Poignant memories shared of much-missed coastal rail link
PUBLISHED: 15:56 13 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:56 13 May 2020
Memories have been shared of a popular rail link that served thousands of people each week in two coastal towns for more than 60 years.
Fifty years ago, the final train ran along the railway connecting Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.
After opening in 1903 the line operated for 67 years. Its closure in 1970 came after the line had been run down by British Rail with mainline services re-routed and stations left unstaffed and derelict.
Despite attempts to save the line, and subsequent efforts to protect the route from redevelopment, it was lost with housing and roads now occupying most of the route.
With the direct rail link between the two towns still keenly felt, an appeal was launched for information to be shared in an online exhibition that marked the anniversary of the closure.
Community Rail development officer Martin Halliday said the exhibition was proving very popular, as it brought memories flooding back with interest from across the world.
“We have received a number of very interesting images, artefacts and memories in relation to the lost line with interest in the exhibition from across the world including Australia, Canada and Portugal,” Mr Halliday said.
“One consistent theme running through the majority of comments has been sadness at the sheer waste and lost opportunity of what was, and could have continued to be, a superb transport and tourism artery, connecting large communities in Lowestoft, Gorleston and Yarmouth and the now hugely expanded villages of Corton and Hopton.
“The sad condition of the line immediately prior to closure with its derelict station buildings and weed-strewn platforms has highlighted the importance of work now undertaken through the nationwide Community Rail movement which, over the past two decades, has seen thousands of stations cared for by local communities and volunteer station adopters, bringing new life to an array of redundant buildings along with events, many successful initiatives to improve facilities and a host of floral displays raging from full gardens to planters and hanging baskets, all helping to enhance the experience for passengers.”
The online exhibition continues via the Wherry Lines’ Facebook Page until the end of May.
Some of the content received will be utilised in special interpretation panels to be installed at Lowestoft station and the remaining Yarmouth station.
Memories or images are still very welcome, and can be shared by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to Lowestoft Central Project, Lowestoft Railway Station, Denmark Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR32 2EG.
The Last Train
On May 2, 1970, services between the two towns ended with no official fanfare or ceremony yet many local residents and some rail enthusiasts travelled from across the country to mark the occasion.
One was Graham Smith who made a special headboard which was affixed to the front of the last train.
Fifty years on, Graham still has the board he made and shared a recent photograph of himself with it.
Other nostalgia has included the final timetable produced for the line, the clock from the signal box at Lowestoft North station and labels detailing some of the varied freight carried including coal, fish and sugar beet.
In the last days of the line Bob Helmsley used to play in the derelict station buildings. He said: “As a child of approximately 10-years-old, we used to hang around Gorleston Station in 1968/1969, entering the disused offices which had been vandalised.
“Although we did not have our own watches, we used to ask the conductor on the train what the time was, so we knew when to go home.”
Former Waveney MP, David Porter, recalled how he would try to catch the numbers of locomotives running on the line from a classroom window at Lowestoft Grammar School – today Ormiston Denes Academy.
Mr Porter said: “I attended Lowestoft Grammar School, across the road from Lowestoft North station.
“In my first year, I was in Class 1D with our home base in the Isolation Block, situated now as then, a walk from the main school buildings, adjacent to the railway cutting.
“My classroom was one of the two upstairs. We had to walk through 1C to reach our room.
“In alphabetical order starting nearest the walls we sat in single desk rows, boys on one side, girls on the other.
“On hot days when the top swivel windows were opened, it was possible for pupils with surnames M-R sitting towards the centre of the class to note the numbers of the diesels as they went past, either Yarmouth-bound and slowing for the station or picking up speed towards Lowestoft.
“The challenge was to pass the numbers to boys who collected train numbers without being caught. In those day’s teachers spent most lessons talking from the front, pacing down the rows or chalking on the board. This was when discipline was strictly enforced and punishment swift for what nowadays might seem small transgressions. And I didn’t even collect numbers myself!”
John Colby, also attended Lowestoft Grammar School and was a former head boy at the school. Recalling a similar experience, Mr Colby, now living in Devon, said: “From 1958 – 1965 I was a pupil at Lowestoft Grammar School (Head Boy 1964/65).
The Lowestoft -Yarmouth line ran along the eastern side of the school site in a cutting.
