The Railway Age
Elizabeth Fiddick ©
1862 was a very significant year not only for the village but also for the rest of West Norfolk. The middle of the 19th century saw the development of that great marvel of the age, the railway. Although the roads had been improved, travel on them was still a lengthy and expensive business. The day coach from Lynn in 1842 took four and a half hours to reach Norwich at a cost of 10s for an inside seat and 5s if you travelled outside. Holidays were generally only enjoyed by the rich but the railway age changed all this. It opened up the possibility of travel for the ordinary citizen. In the 1850s an Act of Parliament decreed that all railway companies were to run daily passenger trains each way on all their routes at a rate not exceeding one penny a mile. These became known as Parliamentary trains and were the cheapest form of travel. In 1845 King’s Lynn joined the “railway mania” when a meeting at the Town Hall launched the construction of local lines. By 1848 King’s Lynn was linked to London and a wooden station had been built in a field near The Walks. It was replaced by the present building in 1871.
It is not clear when the decision to build the Lynn to Hunstanton line was taken but the Lynn and Hunstanton Bill passed through Parliament unopposed and received the Royal Assent on August 1st 1861. However from a leader in the Lynn Advertiser in 1862 it is apparent that many in King’s Lynn were opposed to this extension of the railway. Many thought it was “ridiculous to propose making a railway to a barren beach”. It was feared that building a flourishing town in Hunstanton would draw wealth and trade from Lynn. The editor lamented, “Lynn is not what it once was.” Nevertheless he fully supported the project and considered it would bring added trade and benefits to Lynn.
THE LYNN ADVERTISER AND WEST NORFOLK HERALD.
LYNN AND HUNSTANTON RAILWAY.
We trust that by this time many who thought the project of a railway from Lynn to Hunstanton and the idea of making a watering place within a few miles of Lynn, wild and visionary, and only calculated to end in disappointment and loss, now regard the project as a good one, the idea as one calculated to result happily and be productive of great benefits to Lynn in many ways - direct and indirect. We have upon one or two occasions, when drawing the attention of our readers to matters connected with the commerce of the locality, ventured to intimate that the amount of spirit and enterprize necessary to insure success and keep our town upon terms of equality with our neighbours and in a position to realize all its natural advantages has not always been forthcoming in due time. Lynn is not what it once was. This is to a certain extent a humiliating fact; for there are many reasons why, instead of retrograding, as it has, the commerce and the importance of the town should have been progressive. This will never be the case, however, while those in whose hands rest not only individual but collective success adopt a narrow and timid policy comprehended in the maxim - that the commercial interests and the general prosperity of a town must be necessarily confined within the limits of its municipal boundary.
When the Lynn and Hunstanton railway was first talked of, we heard many say that it was ridiculous to propose making a railway to a barren beach; but we expect to see there a large and flourishing town which, instead of drawing from Lynn any of its wealth, and of its trade, or in any manner injuring it one way or other, will, on the contrary, draw from us the chief portion of its supplies, increase our trade, add to our importance and afford those who desire to invest money profitably, in undertakings calculated to give employ to vast numbers and advance local interests, an opportunity for doing so with perfect safety. Under these circumstances we have given the Lynn and Hunstanton Railway a very hearty support. We call attention to the first general meeting of the directors and shareholders, held on Friday, the 24th ult, not so much to advocate the claims of the Railway Company, for this we have done before, as to note the progress of the project and at the same time show our readers that there is much to be done yet, and that it would be well that we should take our part in doing it.
