The Ipswich Underground archive site

Eastern Underground Railway

Ipswich Underground Railway

    Little survives today of the former Ipswich Underground Railway, but once its tunnels and platforms thronged with Ipswich people travelling beneath the streets of their proud town. Today, the tunnels are filled in and the stations have found other uses, but still the memories remain. This site is an attempt to record as much evidence as possible of those days, before they disappear for ever.

A brief history of the Ipswich Underground Railway

In 1920, the first post-war Conservative Government proposed a network of Underground Railways in British towns and cities, to be operated locally but managed centrally from Whitehall. Work went ahead on a number of pilot projects, among them Ipswich, under the auspices of the Eastern Underground Railway, a semi-autonomous company set up by central government.

The collosal cost of the project soon became clear, and the Government, now heading onto rocks under the failing command of the ageing Prime Minister Bonar Law, decided to abandon the project. Local authorities were given the opportunity to take it over, and much to the surprise of Whitehall, Ipswich accepted, one of only three local authorities to do so.

The Eastern Underground Railway became the Ipswich Underground Railway in 1922, and the Borough quicky set about expanding the system to provide a clean, fast, safe and rapid transport network underneath the Borough. Celebrated local architect Hector Munro Cautley designed several stations in a lively style that crossed mock-Tudor with Art Deco. By 1930, fifteen stations had been completed, mainly in the south and east of the town. However, the recession of the early Thirties called a halt to this expansion.

The revival of the Ipswich Underground was to occur in a quite remarkable manner. In 1933, the newly-elected Ipswich Borough Council consisted largely of Communist sympathisers, and even a few party members. One of its first acts was to send a message of support to Joseph Stalin and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Stalin was so pleased with this kick in the face for Baldwin's government that he set about funding the expansion and completion of the Ipswich underground. A number of fabulous stations were constructed, among them Gainsborough, Margaret Catchpole and Fore Hamlet, to the designs of the major Soviet architect Vladimir Mayakovsky.

The Second World War put a stop to this expansion, and the war itself took its toll on the infrastructure of the system. Bombing of the docklands area destroyed the main tunnels linking the east side of town with the town centre, and their replacement would have been prohibitive. In 1950 it was decided to abandon the system, and replace it with overground trolley buses. One short stretch of line connecting the Cornhill station with the Ipswich mainline station, and the spur to St Matthew's, remained in use until 1968, until they were closed and filled in for the deep foundations of the Greyfriars complex.

Some of the stations were demolished, but others found new uses, as shops, banks, a pub and even, in one case, a church. In the Autumn of 2006 I decided to hunt down the surviving evidence of the Ipswich Underground system, and you can see some of my photographs below - click on them to see them enlarged. I hope to continue adding to this site, and offers of original photographs, memorabilia, or even just memories, are most welcome - you can contact me here.


Ipswich Underground: surviving track
Ipswich Underground: Fore Hamlet Ipswich Underground: Cornhill Ipswich Underground: Brewery
Ipswich Underground: Westbourne Ipswich Underground: Cornhill Ipswich Underground: Gainsborough
Ipswich Underground: Halifax Quay Ipswich Underground: St John's Ipswich Underground: Margaret Catchpole
Ipswich Underground: St Helen's Ipswich Underground: California Ipswich Underground: Halifax Quay
Ipswich Underground: Birkfield relay Ipswich Underground: power station Ipswich Underground: Heath
Ipswich Underground: St Matthew's Ipswich Underground: central office Ipswich Underground: surviving collonade
Ipswich Underground: EUR logo

The Ipswich Underground archive site