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Remembering historic coastal rail link 50 years after closure

PUBLISHED: 16:55 22 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:08 22 April 2020

Holidaymakers arriving at Yarmouth Railway Station on July 25, 1953  Photo:  GOULD

Holidaymakers arriving at Yarmouth Railway Station on July 25, 1953 Photo: GOULD

It was a rail link that served thousands of people each week in two coastal towns for more than 60 years.

Railway staff watering tulips at Lowestoft Central Train Station in April 1953. Picture: Archant LibraryRailway staff watering tulips at Lowestoft Central Train Station in April 1953. Picture: Archant Library

And now memories are being sought of the much missed rail link between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, ahead of the 50th anniversary of its closure.

With the line closing in 1970, it meant the end of an era for the railway which directly linked the two towns.

Lowestoft Central Station staff were issued with new uniforms in 1957. Photo: Archant LibraryLowestoft Central Station staff were issued with new uniforms in 1957. Photo: Archant Library

And on May 4, 2020 – 50 years since its much-lamented closure – this end of an era will be marked as the Wherry Lines Community Rail Partnership, in conjunction with the Lowestoft Central Project, launches an appeal for people to share their memories and any images of the railway.

It comes ahead of a special online exhibition and permanent displays to be installed at stations in the two towns later this year.

Lowestoft North Station in 1963. Photo: Archant LibraryLowestoft North Station in 1963. Photo: Archant Library

Built in 1903, the Lowestoft to Yarmouth Railway ran from Great Yarmouth Beach Station across the Bure Railway Bridge and five-span Breydon Viaduct, serving stations at Yarmouth Southtown, Gorleston North, Gorleston On Sea, Hopton, Corton, Lowestoft North and Lowestoft Central.

In 1914 a Halt was added at Gorleston Links to serve the adjacent golf course.

Driver William George who took the last train on the run from Great Yarmouth Southtown Station to Lowestoft Central when the coastal line was closed on May 2 1970.  Photo: Archant LibaryDriver William George who took the last train on the run from Great Yarmouth Southtown Station to Lowestoft Central when the coastal line was closed on May 2 1970. Photo: Archant Libary

Before 1903, direct services linking the two towns ran via a curve east of Reedham to Yarmouth Vauxhall and following construction of the Beccles to Yarmouth route, via a junction at Haddiscoe.

When it opened, the direct Lowestoft to Yarmouth line was operated by a joint committee comprising of the Great Eastern Railway (GER) and the Midland and Great Northern Junction Railway (MGNJR).

A view taken from Great Yarmouth Town Hall, showing Hall Quay with the Haven Bridge (left) then onto North Quay. In the distance the Breydon  Railway Viaduct can be seen. Dated  1940's or early 1950's  Photo: Archant LibaryA view taken from Great Yarmouth Town Hall, showing Hall Quay with the Haven Bridge (left) then onto North Quay. In the distance the Breydon Railway Viaduct can be seen. Dated 1940's or early 1950's Photo: Archant Libary

The railways hoped that the line would lead to the development of holiday resorts and it is believed that Gorleston and Hopton had ‘On Sea’ added to their names as part of a railway publicity campaign.

The route saw services running via the former MGNJR network to and from the Midlands and North and summer specials bringing thousands of holidaymakers to a host of holiday camps along the coast.

Breydon Swing Railway Bridge. Opened in 1902 the bridge was 625 feet long and weighs more than 1000 tons. With the demise of the railways the bridge was demolished in 1962. Photo: Archant LibaryBreydon Swing Railway Bridge. Opened in 1902 the bridge was 625 feet long and weighs more than 1000 tons. With the demise of the railways the bridge was demolished in 1962. Photo: Archant Libary

As well as a variety of freight traffic – including fish, coal and sugar beet – during the First World War Lowestoft North station also saw the arrival of thousands of troops as the Army had constructed training camps on the nearby North Denes and Corton Road playing field.

After the 1953 East Coast Floods, services across the Breydon Viaduct ended as maintenance to the substantial structure was deemed too costly and all Lowestoft – Yarmouth services were terminated at Southtown Station.

The sign which greeted travellers outside Gorleston station. Photo: From the Yarmouth to Lowestoft Railway Line DVDThe sign which greeted travellers outside Gorleston station. Photo: From the Yarmouth to Lowestoft Railway Line DVD

Yarmouth Beach Station closed along with much of the former MGNJR network in 1959.

After closure of the Beccles to Southtown route, which was also axed in 1959, all London services ran via Lowestoft and the line was upgraded. However, shortly afterwards, many services to the coast were re-routed via Norwich.