We published a full report of the proceedings at the meeting in a second edition of last week's issue, and in order that all our readers may, see it we reproduce it in our present number. We hope those interested in the welfare of the town and locality will read the report with attention. They will see that the engineer's report is all that could be desired and much more than could have been expected. The works are advancing with great rapidity, and, thanks to the prudent foresight of the originators of the ....? (damaged original here)
...... (par)? ticularly so as they have in it, given us proof that they have not forgotten that other duties fell upon them besides the mere tasking of a line of railway from place to place. In order to secure the interests of the shareholders and render the project justifiable and remunerative it was necessary that arrangements 'should be made for erecting buildings and affording accommodation to those visitors and permanent residents whom we hope to see among us when the line is completed This part of their duty has not been neglected. On the contrary, we deem it an excellent assurance of their extreme vigilance when we see that in so short a time they are able to report that they have been engaged in considering with Mr. L'ESTRANGE the whole arrangements, and have adopted a scheme which, whilst it will preserve a general uniformity of character in the houses, will allow the greatest freedom to individual requirements. Mr. L'ESTRANGE has himself undertaken the important work of roads, sewerage and the laying out of public walks and recreation grounds, and we are quite sure these things could not be left in better hands. Then to secure a vigorous commencement of building operations, the ground rent in the first instance will be at the very moderate rate of 1d per square yard per annum, with a small annual fixed payment by way of rate for the maintenance of the public grounds and works, such as is customary in all well regulated places where the comforts of visitors are essential to the general prosperity. The ground plan will be before the public in a few days, and we hope to find that those of the good people of Lynn in a position to take up such an enterprise will give it all the attention it claims and is entitled to. Let it be remembered that Hunstanton is not to be created at the expense of Lynn, but that calling into existence a watering place which there can be no doubt whatever will be so well frequented and rapidly rise into importance, we shall materially advance the commercial interests of our town. This has been well shown by the chairman of the meeting, Mr. LIGHTLY SIMPSON. The railway directors have, as that gentleman informed the meeting, endeavoured to do something for us; let us now do something for ourselves while time and opportunity serve. We have undoubtedly neglected many opportunities; let us not permit the present one to pass through our hands unprofitably. We may, if we will, share largely in the advantages derivable from participation in the project now before us; we are adding another link to that system of railway communication upon which our local prosperity so much depends, and at the same time we have afforded us an opportunity for investment such as is rarely offered within the scope of our own supervision, with the two-fold recommendation or being advantageous to the locality generally and certain in its pecuniary results.
When the plan of the ground for building at Hunstanton and all details are in our possession we may return to this subject and more fully lay the claims of, this important enterprise before our readers, especially reminding those who have taken any interest in the railway that the line without the town would be a superfluity. Having made the one so one must make the other.
Work on the line began as soon as the harvest had been gathered and the Mayor of Lynn turned the first sod on November 13th 1861. The line was staked out for much of its length during that autumn. It is not hard to imagine the excitement that would have been felt in the village as the work progressed along the marshes. No doubt it was a magnet for the children and would have drawn many spectators to watch as the “navvies” cleared the land and constructed the embankment. Huge amounts of earth had to shifted, culverts and drains laid and rails and sleepers stacked at intervals ready for laying. The “navvies” here were not Irish labourers but at least 300 local men who would have been without employment after the harvest season and only too pleased to join the workforce.
However, before work could begin a dispute had arisen in Dersingham over the Marsh called Cranberry Fen (or pasture on the 1839 Tithe map on the right).
Charles Spencer Cowper of Sandringham claimed ownership of the Fen and sought to enclose it in preparation no doubt for selling the land to the railway company. The poor of the parish who claimed common rights vehemently opposed this.
A meeting was held in The Dun Cow on July 31st 1861 to settle the argument. Mr. Cowper’s agent was unable to produce documentary evidence to support his claim but villagers came forward to prove uninterrupted use of the Fen for 60 years or more.
It was claimed that sixty-seven years before this date a man called Grace had gone onto the fen and cut a quantity turfs. On the next Sunday when he had taken his children onto the Fen to look at them a storm arose and he was struck by lightning and killed. His children were present at the meeting as witnesses.
One John Drew aged 82 stated he had known the fen since he was 17 and had with others from the village gathered Cranberries and cut turfs. He stated that if tenants of Mr. Cowper put stock onto the Marsh the poor chased them off or impounded them.
The grand opening was on October 3rd 1862 (note that the announcement is in the newspaper dated 4th October - little changes!). The death of Henry Le Strange on 27th July 1862 overshadowed the event. Nevertheless the weather was sunny and more than 100 people boarded the 12.30 train from Lynn for the 40 minute trip to Hunstanton. A reporter from The Lynn Advertiser and West Norfolk Herald was on the train and expressed considerable surprise that the line was “as picturesque as it actually is….”. In fact he enthused about the line for the whole 15 miles; he wrote, ”Crossing the Babingley River the Prince of Wales’ estate is entered, this is perhaps the prettiest part of all. On the left the Lynn Roads are seen. On the right a series of hillocks and some undulating moorland, which on Friday looked warm and genial. A hill further on covered in trees, reminds us of Derbyshire.”
