THE RAILWAY AT DRAYTON
DECEMBER 1882 – MARCH 1959
The railway which served our village of Drayton and beyond from Norwich wasofficially opened on 2nd December, 1882 originally as the Lynn and Fakenham Railway but it was taken over by the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway in 1893, affectionately called the ‘Muddle and Go Nowhere’ line! It commenced at City Station, Barn Road, Norwich which had a very impressive frontage. Hellesdon was the first stop from Norwich and Drayton the second. The railway company had its own badge made up from the coats of arms for Peterborough, Norwich, Gt. Yarmouth and King’s Lynn
There were sidings off Heigham Street which were badly bombed by the Germans in 1942 and on November 24th, 1944 a catastrophe occurred when a four engined B24 American Liberator bomber of 743 Bomb Squadron from the base at Horsham St. Faiths crashed in flames into the goods yard at Barker Street after a wing clipped the top of St. Philips Church, Heigham Road. All the crew were killed. There is a memorial plaque nearby.
When the railway was being constructed in 1878 John James Winter, a wealthy gentleman living at Drayton Lodge, Fakenham Road, Drayton, had a reading room erected at Fakenham Road for the use of the navvies. The Rector of Drayton from 1855 was the Reverend Canon Hinds Howell until he died in 1899. He helped the railway workmen in need by issuing chits for food to be purchased at Drayton Stores owned by William Frederick Jeckell, who ran a grocery and drapery business there. Hinds Howell issued chits rather than give cash which in some cases would have been spent on beer at the Red Lion or Cock public houses. The licensee at the Lion was Fred Randall and George Bone at the Cock. George was the grandfather of Robert George Carter.
A bridge known as an ‘A’ frame type was constructed to take the railway over the river at the Norwich side of Drayton was numbered 254. Another, No. 249 crossed the river again near Hellesdon Station. The third was placed across the river near the Dolphin footbridge off Heigham Street. This was given the number 247. They are believed to be the only three of this type in Norfolk. The third mentioned was destroyed. About a quarter of a mile on the Drayton side from where Attlebridge Station was there is an original concrete mile post, one of the few to remain.
When it was complete, Drayton Station had six or seven employees, the stationmaster being John Blackboun. There was a waiting room, ticket office, manager’s office and a signal box. The station yard was used by Carter and Bone for the storage of coal. As well as their normal deliveries, they delivered the annual allocations made by the Drayton Drewray Fuel Allotment Charity to the needy of the village. Other coal merchants were Reg Temple and Malcolm Rush. In later years signalmen in the box at Drayton were a Drayton man, Ken Waterson and Geoff Welton. In the area of the station there was a double track to facilitate the up and down traffic. About this time Drayton had an adult population of 409. In 1890 the station master was Frank Rice but he didn’t stay long because in 1891 a Mr. Whistler was in charge.
On 24th January,1894, Harry Cator, V.C., was born at Drayton. His father was a plate layer on the railway. The Cator family lived in a cottage on Fakenham Road about opposite No. 14. Also living near the Cators was Alfred George, Snr. who at that time was a coal porter. Oddly by 1913 he was a fish merchant! These cottages are no longer there. The Station Master about that time was Robert Bailey. Harry went to Drayton school leaving at the age of fourteen. Soon after he obtained employment as a porter at Thursford Station.
On 25th/26th August, 1912 came more flooding far worse than that of 1878. This was called the Great Flood. There was a fierce gale and torrential rain. In the City Station area seven to eight inches of rain fell in twenty four hours, some four times more than usual. The station and goods yards were badly flooded causing havoc.
By 1925 R.G.Carter had built a pair of houses just over the Taverham bridge. His first daughter, Betty, was born there. He named the house ‘Railview’. The other house was occupied by the Urquhart family. The Station Master’s house was and still is at Taverham Road, with prominent gable ends. Further along is some of the original wood fencing on the other side of which there used to be allotments tendered by rail employees. In 1928 Maurice Suter arrived from Cromer to take over as Station Master until 1935 when he was followed by Mr. W Brunning. A signalman was Vic Moy and two of the porters were Cliff Holland and Ernest Beckett who in 1966 became a traffic warden in Norwich.
