Notes: The village of Stow-cum-Quy is invariably referred to simply as 'Quy' and pronounced as in River Kwai. Quy station was 4½ miles from Cambridge by rail and about two miles outside the city boundary. The village is served by the B1102 road and is adjacent to what is today the A1303 (the old Newmarket Road, once the A45) and the A14. Quy station was a different matter entirely; located towards the end of Station Road, which continues beyond the station site as a farm road, it was inconveniently located in open country ¾-mile from Quy crossroads and just over one mile from the village-proper.
Today it is easy to forget that before the days of road motor transport the alternatives were horses or foot in all weathers, and rural people thought little of making their way to a remote station by either means because there was no other option. But Quy was a classic example of how a remote railway station stood no chance of flourishing once reliable road motor transport appeared. We should also remember that through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, rural populations tended to decline as regular and better-paid work became available in towns and cities; ironically, the coming of the railways was partly responsible for this. When the first section of the Mildenhall branch opened in 1884 the population of Quy was around 360, but by 1931 it had dropped to 307. By 1951 it had risen to 527, but by 1961 it had dropped again to 447 and in 2001 it was down to 426. This gives an average population over the period the railway was open of 410 and of that total those likely to use the remote railway station with any regularity were probably a fraction of that figure. Also, apart from the village itself and a couple of isolated farms, Quy station had no catchment area. Thus, and insofar as passenger numbers were concerned, Quy was the least used station (as opposed to halt) on the Mildenhall branch and it was to hold this trophy for its entire working life.
Bearing all these points in mind, it is a miracle that Quy station survived the economies of the 1930s and remained in use until closure of the Mildenhall branch to passengers in 1962. In 1894 Quy lost its stationmaster as an early GER economy measure and it then came under the jurisdiction of Barnwell Junction, as did Bottisham and Swaffham Prior at a later date. There is some confusion over Quy and the conductor-guard operation. Until 1958 or 1959 timetables stated ‘Tickets from Quy and the halts are issued on train’ but subsequently Quy was omitted. This is thought to have been an error as it is unlikely that Quy ticket office reopened for the final three or four years of service. The Mildenhall branch did see a small increase in passengers after diesels were introduced but only from certain stations. There is no evidence whatsoever of a sudden surge of passengers swamping Quy station to the point where the ticket office needed reopening. The only surges of passengers at Quy were those using the infinitely more convenient buses of the Burwell & District Motor Service.
The station was provided with a single platform on the up side and was one of three stations, as opposed to halts, on the Mildenhall branch to be built with just a single platform. The others were Swaffham Prior and Mildenhall. The single-storey station building was constructed of timber on a brick base and beneath a pitched slate roof. The building originally had a flat canopy with a deep valance and four timber columns stretching the full width of the platform. The canopy was removed at an unknown date but was probably among the 1921 economies. Quy was the only station building on the Mildenhall branch to be built in this way and had a passing resemblance to the stations found on Colonel Stephens railways.
The stationmaster's house and other staff accommodation was on the Up side beyond the Cambridge end of the station. It is commonly believed that a stationmaster's house was a perk of the job. In one sense it was but what is less commonly known is that the holder of the position was required to pay rent. Following the position of Quy stationmaster being abolished, the house was probably occupied by the signalman or by the porter-in-charge.
The station building comprised ticket office, a staff room, a stationmaster's office and a waiting room which once doubled up as a makeshift church for the local vicar. Few details are known about this but presumably it came about owing to the remoteness of the station. The fireplaces, or rather one of them at least, were of ornate cast iron and incorporated the GER monogram. There was also a weighing machine of 10cwt capacity and a parcels lock-up. There was an external gents’ toilet at the east end of the station building. Assuming a ladies’ toilet was provided it would have been entered from the waiting room. Only two stationmasters served at Quy before the post was abolished; the first was Richard Gray and his replacement was George Hillier.
Quy had a small goods yard comprising a single siding running behind the west end of the platform. The station only had limited goods facilities, mainly small goods and parcels, but it did not handle livestock. Access to the siding was controlled a 22-lever signal box on the Down side at the west end of the station.
