The Mendlesham building (left) in July 2002. Photo by Steve Crane.
The Mendlesham Station Building
June 3, 2021
The most impressive of the three original MSLR buildings at Brockford, and the centrepiece of the re-created station, is the structure which originally stood on the platform at Mendlesham station. It is unmistakeably a railway building, in contrast to the much smaller and simpler Wilby and Brockford huts.
The Mendlesham building is an example of the larger Mid-Suffolk structures with two bays. The end which is now nearest to the platform entrance was the booking office and housed the single member of staff, while the other end was a store for parcels and goods. In the centre was an open waiting area for passengers, with a small canopy to provide some protection from the elements. There was also an extension which housed basic lavatory facilities, but this has not survived. The building is constructed with a timber frame, boarded interior and corrugated iron cladding on the outside.
In 1953, after the railway had closed, the building was moved to a smallholding at Silver Street, Old Newton, where it was used as a chicken shed. The opening to the waiting area was filled in and everything inside was removed including the walls – although incredibly an OFFICE name plate survived on one of the doors.
In 1992, after the transmission of a local radio programme featuring the newly-formed MSLR Museum, the owner of the building, Mr Brundish, got in touch. He had recently retired from chicken farming and had no further use for it. Founder members Paul Davey and David Chappell went to inspect the building, and found that it was showing some scars from nearly 40 years of agricultural use. It had been converted into a rectangular open-plan shed, by walling off the former waiting area and removing all internal partitions. The lower 3 feet or so of the walls had also been removed, the wood frame having rotted, not helped by years of immersion in chicken droppings! However, this was such an important relic of the MSLR that it had to be rescued.
In the summer of 1992, Roger Gregory and a colleague dismantled the building over two days. MSLR President Tony Alston arranged for the sections to be transported to Brockford, where the long process of restoration began. By Spring 1993 a concrete slab floor had been laid on the platform, with a 3 foot high timber framework to take the place of the missing lower sections of the walls. The rebuilt structure was then manually lifted and gingerly lowered onto its new base.
Over the next year or so, as funds permitted, Roger inserted windows and doors, new internal walls and a ceiling, re-creating the layout of the original building with its open waiting area. A new canopy was also built. Particular emphasis was placed on authenticity, with new wall boards and timber mouldings being specially machined to match the original material. The old corrugated iron was re-used where possible, being placed on the front of the building where it was more visible: new material was restricted to the less-seen rear elevation.
The excellent work done on the restoration was more widely recognised when the Museum won the Railway World Commendation in the 1994 Ian Allan Railway Heritage Awards. The judges were particularly impressed with the great care taken in the reconstruction of the Mendlesham building. The award comprised a plaque together with a cheque for £1000.
Acknowledgements: this is largely based on David Chappell’s article in Making Tracks Issue 77, Spring 2011.