Mousehold’s Little Railway

The Norwich Electric Tramway Company was a subsidiary of the New General Traction Company and its construction work started in Norwich in June 1898 with its first routes opened in July 1900. In conjunction with the laying of rail track and all else that is required to establish a tramway system, an electricity generating station was built on Duke Street in Norwich to supply power for the scheme. The Company’s tram depot was also built on Silver Road in the City. The whole network was essentially complete and fully operational by the end of 1901, but there were minor additions and changes in 1918 and 1919 – see below.

Norwich Tramway (Map - Plunkett)
A Diagram of the Norwich Electric Tramway System. Photo: George Plunkett

The above Diagram shows a tramway system which operated seven main routes throughout the central areas of the City; each route ‘colour-coded’ using White, Red, Green, Blue, Orange, Red & Blue and Yellow & Red. This article is concerned only with the Green route which transversed the City from the junction of the Unthank and Newmarket Roads to Castle Meadow, then onwards to Prince of Wales Road, Norwich Thorpe (GER) Railway Station, Riverside Road, Bishopbridge Road ; then generally terminating at the Cavalry Barracks. However, during the summer months there was an ‘extended summer service’ route which ran from Riverside Road, up and along Gurney Road to the elevated spot on Mousehold Heath at the Pavilion (now Zaks) where the trams would terminate and make ready for the return trip.

Norwich Tramway (Cavalry Barracks 1900)

Norwich Tramway (Tram Riverside)
The section of the Norwich Electric Tramway system ‘Green Route’ which operated between Newmarket Road and the Cavalry Barracks (above), taking in Mousehold Heath during summer months. This photograph (Courtesy of Norfolk County Council) shows a tramcar travelling along Riverside Road, between Norwich Thorpe (GER) Station and Bishopsgate Road.

Towards the end of World War I (1914-1918) a temporary extension to the ‘Green’ route was laid down to transport armaments, munitions and aircraft parts between the then Mousehold Aerodrome, on which a munitions factory was situated, and Norwich Thorpe (GER) station. This extension was named the ‘Mousehold Light Railway’, and to operate its movements, the Light Railway used part of the existing Newmarket Road to Cavalry Barracks ‘Green’ tram route belonging to the Norwich Electric Tramway – namely,  the section that ran between Norwich Thorpe Station and the Gurney Road Pavilion on Mousehold Heath. Beyond this point, one end of the new ‘extended’ light railway then cut through the valley woods to pass south-east of the ruined St William’s Chapel site, before entering the ‘Mousehold Aerodrome’ site itself, with its munition’s factory. The entrance to this airfield was on the other side of what is now termed the Norwich Ring Road and  along what now is Roundtree Way.

Norwich Tramway (Mousehold)
A section of Mousehold Heath through which the Light Railway once ran. Photo: Blipfoto

The other end of the Mousehold Light Railway separated itself from the existing ‘Green’ passenger tram route at the southern end of Riverside Road; from there, it crossed the Thorpe Road junction east of Foundry Bridge and entered the Thorpe Station forecourt. From there, a spur line was laid to run parallel to the northern side of the rail Terminus to a siding which effectively served as Platform 7; here, the goods were off-loaded on to suitable main line rolling stock for onward main line trains journeys. The wagons used along the whole length Light Railway were hauled by two Government owned electric tractors, with BTH controllers and 38hp motors, powerful enough to pull the heavy loads up into and across Mousehold Heath. At the end of the War the line was discontinued and the tractors passed into the possession of Norwich Electric Tramcar Company who converted them for tram use. They were known as ‘Dreadnoughts’ due to their wartime role.

As for the rail line extensions, these were recycled from the disused King Street tram-route but differed in re-construction with the use of wooden sleepers. These rails and sleepers remained in- situ for about twelve years before being taken up in the 1930’s. Today, there still remains some evidence of the course of the light railway; a short length of former tramway survives as a cutting close to the south-east corner of the earthworks associated with St William’s Chapel.

Norwich Tramway (Mousehold - Lidar)
A Lidar image of Mousehold Heath showing  the St William’s Chapel site (center) and the approximate route of that section of the Mousehold Light Railway that linked what is now Rowntree Way with the Gurney Road section of the ‘Green’ Norwich Electric Tramway system, thus allowing the Light Railway to reach into Thorpe Station.

MOUSEHOLD AERODROME SITE

During much of the 19th century, the area outside of the present outer ring road, between the present-day Salhouse and Plumstead roads, used to be the Norfolk Regiment’s Cavalry Drilling Ground. During World War I (1914 and 1918), the area became a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) airfield and was sometimes referred to as ‘Norwich Aerodrome’. In April 1918 it became the ‘Royal Air Force Station Mousehold Heath’; its size covering 263 acres and containing a domestic and technical site. The technical site was equipped with a number of hangars including a coupled General Service shed. The first unit based at Mousehold Heath was Number 9 Training Squadron which stayed there until January 1918. A number of other squadrons stayed at the airfield including 18, 37, 85 and 117 Squadrons. From 1916 Mousehold Heath was the headquarters of the RFC Number 7 Wing.

Norwich Tramway (No.3 Badge)No. 3 Group Headquarters was located at Mousehold Heath between July and November 1919.

Norwich Tramway (B & P Mousehold)
One of Boulton & Paul’s Hangers at Mousehold Aerodrome in 1918

The airfield also became an important repair and maintenance depot in 1917 which subsequently became the Number 3 Acceptance park. This was formed on 22 March 1917 originally as the Norwich Aircraft Acceptance Park later designated as the No. 3 (Norwich) Aircraft Acceptance Park and on 26 July 1919 became the Norwich Storage Park. The park was to accept aircraft into service from local manufacturers Boulton & Paul, Mann Egerton, Portholme and Ransome Simms & Jeffries until 1930.

Norwich Tramway (Bi-Plane)
The Beardmore Inflexible aircraft at the Norwich Air Display, Mousehold Aerodrome, May 1929. Photo: The Flight magazine archive from Flightglobal, CC BY-SA 4.0,  

The Norwich & Norfolk Aero Club was formed at the airfield in 1927 and the airfield operated as Norwich Municipal Airport between 1933 and 1939. During this period, the airfield was also used by the military as a Motor Transport Storage site and as an Elementary (and Refresher) Flying Training School (Number 40 E & RFTS) between 1937 and 1939. Then, during the Second World War, the airfield came to be used as a bombing decoy with dummy aircraft stragetically place throughout the area. The airfield also had an anti-aircraft battery and radio beacon; further to this, it has been suggested that part of the area may have been used as a Prisoner of War camp. Flying from the airfield finished in the early 1950s and the hangars were subsequently converted into light industrial use as part of Roundtree industrial estate.  The whole area is now the Heartsease Housing Estate.

Norwich Tramway (Heartsease)
Aerial view of the early stages of the Heartsease Estate. Photo: No date, Plate P1195

THE END

Sources:
https://www.blipfoto.com/entry/4116220
http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1492579
War Work at Boulton and Paul, Norwich.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Mousehold_Heath
www.edp24.co.uk/features/when-trams-ruled-the-streets-of-norwich-1-4856536
Header Picture: Painting by John Crome, circa 1818-1820. Tate Gallery, London.
Photographs by George Plunkett are published by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.

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