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Bury St Edmunds transport over the ages from the River Lark to railways and roads



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Our 1999 publication Millennium Memories, from the Suffolk News archives, takes a look back at the history of transport in the region.

It says: Roads now connect our towns and villages, but the dominance of the car only occurred after the ages of horse power, rivers and steam.

Although no-one can be sure, the River Lark was almost certainly an important means of early transportation, with evidence heavy goods were shipped from London to Lynn and brought to Bury St Edmunds overland.

The scene on Angel Hill in the past - it looks similar now although the style of vehicles has changed
The scene on Angel Hill in the past - it looks similar now although the style of vehicles has changed

The water table used to be much higher than it is today and by 1698 the Lark had been made navigable to Fornham St Martin.

In 1890 the Eastern Counties Navigation and Transport Co Ltd extended the Lark navigation from Fornham St Martin into the town, making it possible to bring heavy loads such as coal to a point near the former Keymarket store, in Mildenhall Road.

There were already regular services to London in a horse-drawn coach by 1770, with carts and wagons taking passengers to most villages.

November 1910 - a train in the signal box loco shed. In the top left corner are the goalposts on the old Great Eastern Railway football field
November 1910 - a train in the signal box loco shed. In the top left corner are the goalposts on the old Great Eastern Railway football field

Leaving from the Angel Inn every Monday,Wednesday and Friday, the coach went to the Green Dragon and Bull Inns, Bishopsgate Street, London, carrying four passengers at 16 shillings each.

The journey took a long time, with the return available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

One of the most significant events in the town's transport system came in 1846 with the opening of the railway station in Northgate Street and opening of the Ipswich to Bury railway.

The dismantling of the Rougham Road railway bridge which carried the Bury to Sudbury line, which closed in April 1965
The dismantling of the Rougham Road railway bridge which carried the Bury to Sudbury line, which closed in April 1965

Amid scenes of great enthusiasm a crowd of several thousand greeted the first train from Ipswich, a journey which had taken nearly two hours.

The directors and the mayor and Corporation of Ipswich arrived on a special train and were welcomed on a platform installed especially on the Ipswich side of the viaduct, before progressing into town for a banquet in the Market Cross.

In 1849 the railway line was extended to Norwich via Stowmarket and to Cambridge in 1854.

The first fleet of Glasswells vehicles went into service in 1955
The first fleet of Glasswells vehicles went into service in 1955

In 1852 the Eastern Union, the East Suffolk and the Eastern Counties Railways were amalgamated to be known eventually as the Great Eastern Railway.

Between 1865 to 1909 there was a second station in Eastgate Street for the Sudbury line, which was demolished before 1924.

The Bury St Edmunds and Thetford Railway Company began services along the 13-mile route in March 1876, with a speed limit of 30mph and a weight limit of 40 tons. Passenger services came to an end on the line in 1953 and freight services stopped in 1960.

A J Bibby and Sons decorated vehicle ready for the Whit Monday carnival in about 1955. The picture was taken in Mitchell Avenue, off Mildenhall Road. From left, Eddie Murton, George Palfrey and Les Westley
A J Bibby and Sons decorated vehicle ready for the Whit Monday carnival in about 1955. The picture was taken in Mitchell Avenue, off Mildenhall Road. From left, Eddie Murton, George Palfrey and Les Westley

To mark the last passenger service to Thetford, there was a funereal procession in Bury, with coffin and weeping mourners attired in Victorian costume. Detonators were fired on the track, streamers were thrown and wreaths decorated the engine as the Thetford Flyer made its last journey.

Bury stood on the only main road which ran through Suffolk – the London to Norwich road.

The main road connecting the town, the A14 (previously the A45), became a dual carriageway in the 1970s.

One symbol of growth in road traffic was the large white illuminated sign on Angel Hill, called the Pillar of Salt, which was given the go-ahead by the Ministry of Transport in 1935.

Since then the growth in the number of cars on the roads led to conflict with pedestrians, especially in the old narrow streets, with partial pedestrianisation introduced in some roads.