Lady Jane

It was and a cold and miserable November day in Norwich during the later stages of World War Two (November the 24th, 1944). Clouds were hanging heavy and grey over Horsham St Faith’s Airfield and the European Air War had been put on hold – briefly – by this heavy cloud-cover which was stretching out far across the continent. Sitting patiently upon the airfield’s aprons were a collection of freshly-fuelled American B24 Liberators, waiting for the all-clear to head off up and into those murky skies above Norfolk. The young American airmen crammed into these large bombers must have been feeling fairly relaxed, for today they wouldn’t be putting their lives in danger by heading out across the North Sea and deep into enemy airspace; instead, they were about to take advantage of the bad weather and head off up into the low-hanging clouds above Norfolk for some much-needed low-visibility flight training.

A B24 Liberator going by the name of “Lady Jane” was one of the aircraft queuing up for the runway and today her crew was made up of a collection of young American men, all in their early twenties:

Ralph Dooley (Pilot), Arthur Akin (Co-Pilot), Paul Gorman (Navigator), Johnnie Jones (Engineer/Gunner), Oscar Nelson (Ball Turret Gunner), John Phillips (Engineer/Gunner), Don Quirk (Tail Gunner), Ralph Von Bergen (Waist Gunner) and Paul Wadsworth (Radio Operator).

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Hellesdon Station, amalgamated.

Seeing as I’ve previously written three separate posts about Hellesdon Station in various states of its transformation and that I now keep spotting parts of this three-part story being shared about the world wide web, I thought it would make sense to amalgamate it all into one blog post to tell the whole story of this fascinating, lost Railway Station:

Tucked just out sight and not too far from my Mile Cross home is a little corner of Norfolk that I’ve always had a real soft spot for: Hellesdon Station.

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The Inner-Link makes its mark and the end of City Station.

Going on from the last piece I wrote at the end of 2018 about Anglia Square, I was recently reminded of a Saturday afternoon back in 2011 when we were working on the Norwich City Station site as part of the Friends of Norwich City Station (FONCS) project. An elderly gent had come along to view our progress and he had brought along with him an envelope containg a handful of old negatives that he’d taken when he was younger. He said that they may be of some interest to us and kindly allowed me to borrow them, I just wish I could remember his name.

After I’d had them scanned I could see that they were taken throughout the 1960’s and were all taken in and around the City Station area, whilst the roads and buildings were being cleared in anticipation of the answer to all our dreams: The Inner-link Road. This road was about to be laid right through some irreplacably-historic parts of old Norwich, almost encircling the entire city as it went, like a really crap version of the City Wall. It was also going to go right over the top of the now-closed railway terminus made famous by the much-missed Midland and Great Northern Railway, the remains of which us dipsticks decided to try and dig up some half a century later.

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Honing and HOD – Heritage Open Days.

As I’ve probably mentioned before (countless times), I’m quite involved with local Railway History. It all started when my friends and I decided to take it upon ourselves to expose the remaining platform wall at the former M&GN Norwich City Station site and it’s kind of steam-rolled its way on from there, flattening out swathes of my spare time as it goes.

My Norfolk Railway Heritage Group Team is involved with the preservation of a few Historical Railway sites around the county, including Felmingham Station, Honing Station, Hellesdon Station and of course Norwich City Station. We also (when we get the chance) head off out into the deepest and darkest parts of the Norfolk Countryside to explore the abandoned Stations and lines that stretch from one corner of Norfolk to the other. There isn’t much of the old M&GN network that we haven’t explored, which at times has taken us into some interesting places and into some funny old situations, including once getting a little too close to a Farmer with a shotgun who didn’t realise I was there!

Anyway, back when we were just FONCS, we were making great progress at City Station, we were clearing the platform, exposing sleepers and track furniture, landscaping the area so that it resembled a platform and track-bed again and (as an unexpected by-product) helping to reduce the crime rate in that part of the City whilst we were at it. That was until the penny dropped for Norfolk County Council who had suddenly come to realise that the site was actually their responsibility and not that of the City. Norfolk County Council gave us the heart-breaking news that because it was an unexpected and potentially-expensive liability, we had to down tools with immediate effect so that they could try and sell it off. More on that later.

A Ghost image of Norwich City’s Platform 1, created by myself back in the good old days of FONCS:

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Video interlude

Just a quick entry to share a few heritage-related videos I’ve been involved with over the last few years that you lot might be interested in watching. None of them are about Mile Cross, but they’re not too far off. One covers the old M&GN railway from Norwich City and Hellesdon through to Melton Constable, one is about Sovereign House and Her Majesty’s Stationary Office and the third one is filmed a little further out, covering the former railways around Cromer.

All written and produced by my good friend Chris Richmond as part of his “Norfolk Uncovered” Youtube series and mostly starring the brilliant Mile Cross lad, John Batley (another good friend); I can also be spotted nervously mumbling away in a few of them –  As it turns out, I’m not designed to be filmed or photographed!

Anyway, grab yourself a cuppa and a biscuit (beer and wine are also probably available; check your fridge for availability) and enjoy!

The first up is this 22 minute offering following us as we head off up the old M&GN system, starting at the remains of City Station. Take note of how overgrown Hellesdon was looking back then, almost 5 years ago:

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David Jackson rides the Wensum Dipper

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Just across the River from Mile Cross and within spitting distance of the Dolphin footpath is another well-trodden path to help get us “Miley’s” over the Wensum and into the City. Continue reading “David Jackson rides the Wensum Dipper”