The Wells-Next-The-Sea Branch Via Wymondham and Dereham
The subject of this book is the 43 miles of railway that linked Norwich (Thorpe) to Wells-next-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast. The line was opened in stages and had a number of distinct parts; Norwich to Wymondham opened in 1845, and Wymondham to Dereham a year later. Continuation to Fakenham came in 1849 and Wells was reached in 1857. By 1862 the entire route was in the hands of the newly-formed Great Eastern Railway.
The line ran to the seaside, but it never developed as a true ‘seaside branch’ because Wells only became a tourist centre in the 1950s and 1960s. It remained a rural branch line, serving local agricultural industries - indeed, much of the route remained in situ as part of the railway network until the 1980s, albeit as a freight-only branch.
The northern end of the route found a new and novel use as a narrow gauge tourist line, and the Wells & Walsingham Railway - the world’s longest 101⁄4 in. gauge line - now occupies much of the former trackbed. Similarly, from 1998, the Wymondham to Dereham section was re-opened as the standard gauge heritage line, the Mid-Norfolk Railway.
Although the former Great Eastern branch lines in East Anglia were, collectively, some of the most interesting branches in Britain, they have not hitherto enjoyed much attention from writers and historians, and when the first edition of this present history was published in 1988 it was the first monograph to appear in print on the Wells-next-the-Sea branch (this new edition is some 92 pages larger than the first imprint).
The opening of the Wells & Walsingham Railway had focused popular attention on the northern part of the line and, for this reason, the first edition concentrated primarily on the former Wells to Fakenham section. Nevertheless, branch train services operated on a Wells-Fakenham-Dereham-Norwich axis, and it was impossible to tell the story of the Wells & Fakenham Railway in complete isolation; for that reason the ‘Wells branch’ was defined as a dead end branch diverging from the main line at Wymondham - a distance of 33 miles 3 chains.
This new edition of The Wells-next-the-Sea Branch contains two new chapters dealing with the route of the line, together with additional information on subjects such as the LNER steam railcars and the role of the railway in the two world wars.
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Updated: 1 April 2020