Norfolk railway pioneers recognised in special ceremony

Five men stand in line next to a steam train. They smile at the camera

Honouring the brothers at the North Norfolk Railway. Left to right: Hugh Harkett, Neil Sharpe, Roger Ison, Andy Ison and Andrew Munden. Keith Ashford is on the locomotive. - Credit: Peter Mayne Allen.

It is a jewel in the Norfolk crown...a very special place for locals and visitors. 

Today the North Norfolk Railway at Sheringham is a major attraction and that is thanks to the team of dedicated volunteers who look after it.

For them it is a labour of love, and so much more.

NNR operates a five and a quarter mile heritage railway from Sheringham to Holt, which normally carries around 160,000 passengers a year.

There was a time when the news about railways was dominated by closures as we lost station after station and line were pulled up. forcing people off the trains and onto the roads.

But in the early 1960s two brothers from Essex, and a couple of friends, had a very different vision. To open a railway.

The Ison brothers have seen many milestones in the history of the North Norfolk Railway. In this fil

The Ison brothers have seen many milestones in the history of the North Norfolk Railway. In this file photo from 1982, passengers board a train at the railway's Sheringham station for Weybourne. - Credit: Archant archive

And they looked to Norfolk.

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Andy (79) and Roger (74) Ison, who now live in Beeston Regis, were among the small group responsible for the idea and hard work which was to save what is now the NNR, acquire locomotives, coaches and run trains.

An enormous and challenging task. One we have much to thank them for.

What's amazing is that 60 years on Andy and Roger continue as members of the M&GN Joint Railway Society - the charity which supports the NNR - and as volunteers on the railway.

They have seen the society grow with national membership and key milestones in the railway's history, the arrival of locomotives and coaches in 1967, the opening of the line first to Weybourne in 1975, and to Holt in 1989- even dining trains to Cromer.

Andy Ison bidding bon voyage to his beloved B12 at Holt before its major overhaul.

Andy Ison bidding bon voyage to his beloved B12 at Holt before its major overhaul. - Credit: Peter Mayne Allen

Much of the early planning took place around the dining table of their parents' home in Buckhurst Hill near Chingford, and on trips to North Norfolk made in an old minibus.

Roger remembers taking part in decision-making as a 15-year-old and visiting the Stratford depot - now the site of the Olympic Park - on a cold January morning in 1962 to look at withdrawn steam locomotives which may be acquired.

One of these was B12 locomotive 8572 which came to Sheringham in 1967 and has been the flagship of the NNR for many years.

Since those heady days, the brothers - who moved to Norfolk in the 70s - have rolled their sleeves up to take part in practical work as the project took shape, such as identifying sites, fundraising, laying track,  and working on locomotives and rolling stock.

Not forgetting labelling envelopes and selling souvenir brochures on trains.

"Andy and Roger's contribution to making possible what the NNR is today is very special indeed," said M& GN Society chairman Neil Sharpe at a presentation to the duo at Sheringham Station recently.

A steam train on the North Norfolk Railway.

A steam train on the North Norfolk Railway - Credit: Archant

Neil presented the brothers with framed commemorative photos of themselves with the caption: Marking a combined 120 years' service and dedication to the M&GNJR Society and the North Norfolk Railway (1961-2021) by Andy and Roger Ison. A significant and highly commendable contribution to our work. Thank you for all you have done.

The NNR was represented by managing director Hugh Harkett, general manager Andrew Munden and chief mechanical engineer Keith Ashford.

The presentation was made on a very significant day - the last one in service of the B12 before its major overhaul. It is not expected to return for at least two years.

It was all the more special that it took place in front of the locomotives they had seen at Stratford almost 60 years before.

After the ceremony Roger travelled on the footplate of the B12 on a return trip to Holt whilst Andy made the same journey 'on the cushions' which is railway speak for travelling in a coach behind the engine.

An emotional journey.

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