by John | Oct 16, 2013 |

Ferries, Railways and War - Walberswick

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Ever wondered why there isn't a rail connection to Southwold? Or why the passenger ferry between Walberswick and Southwold still operates via rowing boat, as it did in the 13th century? Find out here.



Walberswick Steam Ferry

There has been a rowing boat ferry across the Blyth since at least the early 13th century.

A pontoon that  could carry and horse and cart was used at the crossing from 1885, the year in which the River Blyth Ferry Company was formed. This was hand operated by means of chains until around 1900, when a steam engine was fitted.

In 1911, a new, larger chain ferry was commissioned. It ran until the outbreak of WWII, whereupon the ferry was anchored in mid-stream as part of anti-invasion measures. Unfortunately, the ferry broke free from her moorings and sank on the Walberswick side of the river. A rowing boat consequently became the only ferry service again - a situation that continues to this day.


The Southwold Railway

In 1879, a narrow gauge railway opened between Halesworth and Southwold, which included a station at Walberswick.

The railway followed on the southern side of the Blyth valley, and crossed the river via a swing bridge on the site of the present day Bailey Bridge. As it provided a useful connection to the East Suffolk Railways, the line was initially very successful, bringing the increasing number of holidaymakers to the area, and aiding the thriving fishing industry.  

A link was added to Southwold harbour in 1914. This coincided with both the outbreak of war, and the collapse of the fishing industry. The twin misfortunes badly affected the railway, which went into decline.

Increased competition from road transport, poor maintenance, and the rolling stock also took its toll on the railway, which closed in 1929. The line was broken up for scrap in 1940-41; although you can still trace its path across Walberswick Common. The Seaside Boats And Buildings Walk passes some of the old track bed.

The swing was blown up as an anti-invasion measure and left skewed across the river, one the many changes that war brought to the area.


After the war, Suffolk County Council, prompted by Walberswick Parish Council, arranged for a Bailey footbridge to be provided across the River Blyth. This could not be positioned where the chain ferry had operated, because of the width of the rivers and the need to allow navigation.

Instead, it was erected on the site of the railway swing bridge, and still provides pedestrian access between Walberswick and Southwold today.


Information from Suffolk Coast and Heaths Explorer series.


See here for some beautiful holiday properties in the area, courtesy of Suffolk Cottage Holidays.



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