The Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway

I am continuing to read through old copies of ‘The Railway Magazine’. This time it is the December 1950 edition. It contains a short article about the Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway in Essex. This article held my interest because it relates to a line not too far from Braintree in Essex where we lived between 1970 and 1972. A scan of the article in the Railway Magazine is reproduced at the end of this post below the References …

The Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway was an 8-mile-42-chain (13.72 km) standard-gauge light railway in Essex, England. It was authorised under the Light Railways Act 1896 and operated between the two villages of Kelvedon (on the Great Eastern Main Line) and Tollesbury to the south of Colchester on the coast. The line, which was part of the Great Eastern Railway (GER), was authorised on 29 January 1901, although its opening was delayed until 1 October 1904. [1][2][3]The approximate route of the line shown on OpenStreetMap.

The area served by the railway lay between the GER main line and the coast, mostly agricultural land, with fruit being a main crop. At Tiptree, Wilkin & Sons, the jam-making firm, founded in 1885,[4] provided a large amount of the freight traffic; it had also been hoped that a tourist trade would ensue from the yachts moored near Tollesbury. The line became known locally as The Crab and Winkle Line, although the original railway to bear that name was the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, which used a play on the initial letters of the line.

Arthur Wilkin, the proprietor of the jam making family firm, was intent on having the railway built because Tiptree was only a farmstead in a large heathland. Fruit had to be taken to Kelvedon, the nearest village, by horse and cart, which took time. There were no made roads, just rugged tracks. For the company, it was imperative that they had a railway. In fact, Arthur Wilkin threatened to move his jam company to Dagenham if the railway was not built. [2]

Tiptree, Tollesbury and Tolleshunt D’Arcy had substantial buildings; the otherintermediate stations had an old passenger coach for accommodation. [1] All the platforms were at a low level; there was no signalling, since only one locomotive worked the line; and only local tickets were issued on the trains; there were no through tickets to mainline stations. [4]

The 1.75 miles (2.8 km) extension to Tollesbury Pier never brought the expected traffic. During World War I it was used for troop training on the river and was subsequently closed to passengers in 1921.The government took it over during World War II and erected defences along it.[2] Final closure to passenger traffic took place on 5th May 1951, just 6 months or so after the article in The Railway Magazine was written. Freight traffic continued between Tollesbury Pier and Tiptree until 29th October of the same year. The section between Tiptree and Kelvedon continued in use for freight traffic until 28th September 1962. [1]

The total construction cost of the line from Kelvedon to the River Blackwater was estimated at £45,000 or £4,667 a mile. The maximum speed allowed was 25mph and 10mph through villages and ungated level crossings. Fares on the first journeys were only offered as third class. For the full excursion from Kelvedon to Tollesbury, you would have been charged 9d (about 4p), and the journey would have taken 40 minutes if there were no accidents or animals on the line. [2]

On the last day of the passenger service: “On the engine’s firebox were chalked ‘Born 1904. Died 1951’, and on the bunker was the solemn warning, ‘There be many a poor soul have to walk’. This last train to Tollesbury arrived on time at 6.25pm, and on departure for the last time to Kelvedon was accompanied by as much noise as the departure on the outward journey.” [1] Following the last passenger train from Kelvedon, a black coffin from Kelvedon with wreaths, one of which was shaped in the letters of BR, was laid along Tiptree platform. On the side of the train, someone had chalked: “Crab and Winkle, sorry to say, you died because you did not pay.” [2]

Access at the Kelvedon terminus was by a footway running across the road bridge and descent to the Low Level Station. The Low level station is shown in the two images above. [5]Passengers waited here for their train in a wooden shed. A mixed train behind a GER 0-6-0 tank near Kelvedon on the Kelvedon & Tollesbury Light Railway in around 1910. [6]

The stations/halts served by the line were, Feering, Inworth, Tiptree, Tolleshunt Knights and Tolleshunt D’Arcy, before reaching Tollesbury and finally Tollesbury Pier. [1]

The route meandered through the Essex countryside, the maximum gradient being 1 in 50. The tightest curves occurred on the final section between Tolleshunt D’Arcy and Tollesbury and included an agricultural siding at Old Hall. The stations at Tiptree and Tollesbury were the most attractive on the line. The latter consisted of a small goods yard, complete with loading gauge and cart road and wooden buildings. Tiptree Station. [6]Tollesbury Station. [5]Tolleshunt Knights Halt. [1]

