Tag Archives: road transport

LOWESTOFT TRAMS

The appearance of the electric tram on the streets of Britain exploded as the twentieth century dawned; the large towns of East Norfolk and Suffolk all had a tram service by 1905, but within 35 years they had all gone. Only a century later are trams making a gradual comeback in the land. Trams in Lowestoft began running in 1903 and were discontinued in May 1931. The last tram was driven by the oldest driver employed by the Corporation, who as a young man had driven on the first day of operation 28 years before. We are fortunate that a double-decked tramcar (number 14) is still in existence.  It is part of the collection at the East Anglian Transport Museum at Carlton Colville near Lowestoft, where it was the first item to be acquired.  It has not strayed far from original working route, having been used as a summer-house at Gunton until 1962. All the tramcars were built far to the west in Birkenhead; the company, originally called Starbuck & Co., had been set up in 1871 as the first business in Britain devoted to the building of trams. At the outset these were horse-drawn, but under the ownership of G. F. Milne over 700 electric trams were built at the peak of business in 1901.

The Lowestoft Corporation Tramways fleet consisting of four single decked vehicles (unique in East Anglia in having bogies) fifteen double deckers and a works car. The service ran for about four miles through Lowestoft to Pakefield.  The tramway was built to a gauge of 3’6″ which suited the narrow streets. Lowestoft Corporation Transport continued to run buses until the 1970s, and used the same maroon and cream livery that had first been used on the trams seventy years before. There was a branch westwards to the tram shed in Rotterdam Road; the building was used as the bus depot until the Corporation Transport was taken over by the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company. It still stands, and is currently used as a warehouse by a firm supplying teachers’ resources.

The Mason family on Lowestoft  beach, August 1928

The trams ran from Lowestoft North station on the line from Great Yarmouth Beach that was opened in  the same year (1903), past Lowestoft Central station, the harbour and South Pier. The trams were fully integrated into the transport system, and were well used by the tourists who poured into the town from Yarmouth, 10 miles to the north. Although not quite so popular as the Norfolk resort – it had no Fun Fair for example – the town developed a brisk holiday trade during the first half of the 20th century.

Such was the demand for tram rails in England it proved impossible to obtain them in this country, and they were brought across the North Sea from Antwerp in a barge. The first batch arrived in the early hours of 10th March and after unloading, on the 11th the first rail was laid to much celebration. The Mayor was anxious to get the tramway operational by the summer season, and as a result work continued day and night. The tramway was formally opened on July 22nd. The universal fare for a journey was a penny and you could expect a tram every seven minutes. There was a clock on each tram and drivers who did not observe strict time keeping were disciplined by being laid off for a week without pay; the frequent opening of the harbour swing bridge must have provided them with a good excuse. After a short time during the early months of operation there was no regular service to the depot, but passengers could ride any tram that was going to  or from Rotterdam Road.

The total cost of construction had been £90,000 and in the first fortnight of operation the revenue was £800.  In 1910 the cost of a through journey was increased to 2d, with the North Parade to Pier Terrace and Pakefield to Central Station being 1d each way. In 1913 the cost of a journey from North Parade to Pakefield rose to 3d, but this remained the price until 1945, long after the tram line had been lifted.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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THE NINETEEN SEVENTIES

From a personal point of view this decade exactly encompassed my twenties. For most people today this is perhaps the most momentous time in their lives. This is the period when you finally leave education behind and embark on your career. In the not too distant past this change took place much earlier in life. My grandmother for instance left school at the age of ten. The school leaving-age was only raised to fifteen by the 1944 Education Act. It rose to sixteen in 1972.

When there was still lots of rail freight; Norwich station in the 1970s.

Nowadays one’s twenties are for most people a very stressful time. Nearly half of young people go on to higher education, and only start looking for employment at the age of twenty-one or twenty-two. In 1970 it was still common for youngsters to start their working lives in their mid teens, but things were already beginning to change. For me, although the seventies were certainly a time of change, the eighties were even more eventful. But enough of my personal memories – I want to concentrate on the spirit of the age. What was it like to live through the 1970s?

