Recalling the last train to Hunstanton. . .
May 3 – 9.05pm to be exact – will be just another ordinary Friday night in Hunstanton as a handful of holidaymakers wander back to their parked cars after a drink or a takeaway meal of fish and chips.
Without exception, all of them will be oblivious to a life-changing spectacle that took place in the town exactly 50 years earlier.
It was a moment that Hunstanton has never fully recovered from – the arrival of the last ever train from King’s Lynn on Saturday, May 3, 1969. Around 250 people travelled on it, and the same number were on the platform to witness the last rites of the railway that had served the town so well for over 100 years.
The gusts from the sea quickly wafted away the exhaust fumes of the shabby empty diesel unit as it roared away southwards for the final time, its red tail light glowing for a couple of minutes as it sped towards Heacham. After the station lights had been switched off, most of the well-wishers present must have realised that Hunstanton wound never be quite the same again.
It was about to enter unknown territory, now cut off from the rest of the UK apart from the already congested and universally unpopular A149 road.
Really bad timing.
Closure was cruelly inflicted almost at the start of the 1969 summer season, which was a lacklustre one for Hunstanton’s tourist-depended businesses.
Worse was to come. It would be a tough few years for all of North West Norfolk’s communities, including Heacham, Dersingham and Snettisham, which once all had stations. This was a time when all Britons were beginning to contemplate a holiday in southern Spain, where it was always sunny and the beer was cheap.
The Government would be unworried about Norfolk’s little local difficulty because shutting the railway had rid it of an annual subsidy of £40,000 a year (almost £500,000 in today’s money).
The so-called new era 1960s, when most families could afford a motor, was not good for Hunstanton. As well as the railway station, the old Great Eastern Railway’s prestigious Sandringham Hotel, with its magnificent Casino Ballroom, had been demolished despite still being fit for purpose.
The landmark pier – still sorely missed – was never repaired after sustaining storm damage, the open air swimming pool has been filled in, and even the popular boating lake drained and partly built over.
The central station site, now derelict, was quickly cleared of all its platforms and buildings, and turned into the vast car park we see today.