The Railway

The Original GER plan for the railway through Wreningham, published in 1876. The central black line shows the nominal approved route for the tracks although this path was permitted to deviate as far outwards as the dashed lines should local circumstances require it.
The corner of the map is signed “Langley, Engineer” – possibly: “Alfred” Langley. We have found an Alfred Langley who was involved in other schemes for the GER.

The Great Eastern Railway had an Act of Parliament passed in 1876 which approved a wide range of works to be undertaken within parts of East Anglia where the GER had an interest.

The part of the text which describes the scope of our branch line is very short and is shown here.

The passing of the Act formed the legal basis for the design and construction of this local line.

It was known as the “Swedes and Swimmers” line. Please excuse the pun, but we don’t want to re-invent the wheel. An excellent write up about its construction and operation can be found on the Forncett History Group website. Here, we have restricted ourselves to aspects specifically relating to Wreningham together with other details not in their article. Some of our other pages describe how individual villagers engaged with the railway in their everyday lives.

As part of their original survey, in 1876, the railway company (GER) created a catalogue specifically for Wreningham to show the route and list the properties their line would cross – together with the names of the landowners and occupiers. The numbered fields, on the left of the table, correspond to the same numbers on the map at the top of this page.
On this page, we can find the familiar village names of: Baroness Berners, Sir Henry Tyrwhitt, Henry Bothway, George Childs and Alfred Quantrell. The subsequent pages have more.

Opening in mid 1881, the Great Eastern Railway had bought a continuous strip of the farm-land across Wreningham. The various Census pages show how the railway provided a range of new employment opportunities whilst introducing a modern and effective means for the transportation of people. However, it was a really important new way of despatching agricultural goods to a wider range of customers – or receiving other goods from a long distance. Local business advertisers also started to include information about their proximity to our new station.

In Wreningham, the railway bridge over Wymondham Road had opened on 30th June 1880.

The nearest railway station to Wreningham was now at the present-day Ashwellthorpe Industrial Estate – just a short walk away. Being just over the boundary between the two villages, Ashwellthorpe station might even be considered as closer to the centre of Wreningham!

Ashwellthorpe Station

Following the opening, on the 29th June 1881, there was an auction in Wymondham for the sale of the railway contractors’ equipment. To the layman’s eye, it appears they were disposing of staggering amounts of construction equipment. The list includes: 220 tons of contractor’s rails, 3 tons of bridge rails, 15 tons of wheels and axles, a “Scotch crane”, mainline bogies, a “powerful brick machine”, 25 and 8 horse-power portable engines – in “splendid order” through to 94 navvy and brick barrows. There were also 40 tons of “scrap”, 2 tons of “tested chain” and “4 powerful draught horses” with both “double and single carts”. Anyone wanting wood or brick huts, smithy and store houses – or the contents of store-houses and cartwright’s shops(!) could have been in luck, too. We have not seem any report seen about the success of this sale, although, for anyone else wanting to build a few miles of railway it must have been THE go-to event!

Bridge House shown next to the road. The GER railway plan (south west is up!) shows how the road was diverted to permit the construction of the bridge.
Bridge House , no longer in existence, adjacent to the Wymondham Road bridge over the railway – looking (approximately) in the direction of the centre of Wreningham

In November 1880, the Goods Manager’s Office of the Great Eastern Railway, at Liverpool Street Station wrote to farmers in this area advising them of an offer. Ongoing railway work had resulted in the GER being in possession of large quantities of alluvial mud – presumably dug from rivers and marshes. This mud had been analysed for its nutrient properties at the County Analyst’s Office, London Street, Norwich. A two page report was attached to the letter, signed by Francis Sutton, Consulting Chemist to the Norfolk Chamber of Agriculture.

The GER’s letter and report were essentially along the lines that alluvial mud was fantastic stuff and would be excellent for use on fields in place of standard fertilisers.

The mud was for sale and would be available for delivery during the following spring. It would be dried, finely pulverised and delivered to the nearest railway goods yard for collection by the farmer.

The GER were urging farmers to buy some – although it needed to be ordered in quantities of “6 tons and upwards”. Might we presume that 6 tons was the capacity of a rail waggon? A copy of both the GER letter and the technical report were recently discovered at a Wreningham farm. There is no evidence the Wreningham farmer ever bought any! (A quick online investigation suggests it would have been unsuitable for application on Wreningham’s clay soils, anyway.)

There is a newspaper article, describing the Wreningham wedding of William Bothway to Annie Quantrell, in 1890. Towards the end, it tells us: “Immediately after the ceremony the happy couple departed by the 3 o’clock express from Ashwellthorpe Station to London to spend the honeymoon.” The local railway had clearly become a regular part of the village’s way of life!

The line closed to passenger traffic in September 1939 and was finally closed to freight in 1951. The tracks were eventually taken up and the land was offered back to the farmers. This final stage of land disposal seems to have taken much longer than the original land purchase. Whilst Wreningham’s old railway land is believed to have returned to private ownership, nationally, surviving former railway structures such as bridges remain under under dedicated central control to ensure continuing safety.

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