Tag Archives: road transport


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.






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.


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.


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.





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.


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.


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 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.





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 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 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.






Before the days of the internal combustion engine it was natural to walk. Especially if you lived in the country, you had to walk miles to do anything. If you were rich enough to own a horse you would ride; otherwise it wasn’t a quadruped, only shanks’s pony. When motor cars first appeared on the roads the maximum speed was limited to 4 mph. In 1894 the speed was raised to 14 mph, and so the man walking in front with a red flag, which was the previous requirement, had to be dispensed with. The powers that be did not expect him to sprint! It was still pretty safe for pedestrians to walk just about anywhere, because even at fourteen miles per hour you had enough time to get out the way of the traffic. After 1903 the speed limit was raised to 20 mph. This made the roads much less safe for walkers, and in any case speed limit was doubtlessly frequently ignored by the increasing fast motor cars.

The growth of the motor bus soon followed, and the habit of walking more than a few hundred yards was soon lost. By the 1950s walking down country lanes was still relatively common, but the main roads were places where you never saw anyone on foot. People would not have lasted long if they had tried to walk. As nobody but the fairly affluent could afford a car, it meant ‘get on your bike’ or ‘wait for the bus’ were the only choices for most people.

This was a huge change in the way the public got around. In about a generation the age-old habit of walking disappeared. Now everyone aspired to owning their own form of motor transport. Before the Second World War a motor car was still out of the question for the vast majority, but a motor cycle wasn’t. All types of folk, from the upper middle class of T. E. Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh to the rising working class like my father and my father-in-law travelled round on motorbikes. Unlike today, when a secondhand Superbike can cost considerably more than a new car, a motorbike was a genuinely cheap way to join the motor age. A motorbike was the ideal conveyance for one, but it wasn’t meant as family transport; nevertheless my father-in-law took his entire family on a camping holiday to Devon with his motor cycle and sidecar. His wife rode pillion, and their three little children (and the luggage) squeezed into the sidecar.


In the sixties the nature of the two-wheeled motorist changed from the adventurous but respectable members of society to the immature young  Mods and Rockers. The motor scooter made its appearance; the small wheeled Lambretta was invented to take advantage of all the undercarriages left over from the planes of WW2.

Meanwhile the middle-aged members of society were busy buying their first secondhand car. For most this mean four wheels, but there was a dedicated minority who preferred three.  The principal attraction of the three-wheeler to many was the fact that it attracted a lower rate of road fund tax. The main disadvantage was the undoubted lack of stability that attended only three points of contact with the road. The Reliant and the Bond Minicar were attractive to the working class motorist; the Morgan three-wheeler, which unlike the other two had its third wheel at the back, was the preserve of the upper classes. You can see that class was still very important in the early days of mass motoring.

But what about walking home? I did walk the four miles from Norwich to my home in Poringland once, but it was an uncomfortable experience. To walk on the road would have been suicidal, so this meant walking on the verge. There was no footpath, so this meant trudging over the grups and gullies that periodically punctuated my progress. Some years later, when I had moved to the other side of Norwich, I walked a similar distance home. This time I didn’t have to navigate the long grass of the verge because there was a pavement all the way. The presence of a footpath meant that it was theoretically possible for people to walk to work, although none did. A couple of hundred years ago it was not remarkable for a young man to walk from Bury St Edmunds to Norwich in pursuit of a job. This distance puts Poringland to Norwich in the shade, but even the four mile journey is a long walk by todays standards. The athletic young might occasionally run such a distance, but nowadays people have completely lost the habit of walking.





The red “Rumble-Thump” – my father’s name for the bus, from its diesel engine.

A 1950s double-decker

I did most of my travelling by bus when I was really young; from the age of five until I was ten I went to school eleven miles away every day. It is true that often I was taken there in the morning by my father in his car before he went to work, but I came home by bus. Sometimes my mother came to travel home with me (especially when I was five), but mostly I travelled alone (with some school friends). I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine a six-year-old being expected to make his way home alone by bus today. Even an eight-year-old would be shepherded home by his mother, even if it was only a street or two away. Yet we saw nothing unusual about this unaccompanied travel in 1955; youngsters were not regarded as being in constant danger from ill-intentioned adults or natural disasters. How things have completely changed in couple of generations, and not wholly for the better. From the age of ten I was at boarding school, so the business of getting to school did not apply; I was already at school when I woke up in the morning.

My next experience of using the bus was as a student at university. In less than a decade the nature of bus travel had changed completely to more or less its modern version. The old kind of buses, as shown the illusration above, had gone; no longer were there bus conductors – only in London, where the Routemaster held sway for decades, were they still employed. Everywhere else, by the end of the 1960s, the front entry  bus allowed the driver to take your fare, so there was no need for a conductor. Also, the entrance was now controlled by a door, which went some way to making winter journeys a warmer experience. On the other hand the corresponding lack of fresh air made coughs and sneezes (those other features of winter journeys ) more infectious.

