Full steam ahead for station museum

The first steam engine for half a century puffed and hissed past Whitwell and Reepham station on Saturday when it was brought back to life as a working museum.

The first steam engine for half a century puffed and hissed past Whitwell and Reepham station on Saturday when it was brought back to life as a working museum.

Fifty years ago today, the last departure from the station signalled the end of the Midland and Great Northern line.

The site became derelict and neglected after its closure - until steam enthusiast Mike Urry bought it for �300,000 in 2007 and set about restoring it to its former glory.

As well as the bygone signage, posters and lamps in the renovated station building, he has also laid 1500ft of track, creating what he believes is the shortest standard-gauge route in the country.

Nevertheless, eager customers queued alongside a makeshift scaffolding platform, �2 tickets in hand, to become the first paying passengers since 1959 - even if it was only a return journey to nowhere.

Mr Urry, 50, said he was delighted the station could be re-opened on the anniversary of its demise, allowing visitors to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the golden age of steam.

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He said: 'Emotionally, I am relieved, satisfied - there are so many emotions running through.

'To have steam here again is absolutely fantastic and to have it back 50 years to the day is even better.

'It is bringing back what your father told you about in his early days. You cannot understand it unless you live it and breathe it. You cannot explain that to your children. It is keeping a part of history going.'

The Peckett No 2000 engine at the launch event was borrowed for two weekends, but Mr Urry said a �20,000 offer had already been made to bring the station its own locomotive. He also hopes to develop the station as a working museum and extend the tracks.

'We believe it is the shortest bit of standard gauge track in the country, but we plan to expand it,' he said. 'We have got planning permission to replace the four sidings and we would love to be able to connect it to the old Great Eastern Line station at Reepham.'

Mr Urry's enthusiasm for steam began with owning a model railway as a child, and was rekindled when his wife Dawn bought him a train set for Christmas in 2006.

'Then this station came up for auction on my birthday in 2007 and it seemed to be an omen - it had to be,' he said.

Some of the track was supplied by North Norfolk Railway, with much of the work undertaken by a core of about 10 volunteers from Whitwell station's 210 members.

Railway historian Ray Meek, 70, welcomed visitors in an old station-master's uniform. His grandfather Fred had been a porter at the station from 1888.

He said: 'All my family worked on the railways. I remember waiting here. I used to stand well back and see the smoke arriving behind the trees - that's when you knew there was a loco coming.'

The open event, including a railway-themed beer festival, continues next weekend. No timetable has yet been set for the rest of year, but Mr Urry said the station was likely to be open every weekend during spring and summer, depending on demand.

The Midland and Great Northern Line was also remembered at its eastern coastal terminus as Great Yarmouth Archaeological Society unveiled a blue plaque in its honour.

Town mayor Terry Easter attended Saturday's ceremony to dedicate the plaque on the north wall of the Beach Coach Station on Nelson Road.

The popular Great Yarmouth Beach railway station opened on 7 August 1877, closed on 28 February 1859 and was eventually demolished in 1986.