Notes: The Public are respectfully informed that this Line of Railway will be opened throughout to the Victoria Station, Norwich, for the conveyance of passengers, goods, and live stock on Wednesday, the 12th instant. Particulars of Trains, Fares, Rates, &c., may be obtained on and after Monday, the 10th instant, at all the Company's Stations. J F Saunders, Secretary, Ipswich, Dec. 5th, 1849.
So read the announcement that the Eastern Union Railway (EUR) would open its railway to passengers, terminating at Victoria Station in Norwich, on 12 December 1849. Despite what was said in the notice, the station, a terminus, had already been receiving and dispatching goods traffic for a week. The station entrance was on St. Stephen Road close to the junction with Queen’s Road. There was a large forecourt area from which passengers accessed the station through a grand but not over-stated three arch entrance with a gabled roof that was at a right angle to the main building. Construction was of brick with chimney stacks at each end. Both the entrance-way and the main building had pitched roofs of slate. In the centre of the forecourt was an elegant octagonal ‘kiosk’ apparently constructed of wood with a pointed roof. This may have housed an employee who oversaw activity in the yard area.
When the Eastern Union Railway bought the site it was occupied by a circus and entertainment centre known as Ranelagh Gardens. Here, in the latter years of the 18th Century, were staged fireworks, shows and events for the public, arranged by William Quantrell, a firework manufacturer. When he went elsewhere the owner William Neech built a rotunda that could hold an audience of 2000. He named it The Pantheon. A Wikipedia entry records that when the land was bought by the railway company it was owned by a man who called himself by the Spanish sounding name Pablo Fanque. He was said to be actually a Mr. Darby and Norwich was his home town. In his book about the Great Eastern Railway Cecil J. Allen reported that the EUR sold off the circus fittings. Some of the earlier buildings on the site were retained and built into the new station. Photographs show a rotunda behind the station portico. It was used as the railway’s ticket office. The terminal’s two platforms were, unusually, laid out in a ‘v’ shape with the station building in between the platforms.
When viewed from the forecourt the platform to the north-eastern side was enclosed in a simple pitch-roofed train shed. Maps from the 1880s through to 1928 show three tracks under cover at this location with a substantial goods shed on adjacent parallel lines. Wagon turntables were sited at the end of the two goods shed roads for easy movement of wagons between the road. A 5-ton capacity crane was sited in the yard. A full range of goods was handled with the exception of livestock which was handled at Norwich City and Norwich Trowse.
A 1948 photograph of the possibly bomb-damaged former station site, shows two open roads between the train-shed and covered goods facility. Early illustrations show the second platform enclosed in an open-sided shed. This had attractive arches on each side of the platform line. The arches, coming off pillars about ten feet from ground level, appear from contemporary photographs to have been formed from wooden planks or boards. The roof was of slate topped off with a ventilated clerestory, presumably in place to help disperse locomotive smoke.
Between the goods shed, which had two through lines, and Queen’s Road, lay a goods handling yard. In the 1880s there were wagon turntables at the ‘town’ end of the shed that allowed traffic to be man-handled into the yard area. The yard was also connected to the running lines at the station throat.
Locomotive facilities were constructed at the south-western side of the site on sidings parallel to the second platform. A turntable was located at the further end of four loop lines, two of which passed through an engine shed with two by-passing it. Traffic on all four lines could access the turntable. Between the loop lines and the shed roads there was a siding that ended close to the engine shed. It is assumed that the engine shed opened with the station; its closure date is not known. The 1920 aerial photo (reproduced below) shows a loco on the turntable and what may be coal wagons at the other end so it appears that the shed was still in use in 1920. However, by the 1928 OS map (above), surveyed in 1926, the shed had gone and my not unreasonable view is that it went in the 1924 general rationalisation of sheds throughout its area by the newly fledged LNER. The shed roads remained in use as sidings.
At the station throat there were five running lines leading to the station, the goods facilities and locomotive area; all were crossed on an overbridge carrying Grove Road. Trains departing the station under Grove Road would have passed, on their left, a large coal yard with eight sidings that curved to the north and ended at 90° to Queen’s Road. The sidings were shunted from the ‘country’ end. At the point where the lines into the coal yard left the main running lines stood a large signal box on the east side of the tracks. It was close to another overbridge carrying Southwell Road over the railway. At this point the line was curving to the south. Sometime between the mid 1880s and 1905, just south of this overbridge, six sidings were added. They were shunted from the north, or ‘town’ end. Photographs from 1962 show it as a busy ballast or minerals facility.
