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Mid Suffolk Light Railway

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Mid Suffolk Light Railway - A Hidden Gem in our Midst

MSLR 3How many of us know about a little gem of a steam museum that recently featured on Michael Portilla’s Great Railway Journeys but is only a fifteen minute drive away at Wetheringsett, close to the Mendlesham mast and sign posted from the A140?

The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Museum (affectionately known as Middy) has re-created an Edwardian country railway, which in its heyday served Suffolk for nearly half a century as a branch line running for just 19 miles from Haughley to Laxfield. The Middy, was a classic case of a railway built too late for the great railway age. Bankrupt before it opened for business but struggled on until it finally closed in 1952, well before the Beeching cuts.

In 1991, after almost all traces of the line had disappeared, a group of enthusiasts decided this country railway should not be forgotten and resurrected it as Suffolk’s only standard gauge railway museum and ironically is busier now than it ever was.

The museum is now home to preserved buildings from the original railway in the context of an Edwardian station along with restored rolling stock characteristic of that used on the original line.

As far as is known, no coaches or locomotives of the original MSLR remain in existence, however the museum has been recreating the past through restored coaches and wagons that would have run on its neighbouring line, the Great Eastern Railway, and its successor, the London & North Eastern Railway.

The museum has three small tank locomotives (Cockerill, Bagnall and LNER Y7 all on loan to the museum) that are often in steam and a Ruston diesel generally used for shunting duties. The museum’s own locomotive 1604 is currently undergoing a major restoration to enable it to steam for the first time. This was built by Hudswell, Clarke of Leeds, the builders of the original MSLR engines, and is of a similar design.

Other recent restoration work has included a Great Eastern Railway first class, ‘smoking’ saloon coach, which is a unique survivor of a small group of carriages dating back to 1863, the early days of railways. This makes it of great interest and of national importance as it is likely to be one of the oldest railway carriages in regular use on any heritage railway in the country.

Also to be seen at the museum is a horsebox built in Derby in 1869, one of 40 made for the Great Eastern Railway. This is also thought to be the oldest surviving horsebox, which was used to transport racehorses, horses for the army, for hunts and for individual owners but has now been modified to enable passengers to ride in the groom's compartment.

The museum has a short demonstration track, which is just about to be extended to a new halt, which enables visitors to enjoy an authentic experience of railway travel on the Middy a century ago, capturing the atmosphere of this once quirky line

Now boasting a purpose built refreshment room, shop, museum and the Kitchener Arms, a real ale bar coach, with workshops and restoration locomotive shed, the museum recreates a slice of Edwardian railway history that everyone and every age can enjoy.

The museum is open to the general public throughout the summer months and runs a number of special events throughout this period connecting the railway's history with the social history of rural Mid Suffolk during the first half of the 20th century. Details of these events and steam days can be found on the Museum’s website at http://www.mslr.org.uk/

Today’s Middy is not only a museum but also has a programme of ongoing restoration work to complement its efforts to recreate this slice of Edwardian England.

Recently the museum has secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to extend its volunteering activities so why not come along and join the ‘Wednesday gang’, similar to the well-known ‘Men in Shed’ concept but undertaking real preservation and conservation work. A place where people of all ages can spend time tinkering, repairing and making things while socialising. A newly constructed restoration workshop at the museum has become the hub for the main activities. The building is fully accessible for disabled people and equipped with showers, toilets and new workbenches etc. 

Activities generally take place every Wednesday as part of the normal volunteer day at Brockford Station and the activities that you will participate in will be the regular volunteering work and projects being undertaken within the museum. These could range from metal working, carpentry, painting, engine maintenance, building and grounds maintenance. All participants will spend time on the main heritage restoration projects ongoing at the time and will include the restoration of the museum’s main steam locomotive.

In addition to experiencing heritage from hands on working there be at the start of each session a short talk on a specific topic of Middy’s past for example being a Station Master on the line.

If you are interested in this Lottery funded programme or just would like to volunteer at Brockford you can either contact the museum on 01449 766899 or email volunteering@mslr.org.uk

 

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