Docking was one of the first Norfolk villages to have a rail service. The station was part of the West Norfolk Junction Railway, a branch line between Heacham and Wells-next-the-Sea.
The Lynn & Hunstanton Railway was opened on 3rd October 1862 connecting King’s Lynn to the purpose-built seaside town of New Hunstanton on the eastern side of the Wash. The line was soon carrying lucrative residential traffic, while further impetus was gained when the Royal Family purchased a large estate at Sandringham for the use of Edward, Prince of Wales.
Once West Norfolk had gained the Royal stamp of approval the Hunstanton area became even more popular with the upper middle class and the Hunstanton line became one of the best-paying lines in the country.
Origin of the West Norfolk Line
Eager to repeat the phenomenal success of the Hunstanton venture, a group of Lynn and Hunstanton directors led by Major Humphrey John Hare of Docking Hall (1811-1899) decided to extend the original line eastwards along the Norfolk coast towards the Burnhams. If successful this scheme would attract agricultural traffic from a wide rural area, while at the same time encouraging fishing and tourism into remote villages such as Burnham Overy and Brancaster.
In reality a coastal route continuing on from Hunstanton was hardly the best option. A chalk ridge to the north of Hunstanton would have required some substantial cuttings but perhaps more importantly Hunstanton itself was in the way. It was therefore decided that the new branch line, which would be known as the West Norfolk Railway, would head eastwards leaving the Lynn to Hunstanton line at Heacham, some two miles south of Hunstanton station, and terminating at Wells-next-the-Sea where a connection would be made with the existing branch line from Dereham, a distance of 18¼ miles.
Capital of £75,000 in £10 shares was authorised, together with loans of £25,000. The total cost of the proposed railway would be £100,000.
Construction and Opening of the West Norfolk Line
Construction began in October 1864. Leaving Heacham, the route climbed from sea level to an elevation of around 250ft at Docking, then fell towards Burnham Market, from where a level area of reclaimed marshland provided an easy entry to Wells-next-the-Sea.
By East Anglian standards, the line was quite “difficult”, with several cuttings, embankments and other engineering features along its 18¼ mile route. Nevertheless, rapid progress was made, and by January 1866 the railway was substantially complete. Unfortunately, the Board of Trade inspector refused to “Pass” the line until additional signals were installed but after several delays the West Norfolk branch finally opened to traffic on 17th August 1866.
The West Norfolk Railway was opened while the country was in the grip of a major financial crisis. The situation wasn’t helped by an outbreak of “cattle plague” in north Norfolk which reduced agricultural traffic on all local railways. Passenger traffic was also less than anticipated because although people now had another means of transport, many were still unwilling to leave their villages and travel further afield. Income was, unsurprisingly, far lower than expected.
To help alleviate the problem, a further extension towards Blakeney was considered. Blakeney was a small but busy fishing port and it was hoped the extra traffic generated would bring in badly needed income for the West Norfolk Railway, but unfortunately other companies had become active in the area and there was already talk of new lines reaching Cromer and Blakeney from Norwich. It seemed increasingly unlikely that the impoverished West Norfolk could have raised enough capital to build even a short extension, and faced with such harsh reality the West Norfolk directors bowed to the inevitable and opted for a total union with the Lynn & Hunstanton.
An act of 8th June 1874 allowed for the two companies to amalgamate as the West Norfolk Junction Railway.
By 1890 the 18¼ mile line had become part of the Great Eastern Railway (GER) after several companies in London and East Anglia were amalgamated. In 1923 Great Eastern Railway was itself absorbed into the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) one of the Big Four railway companies created by the government when it amalgamated the country’s many privately owned networks. The three other big companies created under amalgamation were the Great Western Railway (GWR), London Midland and Scottish (LMS), and Southern Railway (SR). Finally, the Heacham-Wells line came under British Rail Eastern region when the railways were nationalised in 1948.