With my family I made two visits to Melton Constable in the spring and summer fifty years ago. We made a day out of it, taking the train from Norwich. It was an adventure, although by then the railways in East Anglia were all diesel traction. I took my Bolex ciné camera which I had just bought with £15 Nanny had given me; you can see it in my right hand in the picture below. So there is movie film of the expedition too which one day I may use on my blog! I still have my Bolex, but the clockwork motor has stopped working, and I very much doubt if you can still get standard 8 movie film.
The first trip was before the restaurant at Melton Constable station closed on 21st June. This picture was taken on the second visit which my father and I made with my mother and sister Margaret in August; the earlier visit had included just me and my father. We had eaten in the station restaurant on the first occasion when my father and I made the journey to Melton. On the second trip we had to make do with snack in the waiting room. Fortunately this was still open. Here you can see the family by the fireplace, although the fire wasn’t lit; it was the height of summer. It would have been lit during the very cold months from January to March though – it was the year of the big freeze. There was also a clock on the wall, although I do not remember if it was going or not. It says half past two, which is about the right time for a late lunch, so it probably was; the staff were making a valiant but doomed effort to keep things going as near to normal as possible.
Inside the station seemed relatively normal, especially on our first visit. The paint on the walls of the booking hall was old it is true, but the service was good. Outside it was a different story. The tracks which formerly gone to Great Yarmouth, Norwich and King’s Lynn had been lifted, and only the line to the North (to Cromer) remained. This still required signalling; Melton West Junction box had already gone, but the east box was still staffed, although it no longer served the busy junction that justified so large a box.
A small amount of production still went on at the workshops in Melton, where they were still making sheets to cover the open trucks for use on the entire railway system. Steam locomotives were no longer in evidence in 1963, although they had been in 1962. There were one or two diesel shunters in the yard to marshal the goods trains which still ran. It wasn’t all sheets. In the colour photo you can see a couple of shirt sleeved workers busily unloading a truck with shovels. Besides the tarpaulin traffic there was some other freight, particularly sugar beet in the autumn and maybe some coal for the local community.
Passenger traffic was ended on 4th April 1964, but the line remained open for goods traffic for a few more months until December. Melton had never been a busy town in its own right, and its importance lay solely in being a railway town. Nineteen steam locomotives had been built there in William Marriott’s day, and it pioneered the use of concrete for such things as bridge building, signal poles and fencing posts. Even some crossing keepers’ houses were built of concrete blocks. It was called the Crewe of East Anglia. Melton remained the junction of lines to the north, south east and west until the end of the 1950s. But then when it no longer had this distinction it withered, and it has never regained its former importance.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Keep reading my blog for all aspects of East Anglian life. I still have plenty of pictures of local railways to publish, and memories of places and events in Norfolk and Suffolk. I also give you my own take on historical events seen from an East Anglian perspective.