Please note: – This Plan sets out the Strategic Objectives of The Melton Constable Trust, Registered Charity Number 1090847, as revised in November 2022. It is the first part of a process and it will later be accompanied by an Action Plan indicating how we plan to tackle the various stages.
`The Melton Constable Trust
The Melton Constable Trust (MCT) is a registered charity, which is also a company limited by guarantee. It owns the land and structures that are being purchased to form the route of the proposed Norfolk Orbital Railway and, because of its charitable status, can protect those vital historic assets from any future attempt at a commercial takeover, should that ever happen. Where necessary commercial, operational and other activities which do not fit within the MCT’s charitable objects will be undertaken by a suitable subsidiary company or other appropriate external agency.
The MCT was established in 2000 and is governed by its Memorandum and Articles of Association incorporated on 31st August 2000 as amended by Special Resolution dated 26th January 2002.
The Trust’s partner organisation, The Holt, Melton Constable and Fakenham Railway Company Ltd (HMC&F) was dissolved on 5th October, 2021 and its assets, responsibilities, aims and objects subsumed into the MCT.
MCT’s Aims and Objects
To advance the education of the public in the historical, architectural and constructional heritage in and around the railway works and village of Melton Constable, Norfolk; in particular but not exclusively by making available for public reference and by the publication of information concerning the history, equipment and operation of the former Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GN) and by the preservation of buildings or equipment of particular beauty or historical, architectural or constructional interest.
MCT’s Strands of focus
The central aim is the provision of a public transport passenger and freight service of modern trains inter-running with the national rail system.
In furtherance of this and its Objects above, the MCT has several strands of work that, whilst separate stand-alone projects inform and facilitate the other strands to achieve the Charity’s Objects.
These strands, in general, are:
- NORFOLK ORBITAL RAILWAY
- Informing the public and relevant authorities about the former rail routes within the geographic area encompassed by the route proposed for the NOR;
- Acquire (through purchase, lease or other arrangement) the former track bed and/or other necessary land and infrastructure to be used to reinstate these routes, which shall be:
- Dereham via County School and Great Ryburgh to Fakenham;
- High Kelling to Holt; and
- At a later date, Holt via Melton Constable to Fakenham.
- Work with Heritage Railway operators and other stakeholders, to find a suitable operating methodology that will allow public services to operate alongside heritage services.
- Work with other similar and likeminded organisations (eg with Whitwell & Reepham, King’s Lynn Hunstanton Railway Campaign etc) to explore opportunities for mutual benefit.
- MCT ARCHIVE
- Compiling, preserving and maintaining an archive of material and artefacts relating to the M&GN and enabling the public to access these for research or interest.
- RAILWAY HERITAGE OF MELTON CONSTABLE
- Compiling, preserving and maintaining an archive of material and artefacts relating to the railway heritage of Melton Constable;
- Partnering with other community groups and not-for-profit organisations to regenerate Melton Constable, particularly with reference to the former railway buildings.
OUR STRATEGIC STRANDS
- NORFOLK ORBITAL RAILWAY
A BRIEF OVERVIEW: The NOR, a project of the Melton Constable Trust, is designed to provide the infrastructure for a multi purpose transport corridor (public transport, heritage and freight). Already 75% of the 83 mile route is served by rail, operated by public transport and Heritage railway operators.
The aim is to protect, and where possible and practicable, reinstate into public service the railway heritage of Norfolk, and, in particular, of the village of Melton Constable, which as previously stated was at the heart of much of railway operations in Norfolk. The long-term aspiration is to link the towns of Wymondham, Dereham, Fakenham, Melton Constable, Holt and Sheringham, by way of an “Orbital Railway”. 75% of the track bed required exists already under the auspices of national or heritage railway. The remaining 25% would be over the track bed of former railways which are still largely intact today.
The MCT is working with stakeholders and local councils to bridge the 20 mile link between two of Norfolk’s popular heritage railways – The North Norfolk Railway (NNR) station at High Kelling and the Mid-Norfolk Railway (MNR) station at County School, North of Dereham. Much of this will be possible using the protected former railway track routes, for example the 6 mile route from County School to Fakenham. In other areas, MCT works with local landowners and communities to identify and develop sustainable and mutually beneficial route alternatives.
This is a massive aspiration, therefore the NOR project has been split into three strands, with differing priorities.
We list the three strands and MCT’s priorities within each strand. Some will run concurrently, others are common to all three strands and some are very much location-specific.
1.1 HIGH KELLING TO HOLT
The railway route from Holt, via Weybourne to Sheringham (and thence to Cromer) was built by the Eastern and Midlands Railway (EMR) and opened in 1887-88. The line was built mainly to serve the growing tourist market.