“For a while I was a keen train spotter until other ‘interests’ came along.
“I recall at the time I was having great difficulty ‘copping’ a particular Brush diesel locomotive, D5511 from memory.
“Wherever I went in East Anglia it seemed to be somewhere else. At school if you had a lesson on the first floor of the new block and sat at a desk on the side nearest the railway line you could see the tops of the trains as they went by in the cutting – ensuring of course that the teacher did not spot you! “During one lesson I saw the top of a diesel loco. pass by which I thought was a Brush; I was later told it was indeed D5511 and so, although I only saw its roof I counted it as a ‘cop’.”
John also recalled that there were two locations in Lowestoft where young train enthusiasts used to congregate; one was on the Iron Bridge to the west of Central station and the other was in the field near Coke Ovens Junction, where the line to Yarmouth left the Norwich and Ipswich lines, opposite the engine shed which also had a turntable.
Former Hopton resident, David Kitchen is pleased the exhibition is marking the 50th anniversary of the lines closure and recalled how, as a child, he could earn money assisting holidaymakers with their luggage.
He said: “It has always seemed a great shame that the line was allowed to deteriorate and was then closed.
“On summer Saturdays I used to go to and from the station with a barrow, carrying the cases of departing and arriving holidaymakers. On a good Saturday I would make around 25 shillings - only £1.25 in new money but a significant amount back then.”
Trevor Garrod, chairman of the East Suffolk Travel Association (ESTA), recalled how he attended the public inquiry into the closure.
He said: “I was at the public inquiry in September 1968 when I crossed swords with the chairman over how much money, if any, the line was losing.”
ESTA had successfully campaigned to keep the East Suffolk Line between Ipswich and Lowestoft open in the 1960s, sadly they and others were not able to save the Lowestoft – Yarmouth route.
Peter Cogar shared a slide he took from platform 3 at Lowestoft station prior to the penultimate journey along the line, the 20:19 to Yarmouth.
Its return working of which this unit formed the rear section, would be the actual last train.
On the right of the picture are the coaches of the afternoon through buffet train from London, due in at 19:37.
He said: “I was living in Kings Lynn at the time (doing A-levels), however I was on the last train, looking back to Summer 1963, there were 23 trains each way on a weekday, 36 on a Saturday and 15 on a Sunday.”
Phil Strong recalled: “I was born in Station Road, near Lowestoft North station. I used the line near its end, but sadly I did not own a camera at the time. It was a sorry sight at the end anyway, basically a 10-mile siding with all facilities removed and one train doing a shuttle.”
Lowestoft resident Gerald Baxter shared some happy memories of visiting attractions in Yarmouth using the line and a painful incident on arrival at Yarmouth South Town station.
He said: “I have good memories of the rail line between Lowestoft and Yarmouth, I lived on the Gunton Estate and my parents, sisters and myself would travel to Yarmouth on the train a few times a year to visit either the circus or the pleasure beach.
“I remember well South Town station, as when I was a small boy, holding my mother’s hand, I walked into an iron pillar on the station platform and broke my nose.”
Steve Flowerday provided more history of the line and shared the last timetable printed by British Rail.
Steve travelled on the final services with his school friend, David Bell.
He said: “The line was opened on 13th July 1903 under the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Committee, formed between the Great Eastern Railway (GER) and the Midland and Great Northern Railway (M&GN).
“Passenger services were originally provided by both the M&GN which ran four daily services, using Yarmouth Beach station as its terminus. The GER ran 3 daily trains, using Yarmouth South Town as its terminus.
“Over the years, particularly between the two wars, the line carried considerable special holiday traffic with trains bringing holidaymakers from the Midlands to Lowestoft and Yarmouth and the stations in between.
“In 1967 the line was singled but sadly three years later it closed with approximate loses of £34,000 per year.
“Today this line would be valued as an important ‘green asset’ to the public transport system.”
One of the most detailed recollections of the former line was supplied by retired BBC Radio Norfolk presenter and local journalist, Tony Mallion.
His family had close connections with the line, his grandfather built a bungalow overlooking the railway and experienced the line through wartime.
“It seems I owe my whole life to the Great Yarmouth to Lowestoft railway, especially the Gorleston-on-sea section,” he said.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.