I was born on 12th December 1920, the son of Philip and Emily Rounce (nee Bartram). My parents took up a council tenancy of land at Field House, on the road to Binham from Walsingham. They had been engaged for 6 years and married in 1919, shortly after Dad came home after serving in WW1. Before the war, my Father had experience of the railways as he had worked as a porter at the old Vauxhall Station at Norwich. The station was destroyed during one of the worst nights of bombing on Norwich during the Second World War.
Walsingham Station was very familiar to me during my childhood as I attended foundation school there (now Walsingham Primary School) from 1926. My Dad ran a milk round by pony and trap in the village for many years and I also had friends in Walsingham through our connections with the Methodist Church and later in Boy Scouts.
Field House estate had been brought by the council and divided up into tenancies, of which ours was one. The Wells- Fakenham railway line was vital to the local farming industry and life of the area. The line went on to Norwich or South Lynn, so the whole area was thus connected to the country at large. At the time I was born, all our coal came by rail from South Wales, and corn and livestock were mainly carried by rail.
Walsingham station was extremely busy- hence the large sidings which are now a car park. The sidings were in constant use for goods, livestock etc waiting to be loaded on or picked up and there was always noise. All types of livestock and crops produced locally were carried from the station in railway wagons as the only other way was by carts, tumbrels, tractor and trailer or lorries, at a time when the roads were poor.
Fortunately, the old station and buildings still exist as private dwellings and religious places. The old station building was taken over by the Orthodox Church (SERAPHIM’S CHAPEL). Across the road was a pub called the Kings Head, now a private house called Guisborough House. Although there were five pubs in Little Walsingham before WW2, the Kings Head was busy, catering for people waiting for and coming off the trains, as well as locals.
At the time when I was born there was little or no sugar beet industry in Norfolk. When this started in the early 1920s, the beet were taken by road to Wells and then by barge to Selby factory in Yorkshire. By the end of the 1920s, the Kings Lynn factory had opened and the British Sugar Beet Company took beet from most of West Norfolk to Lynn largely by rail. Beet from Field House Farm; my father’s beet, went by road on carts or trucks to Walsingham Station. These were loaded onto goods wagons and onto the factory at Lynn. In those days, traffic of goods wagons taking beet from Walsingham was very heavy in the winter season, and this carried on until WW2.
The presence of the railway line from Wells to Fakenham, via Wighton and Walsingham, was very obvious by its sounds. You could hear the train whistle being blown from far away at pre-determined places when trains were coming, or when there were cattle on the line, which often happened! You could set your watch by the sounds of the trains, and the presence of the railways could be heard for miles around.
On frosty or foggy mornings, pistols might be used. On frosty days the signals might jam and on foggy days exploding fog pistols were used, as the train drivers couldn’t see the signals.. Exploding pistols were attached to the track, away from the station. When you couldn’t see/ use the signals, these would be used to give coded messages to the train drivers. By the 1930s, if I was in our meadow, the noises from whistles, fog pistols and pistols were easily heard and you began to know what the sounds meant.
My first close encounter with the Walsingham railway and station was in 1932 when I gained a scholarship to go to what became Fakenham Grammar School. That was a single entry of 36, the majority of which were scholarship children. I cycled from home to Walsingham station and then by school train to Fakenham station which later became Fakenham East station. This was a journey of 5 miles or so through some beautiful countryside, followed by a walk of another mile; my journey took over an hour. A season ticket for the railway journey cost £2 which was a fortune in those days.
Walsingham station was a hive of activity at that time of the day. It didn’t take us too long to get to know the staff. There was no station master at Walsingham and the ticket office was also the waiting room. Most of the work such as issuing tickets etc fell to the signal men. They had the job of seeing that the waiting room was clean and tidy. In winter they also had to make sure that there was fuel for the open grate coal burner and kept it stoked up.
There were two signal men but I can only remember the name of one. He was Tom Everett and he lived on Knight’s St, where you now go from the Shrine to the War Memorial. It was on the right hand side, just after the opening to Dr Sturdee’s house and surgery. Mr Everett and his wife had two daughters; the elder went to Fakenham Grammar School and married Dick Pegg from Walsingham, eventually leaving the village. The younger one; Myrtle, went to Wells School and married Tom Parsons from Wells.
Perhaps because he had no sons, Tom Everett was very good to us boys and, if we were early enough, a fortunate few (me included) might go up the signal box. There we watched as he was sent coded messages which made sense to him. He taught us what the various levers etc did; points, signals etc. Gradually, under his instruction, we were allowed to operate various levers. Tom Everett explained it all often so in the end we became quite adept at working the signals, points etc. We probably shouldn’t have been there; it was all probably quite illegal and punishable. However, as far as I know, nothing ever happened because of it and we learnt a lot about how the railway worked.
We (the group of us boys travelling to the Grammar School), were sometimes invited to travel in the guards van and to operate the handbrake as we approached Fakenham station. After two years, all that stopped as we decided to go to school by cycle, a journey of some seven and a half miles. It meant that we could start out later and arrive earlier, and we were given a cycle allowance of around £2 a term for maintenance. It wasn’t long before all the other boys and girls from Walsingham joined us.
The only adventure happened as we reached East Barsham where we were met by West Barsham children, there was no love lost between us. While talking about Barsham, when the railway line from Walsingham to Fakenham was opened in the early part of the nineteenth century, the obstacle of the Barsham Hills was overcome by tunnelling. Later on the tunnel was opened up to become the deep cutting as it now is. The old railway line from Walsingham to Barsham, like the Barsham Hills, is now full of wildlife and a few years ago I took my son in law along to show him the old line. He had no idea that it was there!
Things in Walsingham and the railway line, underwent a great change in the 1920s when Rev Hope Patten decided to renew the pilgrimages which stopped centuries earlier. The Church of England didn’t give active support, so it was left to Rev Hope Patten with the support of a group of others to get the scheme underway. Money was found to build the Shrine as we know it and later it was joined by other meeting places of the Christian Church such as the Slipper Chapel. All these affected the Walsingham station and line, as from the 1930s the line became used as the main means of transport for people arriving from all over the country on pilgrimage.
The next great effect was, of course, the Second World War when the railway system was vital to the war effort. It was used to transport everything; munitions, fuel and not least, people. Because of the shortage of petrol and fuel rationing, most private motoring stopped until after the war and the trains were even more important. This put a huge added load onto the railway system which was used even more, and Walsingham was no exception.
Because of all the military stations based around Walsingham, the station was very busy. The line brought Land Army girls (quite an attraction!) who went to the camp at Houghton. Trains brought supplies, equipment and rations. The army came to the area in various guises, including a large searchlight camp just outside Gt Walsingham on the Binham road, to the right. A great number of servicemen used the station to arrive and to go off on leave and postings.
The RAF had several airfields in the area including West Raynham, Sculthorpe, Little Snoring, Langham and North Creake (Egmere). This meant that many servicemen travelled by rail to Walsingham as it was the nearest station. Many of the servicemen and women who came on the train eventually settled in and around Walsingham. The movement around the country and abroad led to a considerable change in the population. I left from Walsingham station to join the RAF in 1940 and travelled throughout the war by rail. I came back at the end of the war as a pilot at Langham, just 5 miles or so away from Walsingham.
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