Thaxted Flyer

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The Elsenham to Thaxted Light Railway also known as the “Gin and Toffee” line started at Elsenham Station. The train line ran through Henham, Cutlers Green and finished on the outskirts of Thaxted. Construction of the railway commenced on 25th July 1911, and was to be ran by the Great Eastern Railway (GER) Company (later swallowed up by British Railways (BR)). The first train ran on Monday 31st March 1913.

The following article is with kind permission of Irwin Press who published this article in British Railways Illustrated in December 1994.

The promotors for the scheme were Sir Walter Gilbey (who was a gin manufacturer in Elsenham), George Lee (wholesale confectioner in Thaxted), John Tredgett (farmer Thaxted), Benjamin Tyler (farmer Thaxted), Thomas Franklin (farmer Thaxted), Launcelot Cranmer Byng Esq (Thaxted) and James John Prior (Farmer Great Sampford). Due to the employment of the two prominant promotors it was nicknamed the “Gin and Toffee Line”.

The estimated cost in 1907 was £31,500 of which a sum of £15,750 was requested from the government. It was anticipated that the building of the light railway would be completed within two years and would benefit the local agriculture. The railway order to commence building the system had further delays, so it took until 1911 when Sir Walter Gilbey cut the first sod ceremony on the site of the Thaxted station. The construction of the line was completed by a London firm at a cost of £4,000. William Bell and Sons won the contract to build the station buildings. The new Elsenham goods shed cost £550. Unfortunately during the construction at Elsenham a ballast wagon crashed with a construction locomotive which killed a labourer.

The Great Eastern Railway formerly announced the opening of the line on 1 April 1913. A special first class dining saloon left Liverpool Station for the official opening. A half day’s holiday was granted to employees along the route by the local farmers. There was much excitement among the throng, many indeed had never seen a train before. Sir Walter Gilbey purchased the first ticket. One newspaper described that the Thaxted station is “terminating absurdly on a hilltop, to little purpose other than to provide at best a good distant view of the town which was the station was supposed to serve”. A postcard printed at the time also infers that it was slower than walking. The local press claimed it would open up for London a tract of country of singular attraction.

The line quickly settled to a pace enjoyed at other similar branch lines, a boon for locals who could explore occasionally nearby towns and an advantage to local farmers and traders. The branch line could not solve the issues of agricultural prices and other general economic woe. The Great War followed by the Great Depression. It missed one cost cutting drive which saw a number of branch lines being closed in the 1930s. During the onset of the second World War, it briefly saw relative prosperity with consignments of bombs and other war material being transported. The first mumblings of the branch line being closed came in 1951 as the buses and lorries could do the trips now. Petitions and the like from people who rarely used the train. The Last Rites came on the 13th September 1952 when No 68579 hauled the last passenger train. Fares were so poor that a taxi took all the passengers to Elsenham, when the train broke down one day. The freight trains still ran three times a week for a year before even they stopped.