Drayton Station played an important part in the movement of troops, military stores and mail. During the First World War soldiers of the 16/17th Lancers – the Death or Glory Boys -spent a few days here, then there were men from the Inniskillen Fusiliers, also the 4th Battalion of the Essex Regiment Territorials. The latter had their officers mess and guard room at the Red Lion public house. During the second World War the station was used by units of the Rifle Brigade, Sherwood Foresters, Royal Corps of Signals, and 70th Battalion of the Royal Norfolks. No doubt the rail station at Attlebridge served the American Air Force base there likewise. In the Second World War the Station Master at Drayton was requested by the police to take particular interest in pedal cycles being sent away by soldiers to their home towns as often they had been stolen locally. It is likely that during the Second World War the railway line was of assistance to the German Air Force bombers also, at night following it cross country to Norwich. On one occasion a stick of bombs fell into the nearby marshes on the Costessey side of the River Wensum not far from the railway.
In April, 1940 a complaint was made to the railway authorities concerning the state of Station Road which ran from Taverham Road downhill to Costessey Lane. The Station was on one side but along the other were houses. The reply was that it was a private road and that no residents were prepared to share the cost of repair. The matter was raised many times over the years but not resolved. No.3 Station Road was the local police house which became non-operational in the 1950’s. At No. 5 there was a private school run by a Miss Page. Among her pupils were R.G.Carter’s daughters, Terence Mack and his sister Monica. Charlie Flood, a local boy, used to help to drive pigs and cattle from Mack’s Farm along Costessey Lane to the station.
In 1956 it was threatened the railway would close. Drayton Parish Council protested and argued that the carriage of goods from Drayton was in the region of 2,200 tons per annum, including about 900 tons of sugar beet. Bricks were also transported and there were nearly 500 passengers each month. There was a fast daily service to and from Leicester nicknamed the ‘Dyball Express’ after a man Dyball who was a civil and rail engineer.
On 2nd March 1959 when John Blackburn was the Station Master the station was officially closed. Mr. Blackburn donated a platform seat to the village and it was located on the village green. The railway was never very profitable as there were too few people living in the area to use it, also essential maintenance work was too costly to be justified. The old track bed had its uses though because later a gas mains was buried along it.
Because of the dangers to pedestrians walking along Fakenham Road, Drayton Parish Council made application for a footpath and one was constructed beside the rail bridge in 1963. About 1973 the old railway line was being lifted between Norwich and Drayton and about March, 1978 the bridge at Taverham Road was being demolished to widen the road. The work was completed by October of that year.
Sadly today the station and sidings are no longer. The area has become an industrial site. For a time the waiting room was used by Edward and Wilfred Storr, making organs. When they retired it was taken over by Richard Bowers. Today, taking the place of the railway line there is a public walk along the track bed. It was named ‘Marriott’s Way’ after William Marriott. The nearby large housing estate, ‘Thorpe Marriott’, is also named after him.
Marriott served the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway for over forty one years as Chief Engineer, Locomotive Superintendent and Traffic Manager. A clever man, he also designed locomotives. He lived at Melton Constable and was based there. He had a railway saloon which served him as a mobile office. He retired in 1924 and in 2006 a museum dedicated to him was opened at Holt railway station.
The old track way which was opened to the public in 1990 provides a most pleasant seven mile walk between Hellesdon and Attlebridge. It is used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. There is a traffic light controlled crossing on the A1067 just beyond Drayton. In 1991 a most attractive sign Marriott’s Way was designed by a Hellesdon High School pupil. There is a convenient car park at the Felthorpe Road end of Fir Covert Road but this reduces the length of the walk!
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