A History of White Colne Station and the C V & H Railway
The original building, which today forms part of the Village Hall, was built in 1858/9
as Colne Station. It was later extended to provide accommodation for the station
master, and later still some parts were demolished and removed. It was the smallest
of the seven stations built specifically for the Colne Valley & Halstead Railway,
and was operational, with a break of nine years (1899-
The station building itself and the hut are all that remains of White Colne Station, the platform, sidings and gravel pit have all been removed. The land surrounding the Hall, the car park and recreational areas to the rear are on the site of the former goods yard. The platform area, across the road from the station building, is now part of a private residence. The former station and surrounding land was made available by Essex County Council to the local community in 1976. The track bed from the Hall westwards is designated to be developed as a linear park connecting White Colne and Earls Colne.
In this section, we will take a brief look at the story of the railway and at the development and role of White Colne Station. Several books and articles have already been published covering the history and operation of the CV&HR (listed below). We are indebted to those and to the current Colne Valley Railway for much of the information herein.
Construction of the Railway.
The early to middle years of the nineteenth century were a period of substantial
investment in a new rail network across the UK. In our region, the main lines London
to Colchester and London to Cambridge were opened in 1843 and 1845. By 1848, Braintree
had been linked to the main line at Witham, and in 1849 the branch line from Marks
Tey to Sudbury was opened. The Sudbury line was built by the short-
By an Act of June 1856, a group of local businessmen secured approval to construct
a railway connecting Halstead to the Eastern Counties line at Chappel. Initially
they had considered a route from Halstead to Braintree, but due to engineering difficulties
and the opposition of several other interested rail operators the route from Halstead
to Chappel was chosen. Competition between railway companies to build and operate
new lines (or at least to gain approval for planned new lines thus pre-
Construction of the line began in February 1858 and, with the exception of the junction with the existing line at Chappel, was completed by the end of 1859. The Act of Parliament had not specified exactly where the two lines were to be connected and the Eastern Counties Railway refused to agree to the junction for a further year delaying the opening of the CV&HR until April 1860.
At Chappel, the CV&HR used the existing station; at the opening there were no station
facilities at Halstead and the only intermediate station on the line was at Colne.
A station at Earls Colne was not opened until about 1898 -
Prior to the opening of the first 6 miles of line, the railway company received Parliamentary approval to extend the line to Haverhill. Construction started in June 1860 and the line was opened to Hedingham in July 1861, to Yeldham in May 1862 and to Haverhill in May 1863. Further plans to extend the line to link Cambridge and Colchester were contested in Parliament and a rival scheme put forward by the Eastern Counties Railway was approved. The last development on the CV&HR line was the short extension to connect to the Great Eastern station at Haverhill, which provided an indirect link to Cambridge. The CV&HR was denied the important development of a through service between Colchester and Cambridge, which could have had significant benefit to the company.
The route starts north of Chappel station and swings westwards, joining the Colne valley at White Colne, then following the valley to Halstead and beyond. It is believed that other routes along the valley were studied, one in particular running to the south of the river, within the parish of Earls Colne. The chosen route, with its gradual incline from White Colne to Halstead, would have posed few engineering problems and relatively little earth moving/gradient work.
At the outset, the main purpose was to connect Halstead to the rail network and only
one intermediate station was planned between Halstead and Chappel. Looking at today's
map, it would appear odd to site the only station in White Colne, when the larger
community and the area's only real industry was next door in Earls Colne. Looking
at the area as it would have been in the mid 1800s, however, (Figure 1) the logic
becomes a little more obvious. At that time, Earls Colne was essentially a linear
or ribbon development spread along the main Colchester-
Ford Gate station, later Colne and Earls Colne, was built as the result of pressure from Hunts, the Earls Colne foundry, although there is no mention of any involvement by Hunts with the original construction of the railway.
The line drawing reproduced below is derived from the plans shown in ‘The Colne Valley
and Halstead Railway’ and ‘From Construction to Destruction’. These differ from
each other in some respects -
White Colne was unusual in having the platform separated from the station buildings by a public roadway (today's Bures Road). The platform was long enough to accommodate three or four steam hauled passenger carriages and the later diesel multiple units. Today, nothing remains of the brick and concrete platform or the old carriage body and box van which were the passenger waiting room and goods lockup, all visible in the photo below taken in 1954.
Of the station buildings, the original booking office and station master's accommodation remain, although much altered. The crossing keeper's hut, visible in the 1947 photo to the right of the gates, has been removed and rebuilt at Hedingham, while the small brick extension to the rear of the station has also been demolished. The tracks forming the sidings remained in place until 2005, and were then removed.
It would be difficult to describe the station as an elegant building. It was small, especially as originally built, provision for passengers was extremely basic and provided at low cost. The original building itself shows some signs of architectural style with the use of pale stone, red brick and moulded glazed brick detailing. This style was used on several stations, including Halstead and Hedingham.
