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By Keith Barker

Thurston lies some four and half miles east of Bury St Edmunds and is a small Suffolk village. In 2012 it still has a railway station, albeit an unstaffed halt and is served by trains of the Greater Anglia Railways train operating unit and has nineteen trains a day in each direction.

The history of the line began in the mid 19th century when the Eastern Union Railway Company (E. U. R.) was formed by some dissident directors of the Eastern Counties Railway Company (E. C. R.) who were aggrieved at that companies failure to build their line from London beyond Colchester  and on to Ipswich.    The Eastern Union Railway Company gained the appropriate sanction of parliament and started to construct their line from Colchester to Ipswich. Even before the countryside completion of this line parliamentary approval was sought for  “the Bury extension” from the E. U. R. line at Ipswich right through to Bury St Edmunds.  A separate company, the Ipswich and Bury Railway Company (I. and B. R.) was formed with an authorised share capital of £400,000.  The chairman was Mr John Chevallier Cobbold; a solicitor of the well known Suffolk family later known for their brewing interests; also chairman of the E. U. R. and former director of the E. C. R.  His father John Cobbold was also on the board of both the E. U. R. and the I. and B. R.  The bill for the "Bury extension" and the I. and B. R. company was granted parliamentary approval by Royal Assent on  21 July 1845.

 Peter Bruff who formerly worked for the E. C. R. and was the engineer for the E. U. R. was also appointed as the engineer for the I. and B. R..  The contract for the Ipswich to Bury line was awarded to Thomas Brassey the well-known railway contractor and his partner for the venture Alexander Ogilive, who was to be the site agent.  The breaking of the first ground ceremony took place at Ipswich on August 1st 1845. Entries were invited from architects for plans for the joint station for both the E. U. R. and the I. and B. R. at Ipswich.  A design submitted by Sancton Wood was accepted and the station building erected in 1858.  On the basis of this work, Wood was later commissioned for the design contract for Bury St Edmunds station building.

Frederick Barnes of Ipswich was an architect, who like Wood had been articled and trained under Sidney Smirke architect of the British Museum.  Barnes was born in Hackney in 1814 and educated at Christ’s Hospital School, where his father was a master.  The design contract for the majority of intermediate stations, (Bramford) Clayden, Needham, Stowmarket, (Haughley Road), Elmswell and Thurston was awarded to Frederick Barnes.  It is not known whether the timber structure at Bramford or the station building at Haughley Road were Barnes designs, although the later station on the line from Ipswich to Norwich at Haughley Junction about 1 mile away certainly was.   I have not been able to establish who was the building contractor for the Thurston station buildings.  The Bury and Suffolk and Yarmouth Chronicle of Wednesday 9th September 1846 stated that the tender meeting of the I & BR for the construction of Thurston and Needham station buildings had been postponed from Thursday 10th September until Tuesday 15th September 1846. A note in The Builder magazine Oct 3 1846 said that the contract for the Thurston station buildings had been awarded to a Mr Reed for the sum of £3753.


THURSTON  1920’s



As work on construction of the line continued, one night in January 1846 near Norton, a temporary stable built of faggots and thatch belonging to Robert Sallis a sub contractor to Brassey, burnt down.  Fortunately Sallis and his wife and children escaped from an  adjoining hut, but five horses and a weeks supply of food for his workers were lost.  He was then described as destitute and his loss estimated at £125.  A collection throughout the region raised £117 on his behalf.

Another sub contractor, John Douglas was working on the section of the line by the site of Stowmarket station.  The ground was very boggy and much of the material forming the embankments kept slipping into the mire.  On the night of 1st August 1846, forty metres of embankment, sleepers  and rail disappeared overnight.  At one point a bridge had been planned and timber piles some 15 metres (45 feet) in length were placed in the ground, and these sank out of sight under their own weight.  Probes were then used to discover the depth where solid ground was present, and this was finally encountered at a depth of 24 metres (80 feet)!  The idea of a bridge was then abandoned and the course of the River Gipping diverted. The embankments were then formed on a raft mat of faggots, hurdles, brushwood and earth, with timbers laid along the route longitudinally onto which the sleepers were then laid. Finally the track was virtually complete all the way to Bury St. Edmunds and a special train was formed for the inaugural run on 26th November 1846. The train consisted of five carriages and was hauled by the EUR N°4 , 2-2-2 locomotive “Bury St. Edmunds”. This locomotive had been built by Sharp Brothers of Manchester and had been delivered in October of the same year. On the footplate for this first run was Robert Taylor the Locomotive Superintendent acting as the driver, J. C. Cobbold, John Footman Deputy Chairman of the I & BR, John James Saunders  EUR Company Secretary, Peter Bruff  EUR and I & BR Engineer, John Squire Martin  EUR Traffic Superintendent and possibly a fireman as well!  Although none of the stations were very advanced, with Stowmarket barely started, stops were made along the line and Haughley, Stowmarket, Elmswell, and Thurston.  The line was only single in places and some sections were laid in temporarily for this first run.  As there was not yet any turning facilities at Bury another loco running tender first followed the train to pull it back to Ipswich.

The line opened for goods traffic four days later on 30th November 1846.  The first train ran from Ipswich to Bury and consisted of 24 tons of general goods and 90 tons of coal.  Heavy snow made it necessary to divide the train at Needham and to take it on to Stowmarket in two sections.  A further train was then sent and the two were combined and double headed on from Stowmarket.

The first passenger service was a special train that ran from Shoreditch in London on 7th December 1846.  The train was hauled by two locomotives and consisted of seventeen carriages and one open truck in which the Humfress Band rode and played in.  The Board of Trade inspection was made by Captain Coddington on 15th December 1846 and the formal approval telegraphed through during the afternoon of 23rd December. The first public train left Ipswich for Bury St. Edmunds at 0910 the next day Christmas Eve 1846.

History of Thurston 1