M&GN Hellesdon Station, Closed and then reopened. Sort of.

Seeing as I’d previously written three separate posts about Hellesdon Station in various states of its transformation and that I kept spotting parts of this multi-part story being shared about the world wide web, I thought it would make sense to amalgamate them all into one blog post to tell the whole story of this fascinating, lost Railway Station:

Tucked just out sight and not too far from my Mile Cross home is a little corner of Norfolk that I’ve always had a real soft spot for: Hellesdon Station.

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Back on a warm and lazy Sunday afternoon way back in the early 1980’s, when I was just a young Mile Cross scamp, my mother had taken me out on one of our many walks along the abandoned railway that was to become the Marriott’s Way (before it was designated a footpath and given its current name). After crossing the road by the old river bridge at Hellesdon, I was shown a section of remaining Station Platform wall sticking out from amongst the saplings and Ivy. My mother went on to tell me that what we were looking at here were the remains of a long-lost countryside railway station that had closed when she was just a child herself. I stood there looking on in awe at those purple bricks tinged with green glinting in the warm afternoon sun as they disappeared off into the foliage as far as my young eyes could see and I tried as hard as I could to imagine steam trains passing through the very spot in which I was standing, fascinated by what my mother was telling me. It was at that very moment a spark was ignited that would slowly grow into a raging fire inside my young mind and from that moment on I was hooked, hooked on history; particularly the history of my local surroundings.

When I think about it, it’s why I incessantly talk about local history with anyone willing to listen, It’s why I’ve created all of those ‘Railway Ghost’ images, it’s why I spend countless hours poring over old maps and hunting for old photographs, and it’s why I love abandoned railway lines; particularly the M&GN. It’s all down to my mum and those rows of remaining Victorian bricks that were hiding in a set of bushes just off Hellesdon Road. The more I think about it I’ve come to realise that it’s a form of therapy and a valuable coping mechanism that helps me come to terms with the premature death of my mother. Anyway, enough of that, back to some history…

Hellesdon Station was built in the 1880’s by contractors Wilkinson & Jarvis for the Lynn and Fakenham Railway as they made their way from Melton Constable to Norwich City and because it was (incorrectly) assumed that this part of Hellesdon was to become a major suburb, a Large Pavilion-style building was opted for and it first opened its doors to the general public on the 2nd December, 1882. If you’ve ever been to the lovely Whitwell and Reepham Station to see the resurgence of steam further up the Marriott’s Way you’ll have seen what Hellesdon Station would have looked like, had it still been standing.

Accessed via the large car park off Hellesdon Road you would have entered into the building through the main double doors and into the large central waiting room (which had two fires to keep you warm in the colder months) and a collection of rooms off to each side. There would have been a ticket office, a porters room, a gents toilet (accessed from outside) and a larger bathroom for the Victorian ladies, which could be accessed directly from inside the station. No going outside in the cold for the ladies! You would have purchased your tickets through a ticket hatch that opened directly into the ticket office. Passengers would then opted to either keep warm by one of the open fires or go outside and taken a seat on the picturesque platform. From here you would have been able see right across the marshy land here at the bottom of the Wensum Valley, across the Station’s large cattle fields (lairage) and admire the tall structure of Hellesdon Mill or the fantastic-looking, old bridge carrying the roadway over the Wensum. You might have even admired the neatly arranged station garden just on the other side of the single track or taken in the aromas of the neatly trimmed rose bushes (most of which are still there today) that grew between the Station’s large name-board and behind the bench and along the back of the platform.

A little further down the platform would have stood a dinky, but attractive-looking wooden Signal-Box used to control entry into the sidings on the opposite of the Station yard. This little box was taken out of action in around 1900 and used instead for storage, but it would have been a charming little feature none-the-less. The archway for this signal box can still be seen today through a hole in the platform, although the platform wall had to be bricked up when all the rodding was removed and you can still make out the newer (around 1900) brickwork if you look closely:

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A replacement ground-frame was put in place to control the sidings and a small hut was installed a little further down the line and we recently found the foundations for it in amongst the undergrowth.

