The Midland and Great Northern Railway

Martham's railway

February 2015

What is it about railways? Martham no longer has a railway or a station, but we used to have, and steam engines clearly got into our blood and have infected newcomers too. The prospect of an hour or two talking about those good old, proud days brought a large crowd to our February meeting. Over seventy, a record for our monthly meetings, with many from villages and towns around. Not a “men’s meeting” after all – lots of ladies and several youngsters too, and five new members.

Part of the attraction was the speaker himself. Well known to many, Nigel Digby’s reputation went before him. His smoothly delivered talk generated so much interest, and prompted such memories, that questions and comments afterwards took almost half as long as the actual talk. His well-deserved cup of tea was still being interrupted nearly two hours after he started speaking. There were people present who had traveled to school on those trains, and others whose local business had depended upon them.

We learned that the Martham line was at first part of the Great Yarmouth and Stalham Light Railway, but hard times came and it was bought out by Midland and Great Northern. The station itself was just about where Station Close now is. It was a busier place than I had ever imagined. There were two tracks, because Martham was a crossing point on what was mainly a single track line, and two platforms. Its real name was “Martham for Rollesby”, which appeared on the platform signs and was obliterated during the War, just in case too many Germans crowded out Rollesby Broad, I wondered. There was also a signal box, a level crossing, a unique waiting “station”, a coal shed (coal was the main incoming cargo), a cattle pen, a “tariff shed” where you could get parcels delivered, and an “end-loading dock” – a means of allowing the gentry to load their carriages onto the train. We saw the earliest known photograph of an engine and train in the station, taken between 1890 and 1893. There was also a shot of piles of baskets which would have contained outgoing soft fruits, tomatoes, cut flowers.

In the early 1950s two improvements were made to the passenger rolling stock. First, noisy six-wheeled carriages were replaced by those with two sets of four wheels, so producing the nostalgic and sleep-inducing diggity-dig - diggity-dum that so many of us can remember from the old days before welded rails. And, at last, on-train toilets were introduced – no more hectic, fingers crossed, dashes to the loo whilst the train was waiting in a station.

But then, almost overnight on February 28th, 1959, Martham’s brush with the rail network came to an end. Almost everything disappeared and, if I am right, all we have left is a level-crossing keeper’s cottage out on Low Road. What a warning to us today! We need to hang on to our heritage – part of the reason why we have local history groups.

Martham Station 1930s

Norwich registered motor cycle on platform.  We don't know the date but it is a Douglas from the early 1920s: horizontal flat twin, fore and aft (this means the two cylinder engine points forwards and back, not side to side). It was made in Bristol: thousands were used in the First War (pictures of them at Gallipoli we are told).  This picture may be of a railway messenger? Do we know who he might be?  Note the foot boards not foot pegs, and the cylinder below the seat produces gas for the lighting.  This Douglas may have a very early version of a disc brake on the front wheel. Douglas were very successful as early ‘speedway,’ dirt track bikes and also patronised by the Royal family, particularly the Princes: (‘Only bounders ride motorcycles’ – The King).  The Duke of York had one competing at Brooklands, its rider wearing his (horse) racing colours. They were very good machines in their day and this rider is certainly proud of his machine.  A classic, even then.

Martham Station Signal Box 1950s

Potter Heigham Halt just up-line 1950s

Last train through Martham February 1959

Station and siding after closure in 1959

Looking towards Hemsby in 1960 - tracks all gone

Martham Station 1930s

(Above: Martham Station, 1930s)
(Below: Norwich registered motorcycle on platform)


 Norwich registered motorcycle on platform

(Below: Martham Station Signal Box, 1950s)
Martham Station Signal Box 1950s

(Below: Potter Heigham Halt {just up the line} 1950s)
Potter Heigham Bridge Halt just up-line 1950s

(Below: Last train through Martham - February 1959)
Last train through Martham - February 1959

(Below: Station and siding after closure in 1959)
Station and siding after closure in 1959

(Below: Looking towards Hemsby in 1960 - tracks all gone)
Looking towards Hemsby in 1960 - tracks all gone



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