Cliff Thomas

Big time steam at the Mid-Norfolk Railway

Published: 24th July 2014

The Mid-Norfolk Railway holds two spectacular gala events to kick off its 2014 season.

The Mid-Norfolk Railway has predominantly relied on classic traction for its motive power requirements as it developed its Dereham to Wymondham Abbey line, latterly with an extension from Dereham in the opposite direction to Hoe available for use during special events.

There has not thus far been a truly resident steam locomotive, although recent years have featured a visiting loco to work high summer steam services. The MNR’s first steam gala was held in July 2011, featuring the Great Western Society’s No. 6023 King Edward II and privately-owned locomotives 0-6-0PT No. 9466 and ‘Jinty’ 0-6-0T No. 47406.

Crucial main line link

The MNR is a comparative newcomer on Britain’s heritage railway map, today’s revival only really getting started in 1995. Trains ran into Dereham for the first time in summer 1997 with the Wymondham to Dereham section of the line finally purchased by the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust in April 1998.

NR trains terminate at a platform named Wymondham Abbey, a little short of Wymondham main line station, but it is the connection to the national network at Wymondham which is crucial, a link which opens the door for visits by significant large steam locomotives and incoming railtours.

The main line connection could not have been employed in more spectacular style to kick off the heritage line’s season.

Nothing less than a trio of West Coast Railway Company main line registered locomotives - ‘Jubilee’ No. 45699 Galatea, ‘Royal Scot’ No. 46115 Scots Guardsman and 8F No. 48151 – arrived as a triple-headed operation hauling a rake of vacuum braked stock from Carnforth. This astonishing assemblage of main line equipment provided the core of a May 30-June 1 gala which broke all records for visitor numbers at the eleven and a half mile line.

LNER giants of steam for a six-loco follow-up gala

But the record-breaking West Coast Gala was not all the Mid-Norfolk line had planned. The follow-up was a June 26-29 LNER Steam Gala starring John Cameron’s main line pair, A4 No. 60009 Union of South Africa and K4 No. 61994 The Great Marquess, which arrived via the main line with their support coaches.

The gala fleet was supplemented by The Gresley Society’s N2 0-6-2T No. 1744 (which is staying on into August to provide peak season steam) and NER H class (formerly Y7) 0-4-0T No. 1310, visiting from the Middleton Railway.

The four visiting locos worked trains, either full line or partial shuttles, while a fifth loco - John Cockerill 0-4-0VBWT 2525/1907 – was in steam at Dereham shuttling back and forth through the station between service train arrivals and departures.

The tram-type locomotive was making its public debut following restoration by Mervyn Mayes at his Yaxham works. Bagnall 0-4-0ST Kidbrooke (2043/1917) was also in steam on the Yaxham Light Railway, a private 2ft gauge line adjacent to the MNR’s Yaxham station, so there is an argument that gala visitors were entertained by no less than six steam locos during the event!

Future Mid-Norfolk resident comes together

'Austerity’ 0-6-0ST HE3193/1944 was purchased from the Lavender Line in spring 2009 by Norfolk Heritage Steam Railway Ltd specifically to provide a resident Mid-Norfolk steam locomotive. A full overhaul is being undertaken in Mervyn Mayes’ yard at Yaxham adjacent to the railway.

The wheels are back under the frames and a new lubrication system designed and installed. Following initial work at McEwen’s works in Keighley, a new inner firebox is in position with volunteers tapping the stay holes in preparation for Mervyn Mayes to fit the stays.

The hope is for the boiler to be at least hydraulically tested, ideally lifted into the frames, to celebrate the 70th birthday of the locomotive in November.

When purchased the loco was ‘named’ Norfolk Regiment, but it seems this may be changed before it enters service.

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