Continuing south multiple lines merged into two and, after less than a mile, met the line from Norwich Thorpe station at Trowse Upper Junction. When the EUR’s line from Ipswich reached Norwich in 1849 its tracks ran only to Victoria station and passengers had to cross the city to continue their journeys to other East Anglian towns from the much larger Thorpe station, owned by the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR). Total separation lasted only until 8 September 1851 when a link with a steep 1 in 84 gradient was opened from Trowse Upper Junction to join the Eastern Counties’ line from Ely. Writers have asserted that, despite creation of the new link line, such was the hostility between the ECR and EUR that the latter’s locomotives were not permitted onto ECR track. Trains arriving at Trowse bound for Thorpe station had to have their locomotive run round clear of the junction, and be propelled to a point where an ECR engine might couple-up and continue the journey to the larger terminus. When the ECR later leased the EUR, city councillors in Norwich were alarmed over the future of the smaller station. They insisted on a clause in the authorising Act of 1854 that prevented the ECR from abandoning Victoria station as a passenger terminus. Nevertheless traffic to and from Victoria soon declined in favour of Thorpe and Victoria was left with handling only a few passenger trains, although goods traffic appears to have thrived and continued to do so well into the twentieth century. As recently as 1958 it handled 23,255 tons of goods against Thorpe’s 20,620 tons.
Craven’s Directory for 1856 shows William Seeley occupying the position of Station Master. Kelly’s Directory for 1896 shows the post apparently vacant. Mr B G Weston was Station Master in 1912 and may have been the last to occupy that position because the Great Eastern Railway finally closed Victoria to passenger traffic on 22 May 1916. The company used the space so released to enhance its goods facilities. Chris Hawkins in his book about Great Eastern engine sheds reported that Victoria’s had gone by 1926. At some point after 1948 all remains of the passenger station were removed from the site and the goods shed demolished, leaving an open goods yard. Two unsightly prefabricated sheds were constructed to serve as the goods depot offices. General goods traffic continued until 31 January 1966 when the station site itself was abandoned. The nearby coal yards were modernised and became what British Railways called a Coal Concentration Depot for the city and surrounding area. That traffic also declined as other fuels replaced coal and the whole site closed in September 1986 after which the rails to Upper Trowse Junction were torn up
Passenger services arriving at Norwich Victoria in 1850 originated at Colchester, the first at 7.30am. calling at most intermediate stations. The 10.50am departure to Norwich Victoria called all stations whilst the 1.10pm omitted Ardleigh, Bramford, Claydon, Finningham, Burston and Flordon. A 3.30pm departure was the last train from Colchester to Norwich and called at all stations. In the up direction services departed Norwich Victoria at 7.20 and 11.10 in the morning and 4.15 and 5.30 in the afternoon.
By Edwardian times, in 1906, ten years prior to the station’s closure to passengers, Victoria could boast only a scant service. Its first departure was at 6.45am when a stopping train left for London arriving there at 12.20pm, calling on the way at all stations except Ilford. A London-bound semi-fast left at 9.03am and ran into the Liverpool Street just eight minutes behind the first train. Another stopping train left for the capital at ten o’clock, this one also coming from Thorpe with the same departure time. Bradshaw’s tables fail to make clear how this procedure worked in practice and where the apparently separate portions merged. Two afternoon trains ran as far as Tivetshall, 14 miles away, where a branch to Beccles left the main line. Another London all stations train left at 3.55pm followed by a Saturdays only departure to Tivetshall at 5.20pm, one every weekday for Ipswich at 6.50pm and, finally, a 7.50pm Tivetshall train rounded off the day’s activities. On Sundays Victoria was responsible for both of the Anglian city’s London trains with departures at 7.30am and 6.20pm, each calling at most stations. No trains for the London line ran from Thorpe on Sundays.
On Saturday mornings down trains began arriving at 8.12am, this from Tivetshall; on weekdays the same train ran to Thorpe rather than Victoria. At 8.34am and 1.05pm trains from the capital that also served Thorpe arrived at Victoria station. Again the table is unclear about where the portions may have divided. Tivetshall sent out four Saturday trains to Victoria but just three on other weekdays. London all-stations workings arrived at 3.43pm and 8.35pm. Sundays saw two London arrivals at 1.10pm and 8.02pm. Thorpe was not served from the London line on the Sabbath.
A short history of the Eastern Union Railway’s line to Norwich
The Eastern Union Railway came about as a result of the Eastern Counties Railway’s failure to complete its project to construct a railway from Colchester to the East Anglian city of Norwich passing through the important town of Ipswich.
Although there had been a couple of putative schemes for railways in East Anglia in the 1820s the first to receive its Act (on 4 July 1836) was the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR), which planned to build from London, not to Norwich but to the port of Yarmouth. Land proved expensive to acquire and it was able only to open from Romford to Mile End, about 12 miles, before the project was short of money. The scheme was reduced to a line from London to Colchester, reached on 29 March 1843.
It appears that the relationship between one of the ECR’s senior engineers, Peter Bruff and the chief engineer John Braithwaite, was hostile. Braithwaite’s grand plan included expensive viaducts and earthmoving. The cause of friction was Bruff’s assertion that the line could be completed onwards to Ipswich for much less than Braithwaite’s estimated £800,000. Bruff was dismissed from the company in 1842 but he kept in touch with company director John Chevallier Cobbold, who was a prominent Ipswich business-man and brewer in the town. He proved instrumental in moving forward plans for a railway to Ipswich where residents and businesses were anxious for a connection to the growing railway network. A scheme for the Eastern Union Railway (EUR), to be built far more cheaply than Braithwaite’s project, put to a public meeting on 8 August 1843, was sent to Parliament in 1844. The plan and its Act received Royal Assent on 19 July that year, with capital of £200,000 permitted. With Bruff in charge the line would be engineered for double track but built as a single line. After rethinking that issue the company obtained a separate Act of 21 July 1845 that added £50,000 to the capital so that it could lay double track.
