The History & Heritage of WWLR
The Wells & Walsingham Light Railway is the result of one man's passionate dream, hard work and sheer determination
Lieutenant Commander Roy Wallace Francis
Lieutenant-Commander Roy Wallace Francis (1922 - 2015) was a British naval officer who served on HMS Edinburgh and HMS Manchester during World War II.
Glittering Military Career
As a child he had a keen interest in railways, but his father sent him to naval school at the age of fourteen. During the Second World War, Francis saw active service in a glittering military career which saw him decorated with several medals.
Miniature Steam Trains
In 1942, Francis married Marie Bartlett and the couple went on to have two children. He left the Navy in 1956 and established a boat building company on the Norfolk Broads.
Francis rekindled his interest in railways, taking miniature steam trains to fairs during the 1960s and 70s. In 1976, he built the 10¼" gauge Wells Harbour Railway at the request of Norfolk County Council to alleviate traffic congestion in the town. He later sold that railway to finance the construction of his next project in 1979; The Wells & Walsingham Light Railway.
The Wells & Walsingham Light Railway
The new railway followed the course of the old Great Eastern line for four miles from Wells to Walsingham. On 6 April 1982, services officially began on schedule, making it the longest 10¼" narrow gauge steam railway in the world.
Engines & Rolling Stock
Pilgrim was the star of the show - an 0-6-0 side tank engine which hauled the train until 1987. Norfolk Hero took over then – a unique new 2-6-0 + 0-6-2 Garratt locomotive. Two extra coaches were added to the train increasing the seating capacity to 76. A second Garratt locomotive Norfolk Heroine was added to the fleet and entered service in April 2011.
The Signal Box Cafe
Around that time, a redundant signal box was moved from Swainsthorpe to Wells Station, where the ground floor was converted and now provides a thriving shop and tearoom. The full history of the railway, the journey described, engineering, locomotive and permanent way details can all be found in the guidebook. This and other memorabilia can be purchased from the station shop.
WWLR environmental commitment
Conserving history, wildlife and the natural environment.
Wells & Walsingham Light Railway
is custodian to just over four miles of picturesque Norfolk countryside. The land is designated as a County Wildlife site and is home to over 300 species of wildflower; some of them extremely rare. It forms a protective wildlife corridor between the coast and Walsingham inland.
Its chalk soil is a continuation of the Cromer/Sheringham chalk reef and as such, creates a wonderfully diverse habitat for flora, fauna and wildlife, including adders, birds of prey and coastal wild birds.
We manage the trackside to support this natural abundance and shy away from a municipal appearance which would not be beneficial. It can appear woollier than some railways at times but we are proud of our approach. This rewards passengers with a plethora of bright wildflowers and butterflies that dance alongside and through the passing carriages at right times of the year.
We do not subscribe to the theory of 'carbon offsetting' but rather, are constantly looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. We buy smokeless coal to use on the steam locos and are discussing the future of combustion going forward. That said, if we steam a normal year of 9,000 miles we would still release less carbon into the atmosphere than one return flight to New York.