'At a preliminary meeting last week steps were taken to give the inhabitants of the North Walsham neighbourhood good reason to anticipate that they will not much longer be without the benefit of a railway in direct route to Norwich. At the meeting several gentlemen put down their names for shares at £1,000 each and £500 each.
(extract Norfolk News 10th October 1863).
The railway did not, in fact, reach North Walsham until 1874 although the project was proposed some years earlier, Lord Suffield being amongst the enthusiasts for the scheme. The Yarmouth Haven and Pier Commissioners and the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Company disliked the idea fearing the competition which the railway would almost certainly bring to water transport. An Act of Parliament to build a railway was applied for and work began on the line in 1865 by the East Norfolk Railway Company. Financial problems of the contractors and other unforeseen difficulties curtailed the work soon after it had begun. Eventually, work re-commenced on what was a single track line from Norwich to North Walsham and the 'Main' station opened on the 20th October 1874. The line was extended to Gunton in 1876 and to Cromer 'High' station in March 1877. Some Cromer residents opposed this service which they feared would 'lower the social tone' of the town by bringing an influx of day trippers but although Cromer grew in popularity after the arrival of the railway it managed to maintain its select character.
The extension of the railway network in the area by several small companies led to the opening of the 'Town' Station in 1881 and the formation of The Eastern and Midlands Railway. This company came under the control of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway in 1893. A line to Mundesley from North Walsham opened in 1898 and the track from Norwich to North Walsham was doubled between 1896 and 1900. In July 1897 the 'Cromer Express' began its non-stop service between Liverpool Street and North Walsham, reaching Cromer in 2 hours 55 minutes.
Trains serving North Walsham seem to have been abundant in the late nineteenth century with five trains on weekdays to Norwich and back, stopping at small villages on the way and there was even a wider choice of destinations as the lines were extended.
The building of the railway gave considerable employment and the opening of the line to North Walsham created new occupations in the town. James Borrett, for example, moved into the newly built Railway Gate House in Norwich Loke as a porter and Thomas Masters, of Church Road, took up the same work. Albert Hall who lived at the back of the Makings became an engine driver and young Phillip Potter and William Hammond, a lodger with Philip's parents, both worked as clerks at the GER station in the town during the early 1880's.
The rail network made a significant impact on the economy of the area. It benefitted agriculture and brought about an expansion of market gardening, particularly fruit growing as produce could now be transported quickly to markets further afield or to canning and jam preserving factories which grew up in this period. Farmers in the neighbourhood now had the opportunity to meet the growing demand for milk in urban areas by sending supplies on the regular 'milk train'. It was during the last two decades of the nineteenth century that the town grew fastest and when light industry increased, assisted by railway transport.
At the same time the railway seriously affected the livelihoods of some people in the vicinity. It brought a decline in the traffic using the North Walsham and Dilham Canal. The carriers, who had for long been familiar figures in the countryside, declined in number. In the middle of the century there were eight in North Walsham serving a wide area several times a week; some places were served on a daily basis, as mentioned in an earlier chapter. There were also two horse-drawn omnibus services. The opening of the railway brought competition and by the end of the century there remained just one carrier, James Martin, who provided a service to Norwich three times a week. There was also just one omnibus, run by Robert W. Palmer, although he ran no regular service but transported passengers on request. He advertised that he met 'all trains arriving at North Walsham Station' to take passengers on to their final destination.
Norfolk Chronicle & Norwich Mercury. The East Norfolk Railway, R. S. Joby, 1975.
Cromer & Sheringham: The Growth of the Holiday Trade 1877 - 1914. ed. A. Reid, 1986. Census Return 1881 Norfolk Directories.
GER Poster, Colman Collection, N.L.S.L.
OPENING OF THE NORTH WALSHAM RAILWAY.
Norwich Mercury. 12/10/1874
The railway between the market town of North Walsham and the city of Norwich, which has been in course of construction for several years past, has at length been completed. On Friday and Saturday last it was officially inspected by Captain Tyler, of the Board of Trade, and a certificate having been granted that the line was in a most satisfactory condition, it was opened for public traffic this day (Tuesday). The line is a single one, and is fourteen miles and one furlong in length; but the whole distance from Norwich is sixteen miles. It commences at a junction with the Norwich and Brundall line at Thorpe St. Andrew, where a most convenient station has been erected at a short distance from the scene of the recent accident, and within a few yards of the Norwich and Yarmouth Turnpike. From this point the line proceeds by a rather steep ascending curve, crossing the road by a substantial arch built of brick with iron girders; it then passes through the parishes of Great Plumstead, Little Plumstead, Rackheath, Salhouse, Wroxham, Hoveton St. John, Belaugh, Hoveton St. Peter, Tunstead, Sloley, and Worstead, and the terminus is at a station adjoining the main road just outside the town of North Walsham. There are three other stations besides those at Whitlingham and North Walsham, viz, Salhouse, Wroxham, and Worstead. On Monday afternoon the District Superintendent (Mr. T. Stevenson), made a final survey of the line, placed the officials, and gave them final instructions. The first train started from North Walsham at 6.16 a.m. this (Tuesday) morning. The published time tables show that for the present at all events five trains will run each way daily, except on Saturdays, when there will be a sixth or Market Train. On Sundays there will be two trains each way. The line is, as we have said, a single oue, and will be worked under train staff regulations by tho Great Eastern Railway Company. From Norwich (Thorpe) to Whitlingham Junction the line is now double; but it still remains single from that point to Brundall. The working under Train Telegraph Regulations on this section of the line will be discontinued, and from today the trains will be passed over tho single line by Train Staff or Train Staff Ticket.
There can be no doubt that the opening of this line will be greatly to the advantage of the town of North Walsham; and we understand that there is every probability of the railway being continued to the fashionable watering place of Cromer.