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Isle of Eldernell & Mereport Railway

 

A North Cambridgeshire Oddity.

 

During the ‘Armchair Years’ I undertook extensive research and planning with a view to modelling Fenmarch, on the Isle of Eldernell & Mereport Railway.  The problem arose when I realised that it would not take a huge room in order to be able to model the whole of this unique and fascinating system, but, in doing so, I rather over-awed myself.  I looked for something more modest and hit upon Castle Aching for my apprentice piece.  I may still model part, or even all, of the IOE&MR, but, in the meantime, those kind folk who have contributed to the Castle Aching thread have suggested that the IOE&MR is at least worth writing up.

 

The Fens are a unique landscape, not readily comprehended by those not familiar with them, so an explanatory word on the locus in quo would not seem amiss.

 

The Fenman of old had one foot in the water and one upon the land.  There were areas permanently under water, broad meres and meandering rivers that endlessly changed course and divided into myriad channels.  Areas of permanent dry land fringed, or formed islands in, the Fens.  Here the Fenman farmed and dwelt, taking advantage of the clay soil. The Fen itself was originally low-lying marsh resting on peat or silt.  The Fens were inundated during winter, but, when the waters receded, provided seasonal rough pasture.  Man has tried to control the flooding of the Fens since Roman times. Large-scale flood control and drainage commenced in the Seventeenth Century.  The Nineteenth Century saw the use of steam power to pump the Fen dry and drain the meres.  This left the Fens a land of canalised rivers, sluices, drainage ditches (“drains”) and embanked flood defences or dykes criss-crossing a largely flat landscape of great arable fields.  Farms and homesteads dot this landscape, typically marked by the surrounding trees that serve to shelter them from the chill east winds.  Often drainage led to shrinkage of the peat and the ground level fell dramatically; in several places this gives rise to the bizarre phenomenon of walking ‘uphill’ to the river.

 

One of the larger islands, forming a remote and largely forgotten area of North Cambridgeshire, built its own railway system, that of the Isle of Eldernell Steam Traction Company, in the 1860s, linking the towns and villages of the Isle, serving its brick works in the West and providing branches that struck out into the Fen to bring agricultural produce in from the outlying districts.

South and West of the Isle were the remains of the fen country’s last great body of water, Eldernell Mere.  Access to the 'mainland' remained a matter of the paddle-steamers, wherries and Fen lighters that plied the Mere. To the Isle’s North East, across several miles of drained Fen, is the major town and inland port of Mereport.  Mereport sits on dry land, with peat Fen to landward and silt Fen to seaward.  It grew rich on water-borne trade, both from the inland meres and rivers, and sea-borne trade that came up river from the Wash. In the late Eighteenth Century, the Mereport Canal & Harbour Board was formed to maintain navigation both inland and to the sea and to improve access to outlying agricultural districts.  The advent of practicable steam traction in the early decades of the Nineteenth Century led the Board to supplement and then supersede the Mereport canal system with tramways.

 

In the mid-1880s, the IOESTC obtained parliamentary powers to build a lengthy extension across the Fen to Mereport.  The Great Eastern Railway, which, with characteristic optimism, hoped eventually to link the area’s railways to its own, provided much of the necessary investment and became a major shareholder. 

 

The lines of the IOESTC and the MC&HB were linked towards the end of the 1880s and the two ventures merged to form the Isle of Eldernell & Mereport Railway.

 

Not a Light Railway Act venture, the railway was a bustling small-independent. The intention behind the model would be to depict the railway in its heyday during the last decade of the Nineteenth Century.

 

The modern visitor to the Fens looks in vain for evidence of the existence of this line, but old photographs, prints, and, the odd bit of surviving earth works or masonry suggest how the scene might have looked, all those years ago.

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Edited by Edwardian
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Very interesting idea - and almost parallels one of my own. In my scenario, the Wash area would make a great location for an island. The flat, fenland style is the obvious option, but one built on solid rock is just about believable if you look at the geology of the area. The chalklands of North West Norfolk could easily be part of the belt of chalk uplands found in East Yorkshire (maybe they are?) Part of the missing link could have survived somewhere in The Wash as an island with some fenland marsh around it. A large town based originally on smuggling, but more recently a seaport eclipsing Lynn, Wisbech and Boston. Maybe even the destination for the allegedly lost treasures of King John? England's Venice?

 

Sorry, mustn't get too carried away ;)

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Southwold's extension to Dunwich via Walberswick junction is crying out to be modelled.......

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I had quite forgotten that I had at one stage posted an envelope-back plan of a layout purporting to represent the entire Isle of Eldernell system.  So, for completeness, I'll include it here.  With so much railway crammed into a room, C J Freezer might have approved (well, I'd probably need a mainline terminus and running shed to qualify for that, but still). 

 

In theory, at least, it remains my intention to model this ultimate in light railway projects.  I reckon with a shed, say, 16' x 18' I could just about cram in the whole system.  A lovely little railway with its Sharp Stewart 2-4-0Ts and 4-wheeled Oldbury coaches.  The nods to the Isle of Wight would be several, reinforcing the conceit that this is a self-contained island system, albeit set on an inland island. Perhaps I should tackle it if and when I get through Castle Aching.

 

I like the, now rather old fashioned, idea of modelling an entire railway.  Everything is 'on-stage' and you have to cater for the needs of a complete, if exceedingly modest, system.  l did draw up a rough plan long ago, the key to which is the use of triangular junctions that mean you can go from anywhere on the system to anywhere else in a satisfying number of combinations.   No doubt it will bear revision, but it gives a good general idea. 