Having been officially closed to passengers way back in 1952 due to its rural location, Hellesdon Station is not as well-remembered as one of former Railway Stations in or around Norwich and it’s this that can make it seem a little mysterious. The other Stations along this particular branch of the former M&GN Railway line managed to soldier on for another seven years before this branch-line was finally closed to passengers for good in 1959. However, the yard (and line) remained open for another 10 years for freight services and the now defunct Station building was put to alternative uses.

After closure to passengers, you can see the lovely view over the Wensum it would have had back then:

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Looking back along the abandoned tracks and platform towards Norwich, to highlight the rural feel we can just about make out a tractor making it’s way over the since-demolished bridge:

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So why did this particular railway station close so much earlier than the rest of its siblings along this fairly-busy, branch-line to the centre of Norwich? Well that was mainly down to its location in what is now known as ‘Old’ Hellesdon. Situated where it was it wasn’t far enough out from City Station to deflect passengers its way and it also wasn’t close to; well…, anything really. Back when this station was built in 1882 this area was pretty sparse; there was ‘Lower Farm’ just around the corner, a small school on the other side of the field and a small collection of houses near to the River Mill that made up the rural village of Hellesdon. Apart from the handful of dwellings there was not much else, other than a large private ‘Mental Hospital’ (as they were rather unsympathetically referred to back then) located about a mile away to the north, at Hellesdon Road’s junction with the  Fakenham Road. However, it seems that this former hospital, now named ‘Hellesdon Hospital’ is partly the reason the Lynn and Fakenham Railway company thought it prudent to build a ‘Large pavilion-style’ Station out here in this rather rural location. On top of this, it was also predicted that the expansion of Norwich would consume old Hellesdon and that it would grow into a large suburb. Whoever checked the local census when planning the Station had failed to realise that the surrounding population figures were given a healthy – but rather misleading – boost by the large numbers of patients residing at Hellesdon Hospital.

The idea that Hellesdon, as a suburb, would grow turned out to be a sound one, but what wasn’t anticipated by the Railway Company was that it would expand in the opposite direction, away from the original village of Helledon and its beautiful, yet over-sized Station and out in the opposite direction towards Cromer Road. As it turns out, even had Hellesdon expanded the other way – as the planners had hoped – it still wouldn’t have helped to save this beautiful old Railway Station as the better-late-than-never expansion coincided with the demise of the bulk of railways snaking their way across the Norfolk Countryside and beyond.

I often wonder if a Station located at the back of Sloughbottom Park serving Mile Cross would have seen more customers and I also think that ‘Mile Cross Station’ would have had a nice ring to it. I would though, wouldn’t I?

Closed to passengers for good:

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Although Hellesdon Station stopped serving its passengers way back in 1952, the Station building managed to live and continue to be useful to the locals, being put to use for a number of purposes before it was finally, sadly demolished in 1975. It was used as a Sunday School and a youth club for a while and then finally by a local Catering Company called Anglian Culinary Services.

A couple of years ago the owner of ACS came along to one of our popular ‘Norfolk Railway Heritage Group’ historical “Walk and Talks” and he helped to shed a little light on the mystery of the later history of the former Station Building and what had ultimately led to its demise. His company, ACS had been leasing the building for a few years off the Council, but as the fledgling business was rapidly expanding they were soon in need of a much larger premises. Before they could hand back the keys to the old Station building, part of their rental agreement was that they had to leave the building in a state fit for another company to be able to come in and lease the former station building. Seeing as ACS had made a few modifications to the internals to suit their catering needs it was their duty to have the building renovated, which they did at a cost of a few thousand pounds, a lot of money back in 1975. Despite this expensive makeover, the building would never be used again. Shortly after ACS had renovated it and relocated to their larger premises, the former station was broken into and had most of the fixtures and fittings stolen, including the original (and now sought-after) metal-cast ‘M&GN’ fireplaces. The damage done by the thieves whilst ripping the fireplaces out of the two main internal supporting walls had caused the roof to drop, rendering this wonderful old building too expensive for the council to consider repairing. The building was demolished shortly after, much to the annoyance of the manager of ACS, who had just wasted thousands of pounds on its complete renovation.

