The Victorians brought railways and resorts, industry and architecture to Norfolk in more than 60 years of huge change from 1837-1901 and lots of it is still on show from Cromer to Diss and Downham Market to Great Yarmouth.   


Norfolk’s first railway line, between Norwich and Yarmouth, opened in 1844. The second connected Norwich to London, via Cambridge. Through the rest of Queen Victoria’s reign a vast web of lines tracked across the county, linking all the major towns and many of the tiniest villages too. They brought a distinctive architecture, much of which survives today including ornate stations, brick bridges and railway-workers' houses. They brought prosperity too as farmers and fishermen were able to send produce to new markets across the country - and holidaymakers discovered the joys of the Norfolk coast.  

In Victorian times Great Yarmouth was the largest herring port in the world with vast shoals of the ‘silver darlings’ caught and processed here and exported across Britain and as far afield as Russia, Africa and India. At the same time it became a national centre for tourism and leisure. 

Football and fun  

Football fans following the fortunes of Great Yarmouth Town Football Club at its Wellesley Recreation Ground home can watch from the 134-year-old Victorian grandstand, the world’s oldest football stand still in regular use.   

Great Yarmouth's magnificent glass and iron Winter Gardens, built in Devon in 1878, will be restored thanks to a £10m lottery grant. It was shipped around the coast in 1903 and famously not a single pane of glass was broken. By 2026 it should once-again be a sparkling, foliage-filled palace and year-round destination for visitors and residents.  

Yarmouth’s 1880 town hall is also a fine example of Victorian Gothic architecture.


For more than 130 years the coast between Sheringham and Mundesley has been known as Poppyland. The name was invented by writer Clement Scott who fell in love with the area. He first used the word “poppyland” in a poem called Garden of Sleep written in Sidestrand churchyard. 

Gorgeous George 

Some of Norfolk’s most beautiful Victorian buildings were designed by Dereham-born George Skipper. He gave Norwich the Royal Arcade and the Norwich Union headquarters including Marble Hall (finished just after the end of Victoria’s reign) and also designed Hunstanton Town Hall and several of Norfolk’s most flamboyant coastal hotels including Cromer’s Hotel de Paris with its towers and domes overlooking the seafront and pier. 

Eastern Daily Press: Royal Arcade, NorwichRoyal Arcade, Norwich (Image: Denise Bradley)

Eastern Daily Press: Booton churchBooton church (Image: Rowan Mantell)

Beautiful Booton  

Booton church rises like a fairytale palace from the rural landscape near Reepham.  

Many of Norfolk’s medieval churches were revamped by the Victorians, but Booton rebooted was a total rebuild, involving soaring minaret-like pinnacles and copies of architectural features from the Palace of Westminster, Glastonbury Abbey and Oxford colleges. 

The Rev Whitwell Elwin arrived in Booton in 1850 and spent the next half-century redesigning and rebuilding his church. A descendant of Pocahontas and friend of Charles Dickens, Walter Scott and William Thackery, he was a compulsive letter writer, advising one correspondent, Charles Darwin, to stick to writing about pigeons. He also designed Booton House, the childhood home of Stephen Fry.  

Today the church is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and visitors can even stay overnight.  

Royal Norfolk 

The Sandringham estate was bought in 1862 by Queen Victoria as a 21st birthday present for her tearaway eldest son, later Edward VII. The old hall was demolished and a new house built for the prince and his wife. More Norfolk links with Victoria include a hebe in the beautiful Bishop’s Gardens in Norwich Cathedral Close, grown from a sprig taken from her wedding bouquet, and a bible she once owned in the cathedral library. 

Eastern Daily Press: Norwich shawlsNorwich shawls (Image: Newsquest)

Material, mourning and manufacturing  

Norwich-made shawls were the height of 19th century fashion and renowned around the world. Queen Victoria herself wore shawls woven in Norwich and a comprehensive collection is held by Norfolk Museums Service. 

Norwich was also famous for its black cloth. When Prince Albert died, aged just 42, in 1861, Victoria was overwhelmed by grief and wore black for the rest of her life. Her empire was plunged into mourning with her, creating huge demand for black cloth woven from silk and worsted in Norwich.  

Norwich had been renowned for its fabric industry for centuries and in 1844 the world’s first wire netting machine, based on cloth weaving machines, was built in Norwich. Wire netting from Norwich was soon being exported around the world.  

Good works 

The Victorians are renowned for their focus on public services. From schools to sewers, we are still using infrastructure invented and installed in Victorian times. 

Norfolk children still learn in Victorian-built classrooms and our water still flows through treatment works founded more than a century ago. 

In Waterworks Road, Norwich, a grand building with ornate brickwork and arched windows is the old waterworks engine house. Beyond the Victorian buildings are Anglian Water’s modern filters, treatment chambers, pumping equipment and reservoirs.

The City of Norwich Waterworks Company was founded in 1850 amid fears of mass cholera epidemics. Its directors began designing and commissioning machinery to purify river water, distribute it across Norwich and dispose of the waste. These industrial structures were beautiful as well as useful and the huge pumping engines were housed in vast vaulted buildings decorated with fancy brickwork, moulded plaster and elegant arched windows and topped with spire-like vents for the steam. 

Eastern Daily Press: Victorian waterworks buildings in Norwich Victorian waterworks buildings in Norwich (Image: Denise Bradley)

Eastern Daily Press: Sally North at Great Cressingham Victorian SchoolSally North at Great Cressingham Victorian School (Image: Denise Bradley)

In Great Cressingham, near Watton, the village school closed in 1992. It was bought by Sally and Tom North who restored it to how it might have been in 1891 and began welcoming groups of modern-day children. Every spring and summer girls in white pinnies shawls and mob caps, and boys in waistcoats and flat caps, sit at rows of sloping wooden desks, writing on slates, before running out to play with hoops in the meadow and spin tops in the yard. Bookings are being taken now. 

For more Victorian architecture look out for hospitals, water-towers, public toilets, workhouses, almshouses, schools, churches, chapels and cemeteries in almost every community in Norfolk. 

Eastern Daily Press: Downham Market clockDownham Market clock (Image: Newsquest)

In Downham Market the iconic Victorian cast iron clock tower has stood in the market square since 1878, funded by local shopkeeper James Scott. Near Stalham people can still enjoy floating along along the River Ant, Victorian-style, on the Museum of the Broad’s steam launch. And in Hunstanton an entire seaside resort was created by the Le Strange family who brought a railway to the town and commissioned hotels, shops, housing and a church.