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I've always had a fondness for complete railway plans.  Unfortunately they tend to need either a large amount of space or a very small modelling scale in which to do them justice.  I've seen some complete systems achieved in smaller spaces by layering baseboards over one another, but this is always tricky to achieve in a way that doesn't either offend the eye or lead to the use of severe gradients or both!  ueOQWcg.gif

 

I liked this plan right from the moment I first saw it so I really do hope that you will be able to build it.

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I've always had a fondness for complete railway plans.  Unfortunately they tend to need either a large amount of space or a very small modelling scale in which to do them justice.  I've seen some complete systems achieved in smaller spaces by layering baseboards over one another, but this is always tricky to achieve in a way that doesn't either offend the eye or lead to the use of severe gradients or both!  ueOQWcg.gif

 

I liked this plan right from the moment I first saw it so I really do hope that you will be able to build it.

 

Thanks.  This scheme is wet in the flat landscape of the Fens, so would rely on strategically placed view blockers - buildings or tree lines - to separate the scenes.

 

If I go a bit Ricean with viewing heights and view blockers, I have a chance of presenting this very un-Ricean layout convincingly! 

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I once had the notion to model the system on the Hebridean island of Inch.  As well as the station in the town of Inch, there would be ones at Mair nan Inch, Inch na Bit and Inch na Hauf, with branches going over causeways to the neighbouring small islands of No'an Inch and Less nan Inch.  It would have been 1'7" gauge, built to 16mm~1ft scale (work out the track gauge!).  Unfortunately what with only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, life is too short!!

 

Jim

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At that scale, the island will be renamed "One and a third millimetres".

Don't you mean 'Yin an' a third'?

 

Jim

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Returning briefly to the matter of scenic breaks in flat landscapes, I reckon they are easier.  You cannot actually see very far at ground level in a flat landscape - curvature of the earth and all that - ironic, then, that the Flat Earthers used Fen Drains to 'prove' their theories. Still, I might decide to subscribe to flat earth theory, because, when I retire, I'd be interested to take an along the world cruise. 

 

Be that as it may, the inability on the prototype to view anything from any kind of elevation would need to be reproduced on the layout with suitably high base boards.  Once you commit to that, the rest is easy.  You do not heed cuttings, tunnels or bridges over the line.  Frankly, a hedgerow will do to provide a scenic break.  In my sketch plan, back to back scenes are divided by strip woods, or a row of buildings, which could represent one structure/location on one side and a different structure/location on the other; you are never permitted to look over or around them. 

 

I remember a friend and neighbour's farm that had a short section of low garden hedge between an out-building and a tall tree-lined hedgerow. Between these taller obstacles, one had a clear view over the fence of ... nothing.  No distant fields, copses, strip woods, dykes or farmsteads.  Nothing. The sky came all the way down to the fence, and there was simply The Void behind it.

 

This was visually disconcerting, even by the standards of the Fens, where one frequently has to walk uphill to reach the river. The senses insisted that the horizon simply could not be set so low as to be invisible behind the hedge.  I fully persuaded myself, with the help, perhaps, of a few beers, that the hedge marked, not merely the end of the garden, but the End of Everything.  Were I once to step up to that fence, and lean over to see the other side, literally, there would be Nothing.  Frankly, I did not have the nerve to look, but simply returned home, badly shaken. Keep your pointy Swiss mountains; what I saw, or rather didn't see, really was landscape playing with the imagination. 

Edited by Edwardian
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Keep the horizon low, and use devices like hedges, fences and dykes (which are the banks, and not the water channel) to disguise the join, and you should be ok.

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You’ll find members of the flat earth society in every corner of the globe, but surely there’s a less involved excuse for a few beers than placing your layout on top of a stepladder, and then peeping over the top to find there’s nothing beyond?

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Before there was Castle Aching, there was the Isle of Eldernell and Mereport.  The first, but as yet unmodelled fantasy confection has now hit Achipedia.

 

My great thanks to Gary for creating this online facility, the Achingverse, and to those who came up with and encouraged the idea. 

 

It is 1897, the Jubilee Year, and the grey-blue locomotives of a busy little line chuffer their way around the Fen .... 

 

The first link largely repeats what has been posted here, but adds some notes on the projected layouts.  There follows some more detail concerning the principal places served by the line.

 

Isle of Eldernell & Mereport Railway - Layout Schemes

 

Eldernell Town

 

Fenmarch

 

Eldernell Abbey

 

Eldernell Mereside

 

Mereport

 

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Can't wait to read it!! Always enjoyed this idea, one day it'll make a great layout(s)!! 

 

Gary

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1 hour ago, Annie said:

What an excellent radio program.  Thank you very much for the link James.

 

Edit:  More in the series can be found here  https://www.bbc.co.uk/search?filter=programmes&q=the+Fens

 

I met Francis Pryor a couple of times when he re-visited Flag Fen, where I used to volunteer.  Flag Fen is a magical place, and Pryor is a really good bloke.  He is also a shepherd.

 

The jumping off place for the Fens surrounding the Isle of Eldernell is Medehamstead in the Soke

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Ah, I had a longish car drive this morning, and enjoyed an episode of Mr Pryor as an antidote to part of the M25 ...... much nicer to see the fens in the mind’s eye than to focus too hard on the lorry in front.

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