The rails here continued to see freight traffic right up until the tracks were lifted in the 1970’s. This particular stretch – and all the way in to City Station Yard at Heigham Street – was still in use as a rather long siding for Drayton Station right up until 1969, and beyond. I’d like to think that the children attending that Sunday School would have immediately dropped their tasks and rushed over to the platform windows to watch one of those Diesel freight trains rumbling slowly by, no doubt much to the annoyance of their teacher. As well as the regular freight movements, the yard at Hellesdon was still being used by the Council to store road aggregates meaning that it was still seeing a fair amount of railway-related activity in its final days.

The older river bridge and the entrance to the yard just out of shot on the right:

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Although the station was never all that busy with passengers it did still see healthy amounts of freight, particularly with cattle from Ireland that would have been let out to graze on the extensive lairage fields stretching from the back of the Cattle run and all the way down to the river near to Hellesdon Mill before being sent to the Cattle Market, however the decision by British Rail to relocate it’s coal services out of City Station, the fate of this little branch line and indeed Hellesdon Station was sealed.

The final train to pass through here at Hellesdon would have been this track-lifting and demo train being pulled by a diesel shunter and luckily for us, Mrs Wright was there to capture it all on colour film. The following images were taken from the bridge as the crew made their way through the now-overgrown and neglected station, lifting the track as they went.

Looking towards Sloughbottom from the now-demolished road bridge:

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The Station and platform, note the Anglian Culinary Supplies van in the car park and the way nature has quickly reclaimed the platforms and rails:

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The track being lifted outside the former Station building:

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Not only did this demo crew lift the track, they were also tasked wish pushing over or dismantling any of the remaining track furniture they could find and this was done to ensure that nobody else could easily relay track here in the future. An act nothing short of vandalism on BR’s behalf. Signal posts were snapped at their foundations, telegraph poles were chain-sawed and toppled, The beautiful concrete ¼ Mile posts were mostly smashed up or pushed over, any remaining M&GN metal signage weould be removed, Metal bridge number plates were removed or toppled into nearby dykes, and all of the vintage lamps were taken to be sold on. The demo crews and railwayana collectors didn’t take everything however, they missed a few bits hidden in the undergrowth. Some of these items are now worth a lot of money to collectors and would be put to great use by some of the Heritage Railways such as the North Norfolk Railway or Whitwell and Reepham Station.

Demolition of the Station from the bridge:

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As mentioned earlier, due to theft-related structural issues, Hellesdon Station was to be demolished and in 1975 the diggers moved in to tear the whole building down. At around the same time the accompanying and fairly-unique railway bridge carrying the Hellesdon Road over the tracks was to be demolished and the road realigned to make getting cars over the weak and narrow Wensum bridge and around the blind S-bend a bit easier. I can imagine that had the bridge not been removed this road would now be particularly hard to navigate with the volumes of traffic that pass through here today; two narrow bridges with a blind turn in the middle would lead to some very angry drivers, especially with the mentality of some of today’s road users. It’s a shame they couldn’t have kept the bridge and bypassed it somehow like they have elsewhere in the county but I’m guessing that – like today – money was a factor here. The pretty bridge was unceremoniously demolished using explosives. A local resident told us that all the nearby residents had to vacate their homes whilst this unconventional means of demolition was carried out, but it was deemed necessary due to the structure of the bridge being so strong, a testament to the skills of railway engineers.

The bridge was successfully destroyed and its rubble was used to reform the bank to straighten the road. Until recently when the new ramp was installed If you tok a look in the bank leading back down to the footpath you could still see remnants of some of the bridge’s blue engineering bricks poking out from the soil:

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Looking at some of the photographs given to me over the last few years of the demolition in progress I happen to think that the original plan was to preserve the bridge at the cost of the Station building by diverting the road down into the station yard, around the bridge and back out through the original car park and entrance. The demolition pictures look as though a lot of soil had been moved where I think the road was supposed to go and it strikes me as rather odd that there are newly-planted trees next to a bridge that was soon to be demolished with explosives. Perhaps this plan came into some unknown snags and there was a change of plan. If anybody could shed any light on it, I’d love to know.

Below is an image of the bridge being completely isolated prior to being blown to pieces with C4. (The River is to the right):

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As you can see from the images above, the Station building was thoroughly demolished along with about a third of its platform before the seeming change of heart. The remaining section of platform was then neatly finished off in red brick and everything that wasn’t of any real value or was too big to destroy (or steal) was left behind. Most of which is still there in amongst the bushes.

