Norfolk on a stick: Could the railway come full circle to Melton Constable?
- Credit: Archant
The unassuming north Norfolk village of Melton Constable has an unexpectedly rich railway history. DR ANDREW TULLETT tells the story behind the village sign
The railways arrived and subsequently departed from many Norfolk villages.
Perhaps nowhere was the impact more consequential than at Melton Constable.
Its population increased from 118 residents in 1881 to 1,157 by 1911.
The Midland and Great Northern Railway arrived in 1882. The village was effectively built to support the railway.
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It is therefore no surprise that a locomotive adorns Melton Constable's sign.
The Lord of the Manor, Lord Hastings, was keen to capitalise on the coming of the railways.
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He donated 11 acres of land to the project.
The crest on the top of the village sign is not that of the railway company but is associated with Lord Hastings and his Astley ancestors.
Construction work began on May 10, 1881 to build a station and a major railway engineering works.
At a junction between four lines (arriving from Cromer in the north, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft from the east, Norwich from the South and King's Lynn from the west) Melton Constable was in a strategically important position.
It became a gateway to the Midlands for many Norfolk towns and villages.
The station platform ran for 800 feet and a special waiting room was built for Lord Hastings and his associates.
The railway works, which opened in 1883, became the centre of operations for the network.
Locomotives were built and repaired here with components being made on site.
In the sidings, goods trains were shunted and new combinations of carriages made up before onward journeys.
Houses were built locally to attract workers to the area. Houses were tied to jobs on the railway, so when workers left the railway they also had to give up their homes.
Melton Street was the first area to be built, in 1882.
The terraced houses were supplied with running water and gas from the railway gas works. The rent and charges for these services was taken direct from workers' wages.
A school was built in 1896, paid for by Lord Hastings and the railway company.
It closed in 1984. The village pub, The Hastings Arms, was built by Lord Hastings in 1883.
It closed in 1996.
The demise of Melton Constable's association with the railway began in 1934 when the railway works was closed.
Between 1959 and 1964 British Railways reduced passenger and freight services and closed lines. The last passenger train arrived at Melton Constable from Sheringham at 11.04pm on April 4 1964.
In April 1971 demolition of the station began. Two of the spandrels that previously supported the station roof now frame the front of the bus shelter near the village sign.
The site of the railway works became an industrial estate.
Unfortunately, none of the locomotives built at Melton Constable has survived.
On the village sign, under the name 'Melton Constable', appears the name of the ancient parish of Burgh Parva.
St Mary's, the former parish church, has been a ruin for many generations.
When the population of Melton Constable boomed with the coming of the railway, a new church was required.
In 1903 a temporary corrugated iron structure was built in the churchyard of St Mary's.
A competition to design a permanent replacement was organised, but none of entries were ever built.
Variously known as the 'Tin Church' and 'Melton Church' the temporary tin tabernacle of new
St Mary's is still used – and drawings of the church that never was adorn its walls. Gravestones in the churchyard record the lives of those who worked on the railway.
There are grand plans for the railway to return to Melton Constable.
The Norfolk Orbital Railway would be created by establishing a connection between two existing heritage railways - the North Norfolk Railway which runs for 5 miles between Sheringham and Holt and the Mid-Norfolk Railway which operates services for 11½ miles between Wymondham and Dereham.
These would then be linked at either end to the national rail network.
The Holt, Melton Constable and Fakenham Railway Company has already made purchases of former track-bed for this long-term project.
-Dr Tullett, from Lakenham, researched just about all of Norfolk's 500-plus town and village signs as part of his Signs of a Norfolk Summer project. He now gives presentations on the topic, and anyone looking for a speaker can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.