Full steam ahead for revived railway

When it went on up for auction last year the Whitwell and Reepham Railway Station had been through some rough times.Since its closure in 1959 repeated attempts had been made to convert the former Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (MG&N) station into a home, but having failed the owners gave up.

When it went on up for auction last year the Whitwell and Reepham Railway Station had been through some rough times.

Since its closure in 1959 repeated attempts had been made to convert the former Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (MG&N) station into a home, but having failed the owners gave up.

Despite being given a new roof in recent years, the station, opened in July 1882, was overgrown with plants, windows were smashed in and the interior was bordering on derelict.

The engine shed was little better.

It was a sorry sight for passers by walking along the Marriott Way - the path's namesake, William Marriot, the 'father of the MG&N', would have been turning in his grave.

But, as luck has it, we are a nation of enthusiasts, not least those keen on trains.

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And now chief amongst those is Mike Urry, a 49-year-old printed circuit board maker from Hellesdon.

Mr Urry gave his bank manager a fright by deciding to bid for the station when it was auctioned on his birthday last year with a plan to bring it back to life.

Since buying it in May, he is on his way to his dream - re-opening the station with running trains 50 years to the day after it was closed on March 2, 1959.

And by February 28, when it will be open to public for one of two open weekends, there is due to be 1,500ft of track and a steam train to puff and hiss along it for the first time in more than 50 years.

In its heyday the station was a busy rural train station en-route between the MG&N hub Melton Constable and Norwich.

It is the only one left of five built in the same style.

Railway historian Ray Meek, whose father was a porter there from 1888, said: 'The Whitwell and Reepham Station was an important place at one time.

'It had a larger station building than some of the others and there was a nearby tanning factory, which is still there.

'It was in the centre of Norfolk.'

The main reason for the line to Norwich was to get goods like coal from the Midlands to Norfolk and peat, for burning, dug out of the Broads, and grain to the Midlands.

The line had started at King's Lynn and went up to Fakenham, then under the Lynn and Fakenham Railway Company.

It was extended to Melton Constable in 1881 and by December 1882 it had pushed through Whitwell and Reepham to Norwich.

When the line at Melton Constable joined with another line from Yarmouth in 1883, the two joined and became the Eastern and Midland Railway.

But gradually the firm ran out of cash and a new firm, formed by the Midland Railway and the Great Northern Railway, who both needed to get to Yarmouth, was created to buy the line in 1893.

This was the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GN).

Clive Skipper, 79, born in Weston Longville, was a relief signalman at the station in the 1940s after working as a lad porter at Drayton and a spell in the army.

'I said I was just back from Germany out of the army and I got a job as a relief signalman,' he said. 'It was a step up.

'They wanted someone to take on at Whitwell.'

He was trumped to the permanent job and became a relief porter and then porter before being a signalman at Massingham, where he met his wife.

But he was to return to Whitwell as a relief signalman again, working on some 22 old MG&N stations until the lines closed.

'I used Whitwell as a home station. It was a small nice compact country station,' he said.

'It had roses and flower beds and won the best kept station competition a number of years. It looked a treat with nice flowers like sweet peas.

'It had no gates because there was a bridge at either end and a small 12 lever box.'

When it was first built it had a wooden footbridge, replaced in 1930 by a Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway metal bridge from Felbrigg Hall in 1930.

There were five sidings and it had the first passing loop along the line from Melton Constable, making it the only place where trains on the single track line could pass.

The busy goods shed had its own office and a coal shed. It also had cattle pens and a saw dust shed to put in the pens.

Cattle would be brought into the station for Reepham sale and then taken out again.

There were cattle wagons and horse boxes and sheep were transported through the station.

Local firm Stimpsons used to use the station for transporting corn and fertiliser.

And bricks used to build Reepham High School were brought through the station before the school was opened in 1950.

The station masters were Arthur Harrison, from 1888, Robert Bamford from 1892, and Robert Smith from 1925.

'Things started to deteriorate in about 1930,' said Mr Meek. 'Road transport opened up and people got cars and gradually lorries were used on the road to move potatoes and wheat and corn.'

There was a lot of debate over whether M&GN lines should shut or Midland and Great Eastern.

Headlines in the EDP read 'The MGN has been starved of traffic'.

'Beeching got blamed but didn't have much to do with it,' said Mr Meek. 'People got cars and busses and trains lost out.'

This was despite the journey from Norwich to Whitwell taking just 21.5 minutes. Passenger trains stops in 1959, the signal box was closed in 1966 and the line was totally closed in 1983 - it had remained open mainly to transport concrete girders from Lenwade.

The metal bridge was moved to Gorleston but later scrapped. A waiting shelter was moved to Weybourne but was too badly damaged to be used.

Mr Meek now he dubs the M&GN the Missed and Greatly Needed railway. But not for much longer.

Mr Urry, his wife Dawn and their dog Archie, along with a band of volunteers have been at the station all the daylight hours they can running up to the 50th anniversary.

They have created new window frames for the station, repainted it inside, laid nearly 1,500ft of track, purchased engines and carriages and cleared much undergrowth from the site.

Removing some undergrowth one day they found an old platelayers' hut - where the track workers had their lunch.

Mr Urry, who runs One Way Circuits at Lenwade, said: 'It is one of those childhood things. You get a train set. It has grown from that.

'I'm a railway enthusiast and always will be. My brother and I used to go around on the rural rover ticket. You could get all over.

'I don't remember too much about steam but you could smell it. It was a lovely smell.'

John and Nanette Parfitt are volunteers at the station, helping with everything from laying sleepers to painting.

Mrs Parfitt, who has a life long interest in trains, is now the membership secretary for a club they have set up.

They came across the station as they were driving past and haven't looked back. At the moment they spend about every day at the station.

Mr Parfitt, who originally didn't have much interest in trains, has been converted. 'The novelty hasn't worn off, I'm more interested in railways now than when we started.'

For lifelong train fan Mr Urry, bobble hats are not his style. But he is looking forward to having a play on his real life train set.

'I just want to bring it back to its former glory,' he said. 'It is a great opportunity on one of the lines I like, the Melton Constable to Norwich City. It was a sad time when that line closed.'

A steam train will be puffing its way along railway line at the station for the first time in more than 50 years from February 28 for two special open weekends commemorating the closure on March 2, 1959.

On Saturday, February 28, from 12noon the Peckett No. 2000 will be in steam travelling along the track from noon.

It will also run on March 1, 7 and 8.

A beer festival is being held with a variety of railway named beers including Brunel IPA, Steam Beer, Stokers Stout, Whistle Stop, Station Porter, Rocket and the Whitwell Warbler.

The station building will also be open to the public with a display of various railway memorabilia.

Other rolling stock at the station will be a 1977 Baguley Drewry diesel engine, MK1 BSK Southern Railway carriage (34712), MK1 TSO Southwest Trains carriage, Bogie B Southern Railway carriage (272) and box a 1956 wagon (B772630).

On Sunday March 8 from 2pm to 4pm there will also be a reunion of all those who took the train to school in Fakenham, Melton Constable and Norwich, especially city grammar schools via City Station, in the early 1950s to closure.

There will also be a chance to join a sponsor a sleeper campaign launched at the station.

For more information go to www.whitwellstation.com.