Apart from these two periods of my life I have done most of my travelling by other means. Once I could ride one, a bicycle was my main means of transport when I was a teenager. After that I was a car driver – railway travel hardly featured; it was not that I did not like trains, but by then they did not go where I was going. All the branch lines that I would have used had closed.

Bus tickets are not cheap, and I feel sorry for those young people (who on account of their youth do not qualify for the minimum wage) who have to spend so much of their meagre pay on the daily commute to work. With the free bus pass it is another matter; it opens up the world to the nation’s old folk. They have to make their way to the bus stop it is true, and they have wait for the bus, but then they can relax. There is no hurry to get to work for the retired, and nothing to pay.  Free bus passes are in fact nothing of the sort; it is just that the ticket is paid for by the local authority rather than by the traveller. It is the bus companies who really benefit; instead of running buses throughout the day nearly empty, they are now filled with pensioners using their bus passes. It was a brilliant idea by somebody, a way of getting something in return for subsiding the bus companies. Few people appreciate that it is these commercial concerns who get the money, not the pensioners. They merely take advantage of off-peak transport. Politicians, who ought to know better, purse their lips at all the wealthy pensioners who are swanning about at other people’s expense. Would they prefer that these bus routes were simply scrapped, or that the subsidies were paid directly to the bus companies with no pensioners benefiting? For they are the only two other alternatives for uneconomic bus routes.





Before I talk about Mann Egerton I must make one thing quite clear about the name; although the second part might be pronounced by those not in the know like an egg (i.e. how it was spelt), it should be spoken ‘edge-erton’. It was often abbreviated to its initials, M.E. For most of the 20th century this was the major car dealership in the city of Norwich.

Mann Egerton in Upper King Street, Norwich.

Mann Egerton in Upper King Street, Norwich.

If you wanted a Bentley or a Rolls Royce for example (or more to the point, if you could afford one) you headed off to the branch of Mann Egerton in King Street; but if you could only run to a secondhand saloon you might go along to the Mann Egerton garage in Upper Surrey Street instead. Although it went by the name of Nunns, it was in fact the Ford branch of Mann Egerton. They also had dealerships with Austin/Morris, before that combination amalgamated with Jaguar and Rover to form the British Motor Corporation; later the UK’s main car manufacturing businesses became British Leyland. Of the main car firms in Britain, only Standard/Triumph stayed out of their hands and was represented in Norwich by Duff Morgan. The Head Office of Mann Egerton was at the top end of Prince of Wales Road, just across King Street from the G.P.O.

Cars were only part of their business empire. The firm of Mann Egerton grew from a Norwich based partnership of electricians in the last years of the 19th century. The electrical contracting business had been started by Laurence Scott, and when this company decided to concentrate on making electrical switchgear and machinery it was bought by Gerald Mann who had been born in distant Cornwall. Mann Egerton finally sold their electrical interests in the 1960s. From electrical contracting they progressed to building the bodies for Rolls Royce cars. Before 1914 they had opened garages across East Anglia, and in London.

During the First World War they were directed by the Government to move into aircraft production, like their contemporary Norwich firm at Boulton and Paul. At first they made aeroplanes to the deigns of Short Brothers, but went on to build planes to their own design. When the war ended they redirected their large aircraft produstion workshop to peacetime employment. As aircraft production then principally involved woodworking, the  company transferred to the making of wooden school desks. The aircraft had been made in Reepham Road in Hellesdon, where the school furniture manufacturing was later carried out. This woodworking business was bought out by the management as late as 1986. The company’s motor interests were bought by the Inchcape Group, and although the name Mann Egerton is still used in certain parts of East Anglia, it has faded from the scene in its Norwich birthplace.

Gerald Mann went into partnership with Hubert Egerton in 1900. Although the business was then solely electrical contracting, Egerton had already been a pioneer in motor transport. He had driven a De Dion Bouton from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. The provision of petrol to inaccessible corners of Britain must have needed much preparation, and even today such a journey is a major achievement. It was the influence of the motor enthusiast Egerton that propelled the company into the car trade.




East Dereham

The A47 used to run through the centre of Dereham, as all trunk roads used to run through every town along their routes. The worst example was Wymondham where the A11, the main road from Norwich to London, used run down Damgate Street. Those of you who know this quaint little thoroughfare will find this fact incredible; it is so narrow, and ends with a tiny bridge across the river Tiffey. At least there were no Juggernauts in those days- they would never have negotiated the sharp turn from Market Street. My first car journey to London was in 1955, and we went through Damgate Street before eventually our pre-war car broke down in the outskirts of the capital. You might find this sort of thing hard to believe, but the main road from Norwich to Ipswich still runs through the middle of Long Stratton, which is a disgrace, and the powers that be should be ashamed that such a major road still rumbles through a rural village.

