BRIDGE VOICES

LOCAL REMINISCENCES OF SUTTON BRIDGE

THE WOOD TRAIN

I wonder how many folk in Sutton Bridge remember the wood train that used to go from Wisbech to Travis and Arnold’s yard at Sutton Bridge? – Quite a number of long-standing residents of the town, I’m sure 92 year old Mister Jack for one..

He arrived in Sutton Bridge when it was entirely an ‘agricultural village’, when most people worked on the land, often doing back-breaking work. He came to work for Travis Arnold, timber merchants, and worked his way up to become the manager. He recalls sitting in his office looking out across the river at between 3.30 and 4pm every day to see bicycle upon bicycle streaming along East Bank towards the Bridge, as the workers left the fields to return home.

The photograph above shows timber in wagons crossing at the gates at New Road, Sutton Bridge. You can make out the roof line of Cindy’s (top left). This was a private line and British Rail engines could not haul the trucks directly into Travis Arnold’s yard (BR regulations) so the engine was unhitched and the trucks shunted into the yard, where they were unloaded.

Jack said the import of wood at the port was stopped during the War and afterwards there were fewer ships using it. Sutton Bridge was an NAA (Not always afloat) port, which meant that ships had to rest on the silt in the middle of the river at low tides and were not so stable as in other ports where deep water ensured boats had a good anchorage. Even today, the boats moored at the modern port are not floating, but resting on clay.

The railway crossing across Bridge Road, Sutton Bridge, near New Road.

Photo taken early 20th century. Notice the man and his son and their handcart – could he be a knife-grinder? The man seems to be sitting at his cart.

DINNER-DANCES AT THE BRIDGE HOTEL

Jack Earley, one of Sutton Bridge’s long-standing residents, remembers the dinner-dances that were held at the Bridge Hotel. The hotel was the social centre for the district and the functions that were held were attended by people from miles around. It was owned by Soames Brewery (Norwich) and the manager and his wife – Tom and Sadie Burns – would greet their guests in evening dress. Dancing was popular in the fifties and people like to dress up when they went out. It was probably a reaction from the austerities of the war, when everything was rationed. Clothing rations continued until 1949.

Jack and his wife Olive like dancing. He recalls that they met at a dance – in 1942 at a Regimental Dance in the Rink Ballroom, Sunderland. His eye had been caught by a young lady in a blue lace dress and he decided he’d like to have a dance with her. Each time the music started for the next dance, he was beaten to it by others with the same intention as himself. This happened three times and by that time, Jack said ‘he was getting a bit mad’. However this made him all the more determined and as soon as the music started again, he was there, and ‘pounced’ on Olive and led her on to the floor. This was in February 1942; in December, they married.

The Bridge Hotel, Sutton Bridge
Staff at The Bridge Hotel, Christmas 1953.
The old cinema in Bridge Road, which later became the Barn Restaurant.

Jack said another venue for dancing was the Barn Restaurant in Bridge Road, in what had previously been the cinema, on the site between the old school and the hardware store. He and Olive regularly went dancing here too.