All aboard for jolly new seaside holiday

Gorleston railway station buildings being demolished in 1976.

Gorleston railway station buildings being demolished in 1976. - Credit: Archant

The whistle blew, the green flag was waved and the steam train chuffed out of the station, carrying passengers to their destinations but simultaneously symbolising the huge effect the railways had upon the nation. But that’s history, long gone, and today east Norfolk has only a line to Norwich.

A mechanical fork-lift scoops up sleepers along a cutting near Gorleston railway station in 1970 as

A mechanical fork-lift scoops up sleepers along a cutting near Gorleston railway station in 1970 as the axed ten-mile line between Yarmouth South Town and Lowestoft Central was being removed.Pictures: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

Recently I wondered if the “on-Sea” suffixed to the name of Gorleston railway station was a publicity stunt by the newly-arrived railway to elevate a predominantly fishing community into a holiday resort.

That prompted ex-Mercury colleague Tony Mallion, a lifelong Gorleston champion, saying: “That is undoubtedly true and that excellent recent BBC series Full Steam Ahead reminded us how so many similar places – Cromer and Lowestoft being good examples – were similarly transformed by the arrival of the railway though, in those cases, no need for an addition to their name.

“In Gorleston the railway, businesses and (for once) the council all worked hand in hand around that time, and the benefits included all the work along the promenade including shelters, steps, slopes and the Ravine not to mention the original Cliff Hotel, the greatly expanded Pier Hotel, the first bandstand and, of course, Gorleston Pavilion Theatre (although even then some councillors considered this venue a waste of money and felt it should be spent on council housing instead).

“A few years later, in the inter-war period, came the Floral Hall (now the Ocean Room) and its adjoining and much missed lido swimming pool while Gorleston Holiday Camp at Elmhurst Court was next to the station and had its own direct entrance from the platform to make life easier for visitors arriving by rail, as so many did.

“It was once rumoured that the holiday camp king Sir Billy Butlin was interested in the camp and surrounding area to expand his empire. South Gorleston might have looked a whole lot different if that had happened!

“But while the name Gorleston-on-Sea may have been just one of many stations cashing in on the holiday boom, for our town surely there was another more practical reason for the name as this was also one of three stops along that section.

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“Gorleston North was at what is now the Shrublands estate though, strangely, it didn’t reopen after bomb damage despite the huge post-war residential development of that area; Gorleston Links Halt was just above Links Road and conveniently served the golf course.

“The main Gorleston-on Sea station, for which my grandfather Ernest Mallion was for over 25 years the signalman, was the one in the middle. And the house in which I live was built in 1908 on a piece of redundant land on Lowestoft Road which had been separated from the rest of a farm when the railway line (now the bypass) sliced through.

“Despite my personal connections I’ve always felt I was born and live in Gorleston, full stop, not a railway station!”

Regular correspondent Mike King, a Gorlestonian long resident in Lowestoft, declares: “Gorleston-on-Sea can’t be argued with but Hopton-on-Sea is plainly wrong. The Great Eastern Railway gave it that name but it never was ‘on sea’ and probably still isn’t.

“The reason is that a small strip of Corton runs all the way to Links Road at Gorleston, thus isolating Hopton from the sea. I was told this by colleagues who knew the area well.”

Mike consulted his 1960s Ordnance Survey map and “sure enough the words ‘Corton Cliffs’ appear all the way up the coast. A resident suggested the extension ‘on-sea’ was used to avoid confusion with the other Hopton elsewhere in Suffolk, but I don’t accept that.

“The big question is, are those cliffs still in Corton or have they since been washed away? Or did the parish boundaries change with county boundaries in 1974? Hopton transferred to Norfolk but Corton stayed in Suffolk but did that include the cliffs? I have read more than once that the boundary changes were purely administrative and the original boundaries remained as they were.

“In that case, should the ‘Welcome to Norfolk’ sign on the A12 be moved back to Links Road?”

As for Breydon Bridge carrying the new line to Lowestoft, Mike was disappointed that although there was blanket photographic coverage of the whole project, not a single picture was taken of that official stringent pre-opening safety test - six heavy locomotives crossing the bridge together.

Another avid Gorlestonian, although long resident in Australia, is Arthur Bensley whose 1947 memories and photographs I published here recently of a works outing to Cambridge and war-damage work in central Gorleston by employees of builder T V Palmer, based on Pier Plain.

Tony Wells, of Hingley Close off Common Road, tells me: “As soon as I saw the tiny photo on my Twitter feed, I immediately could tell which photo it was, one familiar to me from family photographs. Sure enough, it proved to be Palmer’s works outing.”

Arthur had not heard from Eric Wells for four years, but Tony reports: “Eric is very much alive and well, and enjoyed reading about Arthur’s memories of which he is part. I particularly liked the other photo, one I had never seen before, showing my Dad and his mates outside White’s the Florist.

“Only the weekend before your article unexpectedly appeared he told me: ‘It was 72 years ago tomorrow that I started work’ (in TV Palmer’s office). He was 14, living with his parents on Nile Road.”

Eric, who lives on Trinity Avenue, has now contacted two old workmates, George Sheldrake and Philip Burgess, sending a Mercury to the latter’s home in Cornwall. So the surviving four from Palmer’s are back in touch with one another, it seems.

And I have enjoyed a mardle with Eric about Gorleston’s faces and places of yesteryear that we could recall.

As for that Cambridge outing, Eric remembers that the driver ensured the charabanc arrived home in good time for some passengers to sink a drink in the Gorleston Labour Club in the High Street which, I believe, closed later than the pubs’ 10.30pm because it was private and for members only.