Wickham Market railway station is actually in Campsea Ashe, four kms. east of the eponymous small town. It is indeed rather strange to come across an apparently working railway station, as it were in the middle of nowhere. Yet it is a station of some substance, as witnessed by the bridge alongside it carrying the B1078 road over the East Suffolk Line, a piece of landscape furniture rarely enjoyed by this railway.
It can be seen, not a thing of great beauty, behind the arriving ‘Silver Bullet’-type up-train to Ipswich (below right). Gone are the days when the railway-writer would luxuriate in such a train being ‘hauled’ by a 2-6-4 or whatever. Now, far less romantically, the front two carriages are pushed and the back two dragged by a diesel power unit in the middle.
The empty platform for this ‘up’ train to Ipswich calls into question the need for the disembodied voice which, god-like, urges all would-be passengers as they arrive to spread themselves along the whole length of the platform to maintain ‘social distancing’ and avoid crowding in parts of the train. About five people were travelling on this particular train. No-one disembarked or boarded at Campsea Ashe for Wickham Market.
But in days of much yore, a long time ago, ’twas otherwise. WIckham Market Station, despite being somewhere else, has form – as a prominent plaque explains:
And in addition to having been a Junction, probably with its own Fat Controller I would imagine, this historic site also has its own little niche in history because 1952, the date on which the branch line was closed, was a good decade before the infamous Beeching cuts to which the uninformed would be inclined to attribute the closure.
I’m guessing here but probably it was in the 1960s that the station was downgraded Beeching-wise, losing Platform 2 and one of its two ‘iron-roads’. The up-line was just in front of the young woodland in the background of the photograph (left) and the ruinous platform, now sprinkled with primroses, remains under the trees and scrub. Even I remember the semi-derelict appearance of the station ten and more years ago; and I remember too reading about a mighty community effort not only to rescue it but to restore it to its modest former appearance. That is the real point of the photograph, taken in March 2021, showing the ‘Japanese’ detailing mentioned in the plaque and the overall good condition of the station building.
But the even more important significance of the ‘restoration’ was that the local community found a new use for the building. To achieve this is real success for, while sticking an old building together is often do-able, finding a viable use for it is usually difficult even though everybody knows that using a building is the best way of preserving it. What do you do, however, with a railway station building on the edge of a village in rural Suffolk with two trains an hour?
And so far it has worked, even though the pandemic has meant that it has not been possible to use the meeting rooms and cafe since early 2020. But here is the magic of this place in action: if you go round to the ‘back’ of the station building, overlooking the car-park, you can find, often marked by a short queue, a small window which gives straight into the kitchen; and there you place your order for a snack or takeaway meal of delicious, home-made food. The soups are to die for, and the bacon rolls will persuade you that life is worth the living after all. You can even order the cakes for your wedding or funeral if you give enough notice. But for me the surreal element is that here, in the middle of almost nowhere, I can order a black Americano from a lady who seems to be there all hours, and be given a lovely drink from a real expresso machine. Who cares whether it’s in Wickham Market or Campsea Ashe?