The Eastern Daily Press has a lamentably-short photo-feature on Norfolk railways.
It starts with one very near to home for Malcolm:
That is captioned:
A slice of railway nostalgia — and a large dollop of poetic licence from the photographer. Alec Tuck was pictured apparently putting his back into operating the former Wells station turntable. But things are not quite what they seem in this evocative photo. His brother later pointed out that the shot was clearly posed as the engine had already been turned ready to roll backwards to the engine shed. Another give-away was the image of engine driver Bill Chapman, with his back to camera looking rather less than concerned while his fireman did the work. Alec, who has since died, was a member of a true railway family. His father Ted, was the last driver in charge of the Wells loco department, while brother John was a railway clerk and another brother Geoffrey also worked as a fireman.
BR 65559, and so earlier LNER 5559, seems to have worked most of its later life out of the Lowestoft and Yarmouth sheds. The small shed number might — just might — read “32C”, which would definitely locate it to Lowestoft. If it’s “32A”, then it’s the Norwich District code, which included Wells as a sub-shed.
Anyway 65559 was one of ninety J17 (originally class G58) locos, designed by the great James Holden of the Great Eastern Railway, and built at Stratford. Number 65567 is the only survivor, and part of the preserved collection at York Railway Museum under her LNER working number, 8217.
Holden’s achievement was not just a succession of inspired designs; but thereby he — literally, figuratively, demographically and profoundly — changed the face of London. The whole spread of the eastern suburbs, out as far as Romford, and into Essex, was because Holden’s hard-working locos took millions, steamily, efficiently and cheaply into and out of a grimier, grittier Liverpool Street, on a daily basis. They weren’t the fastest, or the sleekest, or the most visually striking — Holden left those delights to the other regional companies — but they did the job.
In the case of the J17 we can see another Holden practicality at work. The J17 freight pullers shared many components with the D16 passenger loco. It was a degree of rationalising that still works when Ryanair stick to one breed of aircraft. It don’t ‘alf simplify maintenance.
That image must come from the last year of steam at Wells (and so towards the end of Wells as a railway town). The EDP suggests it dates from the Mid 1950s. Malcolm suggests it is well into the second half of that decade. That’s, surely, a DMU — a slab-fronted Derby Lightweight — in the background. “Dieselisation” arrived in Norfolk around 1956 — to the mixed emotions of the grammar school boys travelling to and from Fakenham. There was the delight of seeing 60 mph! over the driver’s shoulder. There was the drawback of open carriages, overseen by prefects and adults (no more blindfold “catch” games in corridor less coaches).
The caption to the EP photograph identifies the Tucks as very much a railway family: callings and professions were very much ancestral, well into the second half of the twentieth century — and particularly so in small towns like Wells. The whelk-boats were exclusively family-owned. Farms and small-holdings passed from father to son. The odd pub passed mother to daughter (and that really is close to home).
All that has been swept away, for good or ill. Wells has changed its topography with the loss of the railway. The connection through Dereham to Wymondham and Norwich Thorpe meant the north-south link was the natural line of communication. 65559 as likely as not would be hauling a very fishy covered carriage truck, redolent with years of whelks and cockles shipped off daily to Billingsgate. In the not too distant pre-war past there had been the occasional excursion train all the way from London.
Now the more significant public transport link seems to be the Coasthopper bus, from Lynn to Hunstanton, though Wells, and on to Sheringham and Cromer. Even that is being constrained by funding constraints. Progress this is definitely not.