TF9822 : County School Railway Station

near to North Elmham, Norfolk, Great Britain

County School Railway Station
County School Railway Station
A railway line was opened as part of the Norfolk Railway's extension from East Dereham to Fakenham in 1849, but County School railway station was not built until 1886 to serve the private school from which it took its name, and following the opening of the Wroxham branch line in 1882. In 1903 the Norfolk County School became the Watts Naval School, the station name, however, remained unchanged.

County School became a Great Eastern Railway rural junction station even though the Wroxham branch left the Wells line a mile north, at Broom Green. The station consisted of up and down platforms and an extra bay for Wroxham services.

The stationmaster's house is unusual, in that the railway did not build it. Instead it was originally the lodge house for the school - and its style reflects the school rather than the station.

County School station was equipped with three platforms, two platform buildings, a signal box and a small coal yard. This yard was essentially to serve the needs of the large number of fires in the school buildings. The station was also provided with a large orchard on land provided for sidings that were never required.
During World War Two the station surroundings were used as a fuel dump for the airfield at Foulsham. The site was also briefly used as a tarmac factory for bomber command.
The first significant change occurred in 1952 when the County School to Wroxham line was closed to passenger traffic, although the western section of this line, between County School and Foulsham remained open for goods until 31 October 1964, being busiest in the sugar beet season. Diesel trains made their first appearance in 1956, but it was not until 1964 that the Dereham to Wells line lost its passenger service.
The line remained open for freight, but the track was finally removed by British Rail following the withdrawal of goods traffic from Ryburgh in 1981. The main building survived as a small factory unit making plaster ceiling roses.
By the late 1980s the station was heavily overgrown and derelict. Breckland District Council bought the station in 1987, intending to use it as a visitor centre, but felt that a station without track and trains looked wrong. The Fakenham and Dereham Railway Society were offered a 999 year lease to move to the site from their headquarters at Yaxham and restore the railway side of the site.
With the announcement of the closure of the entire branch between Wymondham, Dereham and North Elmham, a new company called the Great Eastern Railway (1989) Limited was formed to save the line.
The F&DRS elected to back this scheme, and the lease of the station was signed over to the GER (1989) Ltd. Although far from certain, the future of the line, and County School station, seemed more secure than it had for many years. During these years, the F&DRS continued to provide financial backing and manpower for the development of the site. The running line was extended over half a mile towards North Elmham, and a collection of rolling stock was built up.
During the early 1990s, the GER(1989) announced plans to lift the railway between Dereham and Wymondham. The Fakenham and Dereham Railway Society withdrew their support for the GER and made their own bid for the line. 1995 saw Yorkshire Bank call in the receivers to solve concerns with the Great Eastern Railway (1989) Ltd and in July 1995, police were called in to investigate the sudden and unauthorised road transfer of two Mid Norfolk Railway Society Mk 2 coaches to a breaker's yard at nearby Lenwade.
In July 1996 Breckland District Council issued a threat to stop trains running at County School station, as it was found that someone other than the leaseholder was operating trains at the site; the lease being non-transferable. In November 1996 Breckland District Council brought in 24 hour security guards at the County School site in order to prevent the stripping of the property after having served an eviction order on the GER(1989) in mid-October.The GER soon ceased trading, the County School site closed and was, once again, abandoned to nature.
Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust
In 1998 the MNRPT signed a Tenancy at Will with Breckland District Council to take over the station and trackbed at County School. The track north of the platforms had, again, been lifted. The remainder was overgrown. The station was boarded up, with smashed glass, a stripped interior and broken windows.
The MNR quickly returned the station to use, as a visitor centre, rather than an operational railway museum.
The station forms an important key in the future plans of the Mid-Norfolk Railway, and will serve as the northern terminus of the line while the task of restoring the line to Fakenham is considered.

The signal box, demolished after passenger closure, is currently being rebuilt using components from Halesworth and the trackbed between County School and North Elmham is being restored ready for the restoration of the line.

A longer-term aim is the rebuilding of the demolished island platform building. There is also a plan to construct a railwayman's cottage close to the signal box, using grounded former GER railway carriages. This was a common practice during the interwar years (one is being constructed at Holt station on the North Norfolk Railway).
The Wells to Wymondham Branch Line
The branch line was one of the longest lines in East Anglia, running from Wymondham Abbey to Wells next the Sea, through four major Norfolk towns.