A steam train goes under the bridge at Yarmouth's Southtown Station in 1953. Photo: Archant LibraryA steam train goes under the bridge at Yarmouth's Southtown Station in 1953. Photo: Archant Library

In 1968, an enquiry into the proposed closure of the line claimed that it served between 5,000 and 10,000 people per week and was running at a loss of some £34,000 per year.

Although closure was not proposed as part of the Beeching Report, British Rail ran services down and re-routed holiday and other long-distance traffic leaving the line with just a two-car diesel shuttle calling at unstaffed and vandalised stations.

Great Yarmouth Southtown Station in the  1950s. Photo: Archant LibraryGreat Yarmouth Southtown Station in the 1950s. Photo: Archant Library

By 1970 the route was deemed uneconomic to run and despite a local effort to keep the line running as a tourist attraction, full closure came on May 4 that year with the final passenger train running on May 2.

To mark the 50th anniversary of its closure, it had originally been planned to host a special exhibition about the lost line in the restored Parcels Office at Lowestoft station.

The Midland and Great Northern Railway logo incorporated into all the metal stanchions supporting the platform canopy at Yarmouth Beach Station, one stop from the Newtown Halt, pictured during demolition work after the line's closure. Picture: Archant LibraryThe Midland and Great Northern Railway logo incorporated into all the metal stanchions supporting the platform canopy at Yarmouth Beach Station, one stop from the Newtown Halt, pictured during demolition work after the line's closure. Picture: Archant Library

However with the current coronavirus crisis, the appeal has gone out for readers to share their memories and images of the railway which can instead be viewed online and contribute to special history panels that will be permanently installed at stations in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

Community rail development officer, Martin Halliday, said: “The line had a relatively short working life of just 67 years and surprisingly few images of the route in operation remain in the public domain.

A Great Yarmouth and Gorleston railway poster by H Forster.A Great Yarmouth and Gorleston railway poster by H Forster.

“We are therefore appealing for any memories and images people may have that we can share in an online article to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure.

“We also hope to use some of these in two special railway history panels to be installed at stations in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth later this year.”

The original route

After leaving Lowestoft Central Station, the railway curved away from the Lowestoft to Norwich and Ipswich lines at Coke Ovens Junction and passed the Eastern Coach Works – now home to the North Quay Retail Park.

It then ran through a deep cutting until it reached Lowestoft North Station opposite the former Lowestoft Grammar School – now Ormiston Denes Academy. Lowestoft North Station occupied a substantial site with sidings, coal yard and for many years, a camping coach for holidaymakers.

Passing through what is now known as Dip Farm, the line ran along an embankment towards Corton before entering a short cutting under Corton Long Lane and reaching Corton Station.

The line then continued north on an embankment through Hopton, Gorleston Links Halt and into Gorleston Station.

After Gorleston it joined the Beccles to Yarmouth route at Gorleston North Station with connections to Yarmouth Southtown and Yarmouth Beach via the Breydon Viaduct.

When excavated, the substantial cutting made to take the railway through North Lowestoft brought some doubt that a tunnel, believed to date back to Cromwellian times, ran from the High Street to St Margaret’s Parish Church.

No evidence of any tunnel was discovered.

In the 1980s, clearance of the former station site in Hopton, revealed a series of parallel brick arches constructed to hold the station platforms.

Prior to the line’s closure, much of the railway land around Yarmouth was purchased by the Town Council and today, very little exists to indicate the presence of the towns’ former and arguably most prestigious station, Southtown.

Redevelopment

With the expansion of towns and villages along the route, the line is much missed today.

After closure most of the land on which it ran and all bar one of the former stations succumbed to redevelopment.

Housing and construction of the Gorleston bypass also saw much of the former track bed disappear.

However many bridges and landmarks are still visible including Corton Station, which is now a private residence, along with the cutting running through north Lowestoft – which is now the Great Eastern Linear Park and cycle route connecting Yarmouth Road with Barnards Meadow.

It is also possible to still see some of the embankments running parallel to the Coast Road and track-bed south of the Gorleston station site.

Any pictures of the line featuring passengers, rolling stock, signal boxes or stations would be appreciated by the research team.

They do not require original copies of photographs and anyone submitting material will be credited by name if they wish.

If you have any images or memories you wish to share, please email them to info@communityrailnorfolk.co.uk or by post to Lowestoft Central Project, Lowestoft Railway Station, Denmark Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR32 2EG.


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