Platform re-finished in red brick with blue detailing:

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The demolition crews left behind an entire cattle platform with metal cattle runs, the long entrance driveway leading to the large car park and still attached to Hellesdon Road, the long goods ramp and its large metal gate leading up to the main gates by the river bridge, fence posts made out of rail and sleepers, the massive posts that held the Station name board, concrete fence-posts, gate-posts and lamp-holders made at Melton Constable in the 1920’s with William Marriott’s patented reinforced concrete, an occupational farm crossing gate, an archway for the signal box and up until recently the M&GN concrete Mile Post (pushed over by the demo crew) used for letting the drivers know how far they were from South Lynn (more on that later). On top of all that the station-master’s prised Rose Bush was still growing on top of the platform, although it hadn’t been trimmed for almost seven decades!

The Cattle run:

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The opposite Cattle platform, still covered in whitewash:

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Granite sets with whitewash on top of cattle platform:

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Melton (MRC) concrete stamp on a gate post leading to the cattle lairage fields:

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Telegraph remains:

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The Station Master’s Rosebush, still going strong:

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The Station’s name board posts with the then out-of-control rosebush still growing in between them:

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It’s a real shame that the original station building was demolished as it was one of only a handful of this design in Norfolk, making it quite unique as well as being an attractive example of late Victorian architecture. I think it would have made for a rather nice dwelling or a much-needed community centre, however, the thieves mentioned above altered the course of history and we can’t change that now. What we can do is to try and promote what is still there and try to draw peoples attention to it, and that is exactly what I’ve been trying to do for over a decade.

Well over a decade ago now I stumbled across some photographs of the Hellesdon Station Name board posts that had been posted online by my now good friend, John Batley and I decided to go and re-visit the remains of Hellesdon with my camera and to see what else I could find. I ended up getting a little bit carried away with myself and removed all of the ivy from the remaining platform. It was hard work but well worth it and it was great to see the Victorian Brickwork that had originally inspired me back as a child in the 1980’s exposed once more. What I didn’t realise at the time was that it was to be these simple actions that would help plant a little seed in the local Railway Heritage scene that has grown and grown ever since. Not too long after that spontaneous bit of ivy clearance at Hellesdon the “Friends of Norwich City Station” (FONCS) were formed and out of that grew the Norfolk Railway Heritage Group (NRHG), Friends of Train Wood (FOTW) and Marriott’s Way and the recent successful Marriott’s Way Heritage Lottery Fund Bid.

Our success with helping to secure a Heritage Lottery Fund Bid for Marriott’s Way has also spurred on a similar Norfolk County Council bid to expose the Railway Heritage along the Weavers Way which I was also involved with, leading to the NRHG clearing of M&GN Honing Station and our appearance on Channel 5’s Walking Britain’s Lost Railways. What did my mother start back on that lazy summer afternoon back in the 1980’s?! I regularly have to remind myself every now and again that her actions on that lazy summer afternoon ultimately led to a group of complete strangers (myself, John Batley, Dan Knights and Nick Stone) taking a little bit of interest in our surroundings and being enabled by the Internet to talk to each other and that, ultimately, is what started all of this interest in Local Railway History.

Whilst our fledgling FONCS group were doing a bit of research down at Hellesdon Station a few years back we managed to find the knocked-over and half-buried M&GN concrete Mile Post that used to stand proud opposite the former signal box. These beautifully-made pre-cast concrete items were made in the early 1920’s as a replacement for the original wooden items that were probably becoming tired and rotten. There would have been one of these every quarter of a mile and they were used to allow the loco drivers to know their exact location and to help them work out their speed. It was a lucky find as most of these have either been destroyed or collected (stolen), so we decided to ‘rescue’ it before somebody else did. When removed from the ground these concrete posts stand at 5 foot tall and weigh in at about 15 stone, so quite hefty items. This particular post had survived being pushed over but bore the scars of when the demolition crew used heavy equipment to knock it over. Luckily for us and unlike many of the others along here it managed to remain in one piece. We loaded it into the back of a friend’s van and transferred it back to mine so we could give it a good clean, photograph and measure it for before deciding on the next best course of action for it.

