Most of the buildings on the railway were supplied by Jackson & Co, the contractors for the line, but they had been dismissed before Wilby station was constructed. It’s possible that Wilby used a “spare” hut which had been left behind by the contractors. In any case, all the line’s buildings share a similar basic structure, typical of the early 20th century: a wooden internal frame, clad on the outside and the roof with corrugated iron, and on the inside with tongue-and-groove match boarding.
There were always very few passengers at Wilby, reflecting the fact that its namesake village was some 1½ miles away. Even in 1928, Wilby only issued around 9 tickets a week. By the time the railway closed in 1952, the only passengers were children attending secondary school in Stowmarket.
Reuse, Repurpose, Repair
Soon after closure, the hut was removed from the station platform, and at some point it was installed next to an old cottage on the Stradbroke – Laxfield road, where it was used as a garden shed. David Chappell, one of the founders of the MSLR Society, made contact with the owner of the shed, Mr Eric Chambers, who eventually offered it to the Society for £250, a considerable sum for the young organisation. Obviously this was an offer which could not be refused, and in August 1991 the hut was lifted from the garden and transported to Brockford. It was positioned on the platform which was being constructed based on the former cattle dock, and was a highlight of the museum’s first Open Day on August Bank Holiday that year.
Luckily many of the interior fittings had survived for nearly 40 years, including the counter with lifting flap, and the cash drawer with original graffiti from an early MSLR employee. On the wall was a pencilled list of useful telephone numbers. An enamelled sign “TELEPHONE: TELEGRAMS MAY BE TELEPHONED” also came with the building, indicating that this service was offered to the general public at a time when very few people (especially in rural areas) had their own telephone.
A number of other interesting objects were discovered at various places in the building, such as the cavity between the inner and outer walls. These items included sections of timetable going back to 1909, fragments of railway poster from the 1920s, and part of a box of breakfast cereal!
A team led by Joe Werner undertook a thorough internal and external restoration of the building, including the repair of damage unfortunately caused by a dumper truck before it was moved to the museum. The hut was thus transformed into a typical office as seen on small MSLR stations. For the second Society Open Day in May 1992, it was carefully positioned on the platform, together with the former Brockford ticket office which had been acquired in December the previous year, to re-create the appearance of the original Brockford station.
Later in 1992 the Society acquired a third ex-MSLR building, the much larger station building from Mendlesham. In order to make space for this new building on the platform, the Wilby hut was moved to a position at the site entrance, where it has remained ever since. All these buildings require continual maintenance, and the Wilby building has appeared in various colours representing different stages in its railway career, ranging from its early “Victorian Brown” (a shade of maroon) to the dark brown and cream livery of the London & North Eastern Railway.
Acknowledgements: this is based on an article by David Chappell which first appeared in Making Tracks Issue 77 (Spring 2011).