Laying it on the line

PUBLISHED: 11:00 15 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:40 06 May 2010

Potton station as it is today

Potton station as it is today

THE history of a unique three-mile stretch of railway line most people never even knew existed will be the topic of a special event next week. For pensioner George Howe the Sandy to Potton line has been a labour of love for over 40 years, so much so the f

Captain William Peel VC

THE history of a unique three-mile stretch of railway line most people never even knew existed will be the topic of a special event next week.

For pensioner George Howe the Sandy to Potton line has been a labour of love for over 40 years, so much so the former railwayman even lives in the old Potton station.

Today the tracks where the line snaked between the two towns are just a scar on the landscape. The Sandy halt has long been demolished but Potton station survives, minus the steel tracks, and many of its old buildings remain, including the waiting room, ticket office and the platform that have not echoed to the sound of feet for 145 years.

Mr Howe, 65, is chairman of the Potton Historical Society, and will be delivering his special talk about the line at the community centre next Thursday at 8pm and revealing some new stories gained through his latest research and some finds in his loft.

George Howe in the old ticket office

"Not a lot of local people realise they had a very important and historical railway line running very close to their homes," said Mr Howe.

"Railways have been my life since I was a boy and now I live in the old Potton station and am still finding out more about the line from Sandy to what is now my home.

"Not so long ago I found loads of old bills and other papers in the roof of the house and they were all related to the line and those who used it."

The line was the idea of Captain William Peel VC who had it built between Sandy, where he lived in The Lodge which is now the headquarters of the RSPB, and Potton on his own land.

The third son of Prime Minister Robert Peel, Captain Peel VC KCB found it easy to build the line because it did not need an Act of Parliament as it was on privately owned land. The short line was completed in June, 1857, and officially opened by Lady Peel.

The first train to pull the trucks of local produce and coaches was named Shannon after Captain Peel's navy frigate and built at a cost of £800. The line closed in 1862 when it was absorbed into the Bedford and Cambridge Railway.

Unfortunately, Captain Peel never saw his dream come to fruition. He had returned to the sea and later died of smallpox in India in April, 1858.

The line ran very successfully, being used by local farmers and market gardeners who managed to get their produce to London quicker by the Potton link with the main line at Sandy.

In a farmer's field close to the Potton station is the old railway shed where the Shannon engine was housed. Today the engine still survives at the Didcot Railway Centre in Oxfordshire.

"I hope a lot of people will be interested in the railway history that is on their doorstep," said Mr Howe.

"It may no longer be there but I have helped preserve its memory."

The talk at Potton Community Centre starts at 8pm. For society members price of entry is free or non-members entry is £2.


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