Recovered milepost being measured before restoration:

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We restored it as best as we could, giving it a scrub-down to remove the almost 50 years worth of muck it had been covered in after laying in overgrowth for over four decades, before giving it a fresh lick of paint to bring it back to life. It then sat in the ground down the end of my garden, looking a bit out-of-place and slowly being devoured by an increasingly-large privet hedge that I had planted behind it. I was never really happy with it being sat down there and out of sight, after all it didn’t really belong to me and it began to make me feel a bit hypocritical in my criticism of Railwayana ‘collectors’. Technically this old Mile Post belonged to the County as Norfolk County Council had bought the track-bed and all its bridges (now Marriott’s Way) for the princely sum of £1 when British Rail ceased to be a thing. It had always been in the back of my head that this hefty chunk of Industrial history should be put back into the ground in its upright position back by the side of the track where it belonged, to be enjoyed by users of the Marriott’s Way.  There are only about 5 of these mileposts surviving along the Marriott’s Way, presumably missed by the demo crews and I thought that it would be the proper thing to do to add another one back to that collection.

The restored milepost, with signs of damage caused by the demo crew. The numbers denote the distance from South Lynn in miles:

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And its Melton Concrete Works creation date stamp of 16th October, 1923:

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Luckily, our successful Marriott’s Way Heritage Lottery Fund bid (mentioned earlier) had freed up some cash to spend on the improvement of the site of the old Railway Station here at Hellesdon and I thought that this project would be the perfect opportunity to reunite this unique lump of old Railway History with its original home for part of the site’s revamp. Obviously, we’d have to cement it in good and proper to prevent it from going walk-about again in the future, but it would be put back in the ground far more securely than its remaining siblings.

As well as putting this old Mile Post back in the ground where it belonged the aim was to reinstall a copy of the Hellesdon Station name-board using the site’s original posts, add some surfacing to the remains of the platform to stop it becoming overgrown again and so that people can walk along it, repoint the original 1882 brickwork to help it last a few more decades, put up some signage so that people passing through can identify what they are looking at and maybe reinstate the bench on the platform. I was also hoping to be able to get the chance to finally give the former Station-master’s prize-winning rose bush the long-overdue prune that it deserved.

An older version of Hellesdon now and then Ghost image (looking back towards Mile Cross under Hellesdon Road):

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Hellesdon Road, looking towards Marlpit just after the bridge was demolished and road realigned:

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Since I first set eyes on the platform’s Victorian brickwork poking out of the bushes as a young child in the early 1980’s, I always wondered how it may have looked back in the day. Thankfully, as I grew older a wonderful thing called the Internet was born, reigniting my interest in local history and giving me an easy means with which to research it with.

How the sorry-looking platform looked as I found it when first returning to Hellesdon Station as an adult:

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As I mentioned earlier in the post about finding some of John’s images of the old platform, I decided (on a whim) to stick my camera and some tools rattling about in my shed into the boot of my car and head down to Hellesdon Station to peel away some of the ivy so that I could see what was going on underneath. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I got a little too carried away and managed to uncover the entire length of the remaining platform, exposing it to the sunlight for the first time in decades. It was great to see the blue Victorian brickwork glinting in the sunlight once again and later decided to post the relating images online. Those images received a fair bit of attention over the next few years, along with my popular “Ghost” re-photography images of the site and the interest in Hellesdon Station began to grow far more than I had originally expected it to. Reading this previous blog entry will explain that story in greater detail.

The City end of the platform back in 2006:

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Fast forward again to 2018 and armed with the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) we (FONCS/NRHG) along with the Norfolk County Council finally got to get to work on the neglected Hellesdon Station site in an official capacity. A lot of work was needed to bring it back to the platform you can see today; Some damaging and potentially dangerous trees were removed, the platform remains were cleared of the ivy (again), bushes and weeds that had all but hidden the platform from view were cut back, the platform surface was then scraped back so as to be re-laid with a hard-wearing surface on which you could walk and sit, the path along the track bed was cleared and made more accessible, a copy of the wooden Hellesdon Station name-board was reinstated onto the posts that held the original, recreated by the same chap who makes the signs in use along the North Norfolk Railway, a bench was also installed on top of the platform so that walkers or cyclists could take a well-earned rest, and the site was finally opened up properly to the Public. As well as also being prepared to be opened up to be utilized for learning and training opportunities for local volunteer groups and nearby schools.

