The extraordinary story of how plans were put forward to build a railway line and a new central station in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral and castle mound is told in the latest booklet by The Norwich Society.

The Spring edition of Aspects of Norwich contains half a dozen articles including two which take an in-depth look at the life and times of two very special people.

One is Jenny Lind, who fell in love with the city and gave us a hospital which, 170 years on, goes from strength to strength.

The other is Thomas Fowell Buxton, described as “The Liberator.” He led the parliamentary campaign in 1834 responsible for freeing 700,000 slaves held in the West Indies and across the British Empire.

It is the historian and author Matthew Williams who tells the story of Central Station Cross-Rail and a Cross Dean which illustrates how outrageously damaging schemes are not the sole preserve of mid-20th – or even 21st – century road builders.

We know that building a new railway infrastructure is a costly and challenging business. How is it that by the 1890s our modest-sized city ended up with three different railway stations?

First we had Thorpe Station in 1844. Then Victoria Station five years later which sat at the top of St Stephen’s Street and finally City Station that opened 1882 where we now have the Barn Road roundabout and trading complex.

All three stations were located just outside the bounds of the medieval city, leaving a sizeable gap in the middle, so catching a train could result in a significant journey.

(Image: Matthew Williams)

If you were travelling from Great Yarmouth  and wishing to connect with trains onward to King’s Lynn for example.

But the Lynn & Fakenham Railway Company, responsible for City Station, came up with a plan in 1880 to provide a convenient link to the Midlands. A bold scheme to construct a new Norwich central station.

They identified a site in the shadow of both the castle mound and the cathedral, near the top of Prince of Wales Road which would provide a ready link to Thorpe Station across the river.

A grand station would be built at King Street, just down the hill from what later became the Anglia Television site.

But how would it be possible for the rail lines terminating at Heigham Street to be extended to this central point without the need for the demolition of swathes of buildings?

The engineers came up with a plan to run a new line out of City Station across the city and then take advantage of the lower cathedral grounds to build the track on an embankment curing in from the north and east towards the new central station.

(Image: Supplied)

“The coup-de-grace would be a three-spanned bridge carrying the railway line 15ft over Prince of Wales Road just east of Cathedral Street,” writes Matthew.

The first official record of the 1880 proposal is a notice in the London Gazette with plans deposited at Norfolk Quarter Sessions.

“This was no crackpot idea on the part of the L & F; it was a serious and detailed proposal, and it very nearly happened,” explains Matthew.

Time for the Dean at Norwich Cathedral was Edward Meyrick Goulburn, a celebrated preacher and writer and Dean since 1866, to step forward.

He was not a happy man.

(Image: By kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral)

It is thanks to the book The Goulburn Norwich Diaries, edited by Noel Henderson which was published in 1996, that we get to learn more about this determined gentleman who led the campaign to halt this proposal.

Mind you. It appears the city council was in favour of it along with farmers across the county who saw the potential of a station next to the cattle market.

In early 1882 things took off when the necessary bill to promote the new railway was read in the Commons. Goulburn only found out about this after seeing a report in the Eastern Daily Press.

He wrote in his diary that he felt “much depressed about this horrid railway.” His campaign to stop it, which included visiting Mr Gladstone in Downing Street, began.

(Image: Norfolk Record Office)

The debate was heated with those in support describing buildings in the cathedral precincts as “nothing more than tumble-down buildings and groups of pigsties.”

The scheme was abandoned only to be followed by a plan in 1907 to build a new central station opposite St Andrew’s Hall with a 2,500-yard-long railway tunnel deep below the city to link Thorpe and City stations.

This sort of Norwich cross-rail the brainchild of local engineer W J Botterill.

Times were changing. Germany was posing a military and commercial threat and the new railway would serve a proposed new naval base on the River Yare at an enlarged Rockland Broad, as well as new docks at Norwich and Whitlingham.

“Bullish though its author was, he evidently had little influence over policy-makers and the idea never got any further,” writes Matthew.

And this is just one of the fascinating stories in Aspects of Norwich on sale now at £6.50 from City Books, Davey Place, Norwich. It is highly recommended.

(Image: Supplied)