Norwich’s fascinating railway heritage explored in new book

Norwich City station by air photographed on July 6, 1949 Credit: Historic England Archive, Aerofilms

Norwich City station by air photographed on July 6, 1949 Credit: Historic England Archive, Aerofilms Collection - Credit: Archant

For almost a century, from its inception in the years immediately after World War I, the Aerofilms company recorded the changing face of England from the air.

At the start of the era, the railway was still the predominant form of transport, with a network of main, secondary and branch lines that stretched to virtually every corner of the realm.

As the 20th century progressed, however, this dominance declined as the private motorcar and the lorry increasingly became the preferred mode of transport.

The early railway builders — such as the London & Birmingham — had invested much in creating impressive stations for this new and revolutionary form of transport and, during the 19th century, many of the country's leading architects undertook commissions on behalf of the burgeoning railway industry.

After World War II, however, many of these buildings were swept away.

A new book, England’'s Railway Heritage from the Air by Peter Waller draws images from the Aerofilms

A new book, England’'s Railway Heritage from the Air by Peter Waller draws images from the Aerofilms collection held by Historic England Archive to depict England’'s railway heritage. Credit: Historic England Archive, Aerofilms Collection - Credit: Archant

The new book also features a rare photograph of Norwich City station from the air - taken on July 6, 1949.

The city of Norwich had three terminal stations at the time, Thorpe, which is still open, Victoria, which closed on May 22, 1916, and City, which is also now closed.

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The first two were operated by the Great Eastern Railway, the latter by the Midland & Great Northern Railway and it is this station which has been photographed from the west by the Aerofilms cameraman.

This branch from Melton Constable to Norwich opened on December 2, 1882 under the auspices of the Lynn & Fakenham Railway.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know ahead of Le Grand Bazaar in aid of village churchThis company merged with Yarmouth Union and Yarmouth & North Norfolk Railways on July 1, 1883 to create the Eastern and Midlands Railway.

Construction work on the original City station was clearly still in hand at this date as the new building incorporated reference to the Eastern and Midland Railway rather than to the Lynn & Fakenam.

The Eastern & Midlands Railway was to become the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway on July 1, 1893 following the opening of the line to Cromer and the connection to the Midland Railway at Saxby.

By the date of this photograph, the station was controlled by British Railways (Eastern Region).

Norwich City was a substantial neoclassical main building complete with pediment over the man entrance.

However, the city of Norwich suffered two nights of devastating German attacks on April 27 and 38 in April 1942 as part of the Luftwaffe's 'Baedeker Raids' on cities of cultural and historical importance.

Among the buildings largely destroyed was Norwich City Station.

The view in this photograph, therefore, records the station in the aftermath of wartime destruction.

The once impressive building was replaced by a temporary structure that sufficed through to the closure of the line to passenger services on March 2, 1959.

The bulk of the station site has been demolished and much of it now lies under a roundabout on the A147 inner link road.

The Aerofilms collection provides aunique vantage point to explore the country's railway heritage.

READ MORE: More than 19,000 people set to visit Norwich Beer FestivalIt is only from the air that we see how much the railway came to dominate the landscape, even in relatively small country towns.

Add to this the construction of tunnels and viaducts, and the railway can be said to have shaped much of the landscape of modern England.

Drawing upon 150 images from the collection, Peter Waller explores various aspects of England's unique railway heritage from major city stations and glorious examples of Victorian engineering to the humble goods yard and signal box.

Peter Waller has worked in the publishing industry for more than 30 years and is a specialist in industrial archaeology.

The author of more many books on transport heritage and industrial archaeology, his previous book, England's Maritime Heritage, was published in 2017 by Historic England. Born in Bradford.

England's Railway Heritage from the Air by Peter Waller, published by Historic England, costs £35.

*Please note, an earlier version of this article contained an incorrect image of Norwich Station.