This gives us some idea of the area around Dersingham when the heath was not covered in trees as it is now but more open to the Wash. Lunch for the travellers was in the Royal Hotel Hunstanton when sandwiches and champagne were in unlimited supply. Before the return trip at 4.30 the travellers could stroll along the beach although the reporter observed, “The sentimental sought the society of the other sex.”
The initial service provided three return trains from Lynn to Hunstanton, leaving Lynn at 9.05. 12.25 and 3.25. The return journeys left Hunstanton at 10.20, 2.00 and 4.45. It took one hour for the whole trip and the fares were 3/4d first class, 2/6d second class and 1/3d ” Parliamentary”. A Third Class ticket from Dersingham to Hunstanton cost 8d and one to Lynn 7d. The government had decreed that on one train per day the price of a ticket must be fixed at 1penny per mile to help the ordinary working residents. This was the “parliamentary “ fare.
Less than a year after this grand opening tragedy struck. On Monday August 3rd 1863, the 8.01 to Hunstanton travelling at 28m.p.h. struck a bullock that had strayed onto the line at North Wootton and was de-railed. Four people died at the scene and their bodies were taken into the Ship Inn at Gaywood. A fifth man died the following day. At the inquest the fact that fences had not been erected was criticised. It was also noted that the fatalities were in the third class carriage, which was of poor construction and not padded like the First Class carriage ahead of it.
In 1864 the line was extended from Heacham to Wells so opening up more of the Norfolk coast to trippers. As well as using the train for pleasure the villagers had facilities for freight traffic.
A view North from Sandringham in 1862, shortly after the opening of the line. The train (far left) can be seen after emerging from the cutting at Wolferton and is heading towards Dersingham village (far right). Hunstanton can just be made out in the distance.
Courtesy 'the Illustrated London News'
The Rev. Bellamy stated that the value of cranberries collected from the fen was about £20 per year. On one occasion a tenant of Mr. Cowper, Mr. Chapman, had erected a shed on the Fen and the poor had,” very properly pulled it down and carefully deposited the materials on Mr. Cowper’s premises.” The arguments waged back and forth but a settlement must have eventually been agreed because in February 1862 a meeting was held in The Dun Cow public house for “parties entitled to commonable or other rights over lands in the Parish of Dersingham,” to appoint a committee to deal with the Lynn and Hunstanton Railway Company, "for compensation to be paid for the extinction of such rights in or over lands called Cranberry Fen.”
In Dersingham the construction of the station buildings, the cottages for the workers and the Railway Hotel to be called The Alexandra was well under way and must have been a great talking point in The Dun Cow, The Coach and Horses, The Cock and The White Horse. No doubt there were grumbles and the carriers and coach owners would be among those who worried for the future of their businesses. The fears of the stagecoach owners were well founded. In his New Year message to his parishioners the Rev. Edward William Penny, considering the new century to come, asks, "Shall we see the locomotives rusting on the scrap heap as some of us may remember to have seen the old stage coach rotting in the wheelwright’s yard?
The line was completed by the summer of 1862.
Before the grand opening the contractor Mr. John Valentine brought his wife and six children to view “his” railway. As a treat he organised a picnic and propelled them up the line on a manually operated trolley. Mrs. Valentine must have enjoyed watching the scenery pass and the children were no doubt thrilled by the whole adventure. That is until a plume of smoke in the distance ahead heralded a construction train approaching rapidly on the single line. The family had to scramble off while father hastily dismantled the trolley and dragged it off the line before the train thundered past. It was an ignominious end for the first passengers on the Lynn to Hunstanton line. The comments of Mrs. Valentine have unfortunately not been recorded.
During the Cranberry Fen affair the first public meeting of the Lynn and Hunstanton Railway Company had taken place in Lynn on January 24th 1862 when the wonderfully named Mr. Lightly Simpson was elected Chairman. Sir Henry Le Strange of Hunstanton was a leading force in the company and became Deputy Chairman. Other notable figures included Major Hare of Docking Hall.
