by Paul from Haverhill but we have no dates.  But what a fantastic collection of photographs.

The Last Day 31.12.1961

 Mr. Jack Smith from Haverhill was the last passenger to purchase a ticket from Birdbrook Station and thus the last on the Colne Valley Line.

A very sad day in the history of Birdbrook village.

Above shunting Class 15

 Above Derby LW DMU approaching the station.


 Signalman Mr. Charlie Chase in his box on the last day 31,12.1961.

 The last 3 passengers Jack Smith, Rowland Heckford and Keith Heckford Birdbrook's first 'Hoodie'!

Keith Heckford left this message in our Guestbook:  'I came across this site by accident and was surprised to see myself waiting for the last train to depart.  We had specially made the trip from Haverhill just to come back on the train that night and also get a souvenir ticket.  I'm the young boy aged 9 wearing the Hoodie along with Dad in the centre, Rowland Heckford and Jack Smith who I believe used to live in Mount Road.  I remember it being a cold December night with very dim lighting and my Uncle Vincent was also there with his camera to record this moment in history.'

Cravens DMU last train at Birdbrook.

Photographs by the late Vincent Heckford and by permission of Colne Valley Railway Prestervation Society.

We would like to thank the CVRPS for all their help, especially Paul Lemon and Andy Wallis. For more information go to 

Andy Wallis has published a book, Colne Valley & Halstead Railway Through Time which follows the history of the line and has many photographs some of Birdbrook.  The book retails at £14.99 and is widley available.

Class 15 at Birdbrook in 1965 removing the track.

 Track lifting in 1965.

 The following comes from 'Birdbrook with Sturmer Parish News', dated September 1967:-

A few weeks ago, when the waiting room at the old Birdbrook railway station was pulled down it came to light that the bricks had been made locally for they were stamped - Whitlock Yeldham.  This seems to be news to everybody, though now I have said that no doubt someone will be found who can give details of the Yeldham brickworks and when they ceased to function.

Above picture sent to us by Paul from Haverhill the only Class 15 Engine left and was taken at Bashford Hall, Crewe.

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