In 1881, Melton Constable’s population of 118 people was about to grow, as the arrival of a key Midland and Great Northern Railway station was about to bring a new life to the tiny village.
In 1882, the Melton Constable branch of the M&GN railway station opened and became the engineering heart of the railway line (MGN Circle). This station, which became the connecting point between key areas throughout East Anglian towns such as King’s Lynn, Norwich, Cromer and Lowestoft with its four service lines, served as a pivotal facility in the development and interconnectivity of the Norfolk area (Richmond 2013). Besides its importance as a connection branch in the railway system, the Melton Constable station provided a boost in the village’s economy and population, with the population of the village rising from 118 in 1881 to around 1,150 by 1911 (Gough). The inclusion of a locomotive works in the village provided jobs and economic growth within the local area, and the stop soon transformed into one of the busiest railway interchange in the county (Richmond 2013). Yet, despite its popularity and importance, the railway line, after being taken over by the London and North Eastern Railway in 1936 (Clark 1990: 6), began to decline and eventually closed in 1964.
After the M&GN was bought by the London and North Eastern Railway in 1936, the Melton Constable station began to decline, as the line’s new owners transferred the engineering operations to its own locomotive works in Stratford (Ibid.: 6). This put significant strain on Melton Constable’s economy and market, as the town no longer had the ability nor means to repair locomotives. It also forced local workers out of the area, as many of the engineers working in the Melton Constable Headquarters were forced to move to Stratford in order to keep their jobs (Anglia Television). Despite this setback, the station continued to function as a railway junction but saw a considerable decline in traffic due to the rise of more facilities between M&GN and other Great Eastern lines (Joby 1985: 39). Eventually, Melton Constable closed in 1964, five years after most other M&GN lines closures, leaving the village strained and isolated from its neighbouring towns.
Before the official closure of the line, Anglia Television in 1960 commissioned a report on the impact the closure of the rail lines throughout Norfolk, and in particular, the Melton Constable junction had on the average people in the community. Available through the East Anglia Film Archive, the report, “Angle: Railways 1960 Melton Constable, Norfolk,” discusses the changing landscape of rural Norfolk with local railway workers and the effect these changes have on their community, their livelihood and their connection with one another.
The programme opens with various clips of overcrowded Norwich traffic, cars clogging the streets while people move about in the fast-paced city. Meanwhile, in rural Norfolk, a single car passes under a disused, abandoned railway track. The contrast between the city-life in Norwich, where cars and transportation are more accessible, and the countryside of Norfolk, where accessibility to surrounding counties is limited to trains, provides a striking look at how vital the railway lines were to the people of Norfolk.
In a symbolic montage, the programme highlights the disparity created by the closure of the railway: images of overgrown railway lines, abandoned stations, disused train factories, demolition sites, outlines of buildings that used to populate the rural Melton Constable area. These desolate and abandoned sites, which once housed one of the most visited train lines in the region, now symbolise the destruction these line closures have had on the community of Melton Constable.
The programme’s head report also speaks to the community, asking how the closures impact their livelihood and career prospects. One man says, “it’s wicked” that the lines are no longer in use throughout the area: “I lived right near the railroad and that was it for me and my family, as well.” He explains how his own livelihood is now in tatters because of his loss of transportation. As he acknowledges, his generation is without cars, thus without means to reach other areas outside of their village, while his sons, born of a generation built on mobility and accessibility, have their own cars to move about as they please.
In another interview, Mr Ted Lambert, a retired rail worker, who has lived in Melton Constable for 62 years, recalls how the railway line, when first brought to Melton Constable, expanded the entire village: it brought growth and prosperity to an area that had never experienced it before. In his own personal experience, Mr Lambert explains how the rail line provided him with well-paid employment and a means of working up the ladder; he started as an engine cleaner before working his way up to becoming a conductor. By examining Mr Lambert’s long career, it’s easy to see how M&GN not only provided a pivotal service to the community but also helped to provide economic stability and career aspiration to those in the region.
The interviewer asks Mr Lambert if he thinks the changes to the rail lines are good or bad. He notes that the London and North Eastern Railway’s takeover has provided the workers with better wages, but it has also destroyed the sense of community the workers once shared; there is no longer a companionship between men who share a common aspiration and passion.
Playing off this idea of a fractured community, the programme then switches to footage of the London and North Eastern Railway men tearing up the railway lines in Melton Constable, literally removing the train line from the community for good. We are then introduced to Mr Dennis, an engine driver, who criticises the L&NE for their destruction of the line, noting how loyal visitors and commuters to Melton Constable will be forced to stop coming now that the trail line is gone. He passionately wonders why the London company has come in and destroyed the accessibility the M&GN created within the region, separating communities and people, turning the livelihood of the people in rural Norfolk into “scraps,” as one of the dismantling men says.
This programme puts intense emphasis on how the capitalistic desires of a company destroyed the social being of an entire community. Had L&NE not replaced Melton Constable as the engineering headquarters or had it not based line closures purely on economic necessity, the communities around Melton Constable and the greater Norfolk area would have still had a thriving economy with local jobs and the ability to move about the region with ease. Instead, the line closures brought about isolation and economic strain, as the rural towns of Norfolk struggled to maintain vital relationships and connections with their neighbours.
Anglia Television. Video news investigation. 1960. Cat no. 203591, East Anglian Film Archive, Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom.
Clark, M.J. Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway; Railway World Special. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd., 1990. Print.
Gough, J. “Melton Constable and Briston 1904.” Edward Stanford Ltd, n.d. Print.
Joby, R.S. Forgotten Railways: Vol. 7 East Anglia. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. Print.
MGN Circle. “Melton Constable.” M&GN Circle, n.p., n.d., http://www.mgncircle.org.uk/thenandnow.html#melton. Accessed 10 Jan 2019.
Richmond, Chris. “Norfolk Uncovered: Railway Relics: Norwich – Melton Constable.” YouTube, uploaded by Chris Richmond, 17 Nov 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bKbFEMAtW0.