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Contractors uncover ‘hidden treasure’ during March rail station redevelopment



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Contractors carrying out improvements at March rail station have unearthed an ancient ticket ledger from when the station first opened over 130 years ago.

The ledger, dated April 1885, contains carefully hand-written entries of all the passenger luggage and parcels sent from the station, providing a unique record of daily life in the area in Victorian times.

Contractors working on the ceiling in one of the old buildings discovered the ledger when they removed some rotten woodwork and it fell through from the disused loft space.

Builder, George Thorne, with the ledger.
Builder, George Thorne, with the ledger.

They also found another ledger, a series of British Rail Red Star consignment notes, and a record card, dating from 1989, three small log books from the 1800s, a Victorian Great Eastern Railway sack , and documents over 100 years old detailing goods trains passing through the station with records of the signal boxes contacted by telegraph and the confirmation records.

Greater Anglia plans to display the ledger – known in the 1800s as a ‘Day Book’ - in the new station buildings once the redevelopment work is complete.

The amazingly well preserved Great Eastern Railway sack might be a unique survivor of the hundreds of thousands that were produced at Stratford in the 1800s.

The ledger found by contractors during March rail station redevelopment dates back to April 1885.
The ledger found by contractors during March rail station redevelopment dates back to April 1885.

It proclaims on both sides in red ‘ Great Eastern Railway - No.1877 – Ely Station’ overprinted in black with the words ‘Saw Dust’ and ‘Condemned’. It is no doubt a product of the prolific GER sack production and repair shop at Stratford Works where it would have been returned for that expert ‘darning’ from time to time.

The railways offered sacks for hire for various categories of goods – grain, seeds, flour, etc. In 1887, the hire charge for railway sacks was ½ d. per sack per week – by 1918, the standard rate was one penny per sack per fortnight, with penalties for delay.

Ely was the Great Eastern Railway’s central sack depot, while stations usually kept a supply. The company had 800,000 on its books – sacks would likely have to be dispatched from Ely to wherever they were needed and returned empty to Ely for re-use. Details of where they were going was entered in Sack Ticket Books.

The amazingly well preserved Great Eastern Railway sack might be a unique survivor of the hundreds of thousands that were produced at Stratford in the 1800s.
The amazingly well preserved Great Eastern Railway sack might be a unique survivor of the hundreds of thousands that were produced at Stratford in the 1800s.

Area customer service manager, Anita Stuart, said: “We couldn’t believe it when the contractor showed us the ledger. It was like finding hidden treasure.

“It’s lovely to have uncovered this link to the past as we take March station forward to become a station fit for the needs of rail travellers now and in the future.”

Local historian and Board Member of the Railway Heritage Designation Advisory Board, Mike Lamport, said:“These fascinating items all reflect the pivotal nature of March station to the area, having as it did the authority of senior staff based there, along with a loco shed and sidings from which managers could draw locomotives and rolling stock from to run special services as demand arose.”

March railway station pictured in the days of steam.
March railway station pictured in the days of steam.

March station is currently undergoing work to remodel the entire station with the creation of an open-plan ticket hall and waiting area, accessible modern toilet facilities, retail outlets, and an upgraded and extended car park at the station.

The major upgrade is part of a multi-million pound regeneration of Fenland’s railway stations which is pushing forward with major improvement works on the rail line between Ely and Peterborough.

The programme is being delivered through Fenland District Council’s Railway Station Masterplans project, with a £9.5million package of funding from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, chaired by Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, and support from Greater Anglia.

Contractors uncover ‘hidden treasure’ during March rail station redevelopment (51498127)
Contractors uncover ‘hidden treasure’ during March rail station redevelopment (51498127)

The project aims to improve passenger facilities at the three Fenland stations – Manea, March and Whittlesea – along the Ely to Peterborough Hereward Line.

Together the partnership anticipates that the upgrades to improve connections between the Fenland towns and other regional centres of education and employment, creating an attractive alternative to the car for more sustainable journeys.

The work is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.



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