Steam returns to Essex town 52 years after line closure

By Geoff Courtney

A passenger steam train has returned to the Essex town of Halstead 52 years after its line was closed and the track was lifted.

There was, though, no fanfare, no gathering of preservationists and enthusiasts, and very few cameras clicking, for the train is but an image, albeit an innovative one that has attracted considerable interest and favourable comments from residents and visitors alike.

Halstead heyday: In a post-Second World War pre-Nationalisation scene painted by Guild of Railway Artists fellow Malcolm Root, LNER J15 0-6-0 No. 5451 approaches Halstead station light engine while another member of the class waits in the station with a passenger train. The red-bricked building on the right is the former offices of the Colne Valley & Halstead Railway, and beyond them are the original stables, water tower, and – to the right of the J15’s smoke – the stationmaster’s office beside a water softener. A railway official on the left is standing on what is now the location of a newly-opened Lidl store that features a wall mosaic of an early-20th century scene of the station.

It is the creation of supermarket group Lidl, which recently opened a store on the former site of the station and hit upon the idea of linking the location with Halstead’s railway history.

The tile mosaic features a 2-4-2T, believed to be No. 2 Halstead, which was built for the line by Hawthorn Leslie & Co in 1887 and withdrawn by the LNER as No. 8312 in June 1924.

Malcolm Root, president of the Halstead & District Local History Society who has lived in the town all his life, said: “The mosaic has been very well received – I think Lidl has done a remarkable job.”

Malcolm is a fellow of the Guild of Railway Artists, and has frequently painted scenes of the line in his work as a full-time transport artist. One of those depicts J15 0-6-0 No. 65465 passing Halstead FC’s ground as the town’s team plays Stowmarket, and another is of the station showing the general layout, including a goods shed on the part of the site that is now occupied by the new store.

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