Composed of two original Victorian lines: the East Norfolk Railway (later the Great Eastern) from Aylsham to Cawston, and the Eastern and Midland Railway (later the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway, or the ‘Muddle & Go Nowhere') from Lenwade to Norwich, the whole story of the railway here spans from 1880-1985.
The Midland & Great Northern line was completed in 1882 and linked the Midlands to Melton Constable through Themelthorpe and then onto Norwich. The second phase was the Great Eastern Line, which was completed in 1883 and ran from Themelthorpe to Aylsham, then connecting through to Wroxham. The line was used to move troops in the First and Second World Wars, and continued to service passenger traffic until 1959. Although never a high profile railway, it was extremely safe – in its whole history not one passenger was ever killed on the M&GN.
Following nationalisation in 1948 passenger services rapidly declined, but the route was kept running to serve the concrete factory at Lenwade, with the extremely tight Themelthorpe Loop constructed in 1960 linking the two lines together to facilitate transport of concrete through Norwich and onto the Midlands. The curve was so acute that a limit of 25mph had to be imposed to avoid danger of derailment! The line finally closed to all rail traffic following the closure of the factory in 1985.
The trail that exists today, and also the housing development of Thorpe Marriott at Taverham, are named in memory of William Marriott who was Chief Engineer and Manager of the Midland and Great Northern Railway (M&GN) for 41 years. He was a remarkable man who worked on the railways from 1875-1924, almost spanning the ‘second century’ of railway history, and who patented up to 11 improvements in railway engineering, many of them concerned with the use of reinforced concrete.