The decade began with the Premiership of Harold Wilson (the politician we associate with the sixties) and ended with Margaret Thatcher, the guiding light of the eighties. It wasn’t an easy time to enter into the adult world.  With an unemployment rate averaging 4% employment was still easy to get, but it was a time of political strife nonetheless. This was at its most violent in Northern Ireland, but it inevitably spread into England. Until 1970 terrorism was something which happened elsewhere – not in good old Blighty; since then it has never gone away, though the nature of the threat and its perpetrators have changed. The industrial action which affected the whole of the UK began with the Three Day Week and ended with the Winter of Discontent; it rumbled on throughout the decade. It wasn’t just in the UK that things were unravelling; the oil crisis gave a shock to the entire global economy. Here we were going through a particularly difficult time. In the circumstances the joining of the Common Market – as we then called the EU – provided us with a little reassurance that we were not completely on our own in the big bad world. That is why the referendum (another unfortunate development in British politics of the 1970s) produced such a resounding ‘Yes’ in 1975.

Outside politics it is hard to point to any feature that represented the 1970s apart from a general feeling of decline. In East Anglia the long overdue road improvements at last got underway, but in a very half-hearted manner. All the towns and villages on the A11 that were bypassed in the 1970s had to bypassed again within a few years with a proper dual carriageway; if this had been done properly in the first place we would have saved a lot of money. Short-sightedness on the part of the government and a chronic shortage of money were the reasons. The motor industry in Britain, which had been flourishing in the sixties, was merged into the inefficient mammoth BLMC. A few years later it effectively went bust, and had to be nationalised in 1975. We expected things to continue to go downhill, and with good reason. We had no idea of the phenomenal growth in house prices that was to come; the corresponding growth in many people’s wealth is seldom acknowledged. In 1970 the price of a terraced house in Norwich was around £1,000; it is now approaching 200 times as much. If house prices had merely increase with inflation, a house today would cost under £20,000! In contrast rent controls made the ownership of property to let utterly unattractive to investors. No wonder the 1970s saw a high point in home ownership in Britain.

Why it was such a problematical decade I cannot say. No one has ever explained it to me. I do not want to make too much of these troubles; they just formed the backdrop to our lives.  Occasionally they came to the fore, such as the inconvenience of the left luggage offices being closed at London railway stations (for fear of bombs) or the power cuts that were imposed to save energy, but for the most part things continued as normal. The sun rose every morning, and we got on with daily tasks. The computer age was not even a cloud on the horizon; these exotic electronic monsters existed, but they were still enormous and enormously expensive machines in 1970. They could never enter our everyday lives, could they? The personal computer was yet to be invented.

The weather in the 1970s was notable for the long hot summer of 1976. The sun shone down on us relentlessly, and it never rained. The reservoirs dried up and hosepipe bans were imposed everywhere. Recycling bath water was the only possible way of watering the garden, but any hint of beautiful flowerbeds caused the public to look on you askance. The crops died in the fields, but for most people the sunshine was a delight. What could be better than endless sunny days? Suntans were still fine as far as most people were concerned, and risk of skin cancer was not ever mentioned.

People who had grown up under Queen Victoria were still around in 1970, and veterans of the First World War still walked the streets. Shoemaking was still a major industry in Norwich and there were at least two major printing firms in the city. You could still smoke almost anywhere you liked – on the London Underground, in aircraft and even in restaurants. Sitcoms like Porridge and Fawlty Towers represent a high point in British humour; they showed that we could still laugh at ourselves, whatever our political differences. The 1970s were a world away from today’s politically correct environment.

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST

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 JOSEPH MASON

AS KEEN AS MUSTARD

The loss of Colman’s mustard to the city of Norwich finally ends a tradition that goes back two hundred years, but it has been inevitable since the company of Reckitt and Colman sold out to a faceless multi-national. One of the first things the new owners did was to sell off the collection of silver mustard pots that the Colman family had built up over many decades, and which should have been left to the Castle Museum. The amount raised by the sale was insignificant in comparison to the company’s annual turnover, but it showed that only money mattered to Unilever. I for one will be glad to see the back of them in Norwich. I wonder what Sir Timothy Colman makes of it? In spite of his directorship, the family had no real control over the company that bore his name by the time the end came in 1995.

COLMAN’S OMNIBUS, JUNE 1977, at the Royal Norfolk Show.

It is sad for the remaining workers at Carrow, but the factory is but a shadow of its former self. In the seventies I knew a manager at Carrow and he showed me round the works. Mustard was but a detail of what they then produced at the site. Besides mint and horseradish sauce they had Robison’s fruit squashes, made from juices imported from South America and brought to their doorstep by freighter up the river Yare. Tonic wine was a major product at the site. That was after the company had acquired the similar sounding Coleman’s, of Barn Road Norwich in 1968, makers of Wincarnis.

