Branch Lines to Thetford (Lightmoor)

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A detailed history of the two Great Eastern Railway cross country routes that introduced the railway to this part of East Anglia and intersected at Thetford.

Before the coming of the railway, the East Anglian towns of Bury St Edmunds and Thetford enjoyed periods of prosperity, largely because of their links by waterways to the coastal port of King’s Lynn. Chronic neglect of the Norfolk harbour and the advent of various railway routes from the 1840s, undermined the importance of the two towns, causing local businessmen to decide the only solution was to build a direct railway linking Bury with Thetford and on to Swaffham.

The plan to run independently of the Great Eastern Railway (GER) was fraught from the start; three companies were formed to achieve their aim, but all were ailing concerns and all eventually sold out to, or were absorbed into the GER by 1898. Thus, the GER without much effort nullified the threatened competition.

The Bury to Thetford and Thetford to Swaffham lines thereafter operated as separate branches until closure in the 1950s and 1960s, but far from a mundane existence they served parts of Norfolk and Suffolk with quiet efficiency and played a huge part in the defence of the realm during two world wars. Their essential involvement in the first conflict, with the exercising of men and horses, and ultimately the development of mechanised warfare in the form of the tank, is largely unknown and forgotten, whilst the servicing of several military airfields, as well as one of the largest bomb dumps in the country and an important but necessary chemical warfare establishment, between 1939 and 1945 is legendary.

Branch Lines to Thetford describes the history of these lines in great depth and relates the many incidents and significant occurrences that took place throughout the lines’ history. The detailed text is accompanied by extensive black & white illustrations, maps, diagrams, timetable extracts and other archive reproductions. 288 pages. Hardback.

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