NORWICH HEART (HERITAGE ECONOMIC AND REGENERATION TRUST) appears to be a very professional website, but do not be deceived. In the page on Samuel Bignold it gives the impression that the railway he championed from London to Norwich via Ipswich was the first line to link the city of Norwich with the capital. This is not the case.
The Eastern Counties Railway line to Norwich through Cambridge had opened in the summer of 1845, over four years earlier than the Eastern Union Railway line through Ipswich. Although she does not admit this in her text, the author is following the 1948 book by Sir Robert Bignold, Five Generations of the Bignold Family, which also gives the impression that the current mainline was the first railway to reach Norwich.
The Eastern Union Railway had run out of money a mile short of the city, and could not afford to finish the viaduct over the river Yare. Samuel Bignold was the boss of the Norwich Union, and he was voted onto the Board of the Eastern Union Railway. With Norwich Union’s resources now available the contractors were soon able complete the line. Samuel himself laid the last brick which completed the viaduct.
In fact neither of these lines to the capital was first railway to arrive in Norwich. A year prior to the arrival of the Eastern Counties Railway, the Great Yarmouth and Norwich Railway line arrived in 1844, inaugurating the railway age in Norfolk. This line terminated at Norwich Station, just over the river Wensum from the city, almost exactly where Norwich Station still stands. Norwich Station was renamed Norwich Thorpe in 1849 when the Ipswich line reached the city. It came via its own station, Norwich Victoria, and the earlier station was called Norwich Thorpe. It retained this name well into my lifetime, to distinguish it from Norwich’s two other Stations. It has now reverted to its earlier name of Norwich Station.
To begin with there was no connection between the ECR and the EUR, and the short spur from Victoria Station down to Trowse wasn’t opened until 1851. Thirty years later in 1882 Norwich acquired its third station, Norwich City. This station was not linked to Norwich Thorpe until the construction of the Themelthorpe Curve in 1960. City Station closed to passengers in 1959, and to goods ten years later. Victoria Station was closed to passenger trains in 1916, but remained in use for freight traffic into the 1980s.
Although many stations had their destinations severely curtailed during the wielding of Dr Beeching’s Axe (those that were not closed completely), we are fortunate in retaining all the lines out of Norwich Thorpe as they existed at the height of the railway boom. The lines to Cromer, Yarmouth, Ipswich and Ely all still run, and after a period in the 1970s, when the future of the Cromer line seemed in doubt, they are experiencing strong growth once more. Goods traffic has almost ceased through Norwich, but the electrification of the mainline has led the way for passenger traffic.
One short sighted economy measure during the electrification was to replace the twin track swing bridge over the river Wensum with a single track replacement. The pressure to increase the number of trains using this connection to both London and Cambridge means this is now a bottleneck on the system. Since the bridge was built in the 198os all commercial shipping to the Port of Norwich has ceased. It is operated once in blue moon as things stand, and if this bridge were being built today I am fairly certain that it would not be a swing bridge. I think that eventually they will have to build another bridge to restore double track working out of Norwich. I would like to think it would be swing bridge, but this would almost certainly not be the case.