Before 1862 the mustard had been made at Stoke Holy Cross, the village a few miles outside Norwich. Before the arrival of the railway at nearby Swainsthorpe station in 1847, the mustard was taken to London by a fleet of five horse-drawn wagons. Tins were first introduced in 1851, and until then smaller quantities were supplied in bottles; larger amounts were sent in casks. The growth of the company to such importance could never have occurred without the railway. The sidings to Carrow Works from Trowse station, with their bright yellow mustard wagons, started the journey that spread the condiment throughout the British Empire. It was a brilliant business strategy; the milling of corn produced just flour for bread making, but the pounding of mustard corns produced a powder that could be sold for many times more.  How did such a strong flavour become the essential addition to the roast beef of old England? The phrase “keen as mustard” is recorded in the seventeenth century, so the condiment was appearing on our tables long before the Colmans started milling it. Before the Colmans started selling the powder, it was a  difficult sauce to make. Even if the plant was available locally, it was used in such small quantities that I can’t see that it was worth your local windmill producing it it. Perhaps you pounded up mustard seeds as part of the preparations for Sunday dinner. That was of course roast beef by tradition, if not always in fact.

Unilever have made a sort of’ promise to retain a mustard milling facility in Norfolk. This is put forward as a sop to local opinion, but it cuts no ice with me. Without Carrow Works at its heart, there is no mustard in Norwich. In fact when I first remember mustard it was always mustard powder, and this we are told will remain a local product; it was mixed fresh for every meal, and then thrown away. Hence the saying that Mr Colman was made rich by the mustard we left on our plates. I don’t think the way of preserving mustard ready mixed had even been invented in the fifties.

I wonder what my ancestors would make of the news that mustard was to desert the city? My great-grandfather spent most of his working life at Carrow, and his eldest and youngest sons followed him into the mill. It had an important part in my ancestral past, but times move on. Mustard making is but a quirk of history, like shoemaking, silk weaving and woollen cloth making, trades that once defined the city but are now no more. We still have an insurance industry, but even that may pass into history.

At least I will feel no compulsion to buy Colman mustard ever again. In future I can use the French variety which I actually prefer. English mustard is just hot, but Dijon mustard has subtle flavours.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

RAILWAY SAFETY

Network Rail places a high safety requirement on all its operations, and as a consequence our railways are the safest in the world. When you consider that last year alone there were 1.7 billion railway journeys undertaken in the UK, the safety record of rail travel is amazing. There have been only FOUR train accidents that resulted in fatalities in the last ten years.  Compare that with the almost daily toll on Britain’s roads, in which around two thousand fatalities occur every year. In the circumstances which method of transport ought you to prefer? There is nothing recent about this aspect of British railways either. As the first railway system in the world, we had to find out all the dangerous pitfalls implicit in the iron road for ourselves, but the safety of railways has always been of the highest priority. Our railways are the only ones in the world that must be fenced off from the surrounding countryside; it is rather worrying to our eyes to see trains speeding past lineside houses in France with nothing between them and the railway. These miles of fencing have been required in the UK from the very start. They not only make trespass on the line by humans more difficult, they also keep farm animals away from the trains.

The first widely reported railway accident occurred at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in September 1830. George Stephenson developed his steam engine The Rocket to operate this, the first real passenger railway. The MP William Huskisson was among the guests who came to witness this major event, but unfortunately he fell onto the track as the Rocket was approaching; his leg was crushed, and with the primitive medical aid available at the time this proved fatal. Railway accidents were common at first; on a journey from East Dereham to Oxford (one that it is no longer possible to make) the Revd Benjamin Armstrong relates how he was delayed for an hour at Winslow station when the locomotive’s boiler blew up. No one was injured on that occasion, but in an entry in his diary in 1855 he mentions that four people were killed in a collision near Attleborough.

Single line working tablet

One of the major railway disasters occurred on the Norwich to Yarmouth line just outside Brundall in 1874. Twenty five people were killed when two trains collided on a single track section of the line. This accident which is known as the Thorpe Railway Disaster led to the introduction of the tablet system, where an interlocking token must be secured before a train may proceed along a single track. This system is still in use, although the disappearance of the semaphore signal, and with that the closure of many signal boxes (where the tokens used to be exchanged) means that an electronic system of token exchange is now widely employed.

The safety record of the railways is based on the fail-safe principle. It was the proud boast of the M&GN Railway (that ran almost entirely in the county of Norfolk) that during the 80 years in which it was in operation it never killed a passenger.

