A few weeks ago we included Marriott’s Way as a place to walk and cycle in this post. We mentioned that it was a disused railway line – but how much do you actually know about the story of the railway in our region?
Marriott’s Way is, in many ways, a case study of their rise and fall from the heights of Victorian industrialisation to disuse and decay, and an eventual renaissance as a green corridor…
Image: c. M Fordham
Composed of two original Victorian lines: the East Norfolk Railway (later the Great Eastern) from Aylsham to Cawston, and the Eastern and Midland Railway (later the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway, or the ‘Muddle & Go Nowhere!') from Lenwade to Norwich, the whole story of the railway here spans from 1880-1985.
The Former Lenwade Station, now a private home. Credit: By Zorba the Geek, CC BY-SA 2.0
The Midland & Great Northern line was completed in 1882 and linked the Midlands to Melton Constable through Themelthorpe and then onto Norwich. The second phase was the Great Eastern Line, which was completed in 1883 and ran from Themelthorpe to Aylsham, then connecting through to Wroxham. The line was used to move troops in the First and Second World Wars, and continued to service passenger traffic until 1959. Although never a high profile railway, it was extremely safe – in its whole history not one passenger was ever killed on the M&GN.
Following nationalisation in 1948 passenger services rapidly declined, but the route was kept running to serve the concrete factory at Lenwade, with the extremely tight Themelthorpe Loop constructed in 1960 linking the two lines together to facilitate transport of concrete through Norwich and onto the Midlands. The curve was so acute that a limit of 25mph had to be imposed to avoid danger of derailment! The line finally closed to all rail traffic following the closure of the factory in 1985.
The trail that exists today, and also the housing development of Thorpe Marriott at Taverham, are named in memory of William Marriott who was Chief Engineer and Manager of the Midland and Great Northern Railway (M&GN) for 41 years. He was a remarkable man who worked on the railways from 1875-1924, almost spanning the ‘second century’ of railway history, and who patented up to 11 improvements in railway engineering, many of them concerned with the use of reinforced concrete.
Image: Second Lieutenant Stanley George Marriott, Royal Engineers. Credit Norfolk County Council
Second Lieutenant Stanley George Marriott was the third of the seven children of William and Gertrude. If he came home on pre-embarkation leave, as many did, he almost certainly left for war on his father’s Railway. He was killed in action, 21st October 1916.
Image: Concrete Sculpture commemorating the Lenwade works. Credit: By Northmetpit - Own work, Public Domain
The story of the GNR/M&GN line ends in dereliction and decay, but Marriott’s Way is a tale of resurgence – it had already begun before ‘the end’, when the first part of the walking route opened in 1979. Old railway trackbed is uniquely suitable for a creating a path which is open to all; it’s flat, well-engineered and free draining, and by its nature connects it existing communities. Even the greenery which has taken over the route betrays fragments of Railway history – close to the old stations apple trees thrive where people have thrown their cores, and a nationally scarce seaside plant, Hoary Mullein, has an outpost population rooted in the costal gravels that were imported as railway ballast.
Image: The nationally scarce Hoary Mullein c.Friends of Train Wood & Marriott’s Way
It’s now possible for anyone, including those in mobility scooters and wheelchairs, as well as walkers, cyclists and horse riders, to visit pretty much all of Marriott’s Way. A new project – The Marriott’s Way Heritage Trail – has just started to help all of these visitors and users understand its history better. If you would be interested in getting involved email email@example.com for more information.
Greater Anglia have Advance fares from £9 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Greater Anglia also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.