The stations that were closest to Norwich Thorpe (as NORWICH station was called in the days when there were three stations in the city) were all closed well over a generation ago. This first to go was Trowse, just across the swing bridge on the river Wensum taking the lines from London and Ely into the city. My father had many memories of Trowse station when it was a going concern and Nanny, my paternal grandmother, knew the station master very well. His name I have unfortunately forgotten but I do remember that he wore a top hat as a mark of his status as Station Master. This stop was very close to Norwich Thorpe and it was discontinued during the Second World War as an economy measure.
Besides being the first to close this station was also the only one of the Norfolk stations to be reopened, albeit briefly, when it became the temporary terminus for the London and Breckland lines in 1986. This was while the swing bridge was replaced when the line to London was electrified. This bridge was double track previously, but is now singled, which has produced a bottleneck on the approach to a busy station at Norwich. Once the civil engineering work was completed Trowse station closed once more.
The next station near to Norwich to close was at Helledon on the line from Norwich City Station to Melton Constable which closed to passengers in 1952. In 1955 the station at Whitlingham closed; this was just before the Bittern and Wherry lines (as they are now called) diverge. A goods sidings remained as a depot for Blue Circle Cement into the late 1970s or early 80s, although the rest of the goods services ended in the early 1960s. The station platforms and booking hall disappeared soon after the passenger station closed, but the footbridge remains to this day as a way for pedestrians to cross the line and walk to the river Yare. Without the bridge a dyke providing temporary mooring for pleasure boats would have no access to Thorpe. I can remember getting off the train at Whitlingham Station to walk to my Nanny’s house in Thorpe. What made it a memorable occasion was the guard allowing me, a small boy of four or five, to start the train as it moved off. During the day time this would have involved waving a green flag, but as it was dusk I had to hold up an oil lamp for the engine driver to see the green light. Although called Whitlingham Station it was in fact in the suburb of Thorpe, but then of course Thorpe station was the main terminus, what is now called Norwich Station.
The stopping trains were not fast and according to the timetable it took eight minutes to travel about half a mile from Trowse to Norwich Thorpe. The train from Whitlingham to the terminus was a minute faster, although the distance was considerably further. Walking from Trowse would have been faster, but only via the track; the road from Trowse to Thorpe Station goes a roundabout way. I don’t think many people went from Trowse to Norwich by train, but Trowse station was a convenient place for Trowse residents to catch trains to more distant places on the London or Cambridge lines.
Hethersett station might have remained open had it been nearer to the village it was meant to serve. Hethersett is a fair sized community with a High School and the county Fire Service HQ, and it really merits a railway station. The site however is so far distant from the village that the station was poorly used and in 1966 Dr Beeching’s axe fell. The village has continued to expand since the station’s closure and is now much closer to the railway. There has been talk of reopening the station but there are problems of ownership of the land. Some of the station buildings remain in a very derelict state (since writing this the station building has been restore as a private house). Hethersett station was on the line to Ely in the days when expresses to London ran alternately via Ipswich and Cambridge, hauled by Britannia class pacifics. Those were the days! The next station was (and is) Wymondham, and that station remains open.
Some vestiges of these closed stations remain, but of another station nothing remains at all. This was Swainsthorpe which served the village five miles south of Norwich on the London line. The small population of Swainsthorpe was not providing enough passengers to keep it open and it was closed in 1954. It was adjacent to the level crossing there. In the 1920s there were ten trains a day between Norwich and Swainsthorpe, four of which continued to Bungay via Tivetshall Junction and six continued to Ipswich. Because there were an equal number of trains in the opposite direction this meant that this small village was served by 20 trains a day. There was even a basic Sunday service. I cannot think that many people used these trains; the nearby villages of Dunston and Newton Flotman were just as small, and Mangreen was even smaller. The traffic of agricultural goods must have been more important than passengers.
The next station from Swainsthorpe on the London line was Flordon and that closed in 1966; so did Forncett, Tivetshall and Burston, all stops between there and Diss. These were all victims of the Beeching Axe. Today the first station on the London line from Norwich is Diss, and all trains stop there. I think that the existence of all these stations on the London mainline, and the stopping trains that called at them, made timetabling the express trains difficult and this sealed their fate. None of the other lines out of Norwich saw their stations decimated in his way, and small villages like Worstead, Gunton, Lingwood, Cantley and Spooner Row all retain their stations. At one time there were only two stations between Norwich an Ipswich left open, at Diss and Stowmarket. Since then the station at Needham Market has reopened, but only trains to and from Bury St Edmunds stop there.
On the Breckland Line Wymondham is the first stop from Norwich but only some trains stop at the town. On the Bittern line the first stop is at Salhouse station. On the Wherry Line it is at Brundall Gardens, but not all trains stop at either of these stations. There is talk of moving the station at Salhouse to Rackheath to serve the proposed Eco-town and provide a service to Norwich every 15 minutes at peak times. Naturally I approve of this plan, although I think that perhaps Salhouse station could remain open too.