Stuart Grimwade of the Ipswich Maritime Trust writes:
The latest Window Museum display celebrates the long history of the old dock railway. This was the key to the new Victorian Wet Dock and its associated industries’ economic success, and the means by which almost all cargo was transported until the lorry eventually took over in the 1970s.
As soon as the railway line from London reached Ipswich in the early 1840s, plans were made for its extension to serve the then new wet dock. Initially operated only by horses, it took some years before steam engines were thought safe enough to cross the road to St. Peter’s Wharf and the Wet Dock quays. Over the next one hundred years the dock railway (technically known as a ‘tramway’) grew more and more extensive, eventually serving the whole Port including Cliff Quay. Its peak use was probably around the time of the 1966 Ipswich Dock Commission plan reproduced for this display, showing the full extent of its reach.
By the early 1980s use of the railway had virtually ceased and only oil waggons and Freightliner trains to the Cliff Quay tank farm and grain terminal still used the dock’s railway system which closed in 1992. Before its final closure a series of rail enthusiasts’ ‘Specials’ were run consisting of guard’s brake vans, and on one occasion a whole passenger train.
As the IMT’s Image Archive has grown over the years, photographs of the railway began to come to light, including some taken in their younger days by current members of the Trust, who can still recall happy days of freely mixing with the railway world around the public dock, including the occasional ride of the tram engine footplates! These form the basis of the Window Museum display.
IMT is most grateful to the Bury St. Edmunds Model Railway Club for re-assembling parts of its ‘Cobbold Railway’ specially for this display. The ‘O’ gauge model faithfully recreates in miniature many of the details for the original, and visitors to the Museum can use their smart phones to see and hear the model railway running. Find out more here.