Early Railway History in King’s Lynn

The first two railways to enter King’s Lynn were the lines constructed by:

  1. The Lynn & Dereham Railway which received its Royal Assent on 21st July 1845 built a short section of its line between King’s Lynn and Narborough which opened on either 17th or 27th October 1846. [1][2] The line was extended to Swaffham on 10 August 1847. [2]
  2. The Lynn & Ely Railway Company which received its Royal Assent on 30th June 1845, [2] opened from King’s Lynn to Downham Market on 27th October 1846. On the same day, this railway opened its harbour branch which connected with the main line just to the South of King’s Lynn and ran for 1.25 miles to the wharves on the riverside. Ships using these wharves sat on the mud at low water. [3] The original line ran South, via Downham Market, towards Ely. The first station south of King’s Lynn was St. Germain’s. It took another two years to reach Ely. [2]

These two companies merged to form the East Anglian Railway on 22 July 1847. [2] Wikipedia claims, contrary to Fell, that the spur connecting to the harbour was not opened until 1849. At one point that harbour spur was a complicated network of lines, boasting two swing bridges, serving premises on and around the town’s South Quay. [2]

Expansion followed with the opening of several branches. A line running north to the seaside resort of Hunstanton was opened in 1862. [2][4][5] A journey along the line was celebrated by former Poet Laureate John Betjeman in a short BBC film. [6]

King’s Lynn to Fakenham:  The Lynn & Fakenham Railway was received Royal Assent in July 1876, it opened to traffic between Gaywood Junction and Massingham on 16 August 1879 and between Massingham and Fakenham in August 1880. It was an early constituent of what became the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway.

The Lynn & Fakenham Railway, first used King’s Lynn station, but ran into it from the north, via Gaywood Junction.  When first amalgamated the Lynn & Fakenham Railway became part of the Eastern and Midlands Railway. In November 1881, Eastern & Midlands Railway gave notice to amalgamate after agreement on such periods and terms to be fixed or agreed and the rights of the Midland & Great Northern Companies and of the Midland Railway and of the Great Northern Railway: Peterborough, Wisbeach and Sutton Railway; Midland & Eastern Railway; Lynn & Fakenham Railway; Yarmouth & North Norfolk (Light) Railway; Yarmouth Union Railway; into one Company to be called the Eastern & Midlands Railway. That amalgamation was given Royal Assent on 18 August 1882. [2][12]

By the early 1890s further amalgamations and renaming were considered and Royal Assent given to the Midland and Great Northern Railway Companies (Eastern and Midlands Railway) Act 1893 authorising the Eastern & Midlands Railway to be vested in the Joint Committee of the Midland & Eastern and Norwich & Spalding companies on and from 1 July 1893 and for the combined organisation to be incorporated under the title of the “Midland and Great Northern Railways Joint Committee”. [12]

The line from Gaywood Junction east towards Fakenham was abandoned on the opening of the station at South Lynn. The “Lynn Avoiding” line (South Lynn to Bawsey) was the last link in the chain which brought the eastern lines, which had reached Norwich in 1882, and Cromer in 1887, in direct contact with the lines west of Lynn. The Lynn Avoiding Line opened in January 1886. The South Lynn Station opened for goods traffic in November 1885 and for passenger traffic on 1st January 1886. [12] South Lynn closed to all traffic on 28th February 1959. [2]

In the same year, 1862, the Great Northern Railway reached Sutton Bridge from the West. The King’s Lynn to Sutton Bridge line was the last part of the East-West route to be built, opening in 1864. It later formed part of the larger Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway line between Spalding and King’s Lynn, after its formation in 1893. [7]

