Most people know something about Cromer; a few know quite a lot! It is a seaside town well settled in the English County of Norfolk and once the small inland village of Crowmere, before gaining prominence as a seaside holiday resort in Victorian times. It is said that the writings of Clement Scott, are often attributed as one reason for Cromer’s popularity as a holiday resort during the nineteenth century.
Other reasons for Cromer’s popularity as a holiday resort during the nineteenth century were largely down to the development of a North Norfolk rail network which began around 1877 to service such places as Cromer – a resort also well-known for Cromer Crabs, Cromer Golf Course, Cromer Hospital, Cromer Lifeboat & Henry Blogg, Cromer Lighthouse and the never-to-be-forgotten Cromer Pier. But in this article, we concentrate on the local railway network, which includes one more hidden gem which will surprise those who believe that the County of Norfolk is completely flat. Cromer, in fact, has a tunnel, which normally would not be necessary if there were no hilly terraine to tackle. That tunnel still exists – although neglected and almost forgotten ever since the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR) line, which connected Cromer to Mundesley and North Walsham via Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand, Overstrand and Trimmingham, closed down. However, when this line first opened, it did so in two sections – North Walsham to Mundesley opened in July 1898 and Mundesley to Cromer opened in August 1906 – thus completing the line; this latter section followed an Act on the 7th August 1896 which authorised the M&GJR to build on from Mundesley to Cromer, but passing south of Cromer and curving back to approach the town from the west.
Cromer once operated up to four railway stations at various times over the years, that of Cromer Beach, Cromer Links Halt, Cromer High and, latterly, Roughton Road – all within an apparent complicated rail system which became simplified when closures took their full effect. Now the town has just two – Cromer (former Cromer Beach) and Roughton Road which opened in 1985, near the site of the former Cromer High station. Roughton Road came into existence following the town’s growth as home for a growing number of Norwich commuters. This particular expansion was, of course, in complete contrast to the 1950’s and 60’s closures which followed the fall in traffic caused by Cromer’s decline in popularity as a holiday destination after World War II. At that time, there were also closures of many other Norfolk railway lines. The knock-on effect of this was that an inevitable early decision was made to concentrate all Cromer passenger traffic towards, and from, a single station. This was to be the former, and centralised Cromer Beach station, built in 1887 for the former Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR). This station was simply renamed ‘Cromer’.
Cromer High lay high on the outskirts of the town, and opened in 1877 as the terminus of the once Great Eastern Railway (GER) main line from London. Cromer High was one casualty when the cuts came, and it closed as a direct result of the rationalisation, despite the station having far better facilities than the more central Cromer Beach station down below. Cromer High was simply inconveniently situated high above and on the edge of the town.
Then there was the Cromer Links Halt station, on the M&GNJR, which became yet another casualty when the line closed. Located near to the Northrepps Road in Cromer the Halt opened in 1923 to serve a nearby golf course; access to the course was via steps. Costing £170 to build they were located in a wood with a path to the station running up the embankment.
The Halt was part of this little-used extension line from Cromer to North Walsham via Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand, Overstrand, Trimmingham and Mundesley.
Overstrand station opened in 1906 and was much used in the summer months by holidaymakers. It closed along with the rest of the line in April 1953.
The Cromer Tunnel.
It was along this M&GNJR line at Cromer, and just before Cromer Links Halt, where the ‘Cromer Tunnel’ was built in the late 1880’s. At just 61 yards long, this last remnant of the long-defunct Cromer Beach to North Walsham railway line, once ran beneath the, also defunct, Cromer High to Norwich route. This tunnel is still Norfolk’s only remaining former ‘standard gauge’ railway tunnel which can be seen on the Overstrand side of the main A140 road at the Northrepps. During the Second World War, the local Home Guard set up a spigot mortar base about 70 feet inside the tunnel, should the Germans have ever invaded.
Clearly visible in some photographs of the tunnel are posts along the left-hand side which once carried signal cabling, while set into the wall on the right, were two safety shelters, or portals, for anyone working in the tunnel seeking to protect themselves from approaching trains. Both tunnel portals are still open today, but undergrowth and modern housing in the area make access to the tunnel difficult.
Nowadays Cromer is served only by the Bittern Line service, which runs from Norwich to Sheringham, stopping at Roughton Road and Cromer stations.
FOOTNOTE: On a final note about Norfolk tunnels, there is today a third tunnel to mention – and still used today! However, this was only created in 1990 with the arrival of the Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway that follows the route of another former ‘standard-gauge’ railway line which ran between Hoveton and Aylsham, and beyond – but not anymore. When the Aylsham Bypass was built, the old level crossing was demolished and a short Tunnel passing under the A140 built. So when anyone says that Norfolk is too flat for tunnels – then the answer must be Rubbish!
Handscomb, M., & Standley, P., Norfolk’s Railways, 1992
Weston, C., Norfolk Archive.
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