|In 1982, at a Model Railway Exhibition in Colchester Town Hall, Roger Kingstone showed his 'O' Gauge layout of what he thought West Mersea Station would have been like if it was ever built. It was seen by William Packard, Editor of Mistral Magazine, who asked Roger if he would write an article for the next issue ...
A Railway to Mersea Island ?
Until the mid 1890's all railways had to be constructed to rigid standards and then only after a lengthy parliamentary session, but the Light Railways Act of 1896 enabled local lines to be laid to lower standards and with much less fuss than previously. It was under this act and with the support of local landowners and of the Great Eastern Railway that the standard gauge Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway was authorised in January 1901 and opened for traffic on 1 October 1904. (The line closed to passengers on 7 May 1951 and to goods on 28 September 1962). it was during November 1901 that the "Railways and General Construction and Maintenance Company" applied to construct a standard gauge light railway from Colchester to Southend. This was to commence at Stanway, on the London/Ipswich main line, and proceed through Berechurch, Abberton and Peldon to West Mersea. A ferry was to be provided between West Mersea and Bradwell and the railway to then continue through Southminster, Burnham and Rochford and join up with the Southend Tramways at Prittlewell. The Southend and Colchester Light Railway Order was authorised in 1904 except for the first few miles, but the proposal was revised to re-route the line through Blackheath instead of Berechurch and terminate at Drury Lane in Colchester.
Meanwhile, Colchester had opened its 3'6" gauge tramway system on 28 July 1904. (The system closed on 8 December 1929). As the tramways of Southend were also of a 3'6" gauge, consideration was given during 1907 to change the gauge of the Southend and Colchester Light Railway from standard to 3'6" gauge. Permission was granted in May 1908 but, so far as is known, no actual construction work was commenced and powers expired in 1912. An attempt was made about 1925 to revive the scheme but nothing came of this.
Before the Great War the development of a new seaside resort on Mersea Island to be called "Fair Haven" in the area south of East Road and east of Empress Avenue was announced. In this "New Temperance Seaside Resort" many plots of land were offered for sale and these were shown on a map displayed at the Museum several years ago. Also shown on the map was the site of the "S.B. & C. Light Railway" station at West mersea, situated on the north side of East Road opposite Fairhaven Avenue. A wide roadway, to be called "The Broadway" was shown to run from this point in a more southerly direction than the present Fairhaven Avenue and connect with Victoria Esplanade at a point between Alexandra and Empress Avenues. Here a pier of 2500 ft. was planned to stretch into the Blackwater Estuary with a steamboat ferry service to Bradwell. The railway, shown on the map, continues from West Mersea Station across East Road which may have been called Station Road, and along "The Broadway" to terminate at a station on the pier head. The 'B' in "S, B and C Light Railway may have referred to Bradwell or Burnham.
The route of the line from Mersea Island to Colchester would have been northward from the station in East Road, through a cutting parallel with Dawes Lane to the Strood and to cross the channel on an embankment to the west of the roadway. This embankment would have consisted of material from the cuttings. After crossing Strood Channel the line would continue towards Peldon before turning north to Abberton and on through Blackheath to Colchester. West Mersea may well have developed differently than it has but no doubt the railway would, by now, have closed. This being so, the embankment across the Strood would today carry the main road clear of the tides.
The S.B. & C.L.R. were obviously interested in promoting through traffic between Southend and Colchester but this appears strange in view if the Great Eastern Railway's experiences some years earlier. The G.E.R. commenced running a through train between Southend and Colchester in 1890 after installing triangular junctions at Wickford, Maldon and Witham, but the service was withdrawn in 1894 owing to under-utilisation.
The only actual connection a railway company developed with Mersea Island was the G.E.R. when on 1 September 1905, it started running a bus service between Colchester and West Mersea. A.W. Berry also operated buses to Colchester using lighter, faster, vehicles and as these were more popular they resulted in the withdrawal of the GER operated service on 27 February 1909 after A.W. Berry had agreed to run his buses through to Colchester Station.
Originally published in Mersea Island Society's Mistral Magazine 1983.
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