Having written Hellesdon Station Parts 1 and 2 I thought I’d pretty much written all I could about this long-forgotten railway station, hidden away in a quiet little corner of old Hellesdon. I was wrong. Not long after hitting ‘submit’ and setting ‘Hellesdon Station Part 2’ free and into the wilderness of the world-wide interwebs, I was contacted by a lady who it seems was very glad to have found somebody else with a keen interest in this little part of very localised History. Her name was Janet Johnson and she’d stumbled across my blog whilst trying to do a little bit of research of her own. She wanted to tell me that her Great Grandfather was the Station Master for Hellesdon Station at around the turn of the last century and that an old painting of the Station had been handed down by him from his time working at the station and then subsequently handed down through the following generations of his family, and that this old painting currently lived in her attic.
Intrigued, I asked if it would be possible to have a look at this painting or if she could tell me a little more about her Great Grandfather and thankfully Janet kindly obliged. Janet warned me that the picture wasn’t particularly good and that as it was in her attic, and that she wasn’t very tech-savvy with regards to the internet it could take some time.
To my surprise Janet called me a day or two later to tell me that the picture had been retrieved from her attic and was now sat on her dining table and did I want to come and have a look at it that evening? I agreed, although I was a little apprehensive about going around to somebody’s home who I’d never met – however; I bit the bullet, scooped up my camera and notepad and headed off around to Janet’s. Luckily, she lived just off Waterworks road, so it wasn’t too far and when I arrived Janet had a friend with her who soon had the kettle on and helping to make me feel welcome and at ease.
Sat on Janet’s dining table was the oil painting of Hellesdon station and a collection of black and white photographs of a very proud looking man – Janet’s great grandfather – Horace Long. From what we could work out between us Horace Long was Station Master for Hellesdon Station for quite a long period from the late 1800’s and well into the 20th Century, but the dates weren’t entirely clear. Horace’s Granddaughter, Olive is still alive but is now getting a bit forgetful but still has keen memories of the past and she has managed to offer up some vital bits of information about her Grandfather that we could work with.
Before getting around to Janet’s I had found Horace Long listed as Stationmaster in Kelly’s directory of 1900 and the oil painting had the date of 1904 painted onto it in the bottom right-hand corner so we were in the right era. We’re not sure who it was who painted this picture but Janet’s mother, Olive doesn’t think that Horace was the painter. We also know that Horace was working at the Station during the great floods of 1912 (more on that later).
As for that painting, I was intrigued to see this the most and after Janet had said that it was no masterpiece I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a fantastic piece of art that really captured how this rural station must have felt back in the late Victorian and early Edwardian era. The warm hues shows us that it was painted in late Summer and you can really see that the Station was well cared for and that plants and floral displays played an important part of this particular station’s character. The station building appears to be covered in climbing plants and the surrounding platform is adorned in an array of colourful plants. On top of this you can also see there being a well-planted garden area in the foreground on a triangular patch of ground that sat between the mainline and the single siding that Hellesdon was graced with. You can also make out some chickens and a goat running loose between the tracks. In the background you can make out a cornfield on the hill where the school and its playing fields now sit and on the other side of the road you can just about make out the roof and chimneys of Lower Farm, long before it was converted into a pub (about to brought back to life as the Valley House – more on that at a later date). You can also see an employee of the station stood on the platform as well as make out the Hellesdon Station name board (recently reinstated as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid). Personally, I think Janet underestimates this beautiful old painting and I really think that it reinforces the reoccurring story that this was a beautiful but sadly underused rural railway station for passenger traffic. It also shows that in amongst the occasional passenger and freight trains the staff really busied themselves with making sure the station was a beautiful place to work and visit.
Hellesdon Station, painted 114 years ago.
