North Walsham was once the junction of five railways, with lines to Norwich, Aylsham, Cromer, Mundesley and Yarmouth. As a result of the commercial competition and a lack of cooperation between the various private railway companies in the late 19th century, the town originally had two railway stations alongside each other, the now vanished ‘North Walsham Town’ plus the ‘North Walsham Main’ which remains as ‘North Walsham’ on today’s Bittern Line.
A railway to Norwich, the region’s major trading place, was long awaited and was eventually provided by the East Norfolk Railway. It began work in 1865 but delays and lack of funds meant that the line did not reach North Walsham until 1874.
The railway was built as a single track with a passing place at the station. In 1900 this was upgraded to double track from Norwich, although in 1967 this reverted to single track and remains so today.
In 1898 the line to Mundesley was built as a joint venture between the Great Eastern Railway and the Midland & Great Northern Railway. The expectation was that Mundesley would develop into a major resort and a very fine station was built there.
The original North Walsham station building was of wooden construction, but in anticipation of the future traffic to Mundesley was replaced in 1902 by brick buildings with canopies above the platforms. Its deteriorating condition led to demolition and replacement with rather inadequate small waiting shelters.
The station never had a footbridge but had a subway beneath the line. This was next to the road bridge and included the station’s entrance and ticket office.
The goods yard included two goods sheds, the original wooden one and a large brick building which remains alongside the station entrance.
In 1883 there were just seven trains each day but the opening of the Town station prompted improvements and by 1899 there were twelve.
Non-stop, Liverpool Street to North Walsham
Strange as may seem today, from 1896 until 1914 there was a daily summer service non-stop from London Liverpool Street to North Walsham. The ‘Cromer Express’, later the ‘East Coast Express’, served the growing popularity of the coastal resorts. The train halted at North Walsham Main station and was split in three, with portions proceeding to Cromer, Sheringham and Mundesley. From 1945 until 1962 ‘The Broadsman’ provided a similar service.
North Walsham Town station
The early railways that eventually merged into the Midland & Great Northern Railway in 1893 were each quite small. The builder of Town station in 1881 was the Yarmouth & North Norfolk Railway. In 1883 this amalgamated with the Eastern & Midlands Railway who built the line from Melton Constable to North Walsham.
The station was a handsome building and included a timber footbridge later replaced with a steel bridge. Legend has it that this was the one later re-used alongside the road bridge at Coltishall station. It too had a goods yard and sheds, these being on the site of the present Midland Road industrial estate.
The Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway was an early casualty in the reduction of the nation’s rail network and Town station closed in 1959.
For several years thereafter the station was used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, consequently followed by demolition in readiness for the new bypass in 1976.
North Walsham’s oil terminal
Whilst general goods traffic has vanished, North Walsham still despatches up to two oil trains each week from the goods yard to the Petrochem Carless refinery at Harwich Essex.
When the Bacton Gas terminal was constructed in 1968, a pipeline was built along the route of the former Mundesley line to carry condensate, which is oil removed from the natural gas received from offshore. The large holding tanks and sidings for the terminal were built on the field between the two stations.