Holt is the western terminus of the North Norfolk Railway. The station here, whilst not on the original site, is a faithful recreation of an M&GN country station, using buildings recovered from various locations in East Anglia.
Holt town has had a long and varied history since Saxon times, its name being derived from the Saxon word for ‘wood’. Holt is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as a manor passed to the de Vaux family after the Norman Conquest. It was recorded as a market town and this market continued for 900 years until 1960. Today the wide swathe of the Market Place reminds us of its earlier size and importance.
The Plague of 1348 swept through the town wiping out many of the townsfolk, but the town survived and continued to prosper. In 1555 a school was opened in the town. It was named Gresham’s after its founder Sir John Gresham a local born man who became Lord Mayor of London. Today it is one of the leading schools in the country and boasts many famous old boys including the composer Benjamin Britten, writer W H Auden and Lord Reith, first Director-General of the BBC.
The town owes its predominantly Georgian character to a disaster that occurred in 1708. On 1 May it was devastated by a fire which destroyed most of the medieval town and the church in the matter of three hours. One of the few surviving buildings was the old Manor House which housed Gresham’s School at the time. A consequence of the fire is that many of the houses in the town were built after the fire and despite its ancient connections, the town has few houses that pre-date the fire.
In 1960 Holt market was formerly closed, but the town has continued to thrive and is today full of unusual shops and businesses, many housed in the former courtyards and tradesmen’s yards which have been attractively converted to accommodate them.
The Eastern and Midlands Railway arrived at Holt in 1884 from Melton Constable. The original Holt Station which closed, thanks to Dr Beeching, in 1964, was close to the town centre and has been obliterated by the town bypass. The line used to pass beneath the old Holt to Cromer road at the end of the current Holt Station site, and consequently was in a cutting. This bridge was an accident black spot and was removed in the mid-sixties. The cutting had to be filled in and levelled before the site could be developed.
The railway’s present site at Holt is an ongoing development. Much has been achieved here since the railway was re-laid in 1988, The first platform at this site was built in 1988, since then a reclaimed M&GN station from Stalham (on the line from Melton Constable to Great Yarmouth) has been rebuilt brick by brick on an additional platform on the west side of the site. This major project was completed meticulously by the railway’s volunteers and is now the station’s main building. The attention to detail is very evident, right down to the Bakelite telephones and light fittings.
In the goods yard there are some restored goods wagons, including the splendid Colman’s Mustard van, recently restored by a Lowestoft charity SOLD (Special Objectives for the Local Disabled) who teach life skills to disabled people. Beyond these is a replica of the M&GN Goods Shed formally at Thursford. This is the ‘William Marriott Museum’ which details the history of the M&GN from construction, through the war years to eventual closure and preservation (see page 17).
At the Sheringham end of the platform is a Midland Railway style signal box, similar to some of those used on the M&GN, which was moved from Upper Portland Sidings near Mansfield (Nottinghamshire). This signalbox controls all of the signals and points at Holt Station. Like Weybourne, many of the signals at this station are M&GN somersault signals, with the exception of the fine bracket signal at the Weybourne end of the site which was reclaimed from the Spalding to March GN&GE joint line.
Beyond the signal box is another new M&GN style building, a water tower in the style of the one that was at Norwich City station. There will one day be a footbridge here to link the two platforms – but that is in the future. Behind the old platform you can see Kelling Hospital, which opened in 1903 for the innovative open air treatment of working men with TB. It is now run as a community hospital. The wooded land behind the station side of the railway site is part of the Gresham’s public school site. The main school buildings are further along towards Holt town centre.
Trains normally stop here for twenty minutes while the engines run round ready for the journey back to Weybourne and Sheringham. This gives enough time to have a look around. Across from the station there is a shop and buffet selling souvenirs and light refreshments.
If the timetable permits, visitors are recommended to take advantage of their trip to stop-over at Holt between trains and enjoy its tranquil surroundings and explore many of the features and artefacts found on the site. The ‘Village Green’ and play area is an ideal place for family picnics.
Also, take a look around the William Marriott Museum in the recreated goods shed. Just outside the museum is a newly built goods yard loading dock complete with a restored weighbridge and office. Next to the station shop is a Model Railway. There is also an extensive miniature railway, run by North Norfolk Model Engineers, which is open for rides at certain times during the season.
In the goods yard is an exhibition coach (accessed from the station platform).This has detailed displays telling the story of ‘Commuting in the Suburbs’ and the railway’s recent project to restore a BR Mk1 Suburban train.
Holt town centre is approximately a mile away from the station. Regular bus services to Holt town centre stop on the main road at the entrance to the station site. Alternatively, on some peak days there is a privately operated bus service that runs between the station and the town centre.
Passengers wishing to alight at Kelling Heath Park Halt on their return journey should let the guard know before the train leaves so that he can tell the driver to stop there.
The William Marriot Museum and Railway Cottage
Next to the Holt station is a re-creation of a typical Midland & Great Northern Railway rural goods shed, now home to the ‘William Marriott Museum’.
Right from the outset in 1959, the M&GN Society had the idea of establishing a museum to celebrate and share the history of the M&GN and began collecting items and paperwork in readiness for the day when they could be displayed.
In 2006 this dream was achieved when the ‘William Marriott Museum’, was opened at Holt. This highly acclaimed museum celebrates the many achievements of the man who ran the M&GN Joint Railway for 40 years, from the early days of building the railway in 1883, to his eventual retirement in 1924.
The Museum’s exhibits paint a picture of the people who used and worked on the line, and gives the visitor a wonderful insight to the M&GN’s creation, and its heyday in the 1920s. I
It illustrates its vital role in national defence in two World Wars, through to the post World War 2 run-down and closure and finally resurrection as the North Norfolk Railway.
The museum is now an integral part of the North Norfolk Railway’s ‘Working Museum’ experience.
Railway Carriage Cottages were once common in East Anglia especially after WW1 when redundant carriage bodies were sold to provide a cheap housing solution. They have now largely disappeared from our countryside and with them has gone a way of life remembered only by a few. The ‘Railway Cottage’ at Holt station is a unique attraction that brings to life such a carriage cottage by re-creating it as it might have been in 1935. This project was generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The original 1884 building consisted of little more than a sleeper platform and basic wooden buildings. Upon the completion of the line to Cromer in 1877, more durable buildings – most likely designed by William Marriott – were built; these included a brick-built main station building of typical Midland and Great Northern (M&GN) design, with a central block and two projecting gabled cross wings – the central portion being set back slightly to form a loggia for passengers on the down platform. A wooden waiting shelter was erected on the up platform with a saw-tooth canopy. The original wooden station building later became a ‘reading room’ at Melton Constable station. Holt station was destroyed by fire in 1926 when the current concrete replacement was built.
When most of the former M&GN railway lines were closed in 1959, the branch on which Holt resides remained open until 1964.
Following closure of the line between Melton Constable and Sheringham, the station buildings at Holt were demolished and part of the trackbed subsequently reused to construct part of the A148 Holt bypass.
In 1965, a company known as Central Norfolk Enterprises (which changed its name to the North Norfolk Railway (NNR)) had attempted to purchase the trackbed, but were rebuffed by Norfolk County Council who wished to proceed with the road scheme. The NNR did manage to restore the line between Sheringham and Weybourne and in 1987, opened a replacement Holt station on the edge of the village. The NNR also salvaged Holt‘s original signal box which was relocated to Weybourne.