A branch line was built across the northern edge of the Forest, linking Bishops Stortford and Braintree. Although mainly aimed at agricultural traffic, it also carried passengers, including some royal passengers. The line finally closed in 1972. It has now been transformed into an attractive long distance footpath and cycle trail, the Flitch Way.
A new branch line
The railway came by Hatfield Forest in 1869, with the opening of the Bishops Stortford to Braintree branch line along the northern edge of the Forest. This almost immediately became part of the Great Eastern Railway.
The owner of nearby Great Easton Lodge, the Countess of Warwick, was a noted society hostess in the later Victorian period. A station was provided nearby, in 1894, specifically for visiting guests. A frequent visitor was Bertie, Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, so it is likely he would have travelled on this branch line, on his way to Great Easton Lodge.
A Forest Halt added
Until 1923, the nearest station was at Takeley, about 1km away. In 1923, in an attempt to boost passenger traffic, a new, unmanned, request stop was added by Takeley Hill Gate, at the north east corner of the Forest, named Stane Street Halt. This was approached by a narrow footpath just beyond the bridge over the Takeley to Hatfield Broad Oak road. The Halt had a low level platform at track level, requiring specially adapted carriages. Steps were provided on each side of the third coach, with the guard lowering and retracting the steps using a lever located in the carriage.
As well as local passenger traffic, the line was important for transporting agricultural produce - sugar beet for the British Sugar Corporation beet factory at Felsted, and, more latterly bananas for the Geest ripening depot at nearby Easton Lodge.
Second World War
During the Second World War, munitions trains supplied the local United States air force bases at Stansted and Easton Lodge and the British Army dumps in the Forest.
Closure and rebirth - the Flitch Way
The railway line was finally closed in 1972 and the track lifted. The disused track bed now forms the Flitch Way, an attractive traffic-free foot and cycle trail running from the outskirts of Bishops Stortford via Dunmow to Braintree, created in 1989.
Further reading: The Bishop's Stortford, Dunmow and Braintree Branch, Peter Paye, The Oakwood Press, 2010.