The route had strategic importance during WW2, serving the military training camp and artillery range at Weybourne (the site of the current Muckleburgh Collection). During the 1950s and 60s usage declined and as a result of the Beeching Report, the line was closed in 1964.
The Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway Preservation Society (later M&GNJR Society) was formed with two of the MCT’s current trustees amongst the founders, in 1959, with the very ambitious aims of reopening lines. From the beginning the intention was that a public transport service would be developed. The following routes were investigated
- The whole of the former M&GN;
- North Walsham to Great Yarmouth;
- North Walsham to Aylsham;
- Melton Constable to Norwich City Station;
- Melton Constable to Hindolveston.
These aims had to be curtailed in the light of the funds needed and the sheer scale of the ambitions and British Railways’ unwillingness to lease a section or allow inter-running over a route still carrying its freight services. The line from Sheringham to Weybourne was purchased in 1969, followed by Weybourne to High Kelling in 1980, with the whole line (operated by the NNR) opening to paying passengers in 1989. The NNR has gone on to become one of the leading heritage railways in the country.
The site of the original Holt station had by this time been built on, and part of the original track bed to Holt had been used by Norfolk County Council (NCC) to form the A148 Holt bypass. the NNR therefore built its ‘Holt’ station at High Kelling, on the original M&GN route. The aim of NNR has from the outset to establish a new station in Holt itself.
Holt Town: The MCT aims to re-establish a railway line to Holt, and a station as part of its Norfolk Orbital Railway project.
Through very active fundraising campaigns and the generosity of many donors, MCT completed the purchase of a vital piece of land opposite NNR’s current Holt Station at High Kelling in 2013, and in 2021 a further piece of land between this acquisition and the A148 (which was built along the previous track bed). Extensive survey, design and measuring work has established that there is sufficient space to the north side of the A148 for a single-track railway line with a run-around loop which will largely follow the previous line, to Holt town.
North Norfolk District Council’s Local Development Framework (LDF) gave a degree od protection to the route through Holt, this being significant as it led to the new A148 roundabout at the Heath Farm development being offset to the south to protect the railway route.
MCT have an existing agreement with NNR (dated 2009), and are seeking to refresh this partnership so that an agreed programme and route can be followed. In addition, lots of liaison work has been going on with local, district and county councils and the local MP.
1.2 FAKENHAM TO COUNTY SCHOOL
Fakenham was in the position of having two railway stations, Fakenham East and West.
Fakenham East was opened by the Norfolk Railway in 1848, serving the route to Wells-next-the Sea, Walsingham and Wymondham to the north and Norwich to the south-east. The line was closed by British Railways in 1964.
Fakenham West was opened by the Lynn and Fakenham Railway in 1880, serving the M&GN line that took a meandering route from King’s Lynn to Great Yarmouth. The line was closed by British Railways in 1959.
The MNR operates one on the longest heritage routes in the country, 11.5 miles from Wymondham to Dereham, and owns a further 5.5 miles of track and track bed northwards from Dereham to County School. This was part of the Wells – Fakenham – Wymondham routes of the Norfolk Railway. The trackbed is mostly intact from County School to Fakenham, and whilst it is under private ownership is reserved by the council for railway use.
Fakenham Town: MCT has an agreement in place with MNR (dated 2014), agreeing that MCT would endeavour negotiating the acquisition of the remaining trackbed from County School to Fakenham. The MCT maintains a close working relationship with MNR and is always keen to strengthen this wherever possible. Local, district and county councils, and the local MP, are supportive of the aim of restoring a rail service to Fakenham.
Some adjustment may need to be made to the original railway route, owing to being partly along the edge of the Pensthorpe Nature Reserve. Survey work is currently being investigated to look at the alternatives. The original, intact, track bed will however offer the best option if purchase can be negotiated.
The Maltings at Great Ryburgh (Crisp Malt), which lies on the former line between County School and Fakenham have shown interest at re-establishing a rail line so that they can move their raw materials and finished product by rail instead of all having to go by road as at present. A station at Great Ryburgh could also be reinstated.
Fakenham Town Council have put forward to MCT a possible site for a station in Fakenham.
Securing a vital site: Through generous donations from the local community and the Trust’s strong supporter base, in 2020 MCT bought the strategically and historically important embankment from the south of Fakenham East, the bridge over the M&GN line and the three arch bridge over the River Wensum at Pudding Norton, near Fakenham Racecourse, to safeguard the site for reinstatement of the railway. This section of line occupies an elevated position above the flood plain of the River Wensum, which is an important and wonderful area in terms of environment and wildlife. It is both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) The historical integrity of the flood plain is greatly valued by the local community and a range of organisations. The second bridge on the section of line that we have bought is a substantial arched structure spanning the river and providing an overview of the valley. That bridge is one of Fakenham’s symbolic structures, represented on town maps.