The use of modern technology makes keeping the railways safe much easier than it used to be. The entire network is regularly checked by a special train that examine the track by ultra-sound for cracked rails, which could fail and cause a derailment. With high-definition cameras they can check the line from the air, and thermal imaging equipment reveals hotspots in the cables on electrified lines that suggest problems with the system. Engineers are then dispatched to the exact location to remedy the problem. It all adds to the safety of the railways.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

THE IPSWICH TROLLEY BUS

The first tram to operate in Ipswich was a 3ft 6in gauge horse-drawn vehicle which ran for about ¾ mile between Cornhill and the mainline railway station. It opened in 1880. In 1884 an extension was opened from Cornhill to Derby Road railway station, also in Ipswich, but on the Felixstowe line. This completed the system; by then it was being operated by a fleet of tram cars. The earliest ones were single deckers, drawn by one horse, but later double deckers were introduced with two draught horses. The provision of rails made the friction was less than with a horse-drawn omnibus, and this enabled a greater number of passengers to be carried. By 1900 it was becoming increasingly old fashioned however; unlike modern motive power, horses had to groomed, fed and stabled, and in the early years of the 20th century it was resolved to convert the horse-drawn tramway to an electric system. The town Corporation purchased the horse tramway but it lost money and was abandoned to allow the electric infrastructure to be installed.

The electric trams did not last any longer than the horse-drawn trams: introduced in 1903, they were replaced by trolleybuses from 1923, and in 1926 the last tram ran on the streets of Ipswich. The trolleybus lasted a bit longer than its predecessors, and I remember the final years of them; my sister had taken her first job in the town in 1959, and from the aged of ten I made many visits to Ipswich. The trolleybuses survived until 1963, by which time my sister had left Suffolk for a new post in the Channel Islands. Thereafter I no longer frequented the town.

1933 Ipswich Trolleybus: Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies

The first indication that we had reached a strange new world where the buses were powered by electric wires was by the railway bridge on the Norwich Road. There a circle in the overhead catenary was where the buses had to turn around and begin their journey back to Ipswich town centre. At one time the system had gone further to Whitton, but by 1959 the railway bridge was the limit of its northern extent. The Corporation bought its first motor buses as late as 1950 to serve the outskirts. At the time, and for many years thereafter, the bridge had the large sign FERODO painted on it in red. I will always associate these brake pads with Ipswich.

Coming by car I had no reason to use the trolleybuses, but going by train I surely would have done so; my sister had no car at this time. An indication of how normal they were in Ipswich in those days is that  I have no memory of riding on a trolleybus, although I must have used them. This is a pity, but I have plenty of memories of seeing them making their silent progress through the town. Once you were inside the effect could not have very different from a normal motor bus; all the unusual features were outside. If they met an obstruction in the road they could only take limited avoiding action, or the poles would come detached from the catenary wires. This meant the driver or conductor getting out and re-attaching them with a long stick. There was definitely no overtaking allowed with a trolleybus.

Unlike trams, trolleybuses have not made a return to the streets in the UK, and there are no remaining systems in place here. This seems strange, as the infrastructure is much simpler and cheaper for trolleybuses, and they are similar environmental benefits. There is bad quality air in nearly all major cities, where diesel buses are almost the only vehicles still (just about) tolerated. This would disappear if trolleybuses were still in operation. If you are cyclist who has travelled over tram lines you will appreciate that  bikes and trams don’t mix – you will fall off immediately if your wheel gets stuck in the groove of a tram line. This quality of not antagonising cyclists is another advantage of the trolleybus. In other parts of the world these systems still exist.

JOSEPH MASON

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THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

THE 1950s

The pub in Drayton. See how little traffic there was!

There was virtually no road building in the 1950s until the M1 was constructed right at the end of the decade; the only improvement I can call to mind was the straightening of a short length of blind bend outside Ditchingham Hall. This was in about 1957; you can still see the lay-by which this created on the Bungay road. The traffic was still relatively light; many of the cars were prewar, and those that were not were all painted black; you were lucky to get a car at all, and the colour wasn’t important. The lorries were of the fixed chassis type – there were no articulated juggernauts then. The country folk who had to go to town went by bus, otherwise they travelled round on their bikes.

In Norfolk the railway network was already beginning to shrink. The lines from Cromer to Mundesley and from Heacham to Wells closed completely in 1952, and the stations at Hellesdon and Whitlingham stopped serving passengers early in the decade.  Also in 1952 passenger traffic was ended on the Wroxham to County School branch; however most of the rural branch lines remained open. For a few more years Hunstanton, Holt, Dereham, Watton, Swaffham and Fakenham (all of them substantial country towns) had regular train services that carried passengers as well as goods. Trains stopped crossing Breydon Water en route from Yarmouth Beach station to Lowestoft in 1952; the swing bridge remained in place but permanently open to shipping.