In Dereham the main Road from Norwich to Kings Lynn ran to the north end of High Street, past the market place in the centre of town. It was always a busy road, and consequently my father normally used the ‘back road’ to Lynn when visiting our West Norfolk relations. The back road took you through Lenwade and Bawdeswell (another village you had to drive into), and just beyond Bawdeswell you turned off the Fakenham Road to go to North Elmham.

I recall Chambers, the Dereham newsagent in the market place, with great affection. I used occasionally to supply them with magnifying glasses when I was in the business, and I would normally drop in to buy a local book when in the area. It was a great shock when the shop closed a few years ago; iDereham programme543n October 1984 I played the double bass for a week in South Pacific, that the Dereham Operatic Society put on in the Memorial Hall. This Rogers and Hammerstein piece is by no means my favourite musical, but the singers (especially the sopranos) were very good indeed, and I think the director did a better job of production than you get in the 1958 film. You will see from the poster that the Gala Night included a seafood buffet. Some of the seafood must have gone off, because I was very ill afterwards, but luckily that was the last night, so my subsequent incapacity did not spoil the run of performances.

I have been to Dereham in more recent years go shopping and to have lunch at the Bull. When I was a postie I attended a course at Dereham Post Office, but since the A47 bypassed the town you have to have a reason to visit Dereham. My most recent visit to the town was to the station, and I cannot end this piece on East Dereham without mentioning the Mid Norfolk Railway. If you go back to the days when the A47 used to run through the town the railway was still very busy, with services to Norwich, Kings Lynn and Wells.  In 1950 it also ran passenger trains to Burnham Market and Aylsham. This took some of the pressure off the ancient road network, which was still in the state it had been when the fastest means of transport was the cart horse.

Diesel Multiple Unit at Dereham Station, ABOUT 1958.

Diesel Multiple Unit at Dereham Station, circa 1958.

Diesel Multiple Units had already replaced steam as the passenger trains’ motive power by the end of the 1950s, and this picture was taken at Dereham on a visit to Lynn; the car had broken down. The line to Lynn was closed in 1968 and the passenger service to Dereham closed in 1969, but the freight service hung on until 1984. Since then the line from Wymondham to Dereham has been reopened as the Mid Norfolk Heritage Railway. Dereham was once quite a major junction on the railways of Norfolk. From there you take a train to Heacham via Wells, Wroxham via Reepham, Kings Lynn via Swaffham or Norwich via Wymondham. Now the only places among those mentioned that still have Network Rail presence are Kings Lynn, Wymondham and of course Norwich.







I bought my first moped at the advanced age of forty. I had never ridden any kind of motor cycle before, but because I had taken my driving test as long ago as 1966 I was able to get straight on and ride it without any L plates, another test or further instruction. I was strongly advised to take some lessons, but of course I didn’t. I never came to any harm in spite of my inexperience. I bought my moped from R. O. Clark in Ber Street (Norwich). This firm had some connection with V. J. Ausin who had owned the garage in Poringland when I was a lad. V. J. Austin later moved to St Catherine’s Plain in Norwich, where my father had an account and he bought all his petrol there.   In the summer of 1989 the moped was delivered to my home in Costessey on the back of a truck,.

My new mode of transport was a Honda City Express in white, similar the one which illustrates this article. Although it had a step-though frame it didn’t resemble a motor scooter such as the Lambretta, because it had large (almost motor bike sized) wheels with spokes. I felt very smart on my new moped, though I am sure other people just laughed as I rode off, if they noticed me at all. I made a box to go behind me which would take my helmet when left my bike. The nice bit about the step-through frame was the fact that I could drive along with a bag of shopping between my legs. Having automatic gears all the controls were on the handlebars, and my feet were only used to knock down the stand when I came to a halt.

I never went more than a few miles on my moped. Going from Costessey to Bowthorpe or up to Norwich was about the limit of my ambition on two wheels. For venturing any further I took the car. After I had ridden the City Express for a couple of years I sold the Honda and used instead my mother-in–law’s Vespa. This was a much older machine and therefore not so reliable. I used it to ride a mile or so to work in the morning, but I was glad to abandon two wheels when I bought myself another car in 1997. The eight years I had spent on my mopeds were enough.

Instead of freezing in the early morning I cold now sit in a warm Nissan Micra with the radio on. I was nearly 50 and it was time to enjoy a little comfort in my life. My son briefly learnt to ride a moped, and bought himself a secondhand Puch, but he did not use it very much. Recently my daughter spent 6 weeks in Bali where the only way to travel round was on a motor scooter. She had never ridden one before, and had no documents to prove her ability to do so, but they do not worry about such things in Indonesia. On returning to this country she did a crash course in motor cycling and intended to buy herself a machine, bur instead has a keen pedal cyclist. She recently rode 100 miles in one day.