How it looked after its part-demolition during the mid 1970’s:

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The same spot back in 2006 when I returned to re-explore the site after a few years as an adult and armed with a camera:

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The Station’s remains during its recent HLF update:

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To mark the site’s transformation, an open day was held on the 30th June 2018 and as part of the plans for the open day I’d decided this would be the perfect time to re-home the Station’s wayward M&GN pre-cast concrete Mile Post back into the ground where it belonged, next to the old railway line and opposite the former platform. As mentioned earlier, this particular Mile Post (along with most of the railway furniture) had been unceremoniously pushed over or destroyed by the demolition crew smashing their way through here in the 1970’s, tearing up the rails behind them as they went.

These massive, steel-reinforced mileposts would have been positioned every quarter of a mile along the old M&GN and were used by the Loco drivers and crew to work out their speed and location; you have to remember that those old Steam locomotives weren’t built with speedometers. These concrete items would have replaced the original 1880’s wooden items that were probably falling to bits after spending 40 years exposed to the elements back in the early 1920’s. Luckily for the geeks amongst us, these railway concrete items were usually stamped with a makers stamp (MRC – Marriot’s Railway Concrete) and more commonly a creation date: this particular post being made in 1923, making it a few years older than the Mile Cross Estate in which it was currently living. Each of these Mile Posts weighed in at an impressive 15 stone and stood 5 feet tall when lifted out of their holes.

The Mile Post had to make its way back to Hellesdon Station from my garden a week before the open day and I had to chuckle as a couple of Norfolk County Council employees struggled to drag it across my driveway before trying to load it onto their trailer. Luckily for them I was there to take charge of the situation and lift it for them, even though I’d come home from work at lunch to meet them and was still wearing trousers, shirt and a tie!

The following pictures were taken on the Open Day and show the Mile Post as it was being put back in to the ground where it belongs, whilst a crowd, including a local journalist watched on.

The Mile Post ready to be re-homed. Note our resident Whitwell locomotive driver, Dan (in his full driving gear) in the background:

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My friend John and I (I’m the one in the dark green top) quickly lift the hefty post into position before the quick-drying cement goes off:

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The freshly-painted Mile Post, back where it belongs:

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All in all it was an interesting day, we finally got to finish off our Hellesdon Station Project which I’d unofficially begun way back in 2010, after taking it upon myself to start exposing the site (without permission) and proving that (sometimes) if you want something doing, you just have to do it yourself. We (FONCS/NRHG) also got to conduct another of our normally-popular Historical “walk and talks” from Norwich City Station to Hellesdon, and it was great to see Hellesdon Station being enjoyed by the many people attending the open day, or those just passing through along the Marriott’s Way, admiring and often stopping for a chat about the fascinating history of this site, as well as to chat about what we (as a group) have achieved over recent years.

I must say that it was a very satisfying feeling when something that I’ve been fixated on for many years – and stemming from my childhood – suddenly becomes something that is interesting and relevant to a lot of people in the local community (and from further afield; we had visitors from as far as Suffolk turning up today) and it’s days like today that really inspire me to carry on digging (literally) into the history of my surroundings. I’m sure my mum would have also been proud to see that she’d inspired me all those years ago and that Hellesdon went from being unloved and forgotten to being celebrated, mostly because of her.

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After the open day back in 2018 I thought I’d pretty much written all I could about this long-forgotten little railway station, hidden away in a quiet little corner of old Hellesdon, but I was wrong. Not long after the open day 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 so it could take some time before I’d get to see it.

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 she asked me if I’d like 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 only 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 old 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 stretching from the late 1800’s and well into the 20thCentury, but the dates weren’t entirely clear. Thankfully, Horace’s Granddaughter, Olive is still alive and although age is making her a little forgetful, she still has keen memories of the past and she had managed to offer up some vital bits of information about her Grandfather that me and her daughter 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 knew 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).