There were still a lot of sea-going freighters threading their way up the river Yare to Norwich. Coal was one their main cargoes, and it was universally used to produce electricity, gas and domestic heating all across Britain. The miners toiled day and nigh to extract this invaluable commodity. Many coal-fired steam drifters tied up along the Yarmouth quayside every autumn herring season, ready for the Scottish fisher girls to pack the fish away in their millions. The London Docks were still at the hub of the nation’s trade in 1950, and Southampton was still the place you went to catch liners for overseas destinations.

As for aircraft, the skies were full of them; not commercial airliners (there were none of these outside London) but fighter jets. Never a day went by without vapour trails appearing among the clouds, and sonic booms were often heard. There were still over a dozen RAF air bases in Norfolk at the beginning of the period, including at Coltishall, St Faiths, Swanton Morley and Marham; there was a major USAF presence at Sculthorpe near Fakenham. All through the decade the RAF held open days to commemorate the Battle of Britain. In the less mean-spirited nature of the times these festivities were free to attend, although the members of the public who flocked to them would support them generously in a voluntary capacity. The threat of Nazi invasion was still a recent memory and those who fell in resisting it were honoured annually.

Norfolk is a sparsely populated county; in a hundred and fifty years the population of Norfolk doubled to stand at around 600,000 by 1961. Even with the huge increase in recent years it is still estimated at under a million, which is tiny for one of the largest counties in the land. It has always been an agricultural economy, specialising in arable crops. All across the country the horse had vanished from the farms by 1950, and everywhere the ploughing and reaping was done by internal combustion engine: the tractor was king. Things are still much the same for now in Norfolk, but the most thriving communities are increasing becoming centred on the digital world. We had no idea what the phrase ‘the digital world’ might mean in the 1950s. The first massive mainframe computer arrived at Norfolk County Hall in the 1960s (it was about the size of a small bungalow), and the data was carried on magnetic tapes between there and Norwich City Hall in a little blue Daf van. Even electric typewriters were almost unknown in the 1950s, and calculations were largely done with pencil and paper; the very advanced firms (like Norwich Union) used mechanical comptometers with their highly trained female operators.

There were young Teddy Boys with Brylcreemed hair, jeans and bomber jackets, and their female counterparts, but many of the working population had been alive when Victoria was Queen. They had been through two World Wars, many of them as combatants in both. National Service was still in force, and this all made for a less effete nation. It was a hard life – for example there was virtually no central heating, and  double glazing was completely unknown. The ice would form inside the bedroom windows as you slept. The only insulation was made from asbestos, and that was treated with gay abandon by everyone, but fortunately we seemed to survive without succumbing to the material; visits to the doctor were for other ailments.  The GPO phone box was always there for use in emergencies; you pressed button B and heard the money drop into the machine, when you would ask the operator to connect you. There were two visits a day from the postman who rode his red bicycle round the village. The local Bobby rode his black bicycle to keep a beady eye on the world. All these things were common throughout the land; in the 1950s there was a sense of national identity that is largely lacking today. The very idea of Scotland splitting away was almost nowhere on the political agenda back then. It is true that there were voices raised against the new queen’s title. Even a few post boxes with the monogram EIIR on them were blown up in Scotland. This was not from republican motives, but because she should have been called Elizabeth the first in Scotland – it had been an independent country when Good Queen Bess was on the throne!

Hard though it is to believe, in the 1955 General Election the Tories received more than half the popular vote in Scotland. The Tories governed the UK for most of the 1950s, but it was a very different country sixty years ago.

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 JOSEPH MASON

 THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

THE TRAMS OF NORWICH

In the first quarter of the 20th century there were well over a hundred electric tramways across England, from Newcastle in the North East to Exeter in the South West, and others existed in Scotland and Wales. In Belfast electric trams ran from 1905 until 1954. Norwich was no exception; here the trams did not run on standard gauge track but on the narrower gauge of 3ft 6in that would fit our narrow streets. The system only operated for less than 40 years – the coming of the internal combustion engined motor bus sealed its fate here as it did elsewhere in Britain. Only the Isle of Man and Blackpool retained trams throughout the lean years when this form of transport seemed to be a thing of the past. The last tramway in the UK to close down was in Glasgow, where the final tram ran in 1962. I rode the Glasgow trams in the last weeks of their operation. Health and Safety were completely unknown in those days (especially in Glasgow), and the trams didn’t stop for passengers to get on and off; they just slowed down a little. Of course I didn’t know this, and waited for my tram to stop; this led to much cursing and swearing from the conductor!

