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2015 July - 150th Party Celebrations – 5 July 2015
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Heritage charity the Southwold Railway Trust, dedicated to the restoration of the historic Southwold Railway, has a new Chairman. James Hewett of Stradbroke Road, Southwold, was recently elected Chair by the Trustees, and takes over from John Bennett, the well-known Southwold architect and owner of the Edwardian Electric Picture Palace.
James, 64, who was born and raised in Suffolk, has been involved in the heritage railway movement since the age of eight – and it was at that age when, seeing the (now sadly demolished) original Southwold Railway station building, he decided that this unique and historic classic Victorian narrow-gauge branch line must be restored. Since then, he has been involved in many of the UK’s 201 heritage railways (a sector of very great importance to the national and local economy) because, as he says – “the British invented railways. It’s only right that we celebrate that fact”.
James sees it as his job to build on the good work of John Bennett by increasing Trust membership, rebuilding the rolling stock, making sure that the railway is more in the public eye, increasing the already-vibrant SRT volunteer base (volunteers now work for their chosen charity on at least eight days per month), and above all by ensuring that this important part of East Suffolk’s social and transport history is revived, both as a family-friendly heritage tourist attraction, and as an environmentally-friendly means of transport into and through the Blyth Valley.
The Trust has a shop at 27 High Street, Southwold, and also runs classic bus tours with a railway theme. It owns part of the original SR trackbed, at Wenhaston station, where the project to rebuild the railway will begin. Members thus have access to a very beautiful part of the valley, and are responsible for its stewardship. In November 2014 the Trust launched its unique Heritage Train Project, to produce a complete, mixed, SR train as ran in 1879, with steam locomotive, freight wagons, and balcony coach – almost ten per cent of the money for this has already been raised, and much work is already done. Details can be found on www.southwoldrailway.co.uk.
James, a cancer sufferer currently in remission, said: “I will certainly not live to see the restored SR Victorian train meandering gently down the Blyth Valley between Southwold and Halesworth, as it did in 1879. Heritage railways are expensive in time, effort and cash: my last railway, the Welsh Highland, which runs through the Snowdonia National Park, took sixty years and several tens of millions to rebuild. But I hope, before I am no longer able to enjoy it, to see the Southwold Railway on its way to do for Southwold, Halesworth, Wenhaston and Blythburgh what the North Norfolk Railway does for Sheringham, Weybourne and Holt.”
Southwold Railway Trust, 27 High Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6AD
01502 725719 www.southwoldrailway.co.uk Charity No. 1117041
Posted by James Hewett on 10 July 2015
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