Standing on that platform in anticipation of the next Steam Locomotive and its train must have been a real treat for the eyes, especially on a lovely summers day like the one depicted here in oil and sadly for me, one I can only ever imagine. Of all the images I have seen of this station, this old painting is the one that really captures it as I’ve always imagined it, and I have often imagined it in my head whilst stood on that platform wall whilst taking a well-earned break from pulling back the ivy or trimming back the shrubs. Oh to be able to go back in time armed with a camera, but in the absence of a time machine this old painting will do just nicely, I just wish we could find out who it was painted by. Unfortunately, apart from the 1904 date written in the bottom right hand corner there were no other markings; Janet and her friend even took it out of its frame to look on the back.
Back to Horace Long.
A collection of images of Horace and his family taken around Hellesdon Church and Mill.
Horace’s birth certificate that was saved from the bin by Horace’s Great Grandaughter, Janet during a clearout by her mother!
Horace was born in North Walsham on October 15th 1866 (almost 110 years to the day before myself) and as he grew older he became very well connected to the village of Hellesdon. As well as being the Village Station Master for some period, he was also involved with Hellesdon Mill. He lived in one of the Mill Cottages on Mill Lane and also owned nearby property including a shop on Hellesdon Road close to where the telephone box stood and a few doors down from the former post office which now stands as a house on the corner of Mill Lane and Hellesdon Road.
The Mill Cottages at Hellesdon, Horace lived in the furthest, no.5.
Horace was also a Freemason and must have had some fairly important connections in and around Norwich. An interesting story is that he apparently swapped a piece of land at the top end of Mill Lane for one of those new-fangled Television Sets! I’d hate to think how much that land, now graced with a couple of Bungalows and next to what was Hellesdon Lodge would be worth now!
Another interesting detail that connects Horace to the Station well into the twentieth century is that Olive recalls that he went to work at the station during the 1912 floods. Horace did so by rowing straight across the Cattle Lairage Meadows in his boat straight from the mill and it is possible that we can make him out on the right-hand side of the following image in his rowboat. Another local chap has also used taken advantage of the floods to moor his sailboat up alongside the platform just outside the Station:
Possibly Horace (ringed), on his unusally direct commute to work during the 1912 floods.
Another fascinating recollection from Olive is that because her grandfather Horace was her legal custodian, he often had to take her to work with him whilst he was on duty at the Station and it was because of her time spent there as a young girl that she learnt morse code.
Olive also recalls that Horace was a very keen gardener. It turns out that it was he who was responsible for Hellesdon Station’s well documented and beautifully-floral appearance and that he was also particularly fond of pink roses. It is very likely that the pink roses I’ve written a lot about in the past and that we made a point about making a feature of during the recent Hellesdon Station revamp would have been planted by Horace himself about 120 years ago. If true – which it most likely is – this particular part of the story really blows my mind.
As well as turning Hellesdon Station into a beautiful floral display for the passing trains, Horace had also turned his green fingers to the garden areas surrounding Hellesdon Mill, including his beautifull little Cottage and even the areas between the millraces hidden out of sight to the general public behind the now long-gone Mill building.
Hellesdon Station Rose, most likely planted by Horace.
One of the many massive Rosebushes planted along the back of Hellesdon Station platform.
So there you have it, this Hellesdon story is one that just keeps on giving and giving and I really hope that in the future it’ll carry on giving me these wonderful little insights. Hopefully something else will pop up in the future that will give me an excuse to write up a 4th piece about this fascinating little scar on the ground that makes up a part of Hellesdon’s surprisingly addictive History. Fingers crossed.
Thanks to Janet Johnson, the self-confessed ‘Hellesdon Mill Girl’ for contacting me and for sharing these intimate parts of her life with us, and thanks once again to you lot for coming here to read my constant ramblings,
Edited for a little bit of an update:
After reading this blog entry Janet has confirmed that the Roses currently living at Hellesdon Station are the same roses that filled the front garden of Number 5 Mill Cottages, also known as: “Rose Cottage”. Fantastic stuff.