The ECR, having already bought some of the land needed, made life difficult for the EUR, a matter only resolved after arbitration and the EUR buying out the ECR’s interest at high cost to the company. Work got under way and, on 2 May 1846, the directors were able to travel the line from Ipswich to Colchester after which goods services started on 1 June. An inspection by the Board of Trade took place on 4 June: the inspector, Major General Pasley declared his satisfaction. On 11 June a special train that started out from Ipswich collected dignitaries at Colchester and took them to lavish celebrations back in Ipswich. The passengers included George Hudson, Chairman of the ECR, the EUR being dependent upon the other business for much of its onward traffic. The 17-mile line carried its first paying passengers on 15 June 1846. The EUR had always intended that its line would extend beyond Ipswich to serve Bury St Edmunds and Norwich. Once more the ECR stood in the way because it intended to monopolise Norwich traffic when its line from Ely was completed. In Parliament’s 1845 session the EUR promoted and obtained consent for a nominally independent company, the Ipswich and Bury Railway (I&BR), to raise £400,000 for a line linking the two towns. Again Bruff was engineer to the project. He experienced great difficulty when building his first tunnel, that under Stoke Hill in Ipswich, and again further north near Stowmarket where he resorted to George Stephenson’s successful Chat Moss solution of sinking brushwood and faggots to make firm some marshy ground. The company ran a test train to Bury on 26 November 1846. Formal opening was on 15 December when the EUR ran a special train all the way from the ECR’s London terminus at Shoreditch. The line opened to traffic on Christmas Eve.
By now Norwich was the focus of attention for promoters of many railway projects, several of which went before Parliament in its 1846 session. It was the I&BR’s scheme that obtained Royal Assent, doing so on 27 July 1846. Its route would leave the Bury line at Haughley and pass through Diss on its way to Norwich. Its Act permitted merger with the EUR and shareholders of both companies soon agreed to that plan, with an expectation of practical effect from the start of 1847. Difficulties in merging the capital funds of the two entities was experienced and required a new Act, of 9 July 1847, before they could be overcome. After more delay the railway commissioners gave their consent in February 1848. However, by that time ‘railway mania’ had waned, the economy was in recession and money was hard to come by. Thus progress towards Norwich was slowed, not helped by more problems encountered with boggy land. Nevertheless Diss was reached by contractors on 19 January 1849. Progress was faster after that and the company’s directors boarded an inspection train to Norwich on 3 November, followed by a celebratory special on the seventh. Goods traffic to and from the railway’s Victoria terminus started on 3 December and passengers were allowed to travel nine days later from 12 December 1849.
It appears that warfare continued between the Eastern Union and Eastern Counties concerns. The EUR had to use ECR tracks if it was to run through to London and provide its passengers with better connections via the ECR’s Thorpe station In Norwich. At times it looked like all cooperation over traffic, fares and through running would cease. The EUR, saddled with debt and operating costs that were close to overwhelming its finances, even petitioned Parliament in an attempt to gain extensive running powers over ECR track. Finally matters were settled on 19 December 1853 when it was agreed that the ECR would take over working, but not merge with, the EUR from the New Year. The EUR and ECR remained separate concerns until both were absorbed by the Great Eastern Railway on 7 August 1862.
Passenger services in 1850 in the down direction left Colchester at 7.30am (all stations except Ardleigh and Claydon) to Norwich Victoria. The 10.50am departure to Norwich Victoria called all stations whilst the 1.10pm omitted Ardleigh, Bramford, Claydon, Finningham, Burston and Flordon. The 3.30pm was the last train from Colchester to Norwich and called at all stations. A Colchester departure at 8.05pm called all stations to Ipswich whilst the following 10.49pm omitted to call at Bentley Junction on its way to Ipswich. This service also carried mail.
In the up direction services departed Norwich Victoria at 7.20 and 11.10 in the morning and 4.15 and 5.30 in the afternoon.
In June 1851 the EUR had 31 locomotives, as follows:-
|Number in service
||Some with 5" driving wheels, others 5' 6". Nos 1 - 6, 14 - 19 & 26
||Introduced 1846, 6" driving wheels. Nos 11, 12, 13
|Stothurt & Slaighter
||Nos 7, 8, 20, 21
|Stothurt & Slaighter
||Goods engines. Nos 9, 10, 22 - 25
||Branch line use. Nos 27, 29 - 31
All locomotives carried a green livery and would have been maintained at Ipswich engine shed which at that time also functioned as the works facility for the EUR.
The following locomotives were named
- 1 - Colchester
- 2 - Ipswich
- 3 - City of Norwich
- 4 - Bury St Edmunds
- 5 - Orwell
- 6 - Stour
- 10 - Essex
- 11 - Suffolk
- 28 - Aeriel's Girdle
(Note - 1850 timetable and locomotive information obtained from Wikipedia)
Route map drawn by Alan Young. Ticket from Michael Stewart