The quaint little painting also shows 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 that 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.

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Hellesdon Station, lovingly-painted way back in 1904.

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 summer’s day like the one depicted here in oil and sadly for me, a scene that 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 how I have often imagined it in my head whilst stood on that platform during 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 Station Master, Horace Long.

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A collection of images of the Station Master, Horace and his family taken around Hellesdon Church and Mill.

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Horace’s birth certificate that was saved from the bin by Horace’s Great Granddaughter, Janet during a clear-out 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.

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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. Also in that image we can see that another local chap has also taken advantage of the floods to moor his sailboat up alongside the platform just outside the Station building:

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Possibly Horace (ringed), on his unusually direct commute to work during the 1912 floods.

Another fascinating recollection from Olive is that because her grandfather Horace was her legal custodian, he would often have 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 and how to send telegraphs.

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 beautiful little Cottage and even the areas between the millraces hidden out of sight to the general public behind the now long-gone Mill building.

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Hellesdon Station Rose, most likely planted by Horace:

MXH6One of the many massive Rosebushes planted along the back of Hellesdon Station platform.

After sending Janet pictures of these roses taken at Hellesdon Station Janet has since come back to confirm that these are indeed the same roses that filled the front garden of Number 5 Mill Cottages, also known as: “Rose Cottage” and planted by the particularly green-fingered Horace. Fantastic stuff.

Hell6Horace’s roses and railway remains in 2021

Since the open day in 2018 there has been another recent (2021) modification to the Hellesdon Station site and the layout of the Marriott’s Way. Until recently and because of the overgrown nature of the Station’s environs. Since it opened officially, The Marriott’s Way was diverted around the station site mainly because it wasn’t safe for cyclists or people with disabilities to use and during the recent lockdown a metaled path was run through from Hellesdon Road all the way up to Gunton Lane with two ramps leading into and out of the site. To add to the new safer approach to Hellesdon Station, a Zebra Crossing has been installed where the former bridge used to carry the road over the railway. This is a nice addition and not only serves to allow people to enjoy their trip along this part of the Marriott’s Way in a safer manner but also opens up the site so that it is no longer completely hidden from the road.

Hell2The new Zebra crossing situated where the M&GN bridge used to stand.

Hell3The recently installed ramp to make access into the site from the road much easier for all.

Hell7Hellesdon Platform as it looked today (22nd July, 2021).

Hell4One of Horace’s Rose Bushes that we relocated to the middle of the platform back in 2018 is looking good in Flower in 2021.

Hell5The Milepost looks right at home next to the re-aligned Marriott’s Way as it runs past the platform (2021).

So there you have it, this Hellesdon Station story is one that just keeps on giving and I really hope that in the future it’ll continue to offer up these wonderful little insights. Hopefully something else will pop up in the future that will give me an excuse to write up yet another extension to this long and winding piece about this fascinating little scar on the ground that makes up a part of Hellesdon’s surprisingly addictive History. Fingers crossed.

The trains and their stations may have long since disappeared from this part of the City but their spirit will live on for a few years more, thanks to our hard work and passion. I’m sure my mum would as be proud as punch to think that her showing me these old platform remains all those years ago would have created a spark inside my young mind that would go on and lead to all the work and effort to preserve and promote this fantastic and hidden historical gem for the future generations.

The Hellesdon then and now Ghost recreated by me after the former Station’s HLF revamp and later-added metaled path:

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Thanks to Janet Johnson, the self-confessed ‘Hellesdon Mill Girl’ for contacting me and for sharing these intimate parts of her life with us, thanks to my good friends John Batley and Dan Knights for helping me along this journey and thanks once again to you lot for coming here to read my ramblings.

Stu.

6 thoughts on “M&GN Hellesdon Station, Closed and then reopened. Sort of.

  1. I share your passion – what a fantastic read of your piece that I have only just completed. Like you, if only I could travel back in time and see steam trains running on these disused tracks! I own a Mobile Home at Forest Park near Cromer and we have a footpath that runs along the route of the old Cromer Beach to Mundesley railway line, but it’s so hard to really believe that steam trains used to travel along it now, though there are clues if you look for them. Thanks for a great piece and your work.

    Like

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