Take a look back at Norwich’s forgotten railway station

Old Norwich Victoria Station

Old Norwich Victoria Station - Credit: Archant

It was a century ago when the last passenger trains left the forgotten Victoria Station in Norwich and 40 years since the old railway warehouse was demolished.

No more room on top...the Great Eastern Railway bus, on the Loddon to Norwich route, loading passeng

No more room on top...the Great Eastern Railway bus, on the Loddon to Norwich route, loading passengers on the forecourt at Victoria Station around 1905. - Credit: Archant

Today you wouldn't have known there was a railway station by what is now the busy junction of Queen's Road with St Stephens and beyond- the land is now occupied by offices, shops and houses.

In 1916 the last steam locomotive chugged out of Norwich Victoria bound for Ipswich and London and that was the end of Victoria's reign as a passenger station.

It was said to be a First World War economy measure but the passengers never returned. They headed off to Thorpe if they wanted to go south. To London and all stops between.

The story of Victoria starts in the 1840s/50s when the glory days of the pleasure gardens in Norwich were coming to an end...this busy and bustling corner of the city has an extraordinary history.

Transport - TrainsThis picture shows part of the Victoria station site in Norwich being used as a ca

Transport - TrainsThis picture shows part of the Victoria station site in Norwich being used as a car park. Now (2005) this is where Marsh Insurance offices now stand.Dated no datePhotograph C10642 - Credit: Archant

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But that is just part of the story.

Before the trains arrived this area was a palace of pleasure which attracted huge crowds – many from the courts and yards of old Norwich who headed outside the city walls for fun and games in a bleak world.

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From Smith's Rural Gardens in 1766 to Quantrell's (Ranelagh) Pleasure Gardens where a whole host of spectacular events such as firework displays, weird and wonderful shows and balloon ascents took place attracting huge crowds.

This was a large and spectacular landscaped garden for the people of Norwich and Norfolk on land which stretched from the area where now there is the St Stephen's roundabout to Sainsbury's supermarket.

The first manned balloon flight from Norwich took place from here with James Decker on board in the 1780s. He eventually came down with a bump in Loddon – and was mobbed by a crowd when he made it back to Norwich.

The next chap to head off in a balloon ended up in the sea!

In those there was great rivalry between the famous Norwich pleasure gardens and it was firework maker and showman William Quantrell who came up with a monster firework which he called Harlequin from the Globe. Set that off along with dances of Furies and Sig and you were on a winner.

By 1790 Quantrell commissioned renowned Norwich artist John Ninham to produce a replica of the Bastille and on Guild Day following a concert and fireworks, the Bastille was stormed by actors who 'beheaded' the governor and freed the prisoners.

A few years later Quantrell headed off to work at a rival garden in the city. It was renamed Ranelagh Gardens and by 1800 owner William Neech but up a rotunda which could hold 2,000 people. He named it the Pantheon. People loved the shows.

Around 9,000 people watched the firework display during Assize Week in 1819. But times were changing. This time it became known as the Royal Victoria Gardens and continued to be a popular meeting place where actors would come from far and wide to perform for the people of the city and county.

But times were changing. The gardens were closed in 1842 to make way for those new-fangled locomotives. Many of the buildings which were part of the gardens were used for the station.

The days of the stagecoach were coming to an end. Those iron horses were on their way...and they need tracks and stations.

It was said that more than a million bricks were made at the kilns near Tharston for the new railway. Named after Her Majesty the station was up and running in 1849 when it started to carry cattle and goods and then passengers.

Victoria Station was decorated with flags, bunting and evergreens for the grand opening ceremony. Despite poor weather, more than 500 people turned up to watch the ceremony.

A train called Goliath arrived on November 7, 1849 to be greeted with flag waving, a salvo of guns and the bells of St Peter Mancroft rang out across the city.

Goliathn headed off for Ipswich two hours later amid loud cheers and music by the band of the 16th Lancers. At Stowmarket it met another train from Ipswich, bring 600 passengers to meet the Mayor of Norwich, the insurance giant and the man behind Norwich Union – Sir Samuel Bignold.

The two trains coupled up and left for Norwich, drawn by the City of Norwich and the Ipswich engines. These were exciting and changing times.

The journey took exactly two hours, with the train, carrying more than 1,000 passengers, travelling at speeds of over 30mph.

The guests made their way to St Andrew's Hall for a banquet hosted by Samuel who had put up much of the money to pay for Victoria Station to be built.

But that was not the end of the celebrations. Guests went on to the Assembly House for a ball, described as 'one of the most brilliant that had graced these rooms for very many years'.

The fare to London from Victoria Station cost 16s 6d – about 62p.

Victoria continued to carry passengers until 1916 when the trains were diverted through Trowse junction to Thorpe Station.

It survived into diesel days as a goods yard offering work but the last buildings were demolished in 1975 when the old railway warehouse at the corner of Queen's Road and Grove Road came down.

Watch this space for the colourful stories behind some of the characters who appeared at the pleasure gardens, which were a star attraction in old Norwich, including a star of Ranelagh – his name was John Mountjoy and he was known as 'the Pedestrian' You wouldn't believe what he got up as thousands followed him, cheering and shouting. Talk about Britain's Got Talent, he would walk it – literally.

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