Opened: 2nd December 1882
Bombed: 27th April 1942
Closed to passenger traffic: 28th February 1959
Closed to goods traffic: 3rd February 1969
As a London 'incomer' (1985) I had no idea that every time I crossed St Crispin's roundabout I was, in fact, passing over the site of a major City railway terminus. Very little of the City Station remains to be seen on the site apart from what the Friends of Norwich City Station (FONCS) have uncovered since their operations began in October 2010.
The line started life as the Lynn and Fakenham Railway and later became the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GN) with its hub at Melton Constable, the Crewe of the East, with single line connections to Cromer Beach, Peterborough, Leicester and Norwich City. With nationalisation of the railways in 1948 it became part of British Railways.
Norwich City Station was built in 1882 on a low swampy island between the River Wensum and a flood channel which necessitated the building of two bridges made by Barnard, Bishop & Barnard of Norwich and an approach road onto the island.
The main station building was Italianate in design with a central portico entrance, giving onto two main 660ft platforms covered with canopies bearing the letters E&MR in the spandrels. In the centre of the main platforms, 250ft from the main entry, were two short bay platforms used mainly for storage. Due to the swampy nature of the ground the main entrance arch began to subside and crack by 1900.
A tramway adjacent to Platform One was laid across Station Road, following the west side of the Wensum, to the Corporation depot at New Mills Yard. Coal trains were piloted from the station, over a level crossing, by a local shunter to the coal shute, a short wooden two-line jetty built out over the river, where a wooden crane unloaded the coal onto barges which were taken to the gas works near Bishops Bridge Road. All that remains of this operation, closed in the 1930's, are two short sets of tracks embedded in the cobbles which emerge from under the later built sewage pumping station at New Mills.
To the east of the main line was a three road engine shed, two signal boxes (Norwich North & South), a drivers' canteen, water tower and a 60ft turntable which was installed in January 1931.
The connection into the goods yard was singled in 1926 and the North signal box demolished in 1934 with it's duties replaced by the Norwich South box and an Auxiliary Tablet Hut ground frame. Norwich South signal box was demolished in October 1962.
The goods yard occupied a vast area of land encompassing the cattle sidings, often with over one hundred wagon movements a day, down as far as Heigham Street where cattle lairs and pens for loading the animals onto trains were situated.
When the Corporation Yard moved to the end of Barker Street in the 1930's, a new coal siding was installed via a goods spur. Traffic movement into the Yard was a complicated affair involving coal trains from the north being shunted into the goods yard then back onto a spur siding and, points changed at a ground frame, shunted in the opposite direction into the Corporation Yard. This became the scene of tragic accident in November 1944 when a B-24 Liberator, on an instrument landing training flight from Horsham St Faiths, hit the tower of St Phillips Church severing 12ft off its right wing and, crippled, flipped over on its back and crashed inside the Yard. No civilians of the ground were hurt but the bomber crew were killed in the incident.
The main station buildings were badly damaged by an air raid in April 1942 and replaced by temporary buildings adapted from LNER sectional concrete huts which remained until the station closed.
With passenger numbers dwindling, in 1959 the line was closed to all but freight traffic until 1969 when City Station shut and was left to the encroaching undergrowth. Trees grew where trains once thundered on their way to bright holiday destinations or lowering herds of cattle were shipped off to pastures new. No more the shrill whistle of departure or the clank of coupling rods. The last A2 diesel railcar to Melton Constable had definitely left the station.
Considering Norwich City Station was the main terminus on the M&GN line it is surprising so little of the structure remains. During the 1970's, when the inner ring road was under construction, the platform infill was robbed out and used to build the mound on St Crispin's roundabout and as hardcore for the duelling of nearby roads.
With pressure for building space in the city the extensive goods yard went under what is now an industrial estate. The houses on Barker Street were demolished and the road extended south east to join up with the new roundabout and northward along the course of the disused Corporation Yard siding tracks to where it joined the goods spur.
In 1976, local photographer Mark Dufton visited the site before the foliage took over completely and found the bay platforms. More recently Friends of Norwich City Station (FONCS) began digging at the site to preserve what is left of the station and surrounding buildings. Their current work is focused on Platform One where a wall has been found and the bay area cleared of undergrowth. Their hope for the future is to uncover all the railway related parts to the area and turn it into a memorial garden as a tribute to the station and all who served the railway. This will include planting flowers and small bushes, notice signs and information boards of old pictures and M&GN benches.
According to Jon Batley of FONCS, most to the station remains are there but were buried under tons of sludge when the river bottom was dredged. It is just a question of digging down to it.
The Marriott's Way footpath, commemorating William Marriott chief engineer and manager of the M&GN for 41-years, was extended to Norwich and follows the course of the old railway line.