With my family I made two visits to Melton Constable by railway in the spring and summer, over fifty years ago. My father and I made a day out of it on the first trip, taking the train from Norwich Thorpe. It was an adventure, although by then the railways in East Anglia were all diesel hauled. On the second occasion 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 footage too of the expedition.
The first trip was before the cafe at Melton Constable station closed (on 21st June.) The picture below was taken on the second visit which we made with my mother and sister Margaret in August. We had eaten in the station restaurant on the first occasion, when my father and I made the journey. 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 waiting room 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, and it wasn’t all tarpaulins. In the colour photo you can see a couple of shirt sleeved workers busily unloading a coal truck with shovels. Besides the tarpaulin traffic there was some other freight, particularly sugar beet in the autumn. some coal for the local community and perhaps some agricultural fertilizer.
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 placr. It was just a village bfore the railway arrived 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 9of concrete blocks.
Melton Constable was called the Crewe of East Anglia and although it certainly wasn’t as busy as Crewe, it was a railway centre like nowhere else in the region. Melton was 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 died. Those railwaymen who were lucky enough to keep their jobs were disprsed across the country, and the place has never regained its former importance.
DON’T FORGET I AM DOING A BOOK LAUNCH THIS THURSDAY WEEK, It has nothing to do with railways but it will be a good chance to meet me over a glass of wine; Come at 6 for 6.30 to Jarrolds book dept in Norwich. And it is free. For more details CLICK HERE https://wordpress.com/post/joemasonspage.wordpress.com/20288 .
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.