Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A Right Royal Railway Station - and the possible fate of Lord Lucan

While in Norfolk, I was pitched very near Sandringham House, one of the Queen's two country residences, the other being Balmoral Castle up in Scotland. In fact the Caravan Club site was actually on part of the Sandringham Estate, discreetly hidden from view in woodland. As indeed was the rival Camping & Caravanning Club's site not far off. I reckoned the Sandringham Estate had a lot of clout hereabouts, and could insist on all the local roads looking neat and tidy and exactly like private forest drives - no advertising, and only essential national road signs and markings, in order that the entire locality should look uncluttered. It made it hard to find the Caravan Club site entrance, because there was no sign to tell you that you were approaching it - no sign was allowed! But one got used to this, and became adept at recognising a particular unmarked gravel driveway.

This part of Norfolk - the extreme north-west - used to have rather poor roads. But there was a handy railway line from King's Lynn to Hunstanton, and visiting royalty and their guests could make use of the station at Wolferton. It wasn't of course for their exclusive use, but it became a special 'Royal Station' nevertheless. They even doubled the track as far as Wolferton, so that the many Royal trains wouldn't disrupt the regular service for locals and holidaymakers. The station faithfully served the Sandringham Estate until the line closed in 1966. On my first evening there, I went to look at it. I'd vaguely heard that it was well-preserved, and worth seeing.

And so it was. Wolferton itself is still a very rural, straggling village with pretty cottages and the odd big house. This is heath country, separating the salt marshes by the sea from the farmland inland. It was all pretty quiet. But I wasn't the only casual visitor at the station, and two gardeners were doing their stuff there, tending the immaculate flower beds and hedges. The station was now part private home, part daytime Museum. The Museum bit employed the gardeners. But the private home part blended in quite well, apart from a privacy fence, to give a fine overall impression. Only the old railway tracks between the platforms were absent: the space had been filled with more garden. Apart from that, it looked all set up to receive a Royal Train at any moment.

The fenced-off section of platform on the right indicated where the private house was. The station buildings were built in a neo-Tudor style, conforming with the general style for all lodges and outbuildings on the Estate. It must have seemed that the Royal Family actually 'owned' the station, and all commoners had better behave themselves! 

The door leads to the Station Master's dwelling. He had to be on hand for all Royal Trains, rose in buttonhole, his uniform immaculate, his manner obsequious and correct. It was his special concern to see that the station looked superbly spruce and tidy and Bristol Fashion in every way, and that all was efficiently handled. If anything were amiss - if perhaps a member of his team looked unshaven or slovenly, or if a flower required dead-heading, or a bush some clipping, or if there were dirt or a stain on the red carpet - then he would get a withering stare from the King or Queen, and a cold letter to follow from some equerry or secretary. Not a job to envy!

A pity about the 'privacy fence'. But the rest of the station conjured up the full 'Royal Station' feeling. 

I'd entered through a gate from the road, and not via the proper driveway. So I saw the Tudor-style 'front' of the station only after first examining the platforms. The twee little box bushes were clearly the gardeners' pride and joy.

A short distance away was a small building full of railway paraphernalia, mostly signs:

Something was missing: signals, for one. And what about the signal box? Well, that was still there, but across the road, on the other side of the level crossing. And a short section of double-track was preserved there too.

It wasn't a stand-alone building, either. Very unusually, it was tacked onto the end of a row of Tudorish cottages:

And that's nearly all, folks. But just up the road was the village sign, depicting a man in medieval attire being attacked and eaten by a big wolf: 

Clearly these were wild parts in days of yore! 

The thought of wolves attacking a visiting Royal Party must have given the Wolferton Station Master the screaming ab-dabs. No doubt he hustled them all, in double-quick time, into the comfortable reception suites at the station, so that the wolves - driven by hunger, and bold enough to snatch victims from the very platforms - wouldn't make a meal out of his succulent charges. I don't suppose the wolves cared: there were always the ordinary folk to feast upon.

How they kept these tragedies out of the newspapers I do not know. Perhaps Royal Strings were pulled. I rather fancy that a similar spot of bad luck - being torn to pieces by wolves - was the fate of Lord Lucan in 1974, whose body was never discovered. Fleeing from a murder in London, he must have turned up here at night, only to find himself surrounded by a ravenous pack. It's a fascinating theory. See, anyway, the known facts at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bingham,_7th_Earl_of_Lucan.


  1. Odd that I should mention Betjeman in two successive responses, but have you seen the short film John Betjeman goes by train, which has a nice description of Wolferton Station? It's on YouTube.


  2. I've seen it now - and what a jolly little film it was! I now know where the signal was for the section north to Hunstanton, and where the goods yard was (under all the trees opposite the signal box).

    Thanks, Angie.



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