End of the line

Railway to Hemsby“HEMSBY for Winterton” So once read a sign on the platform at Hemsby station on our long lost local railway. 

The line from Yarmouth Beach to Melton Constable  opened in stages, the section as far as Hemsby from May 16, 1878. Martham was reached on July 15, Stalham in July 1880 and Melton Constable on April 5, 1883.

Initially the Great Yarmouth and Stalham Railway, it became part of the Midland and Great Northern – affectionately known as the Muddle and Go Nowhere Railway - from 1893 until 1936. Then the London North Eastern Railway until nationalisation on New Year’s Day 1948. Closure came on February 28, 1959 under the Eastern Region of British Railways. Among the reasons given was the need “to incur very heavy cost at California Point and Caister owing to coast erosion.” Sound familiar?

The station had a single platform and was located immediately south of the level crossing which once existed on The Street. A small goods siding was provided in addition to the single line through the station. The track alignment here took the form of a gentle curve towards the south, the approach from the Martham direction having been almost due east. 

The station building, small but well proportioned, stood at the north end of the platform, nearest the crossing.

A few benches, oil lamps, and a name board or two completed the scene. A house named Station Villa reminds us today of what once existed here.

The timetable dated September 20, 1954 shows nine daily trains heading for Yarmouth, plus an additional two on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A similar number operated in the opposite direction, to Kings Lynn or Peterborough. A notable departure was the 9.13am from Hemsby, which ran through to Leicester and Birmingham. By way of contrast the 9.17 pm ran only as far as North Walsham whilst the 11.00 pm (Saturdays only) terminated at Stalham. There were no trains on Sundays. Freight trains also operated over the line, and in earlier years much seasonal agricultural produce would have been carried. A plan, dated 1906, shows a cattle pen located at the south end of the station, suggesting that livestock also was handled then.

The summer of 1933 saw the introduction of the “halts” service, operating between Yarmouth Beach and Potter Heigham. Primarily to cater for visitors to the area in the summer months, the trains called at Hemsby in addition to the various new halts along the route such as those at Scratby and California. Initially a single carriage steam railcar called Tantivy, a more traditional hauled train was used in subsequent years, the last being 1958, for the halts were closed during the winter months. Connecting lines west of Peterborough meant that the track through Hemsby could carry thousands of holidaymakers from the Midlands to Caister and Yarmouth. Summer Saturdays saw almost double the usual number of trains, those originating from such places as Derby and Nottingham being 10 or 11 coaches in length. Three coaches normally sufficed for the local services. By the late 1950s, many lines in East Anglia were switching over to diesel traction, but our line remained steam operated to the end.

Sadly the section through Martham, Hemsby and Scratby has long since disappeared beneath farmland. When we drive along the section of the A149 between Stalham and Potter Heigham, we are in fact travelling along the course of the former railway track.

In Hemsby, near the entrance to the car park on The Street, stands a small “M&GN” boundary post. A little way up North Road, on the right hand side, lies the Station House B&B. This was once the stationmaster’s house. Nothing remains of the station building today. The one at Stalham fared better – it was carefully dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt at Holt where today it is in use on the heritage North Norfolk Railway.

By Andrew Simonsen