In June 1935 the LNER effectively reduced the station to the status of a halt and thereafter tickets were issued on the train by the conductor-guard. At the same time, the signal box and goods loop were abolished. As at Swaffham Prior the loop was actually the through road and the platform was served by a loop. The removal of the through road, the goods loop, has left the peculiar kink in the remaining track. After abolition the remaining sets of points, four in total (there were originally six) were operated from a ground frame unlocked by Annett's Key attached to train staff and tickets were obtained from Barnwell Junction.
After closure to passengers on 18 June 1962 station remained open for goods traffic finally closing completely on 13 July 1964.
Through the 1970s and 1980s the building was used as some kind of a workshop with most of the windows being boarded up. The building deteriorated rapidly but eventually it was sold and converted into a house (c1980s /1990s). This involved extending the building along the platform at both ends and replacing all the timber weatherboarding, windows and doors. The station building was once again on the market in December 1998 when the freehold was sold for £39,000. Since then it has been converted into three offices which are now rented out. The Quy station nameboard is now owned by the Cambridge University Railway Club.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MILDENHALL BRANCH
The Mildenhall branch arrived relatively late on the railway scene and it could be said that its existence was owed in part to the ill-fated Newmarket & Chesterford Railway (N&C). In 1847 the N&C, with its main line yet to be opened, sought powers to extend beyond Newmarket to Thetford, linking up with the Norfolk Railway, and to Ely and Bury St Edmunds. Of those, the Thetford link was never built; had it been built it would have served the Mildenhall area.
This problem was frustrating Charles Allix (1842-1921) of Swaffham Prior House who approached the GER in 1867 with a view to the construction of a railway from the Swaffham Prior area into Cambridge. The GER rejected the proposal. The next proposal for a railway serving the Mildenhall area was for the ‘Ely & Bury Saint Edmunds Light Railway’, the company's deputy chairman being none other than Mr Allix. This railway was incorporated by an Act of 1875 and a reasonable amount of information has survived about it. Had it been built it would have served the Fordham and Mildenhall areas, but nothing came of the scheme and it was formally abandoned in 1880.
Meanwhile back at Swaffham Prior, Mr Allix remained determined to see his region provided with a railway to help revive local agriculture which was experiencing economic hardship. It is said that every cloud has a silver lining, as Allix was soon to discover. The railway north of Cambridge and onwards to Brandon had suffered problems with flooding, and during 1878 serious disruption occurred once again. This time the GER 'brass' realized that Allix's proposal could, if built, help alleviate the problems, and thus the Mildenhall branch was finally born.
While plans to build the Mildenhall branch were stampeding ahead, the GER had meanwhile re-engineered the vulnerable sections of the Ely - Thetford line. The GER therefore viewed an alternative route, i.e. via Mildenhall, as no longer warranted and this was the reason that the branch never progressed beyond Mildenhall.
Back in the boardroom, the GER was inviting tenders for construction of the Mildenhall branch. With Royal Assent having been received on 18 July 1881, the relevant Act provided for three sections of railway: Barnwell - Swaffham Prior; Swaffham Prior - Fordham; Fordham - Mildenhall. Henry Lovatt, of Wolverhampton, won the contract for the entire route with his tender of £76,327 11s 8d. During October 1882 the contractor moved in to peg-out the course of the line, and on a cold and miserable Wednesday 3 January 1883 some GER grandees and Mr Allix assembled at – unsurprisingly - Swaffham Prior for the usual 'cutting of the first sod' ceremony. During 1883 the signalling contract was awarded to Messrs McKenzie & Holland with signal boxes costing £75 10s each, while local tradesmen were recruited for the erection of station buildings. The station building at Swaffham Prior was built in a somewhat different style from the others in order to mirror the design of Swaffham Prior House.
The 19m 3ch route between Barnwell Junction and Mildenhall had no fewer than 70 level crossings. To put this into a less dramatic perspective, only seven were on public roads with the remainder being foot or occupation crossings.
Major General Hutchinson inspected the Barnwell - Fordham section on behalf of the Board of Trade on 28 May 1884. Whilst the inspector found the general standard of construction to be high, a number of issues with fencing and signalling were noted. Permission was given for the line to open if these issues were dealt with quickly - which they apparently were. The inspector also required all trains to call at all stations. Inspection of the Fordham - Mildenhall section, on 28 March 1885, went well, with only a couple of issues at Fordham station. Otherwise, the inspector was impressed with the general standard of construction and gave his consent for the immediate opening of this section.
