Huntingdon

Cambridge to St Ives - Roy Stoner

At our meeting in October Roy Stoner gave a potted history of the Cambridge – St.Ives railway line. This 12 miles of line was opened in 1847 but only functioned as a stand-alone operation until 1862 when it was taken over by the Great Eastern Railway. Like most of the railways constructed at this time its main function was to transport local goods such as coal and agricultural products. Later on the line carried other goods such as ironstone and sand. In 1878 the line was connected to Ely and in 1883 to Huntingdon, giving St.Ives links to March, Kettering, Corby, Ely and Huntingdon. Throughout its life the line carried very few passengers and old timetables indicate that there were never more than about four passenger trains a day. Surprisingly the line escaped the Beeching cuts but was eventually closed to passenger traffic in 1970. However it continued to carry fruit for the Chivers jam factory until 1983 and sand from the gravel pits at Fen Drayton until 1992. Subsequently a substantial length of the northern end of the line was taken over for the construction of the guided bus project. After describing the history of the line Roy showed a video taken from the front of a diesel multiple unit of a journey from Cambridge to St.Ives. As the train entered each of the seven stations along the line Roy stopped the video in order to show a number of static photos giving views of the particular station and associated buildings in different ages. At many of the seven stations there is now very little evidence left of the original buildings and platforms as many of them were demolished to make way for the guided bus track. One feature of the earlier photos was that even the smallest station employed up to ten or more staff in order to cope with the goods traffic as well as manning signal boxes and level crossings. Perhaps as a consequence of having well-staffed stations the staff seemed to have had time to plant and maintain colourful flower beds on the platforms. The Cambridge-St.Ives line is typical of many of the small lines, which
were constructed during the heyday of railway development, solely to meet local needs. However as these lines were absorbed into larger groupings the emphasis naturally shifted from their solely local function to being a part of a much more complex operation with different objectives.