The M&GN Joint Railway History

The line was sometimes known by the undeserved title of 'Muddle and Go Nowhere' but in reality it was far from that. Its stations were often referred to as the 'Midland' reflecting its connections with the Midland Railway and the Midlands.

It was a secondary line, jointly owned by the two railway companies named in its title, later by the L.M.S. and L.N.E.R. and survived mainly on the castoffs of its parents. The line grew from a collection of small local undertakings such as the Great Yarmouth and Stalham Light Railway, The Lynn and Fakenham Railway, Spalding and Bourne Railway and the Bourn and Lynn Joint into a through line linking the Midlands with the East Coast administered by a committee drawn from the Midland and the Great Northern Railways. This Joint Committee was formed in 1893 and continued to administer the line until nationalisation in 1948. The Committee also administered the lines of the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railways Committee, jointly with the Great Eastern Railway.

The main line, single for parts of its length, duplicated the cross-country facilities provided by the former Great Eastern lines and rationalisation led to the closure of the majority of the line in 1959. Many relics of the line still exist today, including the swing bridge at Sutton Bridge, dating from 1899 and still in use by traffic using the busy A17 trunk road. A small section of the line is still used by trains from Cromer to Sheringham and a further section has been preserved as the North Norfolk Railway between Sheringham and Holt which has recently been re-connected to the national network when the level crossing at Sheringham was reinstated.

Then & Now

The extent of the M&GN System in its heyday - Click on the place names below to find out more.

M&GN Locomotives & Rolling Stock

Only four railway locomotives were known to have been built in Norfolk, M&GN Class A tanks numbers 9, 20 and 41 built at Melton Constable and one other built by Savages in King’s Lynn


If you have read other pages on this site you will realise that the M&GN was formed by amalgamation of smaller lines and subsequently relied on locomotives from its parent companies. Early locomotive stock in the form of Hudswell Clark 4-4-0 tanks was supplied to both the Lynn and Fakenham Railway and the Great Yarmouth and Stalham Light Railway.Their amalgamation into the Eastern and Midlands Railway saw new Beyer Peacock 4-4-0 tender engines introduced (Right). Secondhand purchases from the LNWR and Cornwall Minerals Railway added variety until standard designs from the Midland Railway (Johnson Class C 4-4-0s (Left) and Class D 0-6-0s) and the Great Northern Railway (Ivatt J4, M&GN Class DA) brought some standardisation. Shortages of motive power led Melton Constable to rebuild the Cornwall Minerals Railway locos into more useful shunting engines and to construct the three Class A tanks which were ideally suited to the local passenger services. The grouping of 1923 saw little change initially but as M&GN locos were withdrawn locos from the parent companies took over. LMS 3P types were seen in the early 1930s but on takeover by the LNER in 1936 their types became prevalent. D9, D16 and J6 engines were all to be seen. From the late 1940s B12, J39 and J17 types came along and at nationalisation there was a partial return to LMS power in the form of the Ivatt Class 4MTs which ran the line until closure in 1959. The full story can be found in Bob Essery’s book listed in our bibliography.

Rolling Stock

The story of M&GN rolling stock deserves a volume to itself. The earliest stock was purchased new from the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon works (right) but was soon joined by secondhand stock from the Midland Railway and the North London Railway. Melton Constable also built its own stock until 1893 when the new parent companies started to supply cast-offs from their own systems. The transferred stock of GNR 6 wheelers (below) and Midland Railway types fulfilled the needs of the line until they were supplemented in the mid 1930s by stock transferred from the parent companies, by then the LMS and LNER. Once again, superannuated vehicles of Midland Railway, LNWR, NER and GER origins were placed on M&GN metals, giving the uneven roof lines of typical M&GN trains of the period. Many of these carriages stayed on the system until closure in 1959 although more standard LNER types were filling the gaps left by withdrawals. 1959 was not quite the end of the story for parts of the line remained open. Melton Constable was served by DMU services till 1964 and the section between Cromer and Sheringham still sees Classes 153, 155 and 170 units. Sheringham to Holt has been preserved and sees heritage trains which keep alive the atmosphere of the former M&GN. Find out more by visiting

The Staff Who Ran the M&GN

A gathering of M&GN staff at Cromer Beach station around 1900 when a special train was being prepared

One of our members is compiling a database of staff who worked on the M&GN. Being based in a rural area many early recruits to the line left their employment on local farms to take up a job on the railway. There were many grades of staff in the locomotive and engineering departments as well as all the administrative staff who ran the stations and kept accounts. In most jobs on the railway it was usual to start at the bottom with simple tasks such as cleaning and labouring and work up to the ranks of driver, inspector or station master when posts became available and you showed the necessary aptitude.

There was great loyalty to the railway and a sense of pride in the work done. Often whole families would work on the railway with Grandfather (possibly) being a loco driver, father a signalman, mother a (level) crossing house keeper and son a lad porter. Records in our database show many such loyal families. Many learnt their trade in self-help groups or classes held outside working hours.

The grade of a staff member could be shown by their clothing and especially their hats, labourers being seen in cloth caps and inspectors wearing bowler hats. Station staff and loco staff had their own individual uniforms.