Tram in Earlham Road, Norwich

The tramways in Norwich were a relatively late introduction, and consequently they were always electric; there were no horse-drawn trams.  The generating station was in Duke Street. The first trams ran in July 1900.  To get the tram track into the street a pub called the Three Pigeons in St Benedicts was demolished and for the same reason so too were a number of buildings in Redwell Street and by the Bell Hotel. The routes mostly ran radially and the hub of the system was in Orford Place. There was a hut beside the road where the staff were changed and where conductors could obtain extra tickets when their supplies ran low.

The most common fare for travel into the city centre was a penny. Longer journeys could cost up to three pence. School children could purchase a book of twelve tickets for sixpence – a ha’penny each. The service was very popular among the workers who poured in to the factories from their recently built terraced houses that they rented in the outskirts of Norwich. These modern dwellings and the up-to-date trams that served them provided the growing population with rapidly improving conditions of life as the 20th century dawned.

When my father went to school at the recently opened City of Norwich School he would have caught the tram from his home just off Bracondale. Rather than follow the tramlines down to Orford Place he would have changed to the line down Unthank Road. From tram terminus at the junction with Judges Walk it was but a short distance to the school.

In 1933 the tramway was purchased by the Eastern Omnibus Company who proceeded to close the system down and replace it with motor buses. The last remaining route was from Newmarket Road to Barrack Street, and the closure of this in 1935 brought the short life of Norwich Tramways to an end. My great-grandfather saw the tram stop arrive by Trowse station (near where he lived) in 1920, and by the end of his life the trams had gone. At one time you could spot an insulator from the trams’ overhead power supply here, and a short length of track there, but now there is nothing left in situ to remind you of the short history of Norwich trams.

Electric trams now seem a very green way of transporting people around the city, compared to the pollution caused by diesel engines, but such thoughts never entered the heads of people eighty years ago. Unlike the cities of Sheffield and Manchester, where trams are again part of the transport mix, I can see little prospect of trams ever returning to Norwich. The obvious place for a tramway here was along the former M&GN to City Station, which would have brought passengers directly into the City centre from Thorpe Marriott, which will inevitably grow in population as demand for housing increases. All the infrastructure was still in place in 1970, but the short-sighted planners could not see the growth in demand for clean transport that was coming. Subsequent bridge demolitions and the creation of Marriott’s Way footpath have destroyed this possibility, so we must forget about reusing closed railways. But what about the railways we still have? Why is not development concentrated on those places that still have railway stations? Never mind planners being short-sighted; they are blind.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

THE TRANSPORT REVOLUTION

A ‘furriner’; this traction engine was made in Suffolk by Garretts of Leiston.

This traction engine was made in Suffolk by Garrett’s of Leiston.

The first hint of the coming revolution in road transport came with the Puffing Devil, a steam-propelled road engine built by Richard Trevithick early in the 19th century.  This was in Cornwall, where Trevithick was also engaged in the development of the high-pressure steam engine. Steam traction engines were being built all across the country (including East Anglia) by the middle of the 19th century.

There were several producers of this invention in Norfolk, and two firms in particular produced many machines.  Charles Burrell of Thetford was making self-propelled road engines by the 1850s. Burrells did not survive and went bust in the first half of the twentieth century, but at one time their Norfolk built traction engines were exported all over the world. Frederick Savage of Kings Lynn’s steam Juggernauts were in production by 1855; the firm moved on from making farm equipment to corner the market in fairground rides and showman’s engines, even before the 20th century dawned. They were still in business in 1973, when the firm closed.

Traction engine driving a threshing machine

Norfolk is a rural county, which may explain the early enthusiasm for steam engines, that were used in farms to power threshing machinery. Traction engines, which were self-propelled versions of the stationary engine, were later employed to move goods about the farm and drive ploughing machines. The steam-powered wagon made by Samuel Soames in Marsham was an early example of an automotive road engine for personal transport, but it was a one-off.

Soame  Wagonette

Norfolk is not particularly notable for its place in the history of  the motorcar, but that does not mean it was not involved at all. The firm of Mann Egerton in Norwich was involved deeply in the production of motor cars, building the bodywork for Rolls Royce chassis before the First World War. With the coming of war the firm moved into the production of airframes for the burgeoning aircraft industry. Two Norwich firms were involved; as well as Mann Egerton, who were commissioned by the Government to build aircraft to the deigns of others.This activity ceased with the coming of peace, but the other company who made aeroplanes during the First World War continued making aircraft throughout the Second World War. This was Boulton and Paul, whose Defiant was the most famous British night fighter of the Second World War, although by then production had been shifted to the midlands where the factory was deemed less exposed to enemy action. Earlier planes designed by Boulton and Paul had been the Overstrand and Sidestrand biplane bombers, and they had been made in Norwich.