The later addition to provide accommodation for the station master, although more than doubling the size of the building, was built in a much plainer, utilitarian style, no doubt at lower cost. The plan above, drawn in 1975, has been amended to show the two stages of building.
The working life of White Colne Station
Life for the railway, and hence the station, was never easy. Having overcome substantial opposition to build the line in the first place, operating the line and planning for expansion in an age of great competition was an ongoing struggle for the owners. Probably the greatest obstacle was their inability to provide a through service between Colchester and Cambridge in the face of entrenched rail operators protecting their own investments at either end of the CV&HR track. This meant that the line could never be more than a single track branch.
For (White) Colne station, a promising start serving both Earls Colne and White Colne'
s populations and industry, did not last beyond the end of the nineteenth century,
as the new station at Earls Colne was built and later expanded. The White Colne
Station closed in 1899 once Earls Colne was in operation but, somewhat surprisingly,
reopened in 1907 for goods traffic and for passengers in 1908. This was probably
the period of greatest prosperity for the railway company, prior to the first world
war and before the increased competition from road passenger services. The line's
main strength was its goods traffic, and it continued operating independently until
1923 becoming part of the Great Eastern section of the LNER and finally in 1948 part
From 1923 onwards the railway, in common with many similar branch lines, was in decline, finally closing to passenger traffic in 1961 and to goods services in 1965.
White Colne Station in World War II
The CV&HR and White Colne Station were important parts of the war effort, not just in transportation of people and foodstuffs which would be expected of a small rural rail line. Because of its position in north Essex and the proximity of a number of wartime airfields, White Colne was a vital link in the supply of munitions. Precise details of the frequency, size and nature of cargoes moving through White Colne are not known, but they were significant and highly risky. In one 3 month period, for example, 100,000 Ibs of munitions were shipped through the station. There are no records of accidents here but this extract from an account of a fatal accident at Soham in Cambridgeshire illustrates the scale of the movements and the potential for disaster. This records the fate of a shipment of bombs, detonators, fuses and ancillary equipment from Immingham (on Humberside) to White Colne, for the US Army Air Force.
‘ 2nd June 1944 -
On May 31st 1944 a consignment of bombs and components for the United States Air
Force was taken off ship and on to sixty-
It arrived at March Yard, which was a subsidiary to the nearby marshalling yard at
Whitemoor. Here the wagons were, as always, carefully inspected. The ten leading
wagons were then detached to be worked forward by convenient services later, leaving
This train was about 390 yards long and there were no gradients between March and
Soham to unsettle such loads. For the four-
The flames were spread rapidly. The train was stopped some ninety yards short of
the station platform ramps where the burning wagon was uncoupled from the rest. The
burning wagon was then being towed away from the station into the countryside when
it exploded killing Jim Nightall, the fireman, and throwing the driver, Ben Gimbert,
200 yards away. This was about 1.43 a.m. Forty-
The streets of Soham were littered with glass, shop goods were blown into the streets
and the station was replaced by a crater fifteen feet deep and sixty-
Extracted from 'But For Such Men As These' by Anthony Day, Published by S.B. Publications, ISBN 1 85770 060 0.
The principal destination for these shipments was Earls Colne airfield, which was the home of the 94th and 323rd Bombardment Groups of the 8th and 9th USAAF between May 1943 and July 1944. After unloading at White Colne, munitions were distributed for storage at various locations, including Station Road, now Bures Road. The photo below, taken three years after the end of the war, shows stores of bombs in Station Road just a few hundred yards north of the station building.
Today's Village Hall
For about 10 years after the line closed in 1965, the station building was unused and gradually fell into a poor state of repair. The ongoing efforts of local residents have seen the building renovated and converted into our Village Hall, its gradual refurbishment, and the addition of play facilities on the former railway land adjacent to the building.
Today, it is used by local organisations providing a playgroup, dance classes, weekly religious services, history group and parish council meetings, and by individuals for parties, dances, quizzes and other social events. There is a continuing programme of further improvement to the fabric and facilities, intended to increase its appeal as the centre for all ages of our village community.
Sources: ‘The Colne Valley and Halstead Railway’ by R.A. Whitehead and F.D. Simpson, Oakwood Press, 1987
‘From construction to destruction : an authentic history of the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway’
by Edward P. Willingham. Halstead and District Local History Society, 1989.
‘Colne Valley Album’, Apex Publications 1983/Colne Valley Railway
In this section you can read about the railway. There is also a Brief History of White Colne Station and the CV&H Railway which includes references to more definitive books and articles.
CV & H Railway
Mile markers (distance from Chappel junction)
River Colne & tributaries
Residential, mills & farms
Heights above sea level
The Colne Valley and Halstead Railway carried passenger and goods traffic through
White Colne for just over 100 years. Although it was only a rural branch line, it
had an interesting and troubled history, it served an important function during the
Second World War and was the single biggest man-
Today, much of the route has been absorbed back into the countryside, but some evidence
remains – our Village Hall is the former station building and the footpath westwards
into Colne Engaine follows the track-