3. Permanent Way Depot

OS Map of the Permanent Way Depot in 1935

The permanent way, is. as the name suggests any line of rail track which is not part of temporary works. The permanent way consists of the rails, sleepers and ballast that make up a railway line. Each of these elements is subject to erosion and wear and tare. For Britain’s railways the maintenance of thousands of miles of permanent way has always been a continuous problem.

Poster showing railway infrastructure, 1947
LMS poster demonstrating the Permanent Way (c1930’s)
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Maintaining the Permanent Way (c1930)

In 1914 the London North Western Railway built a Permanent Way Depot here at Cotton End, next to their line to Peterborough. The main purpose of the depot was to prepare the lengths of rail and sleepers for repairs and load them onto trains along with supplies of ballast. As you can see from the photograph below, it was an extremely busy working yard.

The Permanent Way Depot c1951.
The Permanent Way site today
Inside the depot c.1951

Wooden sleepers regularly needed replacing because of rot. Most  were made of fir from the Baltic countries, which had to be properly seasoned and prepared before it could be used. This involved creosoting as a protection against rot, and for this purpose each sleeper is made to absorb from three to six gallons of creosote oil. The sleepers then had the large cast iron track chairs screwed onto them by heavy machinery in readiness for laying in the track.

Stacks of sleepers waiting to be creosoted at a railway depot

The Permanent Way Depot closed in 1969 after British Rail had taken both the Bedford and Peterborough lines out of use. The site has remained derelict ever since.

Abandoned concrete sleepers are the only remaining clue that this was ever a railway site



Wrefords Depot c1960s.


Many of the present industrial buildings on Ransome Road, to the south of the Permanent Way Depot were built in 1942 as part of Wrefords Transport Depot, now the largest independent hauliers in the country. The company was founded in 1904 by Silvanus William Wreford.Silvanus was just 19 when he began in business, but within 12 months he doubled the size of his enterprise. By the outbreak of World War 1 he had a fleet of horses and carts and 11 drivers. He bought his first motorised vehicle just after the end of the war and continued to expand the business. His initials still remain on the gate of the depot. Interestingly Silvanus’ childhood home was the Pomfret Arms, which is also part of our trail.

The entry gates of Wrefords and post-war office block.