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County School is a railway station approximately one mile north of the village of North Elmhammarker in the Englishmarker county of Norfolk. The station is part of a line being gradually restored by the Mid-Norfolk Railwaymarker from East Derehammarker to Fakenhammarker.

History

A railway line was opened as part of the Norfolk Railway's extension from East Derehammarker to Fakenhammarker in 1849, but County School railway station was not built until 1886 to serve the private school from which it took its name, and following the opening of the Wroxham branch line in 1882. In 1903 the Norfolk County Schoolmarker became the Watts Naval Schoolmarker, the station name, however, remained unchanged.

County School became a classic Great Eastern Railway rural junction station (the letters "G.E.R" are incorporated in the cast iron brackets which support the platform canopy) even though the Wroxham branch left the Wells line a mile north, at Broom Green. The station consisted of up and down platforms and an extra bay for Wroxham services.

The stationmaster's house is unusual, in that the railway did not build it. Instead it was originally the lodge house for the school - and its style reflects the school rather than the station.

County School station was equipped with three platforms, two platform buildings, a signal box and a small coal yard. This yard was essentially there to serve the needs of the large number of fires in the school buildings. The station was also provided with a large orchard on land provided for sidings that were never required.

1915 crash

Preserved GER Class Y14 '564' on a goods train.
On 20 January 1915, the junction with the line to Aylsham and Wroxham was the site of an accident between a passenger train from Wells and a goods train from Foulsham.

At 11.46 am, Y14 '629', hauling 12 empty and 4 loaded wagons, ran into the 6 coach passenger train, hauled by T26 locomotive '446' and consisting of 6-wheel stock on the scissor crossing close to the signal box. Nobody was injured in the crash, which took place at low speed, although both locomotives were damaged, along with other vehicles in both trains.

The responsibility fo the crash was placed on the driver of the goods train, for failing to observe that his signals were at danger.

World War Two

During World War Two the station surroundings were used as a fuel dump for the airfield at Foulshammarker. The site was also briefly used as a tarmac factory for bomber command. One web site suggests that pieces of WW2 tarmac can still be found on site. These are, however, the remains of the original platform surface which was replaced in the late 1980s.

Nationalisation

The first significant change occurred in 1952 when the County School to Wroxhammarker line was closed to passenger traffic. Diesel trains made their first appearance in 1956, but it was not until 1964 that the Dereham to Wellsmarker line lost its passenger service.

In 1954 the complex track layout and quiet nature of the station since the closure of the branch led to its being used as a main location for the filming of the driver training films for the new diesel multiple units.

Post Passenger-Closure

Just after closure the station saw a brief flurry of activity when it was used by Anglia Television as a location for Weaver's Green. This was a twice weekly serial, based around a fictional vets' practice in an East Anglian village with a post office and shop, church, pub, railway station and racing stable. Two vets, played by Grant Taylor and Eric Flynn, were the central characters, and there were also two young actresses in minor roles gaining experience of working on a soap serial that would stand them in good stead for later in their careers - Wendy Richard, of EastEnders, and Kate O'Mara, who was to join the cast of Dynasty. Soon after this filming took place the island platform buildings and signal box were demolished.

Final Closure

The line remained open for freight, but the track was finally removed by British Rail following the withdrawal of goods traffic from Ryburghmarker in 1981. The main building survived as a small factory unit making plaster ceiling roses!

Preservation Schemes

Fakenham and Dereham Railway Society

By the late 1980s the station was heavily overgrown and derelict. Breckland District Council bought the station in 1987, intending to use it as a visitor centre, but felt that a station without track and trains looked wrong. The Fakenham and Dereham Railway Society were invited to move to the site from their headquarters at Yaxham and restore the railway side of the site.

Great Eastern Railway (1989) Limited

Heritage operations at County School, 1993.
With the announcement of the closure of the entire branch between Wymondham, Dereham and North Elmham, a new company called the Great Eastern Railway (1989) Limited was formed to save the line.

The F&DRS elected to back this scheme, and the lease of the station was signed over to the GER (1989) Ltd. Although far from certain, the future of the line, and County School station, seemed more secure than it had for many years. During these years, the F&DRS continued to provide financial backing and manpower for the development of the site. The running line was extended over half a mile towards North Elmham, and a collection of rolling stock was built up.

During the early 1990s, the GER(1989) announced plans to lift the railway between Dereham and Wymondham. The Fakenham and Dereham Railway Society withdrew their support for the GER and made their own bid for the line. The F&DRS bid was accepted and the Society became the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust, based at Dereham. The GER soon ceased trading, the County School site closed and was, once again, abandoned to nature.

Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust

In 1998 the MNRPT signed a Tenancy at Will with Breckland District Councilmarker to take over the station and trackbed at County School. The track north of the platforms had, again, been lifted. The remainder was overgrown. The station was boarded up, with smashed glass, a stripped interior and broken windows.

The MNR quickly returned the station to use, as a visitor centre, rather than an operational railway museum. Over the next year, the MNR spent £28,000 restoring the station to wartime LNER condition.

Recognising the financial and manpower investment that the MNRPT had put into the site over the years, Breckland District Council offered to sell the station and trackbed to the Railway for the nominal sum of £1. This offer was accepted, and County School is now a part of the 17 mile long branch line.

Present Day and Future Plans

Platform 1, facing Dereham, October 2008.
The station forms an important key in the future plans of the Mid-Norfolk Railwaymarker, and will serve as the northern terminus of the line while the task of restoring the line to Fakenham is considered.

The signal box, demolished after passenger closure, is currently being rebuilt using components from Halesworthmarker and the trackbed between County School and North Elmham is being restored ready for the restoration of the line.

A longer-term aim is the rebuilding of the demolished island platform building. There is also a plan to construct a railwayman's cottage close to the signal box, using grounded former GER railway carriages. This was a common practice during the interwar years.

At present no trains operate at the station. All the staff are volunteers.

Signal box

The station was originally provided with a main signal box to the north of the station, and a ground frame cabin to the south of the level crossing. The original signal box was demolished after the line closed to passengers.

Location Original location Built by Notes Photograph
County School Halesworthmarker, Suffolk Great Eastern Railway While Halesworth had a timber locking room, the cabin has been placed on a brick structure reflecting the original County School box. Has been rebuilt on the original footings. To serve as visitor attraction until required for operations.

The signal box was originally removed from Halesworth station to a local school; later being donated to the Trust for restoration.


Train Services

Future Services


See also



References

  1. Oppitz, 1989, page 44



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