The line was single track and originally used the southern half of the second Cross Keys Bridge to cross the River Nene, following the embankment to the east of the bridge and continuing on to King’s Lynn. The construction of the third Cross Keys Bridge in 1897 required slight alterations to the course of the route immediately out of Sutton Bridge. This part of the route was closed to all traffic in 1959, and the track was soon dismantled, allowing the widening of the adjacent A17 road in its place. [7][8][9] The changes in the route can be picked out on historic OS Maps (1884-1888. 6 Inch Ordnance Survey County Series Map – First Edition. TF 42 SE and 1902-06. 25 Inch Ordnance Survey County Series Map – Second Edition. TF 42 SE).King’s Lynn Station in 1948. [14]King’s Lynn Station: 1: Passenger Facilities; 2: Good Facilities; 3: Maltings; 4: Docks Branch (c) Historic England [10]

King’s Lynn’s Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway connection was served by the station at South Lynn. A connecting shuttle service ran from King’s Lynn to South Lynn as often as twenty times a day. [2][11: slide 106]

South Lynn Station from the Air in 1946. [13] Train approaching South Lynn Station across the River Great Ouse. [13]South Lynn Station. [13]

There is excellent material on the history of the railways in King’s Lynn on the “King’s Lynn Forums” (KLF) on a thread entitled “South Lynn and King’s Lynn Railway Stations – M&GN.” [13][15]


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_and_Dereham_Railway, accessed on 5th October 2019.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King%27s_Lynn_railway_station, accessed on 5th October 2019.
  3. Mike G. Fell OBE; The King’s Lynn Docks & Railway Company; in BackTrack Magazine Volume 25, No. 3 Pendragon, Easingwold, York, March 2011, p144.
  4. Leslie Oppitz; Lost Railways of East Anglia; Countryside Books. 2002, p15.
  5.  Insight Magazine; January 2005. http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page3645.asp, accessed on 2nd September 2007[Wolferton Station’s] origins go back to the opening of the Kings Lynn to Hunstanton branch railway line in 1862[.]
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Betjeman_Goes_by_Train, accessed on 16th October 2019.
  7. https://www.lincstothepast.com/Sutton-Bridge-to-King-s-Lynn-Railway/235823.record?pt=S, accessed on 16th October 2019.
  8. N.R. Wright; Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton: An Industrial History; 1980, p8, p15.
  9. Alan Stennett; Lincolnshire Railways; 2016, p59-60.
  10. https://britainfromabove.org.uk/image/eaw031881, acccessed on 21st October 2019.
  11. Richard Adderson & Graham Kenworthy; Ely to Kings Lynn, including the Stoke Ferry Branch; Middleton Press, 2000.
  12. http://www.wycherail.co.uk/mgnEM.php#end, accessed on 23rd October 2019.
  13. https://www.kingslynn-forums.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=273&start=60, accessed on 23rd October 2019.
  14. http://www.wolfertonroyalstation.co.uk/kings-lynn, accessed on 23rd October 2019.
  15. https://www.kingslynn-forums.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=273&sid=d1624f77f0cc0a07088b295967d93510, accessed on 16th October 2019.

11 thoughts on “Early Railway History in King’s Lynn

  1. Pingback: Early Railway History in King’s Lynn | Roger Farnworth – sed30.com

  2. Andy G

    That 1st photo of Lynn station can’t be from 1948, theres a Derby Lightweight DMU in the platform and a diesel shunter in the yard…
    Also it’s St Germans, no i

  3. Richard Kerr

    Thank you for the most interesting articles on Lynn’s railways. I started Grammar School in the late 60’s and recall green Hunstanton DMU’s running alongside the playing field before going over Gaywood Road Level Crossing. I subsequently recall watching shunter hauled demolition trains from the playing fields taking up the track when the line closed. In the very early 70’s we lads would regularly watch rail activity from the Tennyson Road footbridge at lunchtime. Sometimes a BIS sand train from the Middleton Towers branch, Class 03 shunters around the fuelling point, shunting of molasses wagons and the like on the goods sidings and over the crossing, and as I recall, blue 47’s on the 1L27 lunchtime service to Liverpool Street. If it was late we would have to run back for afternoon classes. I do remember seeing the odd shunter hauled freight on the Dock Branch and in my younger days saw vans standing on the quay sidings along the South Quay, but never any action. My father worked at Campbells Soup and he brought me home a Hornby blue Class 31 which had been given to the traffic dept. by BR for promotional purposes but which was earmarked for me given my interest in railways. It ran on my bedroom floor for many years. Probably not what the BR folk intended. The factory owned red curtain sided vans with company logos and these would operate with other BR pallet vans from Lynn to Scotland, invariably with a Class 31 for the initial part of the trip at least as far March. Happy days.

