As I’ve probably mentioned before (countless times), I’m quite involved with local Railway History. It all started when my friends and I decided to take it upon ourselves to expose the remaining platform wall at the former M&GN Norwich City Station site and it’s kind of steam-rolled its way on from there, flattening out swathes of my spare time as it goes.
My Norfolk Railway Heritage Group Team is involved with the preservation of a few Historical Railway sites around the county, including Felmingham Station, Honing Station, Hellesdon Station and of course Norwich City Station. We also (when we get the chance) head off out into the deepest and darkest parts of the Norfolk Countryside to explore the abandoned Stations and lines that stretch from one corner of Norfolk to the other. There isn’t much of the old M&GN network that we haven’t explored, which at times has taken us into some interesting places and into some funny old situations, including once getting a little too close to a Farmer with a shotgun who didn’t realise I was there!
Anyway, back when we were just FONCS, we were making great progress at City Station, we were clearing the platform, exposing sleepers and track furniture, landscaping the area so that it resembled a platform and track-bed again and (as an unexpected by-product) helping to reduce the crime rate in that part of the City whilst we were at it. That was until the penny dropped for Norfolk County Council who had suddenly come to realise that the site was actually their responsibility and not that of the City. Norfolk County Council gave us the heart-breaking news that because it was an unexpected and potentially-expensive liability, we had to down tools with immediate effect so that they could try and sell it off. More on that later.
A Ghost image of Norwich City’s Platform 1, created by myself back in the good old days of FONCS:
As a sweetener, a chap from the Norfolk Trails Team who really liked what we were trying to achieve decided to offer us a similar task at the Honing Station site in Briggate, not too far from North Walsham. Knowing the site inside-out and understanding its potential we decided to take him up on the offer, although we knew it would be a big task that in all probability would take our small team years to complete with the possibility that it would never be truly completed. Being the plucky and enthusiastic group we are we thought we’d give it our best shot anyway; who knows what we might find as we started our investigations and clearance work.
As we were dealing with Norfolk County Council, we were given the appropriate training in tool handling, Volunteer co-ordination and even given courses in first aid, before being given more tools, protective gear and paint than we knew what to do with. This was a far-cry from our days working at City, where we were buying our own basic tools and just getting on with it. It was an eye-opener for us to say the least and taught us a few valuable lessons.
When we got to start work at Honing, it was worse than we thought. Due to cuts to Norfolk County Council’s budgets, sites such as this had been being maintained on a shoe-string and Honing was now overgrown to the point where you’d struggle to make it out as a former Railway Line and Station site. The 680 foot platforms were all but hidden from view, the station building remains were completely overgrown and you’d struggle to make it along the footpath that made up part of the Weavers Way without a machete and a jungle tour guide. It was just like how I remember Marriott’s Way being behind May and Baker back in the early-1980’s.
There are two platforms, and two waiting rooms in there somewhere:
The remains of the Station Building before we got to work:
With such a large site and only hand-tools to work with, we decided to clear a path between the platforms to give us a sense of scale of the task ahead and to give us a good focal point of something with Historical relevance that we could physically expose. When you’re attempting a big task like this you need to have an obvious end-product, something that you can admire at the end of the day before heading off home, if not you’ll quickly lose interest and morale. Clearing the area between the platforms gave us an important sight line, the track and platform edges, most of the saplings and bushes were removed along with most of the six-foot tall weeds and nettles. It was a hard days’ work but when we stopped to admire what we had done at the end we could now just about make out where the trains had run and stopped well over half a Century earlier; two strong curved lines had emerged from the undergrowth and they almost looked like a pair of platforms, which is exactly what they were.
With the late afternoon sun, still filtering through the canopy of trees that covered the station a few of us decided to stay and get to work on the platforms themselves. Once the weeds and trees had been cleared away we could see that the platform walls were completely covered in ivy and that the platform tops were still solid. There must have been a surface under there somewhere and the team had soon located a section of engineering brick flooring outside the pile of ivy and tree-littered rubble that made up the remains of the Station building. This surface was soon being uncovered and the black-blue bricks were seeing daylight and footfall for the first time in about 50 years. It was a fantastic end to the first day’s work.
Dan admires the freshly exposed platform topping:
Over the weeks, months and years ahead we ploughed our way through one project at a time: the platforms were exposed and their surfaces made passable, the trees were coppiced to improve the light, bushes were removed, the track-bed was periodically cleared of weeds, nettles and saplings that would constantly re-emerge from the ground, the cattle and horse loading docks and their white-washed granite sets were completely exposed, the Station Building and Waiting rooms had dead trees removed along with the tonnes of rubble of the collapsed structure removed to expose the floors and fireplaces of the remaining rooms (an arduous task using just our hands, a couple of shovels and a Wheel-Barrow – which some comedian had decided to paint the BR double-arrow logo on), the signal box foundations were cleared and exposed, the car park entrance was opened up to expose the original fencing and remaining gates and the whole site was exposed to the road at the former level Crossing so that passers by could now see into the site as they passed through, and to improve the visibility for people trying to cross the road as they made their way along the Weavers Way.
