Three rail terminal stations and 5,000 jobs in Yarmouth: before Beeching

MAIN“FACES” FAN...a fancy-dress contestant on the Wellesley Road “reccer” at Yarmouth in 1955 carrie

MAIN“FACES” FAN...a fancy-dress contestant on the Wellesley Road “reccer” at Yarmouth in 1955 carries a placard advertising the popular seaside photography firm. - Credit: Archant

AFTER a decades-long absence, Dr Beeching is in the news again.

“Back on right track after Beeching” was one recent national headline above a report that a demand for railways has led to the reopening of lines closed on his recommendation a half-century ago, with more to follow, although I reckon most routes have long-since been used for other purposes...and none hereabouts is likely to warrant resurgence.

Although the Great Yarmouth area was not immune to his swingeing plans to stem the rising tide of financial railway losses, enthusiast Chris Wright emphasises that Beeching’s name became so inextricably associated with closures that “he is often blamed for things that happened long before his time.”

Years before Beeching’s appointment by the Government, the British Transport Commission had already closed over 3000 route miles between nationalisation in 1948 and 1962. Among them was 100 miles of the M&GN to Yarmouth Beach Station in 1959, “several years before the poor man had been appointed to the job!”

Another victim of earlier cuts was the Yarmouth to Beccles line in 1959, leaving villages like Belton and St Olaves without a train service.

Ex-Yarmouthian Chris continues: “This was also the route taken by the Yarmouth to London expresses, including the crack Easterling, which ran non-stop between Beccles and London during the summer until 1958.

“The Easterling was the only named train to service Yarmouth. It ran during the summers in the 1950s, with one part of the train originating from Yarmouth, and the other Lowestoft, the two portions joining at Beccles. It then ran non-stop to London, and was the only express not to stop at Ipswich.

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He observes: “It could be argued that Yarmouth escaped lightly from the Beeching report. Contrary to popular belief, Beeching never recommended the closure of either of the two routes from Yarmouth Vauxhall to Norwich. Both remain in service today, albeit with a much reduced service on the route via Reedham.

“Beeching did recommend closure of the route between Yarmouth and Ipswich via Lowestoft. Thanks to local campaigning, the East Suffolk line from Lowestoft to Ipswich remains in use today.”

According to Chris: “It is hard to credit that Yarmouth once had three terminal stations, and three loco sheds. My old friend Jack Stowers, who fired and drove trains from both Beach and South Town Stations, estimated that nearly 5000 people were employed on the railways in Yarmouth and the outlying villages in the mid-1950s.

“Still, at least Yarmouth retains a rail link today. Other parts of Norfolk were not so lucky, with towns losing their rail services in the years following Beeching’s report.”

Chris is currently restoring a set of Yarmouth South Town Station signs, discovered fixed to a garden fence in Norwich and sold at an auction of railway memorabilia.

In 1963, the year Beeching announced his recommendations, that August one train in particular was making national news: the 6.50pm Glasgow-London Euston travelling Post Office on which 72 staff sorted mail on the journey. It was the victim of the so-called Great Train Robbery. Most of the £2.6m on board was never recovered. One of the perpetrators was Bruce Reynolds, who died this February.

The nation was on full alert, and in Yarmouth police investigated several reports. A man resembling one of the suspects had stayed in a Bedford hotel as “P Costello, of 59 Middlegate.” But at that Yarmouth flat, Mrs Janet Costello assured police that husband Patrick was working in the Bedford area as a steeplejack.

An Ipswich-Yarmouth train was checked after a report that one of the robbers was on board. And suspicion was aroused when a man trying to obtain diesel for a luxury launch moored at the riverside claimed “money doesn’t matter”. Both proved false alarms.

Recently I wrote about Jacksons Faces, the photographic business in Yarmouth, Gorleston and other resorts whose cameramen snapped visitors in holiday areas, providing them with mementoes of their stay. From Mrs Valerie Tuttle, of Cherry Lane, Browston, came two pictures, one of them showing a group of youngsters in fancy dress taken at the Wellesley Road recreation ground in 1955.

“The little boy on the right is carrying a placard which reads ‘’Jackson’s Faces: Always Smiling at Yarmouth’’’, she points out. She cannot recall his name but thinks he might have been one of the Jackson family.

If he was a Jackson, the chances are that it was not the Jacksons Faces family which I think was a national concern. The placard looks home-made and was explaining the fancy dress, I reckon.

“I am the little girl kneeling on one knee. My surname then was Bassett. We were pupils at the old St Andrew’s Church School on Fullers Hill. This was demolished and was where Staples now stands.”

Inadvertently, I have solved a 60-year mystery for regular correspondent Mike King, now of Lowestoft. In 1945 some snapshots were taken when he and his mother walked along the seafront and, years later, “I cycled along Marine Parade with those photos in my hand in an attempt to identify the exact spot.

“Needless to say I failed. I could not find buildings with those unusual windows. I gave up, thinking they must have disappeared under some development or other.”

Then he saw a picture in this column of the enclosed coastguard headquarters and houses, vacated in 1963 and demolished, the site later occupied by the Tower complex. And he recognised the distinctive windows.

As an addition to my lengthy coverage of the EX vehicle registration letters once exclusive to Yarmouth (prompted by the original EX1945 appearing in Downton Abbey on television), Mike writes: “When the BEX series came out, Mr Baxter, of the Anson Arms on Southtown Road, got BEX 1.

“Many years later I came across his son and asked if the number plate was still in the family. But sadly, it was not!”

TV? I wonder how many Doctor Who viewers locally spotted in the Easter opening of the new series that, as the Doctor and a young woman were motor-cycling across Westminster Bridge in London, a Reynolds of Caister coach passed in the opposite direction...