Passenger services on the branch were never frequent although in the early years they were more or less on a par with other rural branch lines. Despite the possibilities offered by the connection at Fordham with the Ely line, the original timetable offered only four Cambridge - Fordham (and return) services stopping at all stations conforming to the Board of Trade inspector's requirements. Later that year, 1884, this was increased to five return journeys, Thursdays excepted. On that day, Ely market day, advantage was taken of the connection at Fordham and one train continued to Ely, the 12.30pm ex-Cambridge, which returned from Ely at 3.30pm.
With the opening of the Fordham - Mildenhall section the following year, five return journeys travelled the full length of the line although on Thursdays one did not operate between Cambridge and Fordham, and vice versa. Tuesdays and Thursdays saw an additional Mildenhall - Fordham (and return) service but at different times on each of those days. Timetables do not indicate that these trains continued to/from Ely so they were probably connecting services. By 1890 there were additional Thursdays-only/excepted services plus one mixed train. Things then trundled on in much the same fashion until the first decade of the twentieth century.
Despite increases in traffic, especially following the opening of the Fordham - Mildenhall section, the GER was perpetually worried about poor traffic receipts for the line. In 1914 the GER's James Holden decided to experiment with Push - Pull trains as a cost-cutting measure. He borrowed drawings from the London, Brighton & South Coast railway of their Westinghouse (compressed air) Push - Pull control system and converted Y65 2-4-2T No. 1311 and two clerestory bogie coaches into a Push - Pull train with further conversions following later. This train operated trials in service on the Mildenhall branch from 5 October 1914 but the experiment was not considered a success.
The First World War brought considerable extra goods traffic to the line as a result of the government urging farmers to produce more food, but otherwise the war had little effect.
By 1922 the timetable showed just three trains per day operating via Burwell, with the first down train not departing from Cambridge until 10.30am. There was, however, an earlier service to Mildenhall via Newmarket which left Cambridge at 6.47am.
In an attempt to encourage more business, on 20 November 1922 the GER opened three halts on the line at Fen Ditton, Exning Road and Mildenhall Golf Links. They were on the up side of the line, i.e. on the left side of Cambridge-bound trains, and on the Cambridge side of adjacent road overbridges (Bridges 2236, 2242 and 2257 respectively). They were rudimentary affairs: a footpath led down the embankment from the road to end at a low cinder 'platform' faced with what appears to have been old sleepers.
The Railways Act of 1921 saw the GER become part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) on 1 January 1923. On this date Mildenhall Golf Links Halt was renamed Worlington Golf Links Halt. The ‘Halt’ suffix appeared in timetables and on tickets but not on the halt nameboards. As the halts had no proper platforms, the GER introduced carriages fitted with retractable steps. Initial conversions were of increasingly antiquated 6-wheeled stock. Because the halts lacked booking facilities the GER introduced ‘conductor-guard’ working, and for this purpose the carriage stock had to be modified to allow the guard to move through the train. Tickets from Quy were also issued on the train.
The LNER viewed the former GER system it had inherited as something of a millstone around its neck and considered the withdrawal of a number of branch passenger services in the east of England. At around the same time the LNER made further economies by reducing the status of Quy and Swaffham Prior signal boxes to shunting frames. In 1935 these two boxes were abolished altogether and at the same time the goods loops through these stations were lifted.
World War Two broke out in September 1939 and this brought some increase in traffic to the Mildenhall branch. As with the First World War, the line saw an increase in agricultural traffic and, as indicated above, of military personnel using the line. Goods traffic vital to the war effort was generally routed from Cambridge via Newmarket during the night. Nevertheless, the need for the railways to focus assets where they were most needed meant that services on the Mildenhall branch remained infrequent. For the duration of hostilities there were still three trains per day each way with the first down train operating via Newmarket. Two goods trains per weekday were provided, one of which commenced from sidings at Coldham Lane Junction, Cambridge.