One of these bridges marks one of the very few points where Norfolk’s two main railway systems, the Great Eastern Railway (GER) and the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GN) crossed. Both had stations in Fakenham and their intersection encapsulates a good deal of history. The M&GN route was closed in 1959 and the GER one to passengers in 1966 and to freight in the 1980s.
The two railways were long-term competitors and occasional collaborators, with contrasting train liveries, architecture and working traditions. Both employed generations of local people.
MCT’s successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund had the main priority to get the site into an accessible and safe state, so it would be maintained for future railway use, interim community access and the historical story could be told. One of the main concerns was the restoration of the bridges and related safety issues. Both bridges appeared to be fundamentally sound but there had been deterioration in the years since the railway was closed and they did not offer enough safety for people on foot, including children. The iron bridge where the two railways crossed, in particular, needed maintenance.
A full inspection of the bridges was carried out by a very experienced professional railway civil engineer, whose report stated that repairs to the bridges were vital to the eventual restoration of rail services.
The other principal aim was to interpret the site, its surrounding environment and their histories for the benefit of the public and to provide educational outcomes in partnership with local schools.
The Heritage Lottery Fund grant was for the cost of:
- Preparing the site for easy access and use by the community;
- Bridge restoration and safety measures;
- Information signs and interpretation boards dealing with the history and environment of the railway and surrounding areas;
- A training course for teachers and classroom assistants from local schools on the history of the site, the railways and the surrounding flood plain environment to enable them to bring their students to the site and use it as a learning resource;
- Production of associated educational materials, including an education pack;
- The making of oral history recordings of people who used and worked on the railway;
- Management of the project to the point where safe community access, training and the other benefits were achieved;
- Insurance covering the bridges, public liability and volunteer workers.
In addition to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project was supported by the Ernest Cook Trust, the Veronica Awdry Charitable Trust and Fakenham Town Council.
Recently MCT in partnership with two local MPs and MNR has successfully prevented the Highways Authority from infilling Bridge 1711, which this agency has been trying to do with many road bridges over former railways to prevent them having responsibility for maintenance issues in the future.
1.3 HOLT TO FAKENHAM (via Melton Constable)
This strand will present the greatest challenges and is therefore MCT’s third strand behind 1.1 and 1.2 above as it is dependent upon these two strands first being achieved.
Whilst much of the former trackbed is still visible and development (building) over the route is minimal, the financial case for reinstating a railway line between Fakenham and Holt is challenging, both from a construction and cost viewpoint, even though the historic case and the wishes of local people are compelling.
MCT will continue to investigate the potential for the acquisition of the route, but its main focus at the time of this Strategic Plan will remain the routes to Holt and to Fakenham from NNR and MNR’s lines as outlined above whilst continuing to work with the District and County Councils to ensure the route is protected from development for other purposes.
Priorities: MCT has set out its priorities in this document; achieving those priorities will take time, funding and, most important of all, passionate and capable volunteers with the widely varied skills needed for projects of this scale to succeed.
Whilst this Strategic Plan is dated November 2022, the Trust acknowledges that timescales for each project are varied; some are very long-term indeed. The Plan below sets out priorities for each strand (1.1 to 1.3) and will be used to focus MCT’s work.
- THE MELTON CONSTABLE TRUST ARCHIVE
This extensive archive material relates to the railway town of Melton Constable and its history, the M&GN railway and other related documents and artefacts, dating from the 1880s to the 1960s.
At the time of this Strategic Plan the archive is stored in several private locations and is not catalogued or indexed.
This Plan aims to:
- Bring the Archive to one secure place and examine the condition of documents and artefacts, stabilising where necessary;
- Digitise and catalogue the collection so that it becomes available for research purposes;
- Exhibit as much of the material and artefacts as possible so that the public can learn more about the railway history of Melton Constable.
To achieve these aims MCT will need to:
- Find a suitable location and arrange delivery of the Archive contents;
- Recruit volunteers to assess the condition of the contents, identifying any that present immediate or urgent condition issues;
- Raise funding and select conservator to carry out condition stabilisation.
- Raise funding and select professional digitisation service;
- Establish storage system for digital images;
- Explore potential monetisation of use of digitised images and artefacts to contribute towards the Archive’s ongoing storage costs;
- Raise funding to create an exhibition of documents and artefacts from the Archive, which can be used in a fixed display space and/or used in a variety of locations;
- Appoint an Exhibitions Curator to design and supervise the exhibits; and
- Book venue for an inaugural exhibition.