William Marriott

Even railway locomotives were made in Norfolk. The Great Eastern made all its own locos, but their workshop was at Stratford in East London. When the M & G N was formed their works was in Melton Constable; although mot of their motive power was provided by other manufacturers, they did produce some of their own design of locomotives under their Chief Engineer William Marriott.

Before the coming of these mechanised forms of transport, the horse was the beast that moved men and goods on land. Before that it had been the ox, because horses were only used by the most exalted travellers; for the use of oxen as beasts of burden we must cast or eyes back to the middle ages. The great East Anglian horse was the Suffolk Punch, but this breed was apparently not popular in Norfolk.

SUFFOLK PUNCH

With all the waterways in Broadland, water transport was the way we carried out trade before the coming of the railways. The high point of the development of boats for this trade was the Norfolk wherry. With just one sail to handle, this vessel could be sailed by one man, although the assistance of  boy was helpful. Wheat and malting barley were taken downstream for transhipment to larger craft, or upstream to Norwich, while coal was carried by wherry upstream from Yarmouth. Lime was another common cargo.

NORFOLK WHERRY

Although the use of the wherry for transport had ceased by the middle 20th century, the importance of water transport continued on the river Yare well into living memory. Sea-going coasters carried coal and timber up to Norwich, and fruit juice from South America to Carrow Works for Robinson’s Barley Water; scrap metal was exported from Wensum wharf. This trade petered out about thirty years ago, and now all the river transport beyond the sea ports is leisure craft.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

FERRIES

There used to be many ferries across the rivers and estuaries in Norfolk. Now there are only a few; Reedham ferry across the Yare and the ferry across the Great Ouse from Kings Lynn to West Lynn. There are also the ferries to Blakeney Point; these popular trips to see the seals leave from Morston Quay and Blakeney Harbour. Going back into history, in Roman times Holme-next-the-Sea (where Peddars Way reaches the coast) used to be the base for a ferry across the Wash. Its destination was the Roman station of Vainona (now called Wainfleet) in Lincolnshire. About forty years ago Norfolk Line used to run two ferries a day from Great Yarmouth to Holland; these ferries, the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Holland, were mostly for commercial freight, but they were also used by the general public.

REEDHAM FERRY

In Suffolk, since the MoD left the Orfordness peninsular in 1973 there has been a ferry service to allow people from Orford to explore the sand dunes and derelict military buildings across the river Ore in the Nature Reserve. There is a ferry service between Felixstowe and Harwich on the mouths of the rivers Orwell and Stour, linking these major ports of Suffolk and Essex. There is still a rowing boat that ferries people across the river Blyth from Walberswick to Southwold, though it only operates in the summer season.  It only costs a pound. I have used the Walberswick ferry (many years ago) and also went across the Deben ferry which goes across the Deben estuary from Bawdsey to Felixstowe, with my new wife (and our bikes) in 1986.

Pulls Ferry in about 1800.

The rowing boats that used to ferry people across the river Yare were common before the 20th century. They had all been abandoned by the time I was aware of my surroundings, but many of the boats themselves survived, as battered and unloved hulks pulled up on the riverbank. One such boat was at Pulls Ferry on the river Wensum in Norwich (it was broken up by vandals around 1970). Why a ferry had lasted so long there is something of a mystery. Bishops Bridge is only a few hundred yards away, and it had ceased to charge a toll in the mid 19th century; yet Pulls Ferry only ceased to operate within living memory, during the Second World War.

The boat which used to link Brundall with Surlingham at Coldham Hall was by repute going into the 1970s, but whenever I saw it the boat always appeared disused.  I was a not an infrequent visitor to Coldham Hall in the 1960s, where my father would buy his half pint on a Sunday. I dare say we should have gone during the week to see the ferry in use. There was also a ferry that linked Surlingham with Postwick at the suitably named pub, the Surlingham Ferry. Between there and Norwich was Whitlingham ferry, and although I have never heard of a ferry at Bramerton, I am sure that at one time you could take a boat from the Wood’s End (as the riverside pub used to be called) to Hall Lane in Postwick.

