On a cold and wet March 1st 2009, myself, Howard Cook and Alan Caiger set forth for the North Norfolk Railway to see the “That’s Yer lot!- Mega Steam gala”, a celebration, if that’s the right word, of the 50th anniversary of closure of the Midland & Great Northern main line as a through route on 28th February 1959. Our itinerary was to see the rail events, and thence to take our seats on a 1959 vintage Bedford Vega coach for a tour to see what remains of some of the former MGNR and to repeat the anniversary of the bus services that took over when the railway closed.
Our first port of call was chilly Weybourne, where the low temperatures were giving some spectacular steam effects. Our arrival coincided with that of BR 4MT 2-6-0 76079, one of seven steam locos at the event, a selection of which is below.
Also to be seen were LNER N7 0-6-2T – 69621, BR 4MT 2-6-0 76079, Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway 0-6-0 A Class 1300. Regrettably, J15 0-6-0 65462 did not put in an appearance.
I was fascinated to see a working example of a Great Northern Railway somersault signal at Weybourne, these must be unique to the North Norfolk.
On then to Sheringham, where we were due to meet our coach at 13.00 for the guided tour of some of the eastern part of the former MGNR. The tour departure time was a little delayed, so we had some time to see the station, and a chance to discuss matters MGNR, including the forthcoming road crossing at Sheringham, joining the railway to the Network Rail system. We were assured that this would be in place by the end of 2009. This opens up fascinating possibilities for rail tours.
A magnificently restored 1959 vintage Bedford SB Duple Super Vega coach drew up, so off we went on a tour of the former MGNR, with our first port of being Melton Constable, where little remains of the “Crewe of Norfolk” apart from the water tower and some works buildings.
Seen here simmering in the 1950’s sunshine are classes 4MT, J17, J67/2 and a D16/3. Closure was only 3 years away. Nothing of this view now remains except for some surviving buildings seen in the upper LH background.
The weather was really closing in now, and frequent window wiping was necessary to see the outside world given the primitive heating system.
The weather curtailed some of our intended stops, such as a walk on “Marriott’s Way” at Themelthorpe, named for the MGNR chief mechanical engineer and manager, William Marriott a pioneer in the use of concrete for such items as sleepers, signal posts and other track furniture.
Into the wilds of North Norfolk then we went, entering a very rural landscape. Next port of call was Hindolvestone, where the station building remains, as does the former ground frame box, lovingly preserved by a local enthusiast. A stop was next made at the site of the former Langor Bridge (Goods) where a much dilapidated signal box still (just) survives. Our guide told us that the owner will not sell, and by its condition, it days as a structure must be numbered.
The tour then set off to see Holt station, which should have been the highlight of the trip as we were due a guided tour of the wonderfully restored former station. Alas this was not to be as the owner was not in residence, so we had to content ourselves with taking photos.
The topic of operating the MGNR came up in conversation, and below is a brief potted History giving some background facts.
With 183 route miles, the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway was the longest of the joint railways, comprising of a number of separate undertakings, coming together as the MGNR. It took 52 acts of Parliament to achieve union. The merger forming the basis the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway came in 1893 when the Midland and Great Northern purchased the impoverished East Midlands Railway.
An extension was built in 1894 westwards from Bourne, meeting one at Saxby built by the MR and giving through connections with Leicester, Birmingham, and Nottingham. This together with Norfolk & Suffolk Joint Railway run jointly with the GER, giving the MGNR its own access to Lowestoft was the final form of the MGNR.
In 1923 the MGNR passed to the London Midland & Scottish and London & North Eastern Railways. In 1936 the LNER took over the local administration. The railway’s holiday traffic was gradually reduced by road competition, and the fish moved away in large numbers from Yarmouth and Lowestoft reducing the fish traffic. Another contributory factor was the late clearance of WWII mines from Norfolk beaches. By 1958 the line was loss making, and BR closed the majority of it in February 1959, although some parts lingered on until 1973. The only remaining section still seeing main line trains today is between Sheringham & Cromer. The length of double track on the system was seen as a large operating handicap. Though some doubling was undertaken, nearly 80% of the system was single line. This did not slow traffic though as, the MGNR had the fastest service over a single line in the UK, this being between Kings X and Cromer, at an average speed 43.6 mph, with 12 tablet exchanges at speed. This was the 1.10 PM “London, Sheringham – Cromer tourist Express” & involved speeds of 70 mph plus in places. Coaches were detached at Cambridge, Spalding and Norwich. This service continued until 1936.
Our final port of call should have been Thursford, but as we were running late we returned to Sheringham where we caught the last of the daylight to take some more snaps. Altogether a very enjoyable day out even if the weather was of the brass monkey variety. So now we must look forward to the 75th anniversary? My thanks to Howard for proving the transport.
Bob Poole March 2009.
Link to the North Norfolk Railway