Wymondham is the first station and is still in active use on the Norwich to Peterborough line. Opening 30th July 1845, it was constructed in flint by the Norwich and Brandon railway. The first part to arrive opened on the 15th February 1847 as a branch to Dereham by the Norfolk Railway company. At first single track, demand saw it doubled between Wymondham and Dereham in 1882. In 1849 the Dereham to Fakenham section opened; the extension line was a major success with over 10,000 tons of coal being transported in the first year. However, the great capital required by the Norfolk Railway company resulted in the Eastern Counties company leasing Wymondham to Fakenham in 1848.
Finally in 1857 the Fakenham to Wells branch opened, built by the separate Wells and Fakenham railway company. This was built in the hope of a developing port and tourist destination, however Wells expansion never met the company’s hopes. Even the construction of the harbour branch (a short spur from the station) didn't solve the problem.

The new Great Eastern Railway (GER) company took over the line in 1862.

Like other railways its peak was the late 19th century; for example at Dereham station there were 90 staff.

It saw heavy use during both world wars, taking a heavy toll and a few years after WWI (in 1923) the railway, along with many other East Anglian lines, was taken over by the London and North Eastern Railway company (LNER).
After the second world war (1939-1945) the whole network apart from some private lines, was nationalised in 1948, ending over 100 years of private ownership.

From here the line started to decline as motor car usage grew. Eventually on the 17th September 1955 the last steam passenger service saw the new diesel age in (steam freight continued). New diesel multiple units (DMUs) were seen, being cheaper and easier to run. However this couldn't save the passenger service, as new roads and cars meant too much competition.

The line eventually closed to passengers between Dereham and Wells on the 15th October 1964 (track was lifted between Wells and Fakenham). After that the line between Dereham and Wymondham was singled in June 1965. Finally the passenger services between Wymondham and Dereham ended in 1969.

After passenger closure freight was still carried until 1989. The first section to close was the Great Ryburgh to Fakenham part (1974); in 1981 the last freight train to Great Ryburgh left; the year after, the Great Ryburgh to North Elmham section closed and was lifted.

After grain traffic stopped in 1989 BR saw no further uses and closed it for good.

Preservation

Many parts of the line were saved, in various forms. All of the stations apart from Fakenham East survive (Great Ryburgh still retains some platform and station house).
The first preservation came with the construction of the Wells and Walshingham railway in 1979: a 4 mile long, 10 and 1/4 inch gauge line from Wells to Walsingham (just shy of the original stations).

On 6 April 1982 purpose-built steam locomotive Pilgrim, an 0-6-0T engine, launched the public service. Pilgrim hauled the train until 1987 when the new unique 2-6-0+0-6-2 Garratt locomotive Norfolk Hero came into service. Two extra coaches were added to the train increasing the seating capacity to 76. A redundant signal box was moved from Swainsthorpe to Wells, where the ground floor was converted to provide a shop and tearoom.

The railway south of Walshingham is now a footpath for some distance known at the Pilgrims' Way. Meanwhile further south preservation efforts were growing with a presence at County School in 1986.

Enthusiasts worked hard resulting in the first passenger services in 1996, then the whole line in 1999. The Mid Norfolk Railway was born, an 11-mile standard gauge line with great ambitions to extend and rebuild.

The section between Dereham and County School is owned by the MNR preservation trust. The track is being restored for services to Hoe, then County School, and will eventually make a 17 and a half mile line, the aim eventually Fakenham.
At the moment the preservation group is opening Thuxton Loop, allowing trains to pass each other near the mid point of the line, thus allowing a more flexible service.
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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
year taken
2010
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TF9822, 71 images   (more nearby)
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Geograph
Date Taken
Thursday, 3 June, 2010   (more nearby)
Submitted
Friday, 4 June, 2010
Category
Railway station   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! TF 989 226 [100m precision]
WGS84: 52:45.8985N 0:56.8412E
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OSGB36: geotagged! TF 989 226
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West-northwest (about 292 degrees)
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