After the war things returned to pretty much the way they had been previously. On 1 January 1948 the Mildenhall branch became part of the Eastern Region of British Railways. Bradshaw for that date shows three trains each way: down trains at 6.33am, 10.28am, and 4.27pm; and at 7.42am,11.50am and 5.48pm in the up direction. The 6.33am ex-Cambridge omitted the halts, but did call at Quy, and all trains ran via Burwell. By the 1950s there were four passenger trains per day, the final departure being at 9.00pm from Mildenhall, omitting Worlington and operating via Newmarket to Cambridge. The BR 1954 timetable tells us the service had reverted to that of January 1948, as outlined earlier, apart from slight re-timings.
From November 1955 diesels made their first appearance when two brand new sets of Metropolitan-Cammell 79xxx DMUs were sent to Cambridge for timing trials: E79047+E79263 and E79051+E79278. These trials included the Mildenhall branch, commencing on 20 November. By this time more Mildenhall services ran via Newmarket, plus the occasional service from Ely to Mildenhall which involved a reversal at Fordham. From 7 July 1958 diesel railbuses were introduced on Mildenhall branch services. These vehicles lacked retractable steps, as did the DMUs. For the halts, therefore, sets of portable wooden steps were provided and were usually left at the lineside to await their next call of duty.
Goods traffic prior to 1962 was much as previously, with one train per day. By this time, goods trains were usually hauled by Brush Type 2 (Class 31) locomotives with J17 steam locomotives still putting in occasional appearances.
The Mildenhall branch closed to passengers on and from Monday 18 June 1962, with the final trains running on Saturday 16th, there being no Sunday service. On the final day the first down train and its return up working to/from Mildenhall was operated by a 4-car Cravens DMU. A 2-car Wickham unit sufficed for the remainder of the day. The Wickham unit, E50416/E56171, operated the 4.21pm ex-Cambridge and this was the last passenger train along the Barnwell - Fordham section. This train then departed from Mildenhall at 5.15pm to Cambridge via Newmarket. The same DMU then operated the 5.56pm to Mildenhall via Newmarket and the corresponding 7.31pm Mildenhall - Cambridge via Newmarket; this was the final passenger train to and from Mildenhall.
The Burwell & District Motor Service, having suspended its Mildenhall - Cambridge Service 11 at the outbreak of war, had reinstated the service at the cessation of hostilities but truncated it to operate only between Cambridge and Isleham, and it ran only on Saturdays and Sundays. Following withdrawal of the Mildenhall branch passenger trains, B&D modified Service 11 to operate daily and thus it became the rail replacement bus service.
Following the end of passenger services, Isleham and Mildenhall signal boxes closed with immediate effect. The once-daily goods train continued to run, but in the up direction only between Fordham and Cambridge; the down goods ran from Cambridge to Mildenhall via Newmarket. The train was withdrawn on 13 July 1964, the final run being on Friday 10th. This left the Fordham - Burwell section which continued to enjoy a goods service until it was withdrawn on 6 April 1965. Fordham station and its neighbour, Soham, closed on 13 September 1965, and Fordham signal box closed on 28 October 1973.
Tickets from Michael Stewart. Route map drawn by Alan Young. Bradshaws from Nick Catford and Alan Young.
Click here to see a 17 minute colour film of a steam locomotive travelling from Cambridge to Mildenhall in 1959. Includes all the stations on the line, From Cambridge Community Archive Network.
Click here for a fuller history of the Mildenhall branch
Click here for special feture: Last Train to Mildenhall
- Quick, Michael Railway passenger stations in Great Britain: a chronology (RCTS 2009)
- The Great Eastern Railway (Cecil.J.Allen, Ian Allen 1955)
- The Mildenhall Branch (Peter Paye, Wild Swan 1988)
- Burwell & District Motor Service (Written and published privately by Jim Neale c.1979)
- The London Gazette, November 28th 1879 (Abandonment of Ely & Bury Saint Edmunds Light Railway)
- The National Archive (Information on the Ely & Bury Saint Edmunds Light Railway)
- http://landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk/ (Information on the Allix family)
See other stations on the Mildenhall branch:
Barnwell Junction, Fen Ditton Halt, Bottisham & Lode, Swaffham Prior, Burwell, Exning Road Halt, Fordham, Isleham, Worlington Golf Links Halt & Mildenhall
See also Cambridge