The Norfolk Railway: Railway Mania in East Anglia 1834-1862
In the 1830s there were several projects to connect Norwich and Great Yarmouth to London and the Midlands by rail but only one, the Eastern Counties, made any progress and that inadequate, its finances exhausted on reaching Colchester. With many of England's trunk lines constructed or in an advanced stage of planning, East Anglia had by 1841 woken up at last to the likely consequences of remaining isolated from the rail system. Yet little money was forthcoming locally and reliance was placed on the capital of northern manufacturers, London financiers and the ambitious contractor Samuel Peto. Their interests did not always coincide with local needs.
The first result was the Yarmouth and Norwich Railway opened in 1844 soon followed by the Norwich & Brandon, the two companies merging to form the Norfolk Railway which, in uneasy alliance with the Eastern Counties Railway, achieved in 1845 a London connection via Ely and Cambridge. By then the railway mania was in full swing with no less than fourteen lines proposed for East Anglia that year and nineteen the year after. Meanwhile the Norfolk Railway fought fierce legislative battles to build connections southward and to cover Norfolk with its branch lines but generally faced defeat, building only a branch to Fakenham and another to Lowestoft where Peto was rebuilding the harbour. Even these commitments strained its resources beyond breaking point and in 1848 it surrendered its operations to the Eastern Counties while still owning the lines.
A triangular financial chess game developed in which the Norfolk and the Eastern Counties were joined by the Ipswich based Eastern Union, all competing for financial advantage despite being operated in supposed harmony. The situation was complicated by Peto's manoeuvres at Lowestoft where he promoted an independent railway to London and a steamship service connecting to railways he constructed in Denmark. It took fourteen years of inter-corporate strife before the situation could be finally resolved.
Softback, 244 pages, black & white photographs, maps
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Updated: 1 June 2020