Blog : Sunny Hunny

Ian Nicholls

HUNSTANTON-August 1959

The world never stands still, and not only do fashions and technology change over the passage of time, but also our habits. Not only have traditional industries disappeared, but so has the traditional British seaside holiday that gave employment to thousands of Britons.

These two pictures illustrate how the world has changed. Above is Hunstanton railway station in August 1959, the last year when one could travel direct from Liverpool Street station in London to Hunstanton, via King’s Lynn. We see an apparently busy station with a D16 4-4-0 engine and coaches in a mixture of liveries. In the backgound is the Sandringham Hotel, by then in use as offices by Hunstanton Urban District Council.

At one stage there were direct express trains to another Norfolk resort, Cromer. In August 1959, the same month as the BMC Mini was launched, this world was already dying.

The decline of the King’s Lynn-Hunstanton Branch Line appears to have been rapid. After 1959 Hunstanton was left with a mainly Diesel Multiple Unit service to and from King’s Lynn. By 1966, services to London had been reduced to one working on weekdays, together with two up and one down on Summer Saturdays.

The King’s Lynn-Hunstanton Branch Line was not listed for closure in 1963 by the good Doctor Beeching, but British Rail deemed the line to be uneconomic and, despite attempts at rationalisation, the line closed in May 1969. The Sandringham Hotel had already been demolished in April 1967. The villain of the peace appears to have been the British public’s love affair with the motor car.

However, resorts like Hunstanton would face competition from cheap continental holidays as the 1970s dawned and apparently now Mr Average is likely to spend ten days in Spain rather than the UK for his summer holiday.

Meanwhile, the image below shows Hunstanton railway station as it is now, a car park. Back in 2008, a report on behalf of West Norfolk Council did investigate the possibility of reopening the Kings Lynn-Hunstanton Branch Line, but it was rejected on cost grounds.

The line from Cambridge to Kings Lynn is now electrified. The sheer cost of property in the Cambridge area has created a new type of commuter, so perhaps re-opening the King’s Lynn-Hunstanton Branch Line might be viable after all? Certainly the partial re-opening of the Waverley Line as the Borders Railway has exceeded all expectations, and recent data has suggested that car use has topped-out in the UK.

As stated at the top of the article, the world never stands still, and now the internet shopping revolution is changing our high streets as the traditional shop finds life hard going. Internet banking is being used as an excuse to close thousands of bank branches, affecting those who cannot get to grips with modern technology.

What does the future hold?


Ian Nicholls
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  1. I never knew that tis was he location on he Hunstanton station, but then I have only been visiting there since the 1990s. Unfortunately our short sightedness meant that arts of the railway network that should have been kept were closed and dismantled and are no longer viable to reuse. Think how the roads would be if we still transferred freight by rail?

  2. Stood on that very spot Saturday just gone and was thinking about the old station and how good it would be now to be able to travel there by train, both for me and my kids. There is a solitary railway building remaining in the car park along with a semaphore signal. The building in question (with a tall chimney) can just be seen behind and to the left of the semaphore signal in the top photo.

  3. As my Dad used to say “Nothing is forever”. We keep getting told the modern consumer, transport, business, lifestyle and technology is better now… my response is YES – it’s different, but not necessarily better!

    Same as new car launches, yes, cars are better and more reliable/advanced, but I still think car launches were more exciting in the 1960’s & 70’s. Definitely showing my age when I say that!

  4. Mention of car use topping out is probably correct. About 80 per cent of households own a car now and, due to congestion, high fuel prices, parking problems, a fair percentage of the population being too poor or unwilling to own a car, I can’t see it rising any further. Also in some inner London boroughs car ownership is falling as parking is so difficult and expensive, not to mention the congestion charge and very rigorous enforcement of parking regulations.

  5. Glen – living close to London and going in regular on public transport I have no idea why people would own a car in London – LT is really good if a little crowded.

  6. “The sheer cost of property in the Cambridge area has created a new type of commuter, so perhaps re-opening the King’s Lynn-Hunstanton Branch Line might be viable after all?”

    The downside of a good train service is that places just end up as commuter towns, devoid of life during the day.

    As for Hunstanton itself, with a population of 4,229 it really is a tiny place, as are most of the North Norfolk towns, so I can’t imagine traffic congestion being that bad, especially as the through traffic from Norwich or even Cromer doesn’t go through it.

    • I presume by your comment regarding traffic congestion at Sunny Hunny, you have never actually driven there? Try driving there on a sunny summer weekend and I guarantee you will change your opinion! I have even driven there from Peterborough only to find upon arrival a police car parked across the first main route into the resort (from the roundabout) advising everyone that the resort is full and closed and to drive on – I kid you not!

  7. I’ve succeeded in following the course of the former King’s Lynn to Hunstanton railway line on Google Earth – for the most part it still stands out clearly in the aerial/satellite imagery. However, in the process it also became clear to me that the former right-of-way has been built over at several locations in King’s Lynn and – quite extensively – in Heacham, so therefore reinstating the old railway line on its former right-of-way doesn’t look viable.

  8. A few resorts lost thier rail services due to the Beeching axe, which didn’t take regional changes in services into account.

  9. In August Hunstanton hosts a kite festival which incorporates an excellent classic car show. I’ve been to it twice and the town was busy.
    When the weather is good, places like Hunstanton are deluged with day trippers, but the regular holiday trade is a thing of the past.
    This has transferred to Spain where people expect sun with their chips.
    The stuff about car use plateauing came from a recent edition of Modern Railways magazine. Not living in London, I can’t comment what life as a motorist is like.
    Perhaps the aftermath of steam left a legacy where rail travel was perceived as dirty by many people not enamoured by the romance of railways. Now with the passage of time, it is the car that is being seen as dirty and inconvenient.
    In comparison a class 156 DMU is positively pristine. Also public transport enables people to spend time playing with their phones, tablets and other electronic gizmos.
    Surely the purpose of driverless cars is to enable the occupants to play with their electronic gizmos?

  10. @ Richard 16378, Silloth near me had a rail link with Carlisle until 1964 which made the resort easily accessible for people without cars from Scotland and the North East. Nowadays you can get there by bus, but it’s infrequent and slow.

  11. I enjoy seeing these old engines now and then but retiring them on daily passenger and goods trains was better for us all.

    The amount of soot from those two coal fired locos is pretty ridiculous.

    I used to commute daily to school for a couple of years on a steam train. The smell would linger on my uniform all day.

    We have come a long way.

  12. @ ExPatBrit, these locomotives might have looked glamorous on expresses, but on other trains they were dirty, slow and out of date. It’s no wonder on passenger trains, they were largely phased out by 1962 in favour of diesel and electric traction. Also I can’t imagine it being much fun driving a steam train in very hot or very cold weather and most drivers were glad to see the back of them.

  13. I think if you want to see the decline of rail services and their subsequent effect on seaside resorts, you need only go as far as the nation’s favourite seaside resort, Blackpool. However, what that reveals is also a sorry tale of the other factor in many railway closures, local authorities. It’s regularly assumed that low passenger numbers and the pressing need for modernisation was what led to many rail closures. However the growth of private car ownership and the new motorways – indeed the first motorway was the Preston by-pass, now part of the M6 – meant there was simply less demand for rail travel. The by now infamous – and with the benefit of hindsight – rather harshly judged Mr Beeching’s report did do a great deal of damage to Britain’s railways, but it should be remembered that in some cases the rail services withdrawn were so poorly used it would have been cheaper to ferry the folk about in taxis or even buy them a car. But one thing that the Beeching Report did get correct was it identified that BR’s use of largely seasonal coaching stock – which in the main was used to fetch all these holidaymakers and wakes week’s trips – was hugely inefficient.

    As weird as it may seem it today’s day and age of sweating assets and train shortages, in the early sixties BR had hundreds of coaches lying about most of the year ready to be brought in for use for a few weeks over the summer. The Beeching Report brought a stop to that but it did reduce the number of folk who came by rail as a result.

    But back to Blackpool.. In the early sixties it had two main railway terminals. Blackpool Central, which dealt in the main with inter-city and Holiday traffic, and Blackpool North which dealt with local services plus some Holiday traffic too. Beeching recommended closing Blackpool North and BR agreed. However, just before that it was – ahem – got at by Blackpool Corporation who long coveted the land that Central was built on. So it recommended closing Central instead. BR agreed. However, since that time the land has became in effect a glorified car park. The same council that’s now complaining about rail services to the Flyde coast.

    I note with interest the proposals to re-open Hunstanton to Kings Lynn branch. Here in Scotland it’s rail re-openings that have made the news as rail goes through a resurgence – the latest being a proposed link to Glasgow Airport. It’s ironic that it’s taken congestion caused by the private car that has lead to this. If perhaps the Government can see that rail in the regions out with Greater London deserves investment too then we may move into a second golden railway age.

  14. Cumbria lost one railway line that had it stayed open, would have reduced pressure on the A66, which largely follows its route, the Workington- Penrith line. Had this line stayed open, it could have been used for freight from Workington Docks to the WCML, local commuters from the villages around Workington and tourist traffic from Penrith to Keswick and Cockermouth. Also west Cumbria, until the western half of the line closed 50 years ago, had a daily rail service to Euston.

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