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The Story of Sirapite

It was only after a Garrett wagon crashed through the wall of the Post Office that steam power was introduced to the Works railway.

The expanding Eastern Counties Railway (soon to become part of the Great Eastern) had reached Leiston in 1859 and Richard Garret lost no time building a private spur from the station sidings down into the Town Works – which by 1860 had become an international concern exporting to 16 different countries. But for the next 70 years motive power on this final leg between the outside world and Garretts was supplied by Suffolk Punch horses.

The Suffolk Punches


Raw materials like coal and iron had for many years been brought by sailing ship into Slaughden Quay just south of Aldeburgh and then hauled by cart for the final five miles to Leiston. Now it was only a few hundred yards from the rail head, but there were still advantages to using heavy horses even on rail sidings – they were in ready supply because of their use in agriculture, capable of pulling surprisingly heavy loads along a track, were intelligent, and above all were flexible. In an emergency for instance Garrett horses could be quickly taken from freight duty to pull the Works fire engine (which was also the Town’s fire brigade).

1884 Map showing the line from the Station to the Town Works


The track of the spur line is still visible following a restoration project by the Leiston Works Railway Trust, and is best seen on the other side of Station Road from where Garrett’s ‘Upper’ site has become the Master Lord Industrial estate. It heads through a narrow passage behind a row of houses to emerge on Main Street between the Engineers Arms and what was once the Post Office but is now the Town Library. On the Museum side of the road some of the track metal can just be spotted embedded in the steep entrance drive.

The track running down from the Town Works and across Main Street


The unequal V slope of the line allowed horses to start wagons rolling at the station then leave them to continue downhill under gravity towards the town. Early photographs do show crossing gates where they trundled across Main Street but at some point these were removed and men with red flags were positioned to stop road traffic whenever necessary. As momentum was lost on the rising slope into the Works a cable winch was attached and hauled the wagons up into the factory where other horses could deliver them around the boiler shop, foundry and gas works. In the opposite direction of course there would be an even more precipitous acceleration – these days we’d probably celebrate it as a laudable example of green energy.

Here’s the crossing in later years – but still depending on men with flags


This system served well for a full seven decades, expanding with the development of the Station Works site from 1912 onwards, but all the same there was now a hole in the side of the Post Office. It had probably been simple human error that in 1929 sent two heavily laden wagons careering down the line at the same time resulting in a collision, derailment and the demolition of the side of a public building, luckily with no casualties. But something needed to change.

Garretts quickly purchased a steam shunting engine to actively control freight movement along the entire track. The locomotive they chose had been built in 1906 as works number 6158 by Aveling and Porter (a sister company to Garretts in the AGE combine) originally for the Gypsum Mine Works in Sussex. This company intended to produce a variety of Plaster of Paris under the trade name Parisite, but before too long concluded the anagram Sirapite would be a better marketing strategy. When their yard engine was sold on to Garretts the name Sirapite came with it.