Sad tale of Norwich station that survived World War Two bombing but fell victim to the railway killers

PUBLISHED: 06:00 20 July 2019

L0218 Miss Janet Hardwick buys last ticket on the last M&GN train from City Station 28 feb 1959 Archant pic

L0218 Miss Janet Hardwick buys last ticket on the last M&GN train from City Station 28 feb 1959 Archant pic


Cast your mind back, if you can of course, to February of 1959 when Norfolk had turned yellow and green. The Canaries were flying high in the FA Cup knocking out one big team after another...but the celebrations were tinged with sadness for many.

Norwich City Station in 1906Norwich City Station in 1906

City Station in Norwich closed to passengers. It was the end of an era. Freight continued to be use the line for a few years before the demolition men moved in and destroyed the much-loved station which deserved better.

This was a time of mass destruction of the railways as so many of the smaller stations shut and the tracks were ripped up.

Around 180 miles of railway, from Yarmouth and Norwich in the East to Peterborough and Bourne in the west, were erased from the map, with the exception of a few miles retained for goods traffic.

Nothing like this had happened in the UK, let alone East Anglia.

City Station still standing in 1942 Picture: Archant libraryCity Station still standing in 1942 Picture: Archant library

The social effects were dramatic, not only among the regular passengers who had to find other ways of getting to work, school or to the shops, but among the railway staff.

The vast majority found themselves redundant in February 1959 and later in the year the direct line from Great Yarmouth to Beccles was closed with a minimum of fuss and publicity.

Poor old City Station, survived the Second World War bombing, but stood in the way of those who wanted rid of the railways.

It had a fine start in the 1850s when it opened to become the third railway station in the city.

The old M. and G.N. route into Norwich City Station. Photo: Archant LibraryThe old M. and G.N. route into Norwich City Station. Photo: Archant Library

Facing Station Road, which linked Barn Road and Oak Street, it was built by engineering contractors, Wilkinson and Jarvis, and others in Romanesque style with famous Costessey red brick with white brick dressings and facings.

It was a splendid building which the city and county could be proud of.

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Its frontage was about 130ft long with an approach through a central archway to four platforms totalling 700ft in length.

Civic leaders and visiting railway dignitaries celebrated the opening with a meal at St Andrew's Hall which included Boar's head, aspic a la Royale, beef, fowl, game and ornamental tongues.

The Midland and Great Northern was the line across the county which linked so many isolated communities. It was a lifeline for so many.

Melton Constable was the hub. It was transformed from a small village into a major railway centre and from its busy station trains left in four directions across Norfolk. There were also locomotive and rolling stock workshops.

The line was also used by thousands of holidaymakers heading to the East Coast from the Midlands.

The decline started in 1936 when the M&GN was taken over by other rail companies and the locomotive works closed. Repairs were transferred to Stratford.

Then, in 1942 during the Norwich Blitz, the station was hit causing death and destruction.

News spread around the world and many years ago Barbara Thayne, who worked at the station, told me how they had received money from railwaymen in Argentina to pay for a tea and coffee cart as the buffets had been destroyed.

"It was a terrible scene of devastation and for months we had to use railway carriages for offices," said Barbara.

Poor old City never recovered and, rather than be rebuilt and modernised, it was closed to passengers in 1959, then to freight, and demolished in the 1970s. We will never know the impact City Station would have had on 21st century life as our roads struggle to cope with the ever-increasing amount of traffic.

All those who, in recent times, have been working hard to discover and uncover what they can of the old railway and its lines have done, and are doing, a wonderful job.

The station may have gone but the toilet opposite remains. A remarkable tale about a listed loo which is 100 years old. A story for another day.

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