This display celebrates the long history of the old dock railway, which operated from 1848 to 1992. This was key to the new Victorian Wet Dock and the associated maritime industries economic success in the second half of the 19th Century. It was also the means by which almost all cargo was transported from the Port until the lorry eventually took over in the 1970s.
As soon as the railway line from London reached Ipswich in the early 1840s, plans were made for its extension to serve the new Wet Dock. Initially operated only by horses, pulling wagons along the tracks on the quayside. It took some years before steam engines were thought safe enough to cross the road to St Peter’s Wharf and the Wet Dock quays. Over the next 100 years the dock railway (technically known as a ‘tramway’) grew more and more extensive, eventually serving the whole of the Port of Ipswich including Cliff Quay. Its peak use was probably around the time of the 1966 Ipswich Dock Commission plan which was reproduced for this display, showing the full extent of its reach.
By the early 1980s, use of the railway had virtually ceased and only oil waggons and Freightliner trains to the Cliff Quay tank farm and grain terminal still used the dock’s railway system which closed in 1992. Before its finally closure a series of rail enthusiasts ‘Specials’ were run consisting of guard’s brake vans, and on one occasion a whole passenger train.
As the Ipswich Maritime Trust Image Archive has grown over the years, photographs of the railway began to come to light, which form the basis of this display. These include some taken in their younger days by members and volunteers of the Ipswich Maritime Trust. Many of them can still recall happy days of freely mixing with the railway world around the dock, including the occasional ride on the tram engine footplates!
We could not have put on this display without partnering and collaborating with the hardworking members and volunteers of the Bury St Edmunds Model Railway Club, whose fantastic ‘O’ gauge model helps bring the display to life.
A centrepiece of this display is a Port Authority Map from 1966 showing the full extent of the dock railway. Which you can see here.
Together with this is a model of a notional railway scene from the 1950s of part of the Island Site. Which was built by the fantastic members of the Bury St Edmunds Model Railway Club. This ‘O’ gauge model faithfully recreates in miniature many of the details of the original. You can watch and listen to their ‘Cobbold Railway’ running with this link as can visitors to the Window Museum with our QR code.
- Des Pawson
- Pam Glasspool
- Stuart Grimwade
- Stuart Harris
- Doug Nichols
- Colin Waters
- Richard Watkinson
Members of the Bury St Edmunds Model Railway Club:
- Chris Day
- David Fennell
- Matthew Porteous
- Barry Norman
- Ian Norman
- Stan Statham
- Graham Warner
- Frank Wright