At one time there were three railway stations in Norwich: Norwich Thorpe, the current station, still known locally as "Thorpe station"; Norwich Victoria, which was the terminus for some passenger services from London until 1916, as well as being a goods station until its demolition in the 1970s; and Norwich City, which was the terminus of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway line from Melton Constable, and closed in 1959.
The original station was opened by the Yarmouth & Norwich Railway (Y&NR), which was the earliest railway in Norfolk. The YNR's Act of Parliament of 18 June 1842 authorised the issue of £200,000 worth of shares to build a line between the two towns, via Reedham and the Yare valley. The chairman was George Stephenson and the chief engineer was his son, Robert Stephenson. Construction started in April 1843 and the 20.5-mile (33 km) line was completed in a year. There was an inspection and inaugural run on 12 April 1844, and a ceremonial opening on 30 April 1844, followed the next day by the beginning of regular passenger services.
On 18 May 1844, 17 days after the Y&NR started running train services, Parliament gave the Royal Assent to the Norwich & Brandon Railway (N&BR). This was part of a plan to link the Y&NR with London, by linking up with the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) being built from Newport, Essex, to Brandon, Suffolk. Work started quickly during 1844 and went on into 1845. On 30 June 1845, a Bill authorising the amalgamation of the Y&NR with the N&BR came into effect, and Norwich station became a Norfolk Railway asset.
The N&BR line arrived at the station on 15 December 1845, which offered a route to Shoreditch in London via Cambridge and Bishop's Stortford. The Eastern Union Railway (EUR) was building a line towards Norwich, and that led to great rivalry between the EUR and the ECR. The ECR trumped the EUR by taking over the Norfolk Railway, including Norwich Station, on 8 May 1848. The following year, the EUR started services to Norwich Victoria. The opening of Norwich Victoria on 12 December 1849 led to the ECR naming its station Norwich Thorpe. On 27 August 1851, EUR services from Ipswich started serving the better-placed Thorpe station.
By the 1860s, the railways in East Anglia were in financial trouble, and most were leased to the Eastern Counties Railway, which wanted to amalgamate them formally, but government agreement could not be obtained for that until an Act of Parliament on 7 August 1862, when the Great Eastern Railway (GER) was formed by the amalgamation. Actually, Norwich Thorpe and Norwich Victoria became GER stations on 1 July 1862, when the GER took over the ECR and the EUR before the Bill had received the Royal Assent.
Great Eastern Railway (1862-1922)
A decade after the GER was formed, the latter promoted a new line from Norwich to Cromer. That line was opened on 20 October 1874, and a new station was constructed at the junction of the Cromer line and Yarmouth & Norwich line. The new station, Whitlingham, stood between Norwich Thorpe and Brundall on the Yarmouth line.
With traffic growing, it was apparent a new station was required in Norwich. It was built to the north of the original station, opening on 3 May 1886, and is the structure surviving today. The old terminus became part of the expanded goods facilities.
The new station was built, at the cost of £60,000, by Messrs Youngs and Son, of Norwich, from designs by Messrs J Wilson and W. N. Ashbee, the company's engineer and architect respectively. The attractive station building was constructed around a central clock tower (the clock was supplied by Dixons and Co of London Street, Norwich) with two-storey matching wings either side. A portico was built onto the clock-tower section. There was a circulating area with a high ceiling, and the roof was supported by ironwork supplied by contractor Barnard Bishop and Barnard. The roof extended partly down the platforms, which were then covered by canopies for part of their length. There were initially five platforms, with engine-release roads between platforms 2 and 3 and 4 and 5, which allowed locomotives to be detached from trains without the need to shunt the carriages out of the station.
The GER and Norwich Thorpe changed little for the next 30 years. On 22 May 1916, the GER closed Trowse station as a wartime economy measure. That meant the first station south of Thorpe on the Ipswich line was Swainsthorpe, and the next station west of Thorpe on the Ely line was Hethersett. On 1 April 1919, five months after the end of the war, the GER reopened Trowse station. The GER went out of existence following the creation of the "Big Four" railway companies in 1923.
London and North Eastern Railway (1923-1947)
On 1 January 1923, the GER amalgamated with several other railways to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), as a result of the Railways Act 1921, which saw most of the 120 railway companies grouped into four main companies, in an effort to stem their losses. Norwich Thorpe became an LNER asset.
During World War II the station was bombed in June 1940 and April 1942.
Following the Transport Act 1947 the Big Four railway companies, including the LNER, were amalgamated into the nationalised British Railways (BR).
British Railways (1948-1994)
On 1 January 1948, the nationalisation of Britain's railways saw the operation of Norwich Thorpe station pass to British Railways (Eastern Region).
Platform 6 was added in 1954, and in 1955, a modern booking hall was built.
During the late 1950s, steam locomotives were phased out across the East Anglian network and replaced by diesel-powered trains.
After Norwich City station was closed as part of the Beeching cuts, British Rail decided to revert the name of the station to Norwich, which took effect on 5 May 1969.
When the station closed briefly for electrification works in 1986, Trowse, a disused suburban station, was put back into service as the temporary terminus of the line. It closed again when Norwich re-opened. The signalling was also modernised at that time, and the track layout simplified.
The privatisation era (1994-present)
On 1 April 1994, under the Railways Act 1993, ownership of the station passed to a new private company, Railtrack, which was restructured into Network Rail in 2004. Train services to Norwich were privatised later, with most services passing to Anglia Railways in January 1997. Services towards the West Midlands were taken over by Central Trains in March 1997. Anglia trains handed over their franchise to National Express East Anglia in 2004. Three years later, on 11 November 2007, the Central Trains franchise was broken up and West Midlands services to Norwich were taken over by the current operator, East Midlands Trains. The National Express East Anglia franchise passed to Abellio Greater Anglia on 5 February 2012.