THE RAILWAY TO WALSINGHAM

Many a pilgrim to Walsingham will have visited the Orthodox Church of St Seraphim, and realised that it was once Walsingham Railway Station. As such it was opened on 1st December 1857 by the Wells & Fakenham Railway, later part of the Great Eastern Railway‘s  Wymondham to Wells branch, and later still part of the London and North Eastern Railway.

Railway companies were famous for developing coastal villages and towns as holiday destinations. In Norfolk, Cromer and Hunstanton were to benefit from railway investment. Although the railway arrived in Wells-next-the-Sea in 1857, it never really received the holiday treatment. Rather it relied on traffic from a number of maltings in the town, and fishing of course.

For some reason, best known to itself, the railway called the station “Wells on Sea”. It did not return to its original name until after the railway had been withdrawn.

Trains ran through Walsingham from Wells to Fakenham, Dereham and on to Norwich via Wymondham. There was for a time a halt at the Slipper Chapel. It is not widely known that at East Barsham there was once a railway tunnel. During construction, and in order to comply with safety regulations, the 200-yard-long and slightly curved Barsham Tunnel had refuges cut into its walls for staff to ‘hide’ from passing trains when working in or near the tunnel.

However, in 1892, it was decided that the tunnel would be converted into a cutting. The spoil was used to replace a wooden trestle nearby with an embankment. The only other railway tunnel in Norfolk was at Cromer. Walk down the road beside East Barsham Church to the disused railway bridge and clamber up on to where the railway used to be, then walk towards Walsingham, you will discover the remains of the tunnel.

Wells was, of course a junction, with a single track railway to Heacham and therefore Hunstanton and Kings Lynn. In the North Sea flood of 1953, the track between Wells and Holkham was so severely damaged that British Railways considered it not worth repairing and the line was closed completely between these two places. Eventually the whole line was closed completely.

The station at Walsingham, seen here in 1961, closed on 5th  October 1964; yet another short-sighted decision. The line was closed in stages. First trains terminated at Fakenham. It seems some two hundred people from North Norfolk worked in and around Norwich and many went to work on the train. However, if they had to drive to Fakenham to catch the train, they chose to drive all the way and consequently passenger numbers declined and the line was closed completely.

Now that Wal-singham attracts so many visitors and pilgrims each and every year, what a boon that railway would be now! It would be of benefit as a fully working railway, or as an heritage line. Still: we do have the excellent narrow gauge Wells and Walsingham Light Railway, which has the distinction of being the longest 10.25 inch gauge railway in the world!