Mad John Batley in a strimming frenzy:
Peeling back the Ivy on an Autumn day at Honing, much to the annoyance of about four million snails, some of which we may have raced during a tea break:
We picked a corner of the station and started to clear away the rubble. Turned out this was the external entrance to the Gents. We found the Urinal and a chemical toilet (with a tree growing from it) still in situ:
The main waiting-room fireplace and hearth and the doorway to the ladies room. Note the concrete skirting boards and footprint of the wooden flooring blocks:
Hidden inside a rain-gulley directly outside the Station entrance doors was the original Victorian Key, that we presume must have been placed there by the last person to lock the doors back in 1959:
The ‘BR’ Barrow:
With our small but plucky team we’d done a lot, but we’d begun to realise that we were now getting to a point where keeping on top of what we’d managed to clear so far was just about manageable, it was starting to dawn on us that at some point we’d probably have to stop or slow down our activities and that the whole site would probably just be slowly consumed by Nature again. This idea didn’t sit too well on our shoulders and we needed an end goal for the project. It was time to put on our thinking caps. Thankfully, after a few conversations about it with the Norfolk County Council Trails Team (who loved what our small team had achieved so far) we received some much-needed and timely help from the North Walsham TCV (The Conservation Volunteers), who had recently secured some money in the form of a National Lottery Grant to spend on a few projects around the North Walsh area. One of which was to be our Honing Station Site. The TCV brought with them manpower, money and time, something in which we are lacking at the NRHG. The TCV asked us what needed doing on the site to get it finished, to which I supplied them with a rather large list. They promptly got to work, finishing off the tasks we were struggling to complete and starting new ones that we didn’t really have the time or resources to start. They came in and secured some of the loose brickwork of the now exposed former station building, finished clearing the massive cattle and horse docks, repainted the Victorian pump-shed in M&GN colours, scrubbed the platform edges so that we could paint them, removed the remnants of the rubble we hadn’t finished shifting, repaired and treated the surviving fences and gates and much more.
Cattle and Horse loading platforms:
Porters Room and it’s beautiful, Victorian Tiled floor:
This isn’t to say that we (NRHG) decided to take a step back from the project; in fact it was completely the opposite, giving us a much needed boost and renewed focus, allowing us to crack on with a few other tasks we thought we’d never have been able to achieve at the start of this long project. It was great to be working in conjunction with another team who were as equally enthusiastic about the project as we were and it was great to see progress happening quickly after we had started to slow down. With our newly-found zest, and with the help of Norfolk County Council we soon had a digger on site which we used to uncover the loading dock and platform, uncovering sleepers as we did and clearing a piece of track-bed so that we could re-lay a short section of rails to help bring the Heritage of the site back to life. The digger also helped to expose the cattle and horse loading dock platform walls that had been buried over the years (which were still covered in their last coat of white paint) and to level out the uneven track-bed between the platform that had been troubling us from the very start of the project.
The digger, exposing the loading dock behind the main platform. The buffers were gone, but sleepers were still in situ:
Exposing the Cattle loading platform edge:
Levelled out track bed and an almost finished project coming to fruition:
And the same shot taken back in 2014, just before we started this project:
It was beginning to dawn on us that the project finally had an end goal and that it was all rapidly coming together; the site almost looked ready for the return of trains. All we needed was to lay a few miles of track and pretend that the A149 didn’t exist at either end of our stretch, and the North Walsham to Yarmouth line would be back up and running in no time! Joking aside, it was beginning to look like a former railway station, one that somebody actually cared about, and an asset to the local community as well as becoming a place that is well worth a visit.
The project had matured so well that it was decided that it would be used as a destination on the calendar for the Norfolk Heritage Week and we set a date for ‘drop-in’ day for Saturday 16th.
After a final flurry of activity we had everything (and more) ready, just in time for the open day. The TCV had released some funds to have interpretation (to which I gladly wrote up the details for) installed on site and with our completion of the platform painting, the project was finally completed.
Large interpretation board, giving a brief history of the site:
One of the many smaller Interpretation boards installed throughout the site, this one just outside the doors of the Station remains:
The waiting room remains for the Yarmouth-bound trains on the opposite platform:
The site from the former level crossing:
And to show you how much effort has been put into the project, the same shot of how it all looked back in 2015:
To say I was happy with the results is an understatement. The site now looks fantastic, the painted lines of the platforms are striking and really draw your eye into the site, and with the newly-added interpretation boards installed anybody can visit the site and understand what it is they are looking at. I wholly recommend you pop in and give it a visit if you get the chance as it’s taken a few years of mine and my friends’ lives to complete.
Another view of the site showing all 3 platforms along with the recently-installed section of track leading up to the loading dock:
With regards to the rest of the Heritage Week that Honing was ‘starring’ in we were also very busy elsewhere whilst wearing our Railway Heritage hats. On Friday we were at the fascinatingly intact M&GN Station at Felmingham, opening up the doors to the public so that they could see how it looked back in the 1950’s before it closed for good; the previous Saturday we hosted another of our popular Historical ‘walk and talks’ from Norwich City Station which had drawn a massive crowd, and on the very same day as the Honing open day mentioned above, I had to zip over from Honing to the former M&GN Hellesdon Station to help conduct another Historical ‘Walk and Talk’ of that recently-restored site. It was a crazy-busy couple of days for us, but well worth it when we realised we had large crowds of people taking time out of their lives to come and visit us and the sites we have put a lot of effort into over the years. It’s also crazy to think that as a group we’ve gone from rooting around in the mud at City Station to holding our own Heritage Open Days. That makes me feel quite proud of what it is we have achieved.
Inside Felmingham Station’s ticket office:
John, holding the (Heritage Open Day) crowd’s attention by the former yard entrace at Ctiy Station:
John, doing the same thing, a week later at Hellesdon Station:
I’ll leave this blog entry with two Ghost images, created by myself during a well-earned break on another hard days work at Honing a couple of years ago.
How the Station would have looked if you could erase a little part of many passed decades:
1950’s passengers pose for a photagrapher as they wait for a train coming through from North Walsham in the last days of railway along this paticular line. Little did they know that 60 years later they’d also be posing for a Mile Cross man from the future, armed with a spade and a camera:
If you’d like to see more pictures of what we’ve been up to at the Norfolk Railway Heritage Group click the following link to see our Facebook Page.
Thanks for reading,