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Chuffing along to yesteryear’s rail halts

PUBLISHED: 14:46 22 April 2018 | UPDATED: 14:46 22 April 2018

Pre-war guests at Caister Holiday Camp with the steam locomotive that delivered them to the special halt on the long-gone Midland and Great Northern line. Picture: Mercury Library

Pre-war guests at Caister Holiday Camp with the steam locomotive that delivered them to the special halt on the long-gone Midland and Great Northern line. Picture: Mercury Library

Archant

Halt! Who goes there? Railway passengers of yesteryear.

A rail ticket for the brief journey from Yarmouth Beach Station to the Newtown Halt - at the cost of twopence (less than a penny in today's currency). Picture: Graham KenworthyA rail ticket for the brief journey from Yarmouth Beach Station to the Newtown Halt - at the cost of twopence (less than a penny in today's currency). Picture: Graham Kenworthy

Recently I wondered here why the Midland and Great Northern Railway - axed in 1959 - provided an unmanned halt at Salisbury Road close to Yarmouth Grammar School, because I never saw a train stop there in my six years as a pupil post-war.

I doubt that it was to save schoolboys living in villages north of Yarmouth a half-mile walk from and to Yarmouth Beach Station twice daily in term time. Visitors? As that terminus was only a stroll from the seafront, it was pointless unless they were seeking the tranquil North Beach and Waterways and not the brasher Golden Mile and piers.

Racegoers? A halt alongside the North Denes course would have been nearer, simpler and more convenient.

From Lowestoft, regular correspondent Trevor Nicholls explains: “The Newtown Halt dated from 1933. Several were opened to augment the existing stations between Stalham and Yarmouth Beach. They were basic low platforms close to holidaymakers’ destinations.”

The Midland and Great Northern Railway logo incorporated into all the metal stanchions supporting the platform canopy at Yarmouth Beach Station, one stop from the Newtown Halt, pictured during demolition work after the line's closure. Picture: Mercury LibraryThe Midland and Great Northern Railway logo incorporated into all the metal stanchions supporting the platform canopy at Yarmouth Beach Station, one stop from the Newtown Halt, pictured during demolition work after the line's closure. Picture: Mercury Library

Richard Adderson and Graham Kenworthy penned a 2007 book, Melton Constable to Yarmouth Beach, in the Middleton Press series, Country Railway Routes. They looked at all seven halts, two of which did not survive beyond their first summer, one being the farthest north from Yarmouth - Sutton Staithe.

After that short-lived Sutton Staithe Halt, Yarmouth-bound trains headed for Catfield and Potter Heigham Stations. Their next stop, if wanted, was the Potter Heigham Bridge Halt (“the facilities consisted of just a sleeper-built platform, a lamp and a couple of seats”).

Martham and Hemsby Stations came next, then the Little Ormesby Halt, the other casualty after that initial summer. Trains passing that point came next to Great Ormesby Station and, within a mile, a brace of halts at Scratby and California and the exciting prospect of coastal and sea views.

Those halts were “provided to serve the increasing amount of local holiday accommodation at a time when the motor-car was still beyond the pockets of most.”

The Newtown Halt...at which Peggotty never saw a train stop. It was beside Salisbury Road in Yarmouth. Picture: John DeanThe Newtown Halt...at which Peggotty never saw a train stop. It was beside Salisbury Road in Yarmouth. Picture: John Dean

At the Scratby Halt, a bench seat was added during summer. However, the authors report: “Scratby village was situated on a main road, with a regular bus service, so it is not surprising that this was the least-used of the halts, being patronised by just one passenger during the week ending June 20th 1958.”

In contrast, the California Halt was busy, most passengers heading towards the delights of Yarmouth rather than in the opposite direction.

By far the busiest halt of all followed - at Caister Holiday Camp. The authors say the halt’s form of construction in 1933 “was totally inadequate for the traffic generated, leading to its reconstruction for the following summer season.”

And we steam onward to Caister-on-Sea Station, chuffing from there as far as the Newtown Halt, where this figurative nostalgic railway journey in print began with my puzzlement over its siting and potential usage.

Pre-war guests at Caister Holiday Camp with the steam locomotive that delivered them to the special halt on the long-gone Midland and Great Northern line. Picture: Mercury LibraryPre-war guests at Caister Holiday Camp with the steam locomotive that delivered them to the special halt on the long-gone Midland and Great Northern line. Picture: Mercury Library

The authors explain its positioning gave passengers access to the attractions at the north end of Yarmouth. But they point out: “With regular bus services in the neighbourhood, it is not really surprising that only 25 passengers boarded trains here during the June 1958 survey week.”

Twenty-five, eh! My post-war recollection from those Grammar School days are still none!

Nowadays, no major organisation would embark on any scheme without research into its potential.

There was another unmanned halt - Gorleston Links Halt on the Yarmouth Southtown to Lowestoft Central line, built with concrete platforms in 1914 after lobbying by the local golf club which claimed the distant main station was inconvenient for its members and visitors. That line was axed about 1970.

The Midland and Great Northern Railway logo incorporated into all the metal stanchions supporting the platform canopy at Yarmouth Beach Station, one stop from the Newtown Halt, pictured during demolition work after the line's closure. Picture: Mercury LibraryThe Midland and Great Northern Railway logo incorporated into all the metal stanchions supporting the platform canopy at Yarmouth Beach Station, one stop from the Newtown Halt, pictured during demolition work after the line's closure. Picture: Mercury Library

Recently I mentioned Gorleston’s former Station Hotel as possibly the last reminder here of the Yarmouth to Lowestoft railway (1903-1970) although road changes have consigned it to a backwater. My thanks are due to local historian Les Cockrill for reporting since last year Station House, now a private dwelling, has displayed a Gorleston Heritage blue plaque recording the station once stood only 70 yards away.

He also correctly suggests my recent picture postcard of huts on Gorleston beach “in 1945” was taken pre-war because by that summer anti-invasion defences had not yet been removed. Although post-marked 1945, the card showed a pre-war scene.

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