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A massive logistic drive builds bridges in Gorleston

PUBLISHED: 11:53 06 January 2017

Chris Hopkins

The start of a new year is the time to make resolutions we seldom keep or seek to build bridges to improve relationships. So permit me to examine building bridges - but in reality, not in an idiomatic context.

Gorleston North railway station, shown on this pre-1938 pictorial street plan.Gorleston North railway station, shown on this pre-1938 pictorial street plan.

The two bridges in question here are the pedestrian pair provided decades ago flanking the existing road one on Middleton Road in Gorleston over the railway, presumably to obviate the necessity for walkers on the narrow footpath having to dodge vehicles passing too close for comfort.

So in 1965 the authorities decided to protect pedestrians by installing footbridges on either side of the road one.

Keen photographer Chris Hopkins, now of Laburnum Close in Bradwell, made sure that he was on the spot that Sunday morning to capture on colour transparency slides this important engineering operation. But recently, when he had prints made because the slides were deteriorating, he could not remember precisely when it took place, or other details.

He approached me, and the Archant/Mercury library in Norwich was swiftly able to locate the 1965 report which puts his photographs into context.

A 100ft precast concrete beam, to be part of a pedestrian footbridge on Middleton Road, inches its way past the roundabout at the Gorleston Parish Church crossroads in 1965.
Picture: CHRIS HOPKINSA 100ft precast concrete beam, to be part of a pedestrian footbridge on Middleton Road, inches its way past the roundabout at the Gorleston Parish Church crossroads in 1965. Picture: CHRIS HOPKINS

That Yarmouth Mercury from more than half a century ago informed our readers that: “In a smooth two-hour operation at the Middleton Road railway bridge in Gorleston on Sunday, four giant joists which will form the base for two footbridges were lowered gently and accurately into position by two huge mobile cranes.

“The job went so well that it was finished about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

“Two cranes weighing 50 tons and 60 tons, brought from Wolverhampton, met the transporters carrying the 100ft long two-ton beams made at Lenwade, near Dereham. Traffic was diverted from Middleton Road but a large crowd, mostly children, gathered to watch.

“The beams being in position enabled work to begin on the completion of the two footbridges which is expected to take about six weeks.

“The cranes had a police escort from Peterborough on their 200-mile journey from Doncaster. ‘We had to be diverted because of weak bridges near Wisbech but we had no difficulties,’ said crane driver Walter Wellings.

“Malcolm Shales, driver of one of the beam delivery lorries, said: ‘Some bollards had to be taken down for us, and crossing the Haven Bridge was the worst part of our journey but, with a police escort all the way, we did very well.’”

He reckoned that negotiating the Haven Bridge posed the trickiest section of the long haul, but Chris Hopkins’ series of photographs shows that navigating the roundabout at the four-way junction of Church Road, Church Lane and Middleton Road was no doddle either, the margins looking slender. But it all proved hitch-free.

By the way, that roundabout alongside Gorleston Parish Church is significant in that it was the first to be built in the urban borough, costing £250 in 1933, a decade after Middleton Road itself was constructed. At the other end, the roundabout where it joined the main A12 Lowestoft Road - the long-gone Green Ace (later, Blue Star) Garage - was not built until 1953.

No doubt the new twin footbridges were welcomed by pedestrians who could walk along Middleton Road across that bridge without threat from vehicles, but only six years later the Yarmouth South Town to Lowestoft Central railway line beneath them was closed permanently.

I assume that those concrete footbridges retained their usefulness for Middleton Road walkers although subsequent improvements have been done, with high brick side walls concealing the rest, and wide pavement widened. Perhaps those footbridges are now incorporated into the road bridge visible only from the Gorleston by-pass/relief road beneath them, following the line of the former railway track which existed from 1903.

Let us pretend to steam along the former line heading towards Yarmouth and halt at the site of Gorleston North Station. Its precise location is difficult to pinpoint on the ground nowadays and I once wrote here that it was near the site of the postwar Shrublands prefabricated housing estate - perhaps a tad misleading.

I realised that when Valerie Jordan wrote: “I do not remember a railway stop near Shrublands and I lived there from 1946 to 1974. As children we used to play cowboys and Indians in the bushes and banks alongside the railway line - lovely blackberries there in September too.”

But in that postwar era Shrublands children and others were adventurous enough to make their way along to the marshes where Gorleston North stood. “Interesting place to have a stopping point,” writes Valerie, of Ludkin Square in Yarmouth. “It was all fields and marshes where we used to play, and go fishing in the dykes that abounded - we’d go stanickling, and looking for frogs although we never took them home as far as I can remember.”

Stanickling? That is dyke fishing for stanickles, a Norfolk or Yarmouth word for the stickleback.

According to a map of the old urban borough, Gorleston North was between Burgh and Harfreys Roads, the track then passing Southtown Common, continuing towards Yarmouth for a short distance before reaching a fork, one track heading for Beach Station and the other going to South Town.

Gorleston North’s remoteness from a residential area surely meant its passenger numbers must have been minimal, but the railway company is unlikely to have spent money on staffed station buildings on either side of the twin tracks without anticipating the requirements of future travellers. The company also ensured there was ample room for expansion!

The station was closed in October 1942, 20 months after it was bomb-damaged in a war-time air raid. The adjacent signal box continued in operation until it was switched off in 1955, made redundant because the line to and from Yarmouth Beach was axed and the junction ceased to exist.

I suppose an industrial estate now occupies the site of Gorleston North.

The dilapidated Gorleston Station, a couple of miles away in the Lowestoft direction, became a driving test centre after the railway was axed, and Valerie Jordan recalls: “It’s where I started my driving test!”


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