The line then crossed the road, Station Road, by an open crossing on the other side of which was a run-round loop. [1]

The extension to Tollesbury Pier was completed on 15th May 1907 about two years after the rest of the line. It remained open for less than 20 years and skirted the village before dropping steadily to the River Blackwater. Two roads, Woodrolfe Road and Woodrolfe Farm Lane were crossed by this final section of the line. The terminus facilities included an old coach body and a red brick hut about 40 yards from where the pier began. [1]The Tollesbury Pier Station. [7]

In 1939, the pier extension, which had only remained open until 1921, was taken over by the then War Department. Part of the structure was blown up in 1940 as an anti-invasion precaution. The overgrown track was terminated in a sand-drag and used by four locomotives to service the mobile guns that were stationed along the estuary. Part of the extension had been used previously for the storage of rolling stock, but the wooden pier had been allowed to fall into disrepair after closure nineteen years earlier. [1]

During war-time, a pill-box of thick reinforced concrete was built on the land end of the pier, and a control tower for the many electrically controlled mines, which effectively blockaded the estuary against enemy attack, was built about mile inland on the seaward side of the line. The old pier was finally demolished when the line was taken up in 1951, and any traces that might have been left were washed away when the great floods of February 1953 inundated the north bank of the Blackwater for about mile inland. Even the few rotting stumps of timber which stood above the mud at low tide have now disappeared. [1]

“Services were neither rapid nor very frequent. A majority of the trains were mixed and the time allowed for the journey was between 30 and 40 minutes. No trains ran on Sundays.” [1]

“By 1937 branch traffic was in steady decline. Ten years later passenger journeys had reached their lowest ebb – averaging only 33 return journeys along the entire route each day.” [1]

Searching the internet, I have found a number of texts relating to the line which I have not yet been able to read:

  • N.J. Stapleton; The Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway; Forge Books; 2nd Revised edition edition, December 1975.
  • M. House; The Kelvedon to Tollesbury Railway: A Pictoral History;
  • Vic Mitchell; Branch Lines Around Witham and Kelvedon: Bishop’s Stortford, Maldon, Tollesbury; Middleton Press, 2010.
  • Peter Paye; The Tollesbury Branch; Oxford Pub Co, 1985.

I have also had this link to a video pointed out to me:


  1. Keith Lovell; The Crab and Winkle Line;, accessed on 29th January 2019.
  2., accessed on 29th January 2019.
  3., accessed on 29th January 2019.
  4. R.C.J. Day and R.K. Kirkland; The Kelvedon & Tollesbury Light Railway; The Railway Magazine Tothill Press Ltd, Volume 96 No. 496, December 1950, p838-842, p847.
  5., accessed on 29th January 2019.
  6., accessed on 29th January 2019.
  7., accessed on 29th January 2019.
  8. The Railway Magazine article on which this post is based can be found in the Railway Magazine archives on line if you do not have access to the original edition of the magazine. A subsequent note in The Railway Magazine of June 1951 (p422) says that all passenger services were withdrawn from the line in May 1951. The last passenger train ran, it notes, on the evening of 5th May.


8 thoughts on “The Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway

  1. JP

    Dear Roger,
    Thank you very much for a lovely article with just the right amount of detail to satisfy those of us for whom anything about branch lines of old are but catnip, whilst not flooding the casual reader with superfluity.
    The fact that Tiptree is home to this country’s finest jams and preserves is a bonus. Thank you again.

  2. John E Coble

    Is there any way to follow the original track bed from kelvedon to Tiptree at the present time.

    1. rogerfarnworth Post author

      I believe that the old route goes across what is now private land. I guess that the nearest to following the line will be to walk from the present Kelvedon Station along the B1024 to Feering Hill and then along Feering Hill to the junction with the B1023. Once on the B1023 the railway will be on your right some distance away. It remains so until you arrive at Tiptree.

  3. David Sheldon

    A very enjoyable read. I lived in Messing then Tiptree in 1966-1970. I also attended school in Tiptree. Additionally I had a paper round which covered a large rural area, the papers being delivered to me for me to deliver around the farms and cottages in the area; Friday’s delivery included the very bulky and heavy Essex County Standard. As for the Kelvedon and Tollesbury LR I note from the article that it closed in 1951 – the year in which I was born.

  4. Pingback: Day trips from London – Tiptree’s Jam Museum

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