BUCKENHAM FERRY

The ferry at Buckenham was always remote from human habitation, although across the river was the Ferry Inn. The Ferry Inn (now rebuilt and called the Beauchamp Arms) figures prominently on this picture from 2oo years ago. It is across the river from Buckenham in Langley near Loddon. It is still a popular place of refreshment, although it draws almost all its trade from thirsty holiday makers who arrive there by boat. The only difference with the nineteenth century is that then its customers were working wherrymen.  Note that in 1826 ten sheep, two cows and three people were waiting for the ferryman to pull the pontoon across the river to pick them up; two sailing boats are tied up at the pub. I went there as a teenager with my cousin Andrew, when we spent day sailing my dinghyfrom the Buckenham Sailing Club. Despite being an almost uninhabited location, the hamlet of Buckenham still boasts its own railway station, although it served by only a couple of trains a week.

The layout of the roads shows that once it was possible to take a ferry from Cantley; in fact there were two routes across the river Yare from there, but all traces of them have been lost. Reedham car ferry has already been mentioned, and it remains in use. It was almost the last ferry before you reached Great Yarmouth; the last one was a marshland ferry near the Berney Arms pub. Heaven only knows who used it, as the pub must be accessed by railway or river boat, unless you walk for miles across the marsh from the A 47; what sort of income did the ferryman earn I wonder? The steamer which used to ply the river between the South Quay in Yarmouth and Gorleston saved holiday makers a long walk via Haven Bridge.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

CAMBRIDGE NORTH RAILWAY STATION; WHAT NEXT?

A Cambridge bound train near Cringleford in years gone by.

Since Sunday 21 May 2017 there has been a brand new railway station to serve Cambridge Science Park; Cambridge North in the Chesterton area of town. Now we need a similar station to serve Norwich Science Park, and a village just south of Norwich -Cringleford- is the perfect place for it. It is on the Cambridge line, and only a short bike ride from the Science Park. There is a level crossing on Low Road at Cringleford, and that means that if a station were built there it would have no need for an (expensive) footbridge; just a couple of platforms (not three as at Cambridge North). It would not need an expensive station building either.  There looks to be plenty of space nearby for a car park/cycle park, and a bus service could connect the station with the hospital/science park/university. It could continue to the city cente. The station would be roughly half way between Wymondham and Norwich stations.

A short distance up the track is another level crossing on Intwood Road. A station here would be slightly less convenient for Cringleford villagers, but the station would not really be intended for them. It has even more space for a car park, and this could be closer to the railway too. Either site would be much cheaper to develop than Cambridge North, although knowing the way new projects like to splash the cash it probably would not done as inexpensively as I like to think. Perhaps now is little soon to start building such a station, but if the Science Park at Colney grows as we all hope it will, it is not too soon to start thinking about it. It has more in favour of it than the proposed station in Thorpe for the Broadland Business Park; at least it is on a line between two major business hubs (Norwich and  Cambridge), unlike the Bittern Line where the Broadland Business Park station would be, which only runs to the seaside at Sheringham.

A new station for Broadland Business Park would cost £6.5 million we are told, which is not a great sum of money as such things go. Cambridge North, which was projected to cost £44m, has in fact cost £50m. My scheme at Cringleford could be done for far less. Nor, unlike the Broadland scheme, do I foresee a requirement to increase the number of trains on the line just to service the new station; with the increased demand for transport links with Stansted Airport and Cambridge I anticipate a more frequent service on the Breckland line anyway, once the Ely junction has been upgraded. However we must think of a better name for the new station. Nobody has a clue where Cringleford is; how about UEA International anyone?  They like impressive titles in Norwich (look at the ‘international’ airport). Perhaps Norwich Science Parkway would be more appropriate. I would of course support both Broadland Business Park and Norwich Science Park stations, whatever they are called.

I don’t expect such an improvement to be built in my lifetime; I would be happy merely to see the reopening of Soham station, which everybody is talking about but nobody is doing anything to advance. The reopening of the Wisbech branch, that still has the track in place – some of it even using modern concrete sleepers, though overgrown with weeds-  would cost no more than Cambridge North Station, £50m. I won’t even mention the promised link from Bedford to Cambridge which would cost hundreds of millions. Opening up the old Varsity line providing the possibility of through trains from Norwich to Oxford is a tantalising prospect. Such enhancements to the railway network are long overdue, but they are long-term projects, so I should be glad the new station in Cambridge is now open. I don’t suppose I will ever use it (not being much of a scientist), but I may see it from the train. It is a small step, but a welcome one.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA