Men who saw rail glory days in Great Yarmouth
- Credit: Archant
Too often nothing is quite as it seems, and the excitement prompted by reading a recent headline soon evaporated when I studied the report beneath it.
Mental visions of steam trains chuffing between Yarmouth South Town station and Lowestoft Central disappeared in a puff of smutty smoke with the realisation that the picturesque past has long gone forever.
Improving Connectivity - Network Rail’s investigation into ways of offering better services and links – included a suggestion that there could be a restoration of direct trains between the two port resorts, perhaps hourly and taking 33 minutes.
Jumping to conclusions has the potential for grave error. Logic dictates that trains between the twin towns can never follow the old coastal route because so much of the land has been redeveloped in one way or another. Instead, the plan envisages a link through a Reedham Station shifted about a quarter of a mile from its present location.
The Yarmouth-Lowestoft service, launched in 1903, closed in 1970 so the number of folk old enough to recall steam locomotives plying between Yarmouth and Lowestoft is now few, and those who remember the diesel units which succeeded them are fast diminishing too.
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There is no wishful-thinking chance that Gorleston, Gorleston North, Links Halt, Hopton, Corton and Lowestoft North might be reinstated. As for the Peggottys, we enjoy the excellent FirstBus and Anglian services linking Yarmouth and Lowestoft - free journeys on our pensioner passes. A train ride looping through Reedham holds little appeal, especially if we have to pay the fare!
A man who saw our railways when they were in their prime was Leonard (Pop) Baldwin, whose first job on leaving the Church Road School in Gorleston in 1903 was with the Midland and Great Northern Railway at Yarmouth Beach.
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Four decades ago he related some memories to ex-Gorlestonian Mike King, a railway enthusiast now resident in Lowestoft.
Pop, who had to walk two miles to work from his Queen Anne’s Road home, started his day by catching the train to Peterborough, Melton Constable or King’s Lynn. Occasionally the platform gates were closed and the train left without him, so he had to dash from his goods office, across the yard or in between the trucks to the passenger platform.
His job was delivering notes to tradesmen in Yarmouth and Gorleston advising them of the arrival of goods - anything movable such as potatoes, coal and also oak sawdust for smoking fish.
“Any advice notes I couldn’t deliver (especially during the fishing season) had to be posted as it was often difficult to locate Scots buyers or their fish houses or pickling plots. Some had offices on the Fishwharf.
“Our canvasser was Mr Brittain whose job was to obtain outside traffic in competition with the Great Eastern Railway at Vauxhall and South Town stations.
“Goods were delivered by draymen and the head one was named Litcham. Another drayman was Mr Coe, later appointed to Gorleston North Station which was closed permanently during WW2 because of bomb damage.
“Mr Fortescue was station master at Gorleston. Mr Thorpe was in charge of the level crossing on the Union Railway (near the North Tower). I think there was also a lady crossing keeper there too.
“On the passenger side, Mr Bloxham was station master at Beach and the chief clerk was Mr Smith with his junior Mr Hill. If I remember rightly, Mr Bloxham married the lady (or barmaid) who kept the pub next to the station. Mr Ford subsequently succeeded Mr Bloxham as station master. I have probably outlived all those I knew in 1903.
“Percy Gay, a good footballer, issued rail tickets. Two clerks in the Outward Goods Office were often at loggerheads and I recall them bombarding each other with packets of Garbosil, one of the first washing powders to be marketed.
“In the station goods yard was a tarpaulin and sheet making and repairing shed with Mr Middleford in charge. There were crossing gates at Sandown Road but pedestrians could use the subway.
“The only serious accident I encountered was when a young shunter was run over in the dark when an engine came along the track where he was standing and he was seriously injured. Despite urgent first-aid treatment and amputations, he died in hospital a few days later.
“I was sent to fetch brandy from the pub next door but spilled a lot of it on the long carry to the scene of the accident.
“I was larking about on the platform with another young clerk one day when I fell on to the line which caused a minor injury and pain when using the office letter copy impress. I was told off for playing around on duty.
“The M&GN line closed in 1959 and I was sorry to see it go. The station is now a coach park but the buildings remain as I knew them then.”
His railways career was very short-lived because “in 1905 I failed a simple exam and left the M&GN. My next employment was with removal company Pickfords with whom I stayed for half a century, travelling all over the UK and into France, Belgium and Germany.
“I hope to achieve the age of 89 in March 1978. I have arthritic hands but can still make a piano ‘talk’! I owned a quarter-plate camera and took photos everywhere between 1905 and 1908. I took one of South Town Station bedecked with flags when the express service to London was opened by Lord Claud Hamilton.
“Another shows horses about to haul wagons across the road from the goods yard (where Matalan is now) to South Town Station.
“When I tell railwaymen that I used to work on the M&GN, they reply: ‘That was when it was a REAL railway!’ I don’t divulge how long it was for, or the fact that it was over 70 years ago!
“I still maintain there is nothing like steam.”