    1. rogerfarnworth Post author

      Hi Richard.

      You were perhaps four or five years ahead if me at the Grammar School. Probably know some of the same teaching staff? Although my memory for their names is not great. There was a George Buckley who taught physics. Harry …… who taught maths down in what I remember as a wooden shack. I am struggling to put names to faces. Aubrey Hood, I think, taught music. Was it Edwards who was deputy head, Sleigh was head teacher, Seaman taught chemistry. The rest are mainly faces without certainty of names. Was it Beaumont who taught Latin and was housemaster for the borders?

      I started in the 2nd year in 1972. For the first year we lived in Terrington St. Clements then moved to Elvington off Gaywood Road near the new (then) hospital.

      My father taught at the Technical College throughout the time we were in Lynn.

      Best wishes


      1. Richard Kerr

        You’re pretty much spot on with those teacher’s names. Aubrey Hood was a really nice chap although his music lessons were pretty chaotic. Surely you remember Mr Perry in the gym in his blue tracksuit lining people up against the wall bars shortest to the tallest. That was egalitarian as it gave those at both ends of the spectrum an equal complex. Then there was the chap with his handlebar moustache in the woodwork room with a selection of tools and machines to take your fingers off. Latin was the only thing I ever failed. Mr Beaumont had me down as a lost cause. Iced buns in the tuck shop and watching the trains was more me than stories of the Romans raping the Sabine women. I must have picked up something along the way as I ended up with a First at uni. I suspect the state education we had there was in hindsight stratospheric compared with what you might expect to receive these days.

      2. Peter Risebrow

        Harry Thornton was in the wooden hut.
        I also remember Fisk (art), DLP Perry (games), Sykes (French), Bunny Bayfield (deputy head), King (RE), Denny Barker (geography), Eels (maths), Whitmarsh-Knight (history), “Japes” Smallwood (history).
        Great article about the railways.
        King’s Lynn suffered more than it’s fair share of closures.

      3. rogerfarnworth Post author

        Hi Peter, I remember Harry well, Smallwood (I think) lived up near us, we were on Ellington near the hospital, Perry was PE, Buckley (George) was physics …..

        Thank you for the comment about the article, a few to follow.

  4. rogerfarnworth Post author

    Yes, I remember Perry. I was tall and over weight in the Second and Third years. Came in for a lot of stick in PE until an operation and significant weight loss gave me a little mor confidence.

    Aubrey Hood was a nice guy. I dreaded music in the first few years at school. It was during his lessons that I usually got stuck from the class bully. Lost my temper once, stood up and punched the bully in the middle of one of Aubrey Hood’s lessons. No punishment from him but a right tanning out of sight after school at the end of the day. ….

    Yes, I remember the moustache. I only did one year of woodwork as at the end of the 2nd year we had to choose between Latin and Woodwork. As Latin only started on the 2nd year and as I did Latin in my previous school I did really well in Latin for that first 12 months. Foolish choice in the end as I would only scrape it at O-level!

    Happy Easter!


    1. Richard Kerr

      Happy Easter to you to. You prompted me to remember ‘Harry’s Hut’. Had a chuckle about that. Apologies if I had occasion to stand you in the hall when I was a prefect by the way. If you think you had it tough I had double chemistry with Mr Seaman on a Saturday morning and had to wear short trousers and a cap in the first year. The 70’s swept all that away thank goodness.

      Regards Richard


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