- RAILWAY HERITAGE OF MELTON CONSTABLE
Alongside the Archive mentioned at 2. above, MCT wishes to play an instrumental part in taking forward proposals for the regeneration of Melton Constable.
A BRIEF HISTORY: Melton Constable is a “Railway Town” built in the 1880s at the junction of four railway lines which came from Cromer, North Walsham, King’s Lynn (via Fakenham), and Norwich. The architecture of both houses and industrial/railway buildings evidence the reason for its existence.
The M&GN’s main workshops were located here and between 1883 and 1923 built 12 new steam locomotives in addition to maintaining the M&GN’s rolling stock.
Melton Constable was also the centre at which the M & G N’s long-term engineer, and latterly Traffic Manager, William Marriott pursued his pioneering use of reinforced concrete, developing a wide range of applications on the M & G N and elsewhere. This work was the subject of study by a Parliamentary committee. William Marriott is commemorated in several ways, including:
- ‘Marriott’s Way, a 26-mile footpath, bridleway and cycle route, which follows the routes of two disused railway lines and runs between the historic market town of Aylsham and the medieval city of Norwich; and
- The William Marriot Museum, which is housed in a recreated goods shed at NNR’s Holt station at High Kelling, which tells the story of the M&GN and is open on many days.
Following the “grouping” of the UK’s private railway companies into ‘The Big Four’ in 1923, the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) gradually reduced the activities of Melton Constable’s Works; it closed in 1934.
Under British Railways the railway lines were closed between 1959 and 1964 (other than a freight service between Melton Constable and Norwich which operated for several more years), resulting in the decline of the village as the main source of employment was removed. Melton Constable Station was demolished in 1971. However, several railway buildings are still in use, mainly as industrial units. The railway houses remain and it is interesting to note the different sizes and styles that denote the worker’s job on the Railway.
One building worthy of special mention is The Railway Institute, built by the M&GNJR for the benefit of its workers. It is one of the last remaining Railway Institutes in the country that still operates largely as intended.
This Plan aims to:
- Play an active role within the community-led Melton Constable Regeneration Scheme.
- Investigate the possibility of protection/preservation of railway buildings/artefacts at Melton Constable; and
- Investigate partnership working with owners of railway building(s) at Melton Constable, in particular the possibility of working with the new owner of the Long Shop;
To achieve these aims MCT will need to:
- Appoint a MCT representative on the steering group of the Melton Constable Regeneration Scheme; and
Offer historic documents and records to inform some of the regeneration project;
- Ask MCT’s extensive volunteer supporter base and local residents / organisations to contribute to a list of buildings that are considered to be in poor condition, at risk, or potentially available for repurposing in relation to the heritage of Melton Constable;
- Following on from b) above, open discussions with owners of relevant buildings and structures to ascertain whether the heritage potential of their buildings might be promoted.
- OTHER PRIORITIES
BROADENING THE SUPPORT BASE
The Melton Constable Trust has a strong supporter base, many of whom also donate to the Trust’s work.
When campaigns are launched to raise money for specific purposes (such as land purchase) there is strong support from a wider base of those who wish to see these routes reinstated.
One challenge is to reinvigorate the support base, in particular attracting a younger audience.
MCT’s website and Facebook page, currently labelled Norfolk Orbital Railway, are both very popular and have several thousand visitors each. These have become MCT’s main publicity channels.
The MCT is considering these challenges:
- 50% of MCT’s supporters interact with the Trust via Facebook; how do we contact the remainder?
- With over 5,000 followers, how does MCT convert more of these into Members?
- How can MCT inform NNR and MNR’s volunteers of its work, to overcome the negative misinformation recently experienced?
- An IT focussed person to administer and update the website would be very useful; how do the Trust recruit this person/persons?
- Could the MCT develop a Communications Plan to act as the information corridor both to members/supporters, statutory organisations, NNR, MNR and other stakeholders?
In the current economic climate people are finding it more difficult to give to good causes. Whilst MCT has a loyal supporter base who have always been very generous, the grant funding landscape has changed considerably since the Covid pandemic and many funders’ priorities have changed.
MCT will investigate funding opportunities as they present themselves. Smaller grants could be applied for on specific things such as digitising the Archive, creating exhibition materials, surveying the route by drone, which will help further the different priority strands.
Funding of the larger scale infrastructure reinstatement – establishing that NCC and ORR requirements can be met, track, signalling, stations etc – will need to be assessed in partnership with large statutory organisations as each nears the stage when such work can begin.
Fundraising Events: Holding more local funding events from time to time not only raises money but is of great importance in raising MCT’s public profile and attracting more support.
Fundraising Co-ordinator: Recruit a volunteer Fundraising Co-ordinator.