Our station was equipped to deal with the conveyance of coal, cattle and farm produce. A special train ran on Tuesdays to link with the King’s Lynn cattle market and there was a noted increase in the number of cattle dealers and horse dealers recorded in the village as a result. There was also considerable traffic in parcels, luggage and newspapers. It is interesting to note the increase in the number of coal merchants in the village. In the Directories before 1862 none are recorded in Dersingham but in the years leading up to 1900 six are mentioned. Coal had been brought by boat to the small dock at Heacham but the railway ended this practice and hastened the demise of the port.
The station Master became an important member of the community. It would seem from the records that one James Buck was the first to hold this position. In 1874 Francis Perry was the stationmaster followed by Matthew Bullock in 1883 and John Hall in 1890. Frederick Albert Paige is recorded in the position from 1890 to 1908 when Arthur James Chilvers took over.
The second significant event in 1862 was the purchase of the Sandringham Estate by Queen Victoria for her son The Prince of Wales. This brought the area to the notice of the whole country and it became a desirable area to visit. The Alexandra Hotel had been built opposite the station and other hostelries in the village soon realised the potential for business. In 1890 Enoch Taylor, proprietor of The Feathers was advertising,
”Feathers hotel and posting house; good stabling for hunters and first class accommodation for visitors.”
Not to be outdone Thomas Augustus Magness of The Dun Cow advertised,
"Seaside visitors can have good accommodation near to Sandringham.”
Six years later William Henry Mann now running The Feathers advertised,
”Feathers family and commercial hotel and posting house; good stabling for hunters and first class accommodation for visitors in the neighbourhood; conveyances to meet any train at Wolferton or Dersingham”
By 1883 The Temperance Hotel had opened on the corner of Chapel Road. In 1896 Mrs.Harriet Goodings was renting apartments and Theodor Jannoch the nurseryman was proudly advertising that he was,
”Lily of the Valley grower by special warrant to H. R. H. the Prince of Wales…………The largest grower of Lily of the Valley in England”
You have only to walk around the village and look at the date stones on many of the houses to see how many were built in the 1870s, 80s and 90s. The new school was built in 1875 and the church was thoroughly restored in 1876/7. A new organ was installed in 1885 and the whole church was re-lit in 1887. The rectory was built on the hill above Shernborne Road in 1877 and the Primitive Methodist chapel was erected in 1878 to be followed in 1890 by the chapel in Post Office Road.
The population of the village increased more rapidly. It grew by 365 in the first 63 years of the century. But between 1864 and 1901, in just 36 years there were nearly 500 more inhabitants.
The range of shops increased; The Post Office became more than just a place to collect letters it became a Post, Money Order and Telegraph Office so that a new building was needed and the one we know today was built.
There was of course a down side as well. Property prices increased and some trades did not survive with the introduction of rail travel. The local brickworks at Heacham eventually succumbed to the formidable competition now offered at Peterborough. The Malt House in Dersingham was no longer viable and the area opposite the library called Malthouse Yard is all that reminds us that it once stood there. The village once boasted a milliner, a tailor, and glovers but these trades gradually disappear as travel to the town became so easy. The number of shoemakers declined although we still have one in the village today.
Nevertheless, for the next 107 years the railway served the area. At one time excursions trains queued nose to tail along the line to Hunstanton. Special excursion trips were advertised during each holiday period.
| Coal Merchants recorded in the Directories
|The growth in the number of merchants is clearly illustrated. Many combined the trade with other occupations.
||John Balding-coal merchant
||Lynn to Hunstanton Railway opens
||Thomas Legg-coal dealer etc.
