It is over 50 years since BR closed the section of line which now forms the NNR. I must be one of a small and rapidly dwindling number of shareholders involved with this company since the beginning. I am not only an NNR shareholder but I was also a member of the Society for several years when it was first set up in the 1960s.
The politics of those early days were involved and concerned a lot of in-fighting between groups with very different ideas for the future of the line. The relationship between the company and the society was complicated, and none of this did anything to help advance the return of passenger traffic to this corner of North Norfolk. I have kept up with the developments on the railway, mostly by reading the company’s annual report, but since the 1970s I have not been a frequent visitor to the railway. When I go to Holt it tends to be the shops or my old school that draw me there.
I was one of a small handful of volunteers who, fifty years ago, helped re-lay the track through Weyborne Station, where it had been lifted by BR before its purchase for preservation. We only laid one line into the station and it stopped just short of the road bridge. There were no buildings where the workshops now stand, just a wilderness of long grass.
Only a couple of years before that I can remember using the line through Holt and Weyborne as an ordinary passenger of British Railways (but on a diesel train). Then all the country stations were still staffed, and Weyborne had a ticket clerk and porter who lit the oil lamps that illuminated the platform at night. I think the railway men must have been rather under employed at Weyborne but Holt station was a busy place.It had a daily trade in freight traffic. There was a termly business in handling the trunks of the schoolboys on their way to and from Gresham’s school and the annual carriage of sugar beet to the factory at Cantley. The Norfolkman, the express to Norwich from Liverpool Street, continued on to Sheringham via Cromer where the train had to stop, for the engine to change ends. Although the coaches were perhaps left at Sheringham the engine must have continued on to Melton Constable, the nearest turntable. The Britannia locomotives which hauled the train as far as Thorpe station remained at the Norwich depot however, and a smaller B1 or B12 took over for the last leg of the journey.
For several years after the North Norfolk Railway Company was established no trains ran between Sheringham and Weyborne, although I remember sitting in one of the two diesel railcars at Weyborne while the engine was run. The steam engines stood forlorn on the tracks at Sheringham, done up in green tarpaulins. The first steam locomotive to run revenue earning trains on the preserved line was an 0-6-0 Peckett saddle tank. This was an ex-National Coal Board engine and was much newer and therefore in better condition that the J15 or B12, the GER and LNER locos which represented the original motive power purchases by the M&GN Railway Society. It was many more years before the track was relaid between Weyborne and Holt, which is now a bustling place with water tower, station buildings and carriage sheds.
Much as I enjoy the Heritage railways of Britain there is not one of them that I would not rather was still a part of the national rail network. I would be delighted to lose even the North Norfolk Railway if it meant the return of regular trains from Norwich to Holt. There has been talk of a regular service from Dereham to Norwich along the Mid Norfolk Railway, but the many level crossings seem to have ruled that out. Such dreams are only that; despite the return to growth of rail travel and the ever-increasing population of the country, I see no prospect of any reopened lines in Norfolk. Even the reopening of any of the railway stations closed in the county in the 1960s seems a remote prospect. The nearest may well be Soham in Cambridgeshire on the line between Bury St Edmunds and Ely, where there is a strong possibility that the station that used to serve the town will reopen in the next few years. But what a shame that it was ever closed; what a lot we have to regret about Dr Beeching and his axe.
I have written number of blogs on the M & G N; click here to see one of them.