This picture shows me and my mother. It was taken in 1964 and I am standing on the platform of the former M&GN station at Catfield in North Norfolk. The platform is plain to see, and the concrete platelayer’s hut in the middle distance shows that this was indeed once a railway scene. This type of hut was a post-war development; earlier huts had been made of wood. For six months from January 1880 Catfield was the terminus of the line from Yarmouth. It must have had a length of double track during this period to enable the locomotive to run around the train, but for the rest of the 79 years of its life it was a single track station with just one platform. The railway had been closed for five years by the time this photo was taken. Note how the roses and flowers in the foreground reveal the garden that once graced the station. By 1964 the flowers that had once decorated the platform were overgrown and unloved.
The next station towards Yarmouth was Potter Heigham, an altogether more important stop with two platforms, a passing loop and several sidings. In the other direction the next station was Stalham, although for two years from 1933 a halt was opened just a couple of miles down the line between Catfield and Stalham. It was called Sutton Staithe, and was intended to serve the holiday makers who started their Broadland voyage from the staithe which connects with the river Ant to the north of Barton Broad.
Until closure in 1959 Catfield Station had a signalbox, from where the signalman operated the level crossing gates adjacent to the station. On several occasions this essential requirement was omitted, leading to a collision between the train and the gates. There was a station master to deal with the few passengers that used the stop, though whether there was still a porter too by 1959 I don’t know.
My father was an optician, and one of his tasks was to do domiciliary visits to patients who could not get to the opticians premises. Most of these ‘out-tests’ were to elderly people who were house-bound, but there were exceptions. One of his tasks as a young manwhile working for D. R. Grey was to go out into North Walsham ‘on the knocker’ in search of patients, whose sight he would test there and then. He took his trial case of lenses and a folding test chart with him. D. R. Grey Ltd is still a name in East Anglian optometry, but this was in about 1930, and his employer was the man himself. D. R. were his initials, but many of his patients called him ‘Doctor Grey’, a misapprehension of which he did nothing to disabuse them. My father did not like this way of obtaining business as it involved cold-calling; however as North Walsham was a town with no resident optician going from street to street offering sight tests was a service of sorts. You wouldn’t find qualified opticians walking the streets doing that sort of thing today.
On one occasion he remembered going out to a signalbox on this stretch of the M&GN to test the eyes of the signalman. This was a single track line with few passing places, and so it was not a particularly busy line; once a train had passed, there was no chance of another while it remained in the section, and there was thus ample time for my father to carry out his sight test. He normally did part of his work in darkness, but with the ample daylight from the signal box windows it was not possible in this case. North Walsham is not far from Catfield, but I doubt this test involved cold-calling; he would have been approached on the railwayman’s behalf. He certainly went from Norwich by train to change at North Walsham, and on to Catfield to attend this appointment.
All that you see in the picture at the top of this page was obliterated within a few years when the A149 from Kings Lynn to Great Yarmouth was straightened through Stalham by realigning it on the trackbed of the M&GN. It is now a busy highway. The Broadland village of Catfield lies some distance beyond the site of the railway station, as many stations tended to do. You can see from the picture that the station appears to be completely surrounded by nothing but fields. Perhaps it was as much involved with the transport of agricultural goods as with passengers, or even more so. There was a siding at the station with a short spur to enable shunting operations, which suggests that farm produce was loaded here. There was certainly no other industry for miles around.