||George Gamble -coal merchant
||Alfred Boothby -coal merchant and farme
||James Bunn-coal agent
||Coller & Sons-corn and coal merchants
||Alfred Boothby -coal dealer, asst. overseer, Tax collector
||James Bunn -farmer and coal agent
||R. Coller & Son -coal merchant-and Norwich: James Bunn- agent
||Alfred William,& Ernest Boothby-farmers and coal merchants
||James Bunn-coal merchant-agent for R. Coller& Son
||Daniel Reynolds-shopkeeper and coal dealer
||Alfred, William & Ernest Boothby-farmers and coal merchants
||James Bunn- coal merchant and agent for R. Coller & Sons
||Alfred Green- coal merchant
||Daniel Reynolds -shopkeeper and coal merchant
||Montague Smith & Co.-coal merchants
||James Bunn -coal merchant and agent for R. Coller& Sons
||Alfred William Maxey-grocer& wine & spirit dealer, draper and coal merchant, ass. Overseer, income tax collector & clerk to Parish Council
||Daniel Reynolds & Sons -shopkeepers and coal merchants
||Coller& sons Ltd.- corn and coal merchants (James Bunn agent)
||Reynolds D- shopkeeper and coal merchant
||James Bunn-coal merchant and agent for R. Coller & Sons
||D. Reynolds & Sons-shopkeepers and coal merchants
||Edward Reynolds -coal and coke dealer
||Walter Frederick Nurse-coal dealer
||Edward Reynolds-coal &coke dealer
||Walter Nurse-coal dealer
||Edward Reynolds-coal &coke dealer
||W&H Nurse-coal dealers
||Edward Reynolds-coal & coke dealer
||W&H Nurse -coal dealers
A 1939 register of the residents of Dersingham records that Frank Tilson was living in the Station House (below left) with his wife Winifred and one son Walter who attended the local school. We can see that living in Alexandra Cottages (below right), the row of small houses opposite the station, were Sidney Culpin, Railway signalman with his wife Effie described in the words of the time as Unpaid Domestic. Next door was Harold Stinton another signalman with his wife Elsie, again an unpaid Domestic. Harry Davison a lorry driver occupied another of the cottages with his Wife Desiree, yes an Unpaid Domestic!
Mr. Chilvers was born in 1865 in Snettisham, the son of William Chilvers a wheelwright. His father died when he was 10 years old and his mother sold ointments and toffee in the village. Arthur attended a “Dame School” situated behind Barclays Bank for 6d a week. He later attended the Snettisham Grammar school. On leaving school he took up an apprenticeship in the building trade but then joined the railway between Lynn and Hunstanton. He was appointed clerk at the Royal Station in Wolferton in 1881. His wages were 6s. a week.
After two years he moved to Snettisham with a salary of 10s. Later he went to Littleport as chief goods clerk and then on to Saffron Walden. He had charge of five clerks there and a wage of 33s a week.
In 1900 he became Stationmaster at Dersingham where he lived the rest of his life. He retired in 1925 after 45 years on the railway. He was a devout Methodist and there is a window dedicated to him in the Wesleyan Chapel. He founded the Institute Bowls Club. Arthur married twice and his first wife Sarah Rogers died in 1921 and is buried in the cemetery. His second wife died after Arthur in 1970. Arthur died in 1967 and was buried on his 102nd birthday.
The Alexandra Hotel was a thriving concern during the railway years. In 1871 the proprietor was Robert Claxton, with his wife Fanny. He had one lodger and two general servants. Living in the nearby cottages were a plate layer and an engine fitter.
By 1874 George Baldwin had taken over The Alexandra and then in the 1881 census we find Robert Long from Fakenham and his wife Martha have taken over the licence. Further changes occurred with Mrs. Annie Smith, and then Charles Simmonds taking over. When Mr. Chilvers was Station Master Herbert Alderton ran The Alexandra before Isaac David Bird took over in 1911. Mr Bird ran the hotel for many years until he died in 1937.
This is a modern phototgraph; a postcard was apparently made of The Alexandra but it is rare and we have yet to see one so if you have a copy and would like to share it with us we would be delighted.
This photograph of some workers on the railway was provided by Mr. Sidney John Mitchell who was born on the village in 1916. He said, “This is a picture of the Station workers in 1914. The poster showing the Great Eastern Railway is clearly dated. The group consists of Mr. Chilvers who was the then Station Master and lived at the bottom of Fern Hill. It shows him wearing his form of Frocked coat and peaked hat. Also on his right is my uncle George, the guard of the railway. At the back is my uncle Arch who was a porter and he is wearing a sleeved waistcoat. They were proud of their station, and all stations competed with their garden.”
The two images above were taken in 1890 and 1900 (left to right).
