The Navvy House at Wymondham is one of a number of similar houses built in c1890 by the contractors for the Midland Railway for the construction of the line between Saxby and Bourne. Contracts were let and work began in October 1890.
The Wymondham house would have been constructed for Holme and King, the contractor for the railway between Saxby and a point between Wymondham and South Witham. It is the only survivor of several such structures which once stood in Castle Bytham, South Witham and Wymondham.
An extract from the Midland Railway plans shows the existing Station House, marked as ‘S M Ho’, on the north side of