The Rise and Fall of an Outpost of the Thorpeness Empire
The Aldeburgh Post for 7th August 1914 reported: - 'The new halt at Thorpeness was opened for passenger traffic on Wednesday 29th July. The first passenger to book by the 6.45am was Mr Arthur Fisher. The new train service will doubtless prove an additional attraction and convenience to the rapidly expanding little bungalow town. A substantial and commodious ballast platform has been erected with a temporary wooden booking office, a uniformed official being in charge under the control of the Aldeburgh Stationmaster Mr W Allen. All trains apart from the 6.40pm from Aldeburgh call at the halt.' A report dated 23rd October 1914 to the Board of Trade recorded that the platform was 300ft long and 12ft wide with a shelter, lamps, nameboards and a booking office. The platform buildings included an obsolete Great Eastern Railway passenger coach which was later augmented with two more former coach bodies.
Thorpeness Colony, as the resort was known at the time, was sometimes used by Colonial Office staff when on furlough in Britain. When the British Transport Commission was formed, G S Ogilvie thought that Thorpeness was the sort of holiday resort which would appeal to the executive officers of nationalised services, therefore he wrote to Lord Hurcomb to ask for someone to come to Thorpeness to see what it had to offer. Thorpeness had already been advertised on the LNER for some 25 years and Thorpeness Ltd. had already paid £27 10s 0d towards expenses. The Commission felt it had to be careful about the rule of 'no preference' and it suggested that the best thing would be for the Company to place paid-for advertisements in the staff magazines.
From the opening day there were four either way train services to and from Leiston with two additional return trips on Sundays. Steam trains served the line until diesel units took over on 10th June 1956 and attempts to increase traffic on the branch line included visits from the Eastern Belle, a train of Pullman cars which ran from Liverpool Street to selected resorts, giving a cheap, luxury service. Aldeburgh lost its goods service on 30th November 1959, whilst Thorpeness was downgraded to an unstaffed halt in 1962. The resort failed to develop as a mass seaside destination and the station was little used apart from providing a convenient stop for golfers visiting the golf course.
It was the Beeching Report of 1963 which finally resulted in the closure of the eight mile branch line to passengers on 10th September 1966. The last down train left Saxmundham just before 7pm, packed with passengers and picked up more at Leiston and Thorpeness. They were greeted by hundreds at Aldeburgh including Benjamin Britten and a small boy dressed as an undertaker. Thorpeness Halt was decorated with bunting borrowed from Aldeburgh Borough Council. The last up train could not proceed beyond Thorpeness at first because the gates had been padlocked across the track by holidaymakers. The railwaymen opened them with crowbars and detonators exploded on the rails, as they had at Aldeburgh after the train had left. Ticket stocks were nearly exhausted by collectors and almost 400 were sold at Leiston alone. Today the crossing keeper's cottage can be seen on the Aldringham road and the station platform, much overgrown with vegetation, survives on the west side of the road. The siding was constructed in 1921 to take delivery of goods which included Portland cement for onward delivery to the Thorpeness concrete factory which had been provided for further expansion of the village. The siding, which is shown on the 1927 plan, was closed early in 1965. The route of the railway line is now an attractive footpath between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness and vestiges of this delightful branch line, such as a concrete plate layer's hut and fencing posts, remain as sad memorials to Dr Beeching's draconian Act.