History of the Society
When British Railways (as it was then) announced the closure of the M&GN railway system in 1958, it sent shock waves throughout East Anglia and the railway community nationwide. There had been line closures before but nothing on this scale or magnitude - this was before the Beeching Axe of the early 1960’s.
After the required public consultation the majority of the M&GN closed on 28th February 1959. The railway preservation movement was then in its infancy but there was sufficient affection for the old line to encourage a group of enthusiasts to set up a Society – then called the M&GN Joint Railway Preservation Society – to try and preserve as much of the M&GN system as possible. Initial schemes were somewhat ambitious and naïve, one proposal sought to preserve the 22 mile long Yarmouth to North Walsham, whilst another aimed for the Melton Constable to Norwich City line. Both schemes fell by the wayside when the scale of the task became apparent.
The Society began running rail tours to raise funds for furthering their aims. The first two were in 1960, with the second involving two ancient Great Eastern Railway locomotives - a B12 (61572) and a J15 (65469). The Society was so impressed by these locomotives and decided to buy them from British Railways. The purchase was agreed at £1500 and £800 respectively and the locomotives were obtained in 1961 and stored. By this time the original J15 had been replaced by 65462 as 65469 was found to have cracked frames. Both locomotives were examples of types that regularly ran on the Joint and were the last survivors in their class and would have been scrapped had the Society not been able to raise the finance to purchase them.
Famously, the B12 took part in an excursion in 1963 running from Broad Street station in London on a circular route through the Midlands before returning to London that evening. The Wandering 1500 special was the first time a main line locomotive owned by a preservation society took to BR rails in this manner and paved the way for similar enterprises by Flying Scotsman and others in the years to come.
Initially the Society negotiated with BR for temporary office space in the glorious Weybourne Station building on the Melton Constable to Sheringham line, which had remained open. The original main aim of the Society was basically to reopen as much of the recently closed lines as possible, running a proper public service with modern diesel stock and occasional use of preserved steam locos and coaches. A second aim was to open a Museum, originally proposed to be at Yarmouth. The origins of the Museum collection that we have today date right back to these early days.
One section of the M&GN that had escaped closure in 1959 was the Melton Constable to Cromer branch, rail services being extended from Cromer via the former Great Eastern line to Norwich. Sadly the reprieve was short lived and the section between Sheringham and Melton Constable was closed in 1964. The fledgling M&GN Society saw its chance and began negotiations with British Rail.
BR were quite reluctant to enter into any discussions about any of the lines they had just closed as being “uneconomic”, so attempts to purchase the Yarmouth to North Walsham or the Melton Constable to Norwich City lines were rebuffed. Knowing that they would need an operating company to run any preserved lines, the Society set up “Central Norfolk Railway” (later to become the North Norfolk Railway PLC) in 1961, leaving the Society as the support organisation and major shareholder in the operating company.
Acquiring the line was the start of a new set of challenges – legal, financial, logistical and operational – before the new North Norfolk Railway could open for traffic. But overcome they were and the NNR opened for business in 1975.