Before I met my wife she and her mother used to ride all round the countryside on their mopeds. Nothing pleased my wife more than buying vegetables from roadside stalls.





WELLS QUAY about 40 years ago.

WELLS QUAY about 40 years ago.

Although in the distant past places like Cley, Thornham and even Cromer had a coastal trade, this was back in the days of sail. At Cromer ships had to be beached to unload their cargoes of coal; on the incoming tide it was possible to float them again, but only in an unladen state. With the coming of steam tramps most of the smaller ports lost their coasting vessels. However Lynn, Wells and Yarmouth retained a regular trade of seagoing steamers, which grew throughout the latter part of the 19th century. This trade lasted into living memory, but today only the port at Kings Lynn remains in use by international shipping. Even Lynn is slowly declining, as the size of the craft becomes ever greater; many of the vessels that now visit Lynn are too large for the Bentinck and Alexandra docks which are protected by a lock gate. More and more shipping has to be moored on the river outside the docks, where it is subject to the tide. In recent years the annual tonnage of cargo handled by Lynn Docks has fallen from three-quarters of million tonnes to half a million.

At Yarmouth the new outer harbour was hailed as representing a new beginning for the port, but has struggled to find customers. This is partly due to the appalling road system that serves this East Coast town. The dual carriageway sections of the A47 and the A12 end many  miles short of the dock. It is also partly because the charges are so high, according to the mariners who still use the inner harbour. Only the ships associated with commissioning and decommissioning (mostly the latter) of  oil and gas platforms use the harbour on a regular basis. The servicing of the wind farms off the East Coast has been directed not to Yarmouth but to Lowestoft.

Cromer beach, circa 1970

Cromer beach, circa 1970

On the last Sunday in August 1984 Molly (then my fiancée) and her Mum and Dad were attending the Annual Lifeboat Service on the quayside at Wells-next-the-Sea. I was there too. It was high tide, and before the band could begin we had to wait while two coasters docked at the quay. One was the  Momsunen of Scarborough, and the other was a ‘flat iron’ called Blatence. In those days there was still a trade importing soya beans into Wells and the exporting of malting barley from the harbour. There is now a new harbour there, nearer the sea, but there are no longer any trading coasters that use it. There is still a fishing trade, and this new harbour is where the boats tie up, and the vessels which go out to service the growing number of wind farms off the North Norfolk coast moor there too.

I have already chronicled the slow decline and eventual demise of the Port of Norwich. This was established in the early part of the 19th century, when sea-going steamers could go up the river to the East Anglian capital. When sail or the quant (a type of punt pole) was the form of propulsion only keels and wherries made the voyage from Yarmouth, and these vessels only occasionally made short passages out to sea. It is sad that only yachts and motor cruisers now use the river in the city, but I can see no prospect of sea-going ships ever returning. It was a brief period in the history of the river, lasting less than 200 years, only back in the middle ages stone was brought from Caen in France to build. Occasionally a barge will be towed upriver to Cantley to bring equipment to the sugar beet factory, but otherwise  commercial traffic no longer uses the river Yare. Smaller sea-going vessels still use the inner harbour at Yarmouth, but the fall in the price of oil has put a severe strain on the energy sector which provides almost all these ships.


Snettisham 1964

The ports at Morston and Blakeney are now almost exclusively used by canoes and sailing dinghies. The fishing trade has largely been replaced by leisure boating; these harbours are left high and dry by the low tide, but the regular alternation of sea and mud hardly matters at all to these dinghies. They are hauled out to spend most of their time ashore anyway. The regular service ferrying tourists out to Blakeney Point to see the seals makes up the  boating service by slightly larger vessels.

These harbours, and that at Brancaster too, were mostly used by dinghy sailors even sixty years ago, when I first visited them. The days when they were real fishing ports was well before my time; the days when grain and flour were shipped from Blakeney and Cley to Newcastle, to be replaced for the return voyage by coal from Gateshead on Tyne, was two centuries before that. At Cromer and Sheringham the number of commercial crab boats probably still exceeds the number of pleasure craft pulled up on the beach, because the necessary launching through the surf is far from easy. In most weathers it is a wet procedure, and requires old tractors to assist the beaching of the boats. In the days before tractors were available cast iron winches were used, and a few of these might still be seen in the 1970s, although they were no longer used. Years ago you could find one or two similarly beach-launched fishing boats at places like Winterton, Sea Palling or Mundesley, but now virtually only Weybourne is left with a fishing boat or two.

Look out for my next post on the leisure use of the Norfolk beaches, to be entitled ‘Summers by the Sea’.