The image below is from an original glass plate photograph that was donated to us and was taken by Dersingham photographer and postcard publisher Reginald Terrington that he sold from his shop in Manor Road. There is now (November 2018) a fish and chip and kebab shop here. More of the Terringtons to come in another article. Many prints can be seen marked with RT but we could not be sure of the provenance of the images until we investigated one of his images in detail.
In 1915, when there was a German air raid, it was believed the Zeppelin crew had used the railway line as a guide. This led to the erroneous belief that the target was Sandringham and the King. The Hunstanton line carried an increased amount of military traffic and train services were reduced in speed and frequency. Local trains consisted mainly of four or six-wheeled vehicles many of which were semi-opens with low partitions separating each compartment. Unsupervised children would sometimes clamber from one compartment to the next and would use the luggage racks as hammocks.
The funeral trains of Queen Alexandra (1925), George V (1936) and George VI (1952) passed along a route lined with sad villagers.
Dersingham children travelled daily into Lynn by train. In 1905 the Parish Council requested that the 4.55p.m. train stopped at Dersingham so that the children did not have to wait on Lynn station until 5.35 for a train home. This was considered a danger to their Health and Safety. A not unfamiliar argument used of many new regulations today! The school log books records a drop in attendance due to cheap trains to Lynn during the Mart weeks. In the Second World War military traffic increased greatly and the tourist trade declined. An armoured train regularly patrolled the line and was stationed at Heacham for much of the war.
Many of the older residents have fond memories of the railway. The following recollections are transcribed from the recordings made for the 2000 Millennium History Project and can be found on our page of the recordings that you can listen to and read the transcriptions
Gwendolyn Balding whose husband farmed at Dun Cow Farm.
We made use of the station all the time. Our sugar beet used to go away by train. My husband used to cart the sugar beet down to the station; it went to Lynn to the sugar beet factory. The cattle used to go by road - lorry. We went to London now and then; you could go to London for 7/6d from Dersingham to Liverpool Street. The stops were Wolferton first, then Kings Lynn, Downham, Ely, Cambridge, then straight through. The closing of the railway that was the worst thing; that stopped everything didn’t it. We couldn’t get our stock away, couldn’t send the sugar beet or anything; it all had to go by road and we had to find lorry drivers. Then we had to go to Kings Lynn to get the train. It would be smashing today if they got it back between Lynn and Hunstanton.
Eric Henry Cross - Heath House, Heath Road
The worst thing was doing away with the railway. Look what an asset the railway would be today with all the congestion on the roads, which will get worse; but it will never come back. I can remember on Sundays during the summertime we went to watch the excursions go past the bottom of the Drift. The day tripper excursions trains were from the Midlands; six or seven would go through at five-minute intervals; this is before the war [WW2].
Gill Griffin - Woodside Avenue
The railway station always looked nice; Mr. Tilson used to be Station Master. They used to have all flowers, all where there were steps was all plants. It was just an event to see the trains coming in. I can remember when the prisoners of war came home, there wasn’t many cars about but my mother and father would go down to meet them in the taxi and take them home; and all their baggage. There was always a lot of people down there to greet them. That was one of the sad things when that closed. The station used to be full. If anyone got married and go away for their honeymoon on the train there would be crowds of people on the station to see them off.
Ken John Martins - Main Road
We used to go to Lynn or Hunstanton by train. When I grew sugar beet that had to go by train; we had to cart it down to the station. We forked, shovelled it into trucks. It was hard work growing sugar beet then. We had a ticket for the truck and the stationmaster Mr. Tilson, used to order it and have it stood in the side. I used to have to load mine Sunday mornings as soon as it was daylight then they’d connect it up and take it on the train.
Although the line escaped the first swathe of cuts in 1963 the end became inevitable. The last train left Lynn at 9.05 p.m. on May 3rd 1969 with 250 passengers. It returned from Hunstanton at 10.16 with a wreath attached to the leading end.
Goodbye Hunstanton Railway
1862 - 1969
Is this really the end?
Villagers gathered at Dersingham to wave it through and the railway era in West Norfolk was over.
Since the closure the station has been used as a buildings supplies business called Semba Trading Co. Ltd. and other small workshop units have been built. All the following photographs were taken between 2000 and 2005.
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