Diss dig unearths private pioneering railway

Excavation work prior to the start of building work in Diss has unveiled an old brick kiln works. Ar

Excavation work prior to the start of building work in Diss has unveiled an old brick kiln works. Archaeologists from Archaeological Solutions have been digging the site for a while and uncovered ovens and floors plus brickabrac from every day life on the site. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

It was a pioneering example of Victorian entrepreneurship, which has long since vanished from the landscape – a private railway system built so produce from a Norfolk estate could reach London more easily.

But now, more than a century on, part of the network created by William Betts, of the Frenze Estate, in south Norfolk, is being painstakingly excavated by archaeologists.

The seven-mile stretch was created in 1868, linking his land at Scole to Diss railway station, where farm produce could be transferred to the Great Eastern Railway and taken to the capital.

Part of the sidings of the Diss end of the line have been unearthed and are being examined by archaeologists, along with brick kilns, which may have been used to build homes in the town.

Experts from Archaeological Solutions are working on the site off Sawmills Road on behalf of Pick Everard ahead of work to build a care home.

They are recording what has been described as a 'significant find' by Diss historian Basil Abbott.

Mr Abbott said: 'Brick kilns and traces of railway sidings have been discovered to the east of Diss railway station.

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They date from William Betts' farm railway between 1868-87.

'This was created to take produce via the main line station to London markets and to bring back manure from the thousands of horses in the capital. There are Betts bricks on many houses and walls in Diss.

'This is a very significant discovery, relating to an important piece of local history.

'Betts was an extraordinary man and a great entrepreneur. I am glad this site can be studied.'

Helen Kennett, a Norwich social historian, believes cottages in Mission Road in Diss were built by Mr Betts and a row of homes called Betts Terrace may have been part of a contract with Great Eastern Railway.

Have you made a historical discovery? Email anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk