King’s Lynn Docks Branch – Part 2

The Dock Branch from the Station to John Kennedy Road was covered in a previous post:

We start this post with two pictures of one of the last passenger carrying trains to travel along the docks Branch at John Kennedy Road Level-Crossing. The images come from the railtour organised by the Fakenham Railway Society in March 1980 which included (among other things) a trip up the docks branch in King’s Lynn. [7]The pub on the left of the last image was ‘The Retreat’, it is much easier to see on this monochrome image. [8]

The final freight train to travel along the line is shown in the above image which was taken in May 1993. The last railway movement in the docks recovered remaining rolling stock from the docks in June 1994, (c) John Barrett LRPS – Ref: 93/588/1. [18][19]

Three images from the Geograph website,, follow, which show the crossing at John Kennedy Road early in the 21st Century. [1]Looking East, back towards King’s Lynn Station © Copyright N Chadwick. [2]The Road Crossing © Copyright Richard Humphrey. [3]Looking West towards the docks © Copyright David Dixon. [4]

John Kennedy Road was constructed in the mid-1960s. The original road crossing at this location was over Pilot Street.and is shown on the early 20th Century Ordnance Survey map below. To the west of Pilot Street, its level-crossing and footbridge, the docks railways fanned out to serve the two docks at King’s Lynn and their associated industry.The footbridge shown on the above map is picked out on both the maps below. The left-hand map is from 1886, the right-hand map from 1929. The paired maps were found on the King’s Lynn Forums. [5] The right-hand map shows the Pilot Cinema which I think was where I watched James Bond movies in the 1970s!Pilot Street looking North in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The footbridge over the railway has been removed. An accurate date on its removal would date the picture as I believe that John Kennedy Road was constructed in the early to mid-1960s. The pub now known as ‘The Retreat’ was in the days of this photograph known as ‘The Tilden Smith’. [5]The two pictures above were taken in 1920 not long after a out-of-gauge load removed the main span of the footbridge. [5]This very early picture of the Fisher Fleet is taken before the stream had been culverted and shows the line of the railway into the docks supported on a wooden trestle. ‘The Tilden Smith’ public house, now ‘The Retreat’ is in the centre of the image. [15]

The first of the two monochrome images above gives us the first glance into the docks. It looks West from the crossing on Pilot Street and shows the tracks of the Branch curving slightly to the North. The left-hand track, under the loading gauge, heads towards the Alexandra Dock. The plans below show the southern side of the Alexandra Dock. All of the warehouses and industrial buildings were rail-served. The plan immediately below is from the very early 20th Century. The second plan below comes from the late 1920s. The railway layout is very similar but the structures on the site have developed.The final layout of the railways around the docks in King’s Lynn is nothing like what was originally intended. The plans for the construction of the docks anticipated a connection to the Harbour Branch further south down the river.

Alexandra Dock

Mike Fell’s book [10] includes the plan below which shows the planned location of the Alexandra Dock with a diversion of Fisher Fleet. The line of a proposed railway is shown curving round the north side of existing buildings and then running beside the river to join the Harbour Branch on South Quay. [10]The route would have required a swing bridge across the Purfleet [10: p47] and a timber viaduct 297 yards in length! [10: p23]  “In 1864, the Corporation of Lynn sanctioned a proposal to construct an enclosed dock … The new dock was to be serviced by a new branch railway, half a mile in length, which would connect with the Great Eastern Railway’s harbour branch at the Purfleet and run in front of the existing warehousing.” [10: p45]

The planned route was not constructed, as it proved to be impracticable and expensive [10: p47] and the idea was superseded with a revision of the Docks scheme in 1869 which authorised a new route running from the railway station in a king’s Lynn to the docks. “Under the new authorisation, the dock company had to provide sufficient siding accommodation near to the new junction so as not to interference with GER traffic. Sidings had to be constructed capable of holding 40 wagons in each direction independently of the doc approach railway and the existing GER lines were not to be used for shunting.” [10: p47] An agreement between the various railway companies involved was eventually signed in 1873. 

The early track layout was very quickly proven to be inadequate for the rapidly increasing levels of traffic. By 1877, only a few years after the dock was opened traffic had grown from 33,174 tons in the first year of operation to 174,010 tons of which 157,813 tons was carried by rail. … By 1879, two engines were required to undertake the shunting on the dock whereas one engine had sufficed hitherto. [10: p51]

The adjacent plan comes from the very early years of the Alexandra dock. Fisher Fleet is of a significant length on the plan. The railways are much less well developed, although the basic layout is much as in the later plans of the completed dock above. The track layout expanded quickly in the 1870s. [5]

Below the adjacent plan is a picture from the every early life of the Alexandra Dock which I believe was taken from the Southeast of the site. The Coal Yard on the adjacent plan can be seen in the foreground of the image. [7]The same location just a few years later, the buildings of the Coal Yard have developed somewhat. [7]Also from the early life of the Docks, this image is taken from the South Side of the lock providing access from the River Great Ouse into the Alexandra Dock. Railway wagons can be seen on the North side of the Dock in front of the long low warehouse which appears on the plan above. [8]These two aerial images were found on King’s Lynn Forums, the first shows the development around the Alexandra Dock in the mid to late 1920s. [8]The Alexandra Dock is also in the foreground of this image which was taken in the years soon after the Second World War. [8]Taken from the Northeast in the late 1950s/early 1960s this image shows one of the swing bridges over the channel which linked the two docks, it provides a good overview of some of the railway tracks around Alexandra Dock and shows the three major warehouses on the South side of the dock. [9]The three large warehouses on the South side of the Alexandra Dock were known as R1, R2 & R3. They are the main focus of this image. The spire in the background is that of St. Nicholas’ Chapel. In the image, R1 is on the right, R3 on the left and R2 is hidden behind. [10: p51, p90]

The South side of the Alexandra Dock initially accommodated a series of timber yards, a coal yard and some smaller grain warehouses. These can be seen in the early map of the Dock. That map also shows the dock offices in the bottom right and which csan be seen clearly in the image below from 1928. They are in the bottom left of the picture, looking like a row or terraced houses. [10]This view from 1928 shows the South side of the Alexandra Dock, the original two sidings are in evidence with the one nearest the dock wall passing through the low level warehousing and the other siding running to the left of the same warehouses. The large grain warehouses are: R1, furthest from the camera; R3, closest to the camera; and R2, linking the other two. To the rear of the image, timber is much in evidence and dark rooves are covered storage areas for timber. There also appears to be timber floating in the dock in the right foreground close to the remains of the old timber jetty (in the bottom right of the picture). The timber sheds are focussed on on the image below. Careful inspection of the picture will show that the timber sheds were well-served by rail. [10]We have already noted the rapid rise in use of the Alexandra Dock. Very quickly, the need for further dock-side accommodation for shipping became apparent and work started to find room for an extension dock. Bentinck Dock was only created after protracted passage of an Act through Parliament and we will come back to that story later in this blog.

There was a rapid expansion of facilities around Alexandra Dock in the late 19th Century. By 1893 two large tall grain warehouses (R1 and R2) had been constructed on the South side of the Dock. Another (R3) was planned. [10: p51] Much of the railway infrastructure was in place and serious concern was being expressed about access to the docks by road. The main access road, Pilot Street was narrow and the route to it through the town was tortuous. [10: p 51]

The area immediately to the Northwest of Alexandra Dock was also quickly developing. Rail infrastructure was in place late in the 19th century. By the early 1870s significant structures were already in place – a manure warehouse on the north side of the lock and a long single storey warehouse which was designated as a guano cake and grain warehouse.

By 1877 an oil mill (Oilcake Manufactory, below) and warehouse had been constructed in the land between the Dock, the new straight alignment of Fisher Fleet and the River Ouse. an additional grain warehouse was built alongside this and the rail infrastructure was amended to cope with the additional traffic. The OS plans from the turn of the century show what was in place at that time. It is important to note the significant storage sidings alongside Fisher Fleet.The North side of Alexandra Dock in 1928. The two swing bridges over the channel to Bentinck Dock are in the foreground. The nearest structure had a ban placed on its use as a rail route within the Act of Parliament which authorised the construction of Bentinck Dock. Timber storage is again much in evidence as are the rail sidings between the grain warehouses. The manure warehouse is in the top left and the oil works are shown after a major fire which resulted in the closure of the factory. The chimney was demolished in 1929. [10]The dock after the removal of the Oilworks chimney. [17]

The two pictures above come from Google Streetview and show the access roads to the Alexandra Dock in the 21st Century. In both images, the water of the dock can be made out through the gates of the port. The port is surrounded now by modern industrial buildings and silos.The Dock from above on Google Earth in 2016 the two swing bridges over the channel are easily picked out. The one closest to the top of the image was reserved purely for road traffic and has become a public highway. The other bridge allowed for rail and road access and remains within the limits of the Dock fences.This Google Streetview Image shows both of the swing bridges, the internal docks bridge can be picked out to the left of the control signals for the bridge on Cross Bank Road.This image gets us the closest to the Alexandra Dock that we can using Google Streetview. It shows both swing bridges and the dock beyond.A similar but older view of the Alexandra Dock with the railway/road swing bridge in the foreground.A closer shot of the internal docks bridge which once carried the dock railway. [16]

Four rail routes diverged to the Northwest of the bridge above, two of which served the northern side of Alexandra Dock, one served the series of long sidings alongside the Fisher Fleet and one turned North to serve the West side of Bentinck Dock. The remains of this last route are visible curving to the North just to the West of the swing bridge on the satellite image below.A short length of track remains in the tarmac close to the docks gates on the South side of Cross Bank Road.

The video below shows the channel between the two docks in use, with a ship moving from the Alexandra Dock to the Bentinck Dock. The quality is poor. [20]

The channel in use in the early years of the 21st century. [21]In order to create the channel between the two docks, Fisher Fleet had to be truncated. This is Fisher Fleet in the early 21st century, (c) Martin Pearman on Google Streetview. [22]

References (NB: these references cover parts 2 and 3 about the Docks Branch, if you cannot find the location to which a reference refers in the text of this post, please check in Part 3)

  1., accessed on 24th September 2018.
  2., accessed on 24th September 2018.
  3., accessed on 24th September 2018.
  4., accessed on 24th September 2018.
  5., accessed on 24th September 2018.
  6.!/collections/search?q=Kings%2BLynn%2BDocks, accessed on 24th September 2018.
  7., accessed on 23rd September 2018.
  8., accessed on 24th September 2018.
  9., accessed on 24th September 2018.
  10. Mike G Fell; An Illustrated History of The Port of King’s Lynn and its Railways; Irwell Press, Clophill, Bedfordshire, 2012.
  11., accessed on 29th September 2018.
  12., accessed on 29th September 2018.
  13., accessed on 30th September 2018.
  14., accessed on 30th September 2018.
  15., accessed on 30th September 2018.
  16., accessed on 30th September 2018.
  17., accessed on 28th September 2018.
  18., accessed on 25th September 2018.
  19., accessed on 30th September 2018.
  20., accessed on 30th September 2018.
  21., accessed on 30th September 2018.
  22.,0.3925969,3a,75y,167.73h,83.45t/data=!3m8!1e1!3m6!1sAF1QipM1J3080sMdNrn1EEah9fq3d7RFvQ8zYEXfIBCD!2e10!3e11!!7i5028!8i1477, accessed on 30th September 2018.
  23., accessed on 30th September 2018.


7 thoughts on “King’s Lynn Docks Branch – Part 2

  1. Pingback: King’s Lynn Docks Branch – Part 3 | Roger Farnworth

  2. Andrew watts

    Brilliant information I was on the docks today and
    Have some pictures might be some
    Use to you of what look to be old
    Lime remains or crane tracks i not sure

      1. Andrew watts

        I thought we’re crane tracks at first and looked at your maps And messaged my friend who’s father worked on the docks and used to
        Close the gates he said there lines for both crane and trains if you want to
        Use on your page your more than welcome.onve again great work and loads
        Brilliant information

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