Delving into north Norfolk's rich railway history with the U3A

Christine Adams, spoke about her love of, and working with, steam engines to the North Norfolk U3A Local History Group.

Christine Adams, spoke about her love of, and working with, steam engines to the North Norfolk U3A Local History Group. - Credit: Supplied by David Riddle

In his latest column, David Riddle from the North Norfolk U3A (University of the Third Age) looks at the area's rich heritage of railways.

Once upon a time north Norfolk was criss-crossed with railways. In 1877 the Great Eastern Railway came to Cromer, and a decade later another station was opened at Cromer for passengers from the East Midlands (this station is today’s Cromer Station).

North Norfolk U3A chairman David Riddle.

David Riddle from the North Norfolk U3A. - Credit: Supplied by David Riddle

In 1880 the Lynn and Fakenham Railway opened Fakenham Town station, completing a route from Kings Lynn via Massingham.

A second station serving the town, Fakenham East, was on the Great Eastern route between Wells next the Sea and Wymondham.

The line was developed to Lenwade and then into Norwich by the end of 1882. In 1900 you could have travelled by train from King's Lynn to Yarmouth, Hunstanton via Wells-next-the-Sea to Norwich and from Cromer to Norwich via Sheringham and Holt.

A steam train on the North Norfolk Railway, also known as the 'Poppy Line'.

A steam train on the North Norfolk Railway, also known as the 'Poppy Line'. - Credit: Supplied by David Riddle

Looking at a map of the routes of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway at the turn of the century is eye popping, as is the knowledge that most of them remained intact until 1959 when rail restructuring cut such vast swathes of our rail infrastructure and heritage.

It’s food for thought how patterns of work and travel, not to mention our CO2 footprint, might be different if the government of the day in 1959 had taken a different course.

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The only surviving east west railway line in North Norfolk now is the famous Poppy Line from Sheringham to Holt via Weybourne.

Originally opened in June 1887 it was built to serve the growing tourism into Norfolk as well as local communities.

Initially it was intended to go from Melton Constable to Holt to Blakeney but the railway company decided it was more profitable to cater for the holidaymakers headed to 'Poppyland' from Sheringham to Mundesley.

During the Second World War the line carried servicemen and supplies to Weybourne training camp, and armoured trains patrolled the line during both world wars, ready to defend against invasion.

Eventually however, the economics of the railway led to the closure of the Melton Constable to Sheringham Branch in 1964.

Out of the 1959 closures, a Preservation Society came into existence with an ambitious, if a little unrealistic, vision to save almost all of the lines in North Norfolk.

It took until 1975 until the company was able to offer public passenger trains, and eventually the railway was reopened to Holt in 1989.

Thanks to public donations, lottery grants and countless hours of volunteers’ time, the Poppy Line not only survives but thrives.

It is marvellous that we still possess such an important heritage railway, one of very few in England.

One of the committed volunteers on the Poppy Line gave a talk to the U3A Local History Group in November.

Christine Adams spoke about her love of, and working with, steam engines - her talk was subtitled 'Something Steamy'. 

It is very clear that Chris is not afraid of hard, manual work and her enthusiasm for steam engines exudes as she speaks about her experiences with such affection and pleasure.

In the presentation we could see her smiling cheerfully inside the firebox cleaning clinker and setting the 'upside down' fire, starting with coal at the bottom, followed by wood which is then lit with paraffin-soaked rags, all of which happens long before the day’s rail service begins.

Christine showed the level of dedication the volunteers provide on all the heritage railways we enjoy.

Changing track – forgive the pun – it was the great Louis Armstrong who once said “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know”.

One of our very active interest groups in North Norfolk U3A is our Jazz Appreciation Group which meets every month at Great Snoring Village Hall.

The group covers everything – Dixieland, swing, Ellington, the be-bop era, the birth of cool jazz and the phenomenal Miles Davis, Latin jazz, the blues and jazz- rock, modern British jazz and more.

Guitarist Phil Brooke, on his visit to the North Norfolk U3A Jazz Appreciation Group. 

Guitarist Phil Brooke, on his visit to the North Norfolk U3A Jazz Appreciation Group. - Credit: Frederic Landes, U3A

We are fortunate to have in Norfolk a strong community of professional jazz musicians to tell us about their music, including recently, guitarist Phil Brooke.

If you like jazz – or even if you are just curious and aren’t afraid to ask what it is – you will find something to make your feet tap and to move you to smile. Find out more, visit