Row of railway workers’ cottages built in 1845 by the Norwich & Brandon Railway.
Reason for Listing
The railway workers’ cottages, built in 1845 by the Norwich & Brandon Railway, are designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date: they are an early example of railway workers’ cottages built by an independent railway company during the heroic age of railway expansion;
* Architectural interest: they are a good example of typical mid-C19 railway cottages with plain, though well-proportioned elevations, ornamented solely by a first-floor string course and shallow gabled porches. Although the cottages have been altered, the overall survival of the two-up-two-down plan form, together with the outside lavatory building, provides evidence of their original use and configuration;
* Architectural context: the cottages are one of the four contemporary station buildings of 1845 that achieve a high level of architectural coherence through the use of flint and gault brick, and the repeated application of certain details, such as the blocked brick window surrounds, gabled porches and angled chimney stacks. The hierarchy of the complex is moreover articulated by the varied architectural treatment of the different elements, presenting valuable evidence of the social workings of a mid-C19 station complex;
* Rarity: the completeness with which the station complex has survived is rare. There are numerous stations throughout the country that retain three building types but only approximately forty in which a group of four or more types survive, whereas Thetford retains nine. Very few stations have survived with this number of buildings, and Thetford thus provides an almost complete picture of an early station that continued to evolve throughout the second half of the C19;
* Group value: the cottages form a key element in one of the finest surviving station complexes in East Anglia. They have strong group value with the main station building, former station master’s house, railway tavern and signal box, all listed at Grade II. Although the bridge and good shed at Thetford are not listed, they would appear to be of local interest as they make an important contribution to the group of railway buildings.
Thetford Railway Station was built as part of the Norwich & Brandon Railway but a month before the station opened in 1845 it became part of the Norfolk Railway. This was later incorporated into the Great Eastern Railway. The line from Norwich to Brandon was constructed by Messrs Grissell & Peto, and the engineers were Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) and George Parker Bidder (1806-1878). It is likely that it was Bidder, rather than Stephenson, who was closely involved with the project on a day-to-day basis. Sizeable station buildings, mostly in neo-Tudor style, were erected at each of the stations along the line; and according to an article in the Great Eastern Journal (October 1998), they would have been designed by the engineer, in this case Bidder, and approved by the board of directors.
In addition to the main station building, located on the south side of the tracks, accommodation was provided for railway staff. The workers were housed in a terrace of four cottages situated on the north side of the tracks, and the station master had a separate station house and garden further to the north-west. A railway tavern for travellers was built to the south at the entrance to the station yard. These three buildings are contemporary with the main station building. A timber goods shed was also built to the west of the station together with a covered coal shed of a type once common in East Anglia. The coal shed has since been demolished. A brick extension was built onto the goods shed in 1898 but the timber part was destroyed by fire in 1912. It was rebuilt in the same year, retaining the 1898 extension. The loading gauge located at the end of the loading dock, to the west of the goods shed, probably dates to the 1930s, having replaced what would have been an original timber one. Further developments at Thetford include the erection of the footbridge linking the up and down platforms in 1881 by J O & C E Beckett (it has since lost its corrugated iron roof); and the signal box, to the west of the main station building, which was built in 1883 when block signalling was installed on the Ely-Norwich line. In 1889 a comprehensive rebuilding of the station took place. The 1845 station building was retained but a new red brick booking office, erected by P H Dawes of King’s Lynn, was built onto its right (east) end, and a canopy was put up on the platform side. A matching waiting room in a screen wall with a canopy was also erected on the north (down) side.
Houses for station masters at or near stations had been a feature of railways since the earliest days but it was not long before railway companies began building housing for all grades of employees, of which the row of railway workers’ cottages at Thetford is an example. The cottages have been subject to some changes since they were built in 1845. The Ordnance Survey map of 1885 shows two small outbuildings at the rear of the first and third cottages. These have been removed and replaced with one slightly larger outbuilding, probably around the mid-C20 which is not of special interest. The 1885 map shows a narrow range of outbuildings projecting eastwards from the rear corner of the fourth cottage. It is likely that this was a wash-house, coal storage etc but it has since been replaced with a late C20 extension which is not of special interest. The map also depicts a small detached outbuilding for lavatories further to the east. The windows and doors on all except the first cottage have been replaced with those made of uPVC. The original blank window openings on the side elevation of the first cottage have been opened up and inserted with sash windows in 2013.
MATERIALS: gault brick with brick dressings and slate roof covering.
PLAN: the long row of four cottages is tucked into a narrow strip of land between the north platform and the garden of the former station master’s house.
EXTERIOR: the two-storey row of cottages has a low pitched hipped roof with two symmetrically placed wide ridge stacks with oversailing courses and some circular pots. It has a brick plinth and brick string courses below the ground-floor and first-floor window sills. The two central cottages (Nos 2 and 3) have slightly projecting gabled entrance porches with four-centred arch openings. These are flanked by a narrow window with a cambered brick arch, and above the porch is a first-floor window positioned directly under the eaves. The windows and doors on Nos 2, 3 and 4 are of uPVC. The window openings on No. 3 have been altered, except for that on the right hand side of the ground floor. The end cottages (Nos 1 and 4) are lit by a single window on each floor, No. 1 retaining the original timber sashes which have eight-over-twelve panes on the ground floor and four-over-eight panes on the first floor. The return elevation of No. 1 has two bays with a gabled porch and original panelled door on the right hand side. There is a blind window opening on the left, whilst the two on the first floor have recently been opened up and three-over-three pane timber sashes inserted. The return elevation of No. 4 is similar except that it has lost its porch due to the erection of a narrow, single-storey C20 brick extension which is not of special interest. Each cottage has a back door and is lit by either two or three windows, the openings of some having been altered. No. 1 retains its original four-panelled door and sash windows.
INTERIOR: only No. 3 has been inspected internally. This retains its basic plan of two rooms to each floor, although a bathroom has been added on the first floor. The staircase has been replaced and the fireplaces have been blocked up. No. 1 retains two original doors and No. 2 is said to retain a fireplace but otherwise the interiors are thought to have been modernised.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the small outside lavatory building, to the east of the row, is constructed of gault brick and retains an original plank and batten door. The timber lean-to between this building and the extension to No. 4 is not of special interest.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.