I have already briefly mentioned the Themelthorpe loop in my blog on City Station, Norwich of December 15 2011, but I thought I should treat this subject in greater detail. This concerns the long drawn-out closure of the M&GN to Norwich which took over 20 years, the line slowly shrinking until only the few miles from Drayton to Themelthorpe were left; then that went too.
As long ago as 1945 the City of Norwich Plan suggested that passenger traffic to City Station would soon be axed. As you can see, the writing was on the wall by the end of the war. In fact it took nearly 15 years until the last day of February 1959 before the M&GN was closed to all passenger trains except on the stretch from Melton Constable Cromer. The line from Melton to Great Yarmouth was closed completely, as was all but a short spur from Lynn on the main line west from Melton. One passenger special was run along the line from Melton to Norwich City Station after closure to all but freight traffic, during the few moths that it remained intact. The closure of all but a tiny fraction on the M&GN predated the Beeching Axe. Just a few miles of M&N metals still survive in Network Rail use, the section from Sheringham to Cromer with the intermediate station at West Runton.
In 1959 City Station was too important to close to goods traffic but keeping the line open required a long journey from Norwich Thorpe through Cromer to Melton Constable, to end up about a mile or less from the place you started from. This soon became too annoying for the traffic managers and the Themelthorpe loop was therefore put in; this short new stretch of track joined the former Great Eastern line from Wroxham to Dereham to the M&GN near Reepham at Themelthorpe where the lines crossed. The M&GN had passed over the Great Eastern by a girder bridge. The former Great Eastern line had already been closed by 1960, and the track lifted between Reepham, which was served from Wroxham, and Foulsham which was connected to County School station on the Dereham to Fakenham line. The track had to be relaid through Reepham and sections of the line which had been sold off had to be repurchased. When completed the Themelthorpe loop (or curve) more than halved the distance that trains had to travel to get from Norwich Thorpe to City Station. The Themelthorpe curve was a very tight bend with a 10mph speed limit, and to keep the costs of operation down the line from Wroxham to City Station was run as a light railway. This meant the whole line was restricted to 25 mph.
In 1959 freight still using the M&GN to City Station included glass bottles; Coleman’s winery was just across the street in Barn Road and I am sure it was their wine bottles that came in that way. City Station was also still required for a major coal yard was supplied from there. It would have been much more direct to bring coal in from the midland collieries in Leicestershire by the M&GN, but now that this was closed the coal had to come through Thetford on the Cambridge line. Even with the reopened line from Reepham the journey was tortuous. The Themelthorpe loop opened on 12th of September 1960 and immediately the track of the M&GN to the north through Guestwick and Hindolvestone was lifted. (Hindolveston always had a final “e” in railway usage.) The concentration of the city’s coal facilities on Victoria Station ended the need for a coal depot at City Station and the line beyond Drayton was closed in 1969.
Eventually all traffic ceased on the last section of track through Lenwade too, but it was not for over 20 years from the closure of most of the M&GN. The high point of concrete production at Lenwade occurred in the 1960s. The firm at Lenwade was then Taylor Woodrow who pioneered the Large Panel building technique using precast components made there and transported by rail to London where blocks of flats were being built. They expected over four trains a day would be needed to transport building products alone, but the partial collapse of Ronan Point, a 22 storey tower block in East London following a gas explosion revealed the weakness of the system. This was in 1968 and demand collapsed more completely than the building, and Taylor Woodrow left Lenwade. That left Anglian Building Products Ltd and they made the pre-stressed beams for many of the bridges on the motorways which sprang up in the 1970s. The changes in the road system meant that large loads could now be carried by road that were outside the loading gauge of the railways. The final consignment of concrete beams to go by rail was in November 1981.
Anglian Building Products cement works was the last major customer for the Themelthorpe loop. Now that rail traffic had ceased the track could again be lifted and the track-bed sold off for a second time. The last train to use the line, which had lain dormant for a year, was a weedkiller special on May 16th 1983. It was a sadly inconsequential act to perform on a line in such imminent danger of closure. I think I may have seen the train, because I was travelling along the Reepham Road in Felthorpe, musing on the departed glory of the M&GN, There upon I was surprised to see a train passing; I had assumed the track had already been taken up. Now the route has been taken over by the Norfolk County Council as Marriott’s Way, a long-distance footpath and cycleway. It goes from Norwich to Aylsham, using the M&GN, the GER and the Thenelthorpe curve. Many of the bridges remain. Whitwell Station (formerly called Whitwell and Reepham Station) near Themelthorpe is now a railway museum and a short length of track has been built. Trains are run every weekend.