We have extensive knowledge of many of the staff and in the case of the Traffic Manager’s Office in Austin Street, King’s Lynn we even know which staff sat at which desk.
A sample of the database records is below:

The above sample is a good example of the family nature of the railway, Frederick, Albert and George Wiggett were three brothers who joined the railway and most of the other people shown (and more besides) were their children, most of whom in Melton Constable at least married into the families of other railway workers.

Any assistance you may be able to give in adding to our knowledge of the men and women who were the lifeblood of the railway would be appreciated.

M&GN Architecture

The various parts of the M&GN were built by different companies, each with its own style of architecture. The early lines such as the Great Yarmouth and Stalham Light Railway were characterised by simple ‘pavilion’ style buildings supplied by the contractors Wilkinson and Jarvis who built the line. The M&GN’s famous engineer, William Marriott, developed this style into a more substantial design with ornate bargeboards and finials in the days of the Eastern and Midlands Railway. In the west the station buildings were rather a mixture but a few were of architectural merit and are still in existence.

The station at Long Sutton was rebuilt in the early days of the line by Worswick of Ipswich to the form seen here and now in use as a private house. A few rather grand stations were constructed on the M&GN, the one at Norwich City which was destroyed in World War Two probably being the finest. Mundesley Station, on the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint line between Cromer and North Walsham shared some architectural characteristics with certain Great Eastern Railway stations such as Hertford East, hardly surprising as the Great Eastern Railway was the M&GN’s partner in the N & S Joint venture.

Many visitors to Norfolk will be familiar with the ‘arts and crafts’ style station buildings at Cromer, still in use as a restaurant and sandwiched between the current windy platform and Morrisons Supermarket which occupies the former goods yard. The illustration shows part of the original Eastern and Midlands Railway drawings used in their construction. This drawing is in our archives as are many others.

Some interesting civil engineering structures could be found along the line. These include Breydon Viaduct at Great Yarmouth and Sutton Bridge, both swing bridges. The full story of the line’s architecture and civil engineering can be read in Nigel Digby’s ‘Stations and Structures of the M&GN’, published by Lightmoor in two volumes 2014 and 2015

Signalling the M&GN

The first signals seen on what was to become the M&GN were those installed by the Eastern and Midlands Railway. Later signalling equipment was provided by the Midland Railway and the Great Northern Railway with the majority being the Great Northern somersault pattern. At first these were mounted on simple wooden posts but from the early years of the 20th century they were mounted on posts made of Melton Reinforced Concrete like the one seen here at Melton West Junction. Midland Railway Acfield pattern signals were also used but mainly on the lines west of Lynn. The Midland Railway also supplied boxes of their pattern on the western part of the system while most of the others were more like Great Northern boxes. A few ‘unusual’ signalboxes could be seen such as the ‘pagoda’ design at Roughton Road Junction.

As much of the line was single track a means of ensuring only one train was in the section at one time was necessary. This involved apparatus in the signalbox which would only allow one ‘token’ out at any one time and the drivers were not allowed to proceed without a token or ‘tablet’. These tablets were carried in leather pouches with a large ring for the driver or signalman to use to catch it as the train moved slowly past each signalbox. Later, automatic tablet catching apparatus of the Whittaker pattern was installed, allowing exchange at greater speeds.

The correct observance of signals was as important in the 19th century as it is in the 21st and signals had to be sighted so the drivers could see them in good time to be able to stop. This example shows a GNR type somersault arm on a Melton Concrete post. The upper arm is for sighting at a distance while the lower one is for sighting under an obstruction such as an overbridge. The system ensured that accidents on the M&GN were rare.


Some of our members are re-creating typical scenes from the M&GN line. Here a scratchbuilt locomotive by Roger Kingstone passes a station built by John Hobden with a Melton Concrete sign made by Nigel Digby.

The huge collections of Circle photographs and drawings enable modellers to build pretty much any locomotive, rolling stock or building associated with the M&GN. The monthly Modelling page in the Circle Bulletin has covered ways to build many items using commercially available parts and points out where these may be obtained. There are also modellers who prefer to show the current scene on the M&GN. These scenes of course become historical models in time! Cromer Beach has been a popular subject for modellers over the years as it is a fairly compact terminus which is still in use today.

Roger Kingstone created this typical early might have been M&GN station called Cley Quay.

The big commercial model railway manufacturers provide several useful M&GN items ready to run. An Ivatt 4MT is available from Bachmann and now Hornby provide a Claud Hamilton loco, both of which ran on the Joint. Many of the coaches which ran on the ‘Joint’ were handed down from the parent companies so we can use kits designed for Great Northern, Midland, Great Eastern, London and North Western and North Eastern Railways to provide the interesting variety of stock which made up the typical M&GN train.

In model-making you can mix the old and the new. Chris Turnbull’s Class 153 visits John Hobden’s early version of Cromer while Chris’s Class 170 arrives at his current version which was exhibited at the Circle’s 2009 roadshow to commemorate the 50th anniversary of closure. The ‘One’ livery is of course long gone!