Memories sought of much missed rail link

Tuesday, 28 April 2020
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May 4 2020 marks fifty years since the much-lamented closure of the railway which directly linked the towns of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The Wherry Lines Community Rail Partnership in conjunction with the Lowestoft Central Project, are appealing for readers to share their memories and any images of the railway for a special online exhibition and permanent displays to be installed at stations in the two towns later this year.

Built in 1903, the Lowestoft to Yarmouth Railway ran from Great Yarmouth Beach Station across the Bure Railway Bridge and five-span Breydon Viaduct, serving stations at Yarmouth Southtown, Gorleston North, Gorleston On Sea, Hopton, Corton, Lowestoft North and Lowestoft Central. In 1914 a Halt was added at Gorleston Links to serve the adjacent golf course.

Before 1903, direct services linking the two towns ran via a curve east of Reedham to Yarmouth Vauxhall and following construction of the Beccles-Yarmouth route, via a junction at Haddiscoe. Built by Rugby based contractors Oliver & Sons when opened, the direct Lowestoft to Yarmouth line was operated by a joint committee comprising of the Great Eastern Railway (GER) and the Midland and Great Northern Junction Railway (MGNJR). The section of line from Yarmouth Beach which included the construction of the Bure Bridge, a bridge across the GER Vauxhall – Norwich route and Breydon Viaduct was constructed by the MGNJR with the GER constructing the section from Gorleston North along the coast to into Lowestoft Station which was then named Lowestoft Central.

The railways hoped that the line would lead to the development of holiday resorts and it is believed that Gorleston and Hopton had ‘On Sea’ added to their names as part of a railway publicity campaign. The route saw services running via the former MGNJR network to and from the Midlands and North and summer specials bringing thousands of holidaymakers to a host of holiday camps along the coast. As well as a variety of freight traffic including fish, coal, and sugar beet, during the First World War Lowestoft North station also saw the arrival of thousands of troops as the Army had constructed training camps on the nearby North Denes and Corton Rd playing field.

After the 1953 East Coast Floods, services across the Breydon Viaduct ended as maintenance to the substantial structure was deemed too costly and all Lowestoft – Yarmouth services were terminated at Southtown Station. Yarmouth Beach Station closed along with much of the former MGNJR network in 1959. After closure of the Beccles – Southtown route which also axed in 1959, all London services ran via Lowestoft and the line was upgraded however, shortly afterwards, many services to the coast were re-routed via Norwich.

In 1968, an enquiry into the proposed closure of the line claimed that it served between five and ten thousand people per week and was running at a loss of some £34,000.00 per annum. Although closure was not proposed as part of the infamous Beeching Report, British Rail ran services down and re-routed holiday and other long-distance traffic leaving the line with just a two-car diesel shuttle calling at unstaffed and vandalised stations. By 1970 the route was deemed uneconomic to run and despite a local effort to keep the line running as a tourist attraction, full closure came on May 4 that year, the final passenger train running on May 2.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of closure, It had originally been planned to host a special exhibition about the lost line in the restored Parcels Office at Lowestoft station, however with the current Coronavirus situation, the appeal has gone out for readers to share their memories and images of the railway which can instead be viewed online and in turn contribute to special history panels to be permanently installed at stations in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

Community rail development officer, Martin Halliday said, "The line had a relatively short working life of just 67 years and surprisingly few images of the route in operation remain in the public domain. "We are therefore appealing for any memories and images people may have that we can share in an online article to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the closure, we also hope to use some of these in two special railway history panels to be installed at stations in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth later this year."

With the expansion of towns and villages along the route, the line is much missed today. After closure most of the land on which it ran and all bar one of the former stations succumbed to redevelopment. Housing and construction of the Gorleston Bypass also saw much of the former track bed disappear however many bridges and landmarks are still visible including Corton Station, which is now a private residence and the cutting running through north Lowestoft, now the Great Eastern Linear Park and cycle route connecting Yarmouth Rd with Barnards Meadow. It is also possible to still see some of the embankments running parallel to the Coast Road and track-bed south of the Gorleston station site.

The original route: After leaving Lowestoft Central Station, the railway curved away from the Lowestoft to Norwich and Ipswich lines at Coke Ovens Junction and passed the Eastern Coach Works (now home to the North Quay Retail Park). It then ran through a deep cutting until it reached Lowestoft North Station opposite the former Lowestoft Grammar School (now Ormiston Denes Academy). Lowestoft North Station occupied a substantial site with sidings, coal yard and for many years, a camping coach for holiday makers. Passing through what is now known as Dip Farm, the line ran along an embankment towards Corton before entering a short cutting under Corton Long Lane and reaching Corton Station. The line then continued north on an embankment through Hopton, Gorleston Links Halt and into Gorleston Station. After Gorleston it joined the Beccles - Yarmouth route at Gorleston North Station with connections to Yarmouth Southtown and Yarmouth Beach via the Breydon Viaduct.

When excavated, the substantial cutting made to take the railway through North Lowestoft brought some doubt on a local legend that a tunnel, believed to date back to Cromwellian times, ran from the High Street to St Margaret’s Parish Church. No evidence of any tunnel was discovered. In the 1980s, clearance of the former station site in Hopton, revealed a series of parallel brick arches constructed to hold the station platforms. Prior to the lines closure, much of the railway land around Yarmouth was purchased by the Town Council and today, very-little exists to indicate the presence of the towns’ former and arguably most prestigious station, Southtown.

Any pictures of the line featuring passengers, rolling stock, signal boxes or stations would be appreciated by the research team, they do not require original copies of photographs and anyone submitting material will be credited by name if they wish. If you have any images or memories you wish to share, please email them to: [email protected] or by post C/O Lowestoft Central Project, Lowestoft Railway Station, Denmark Rd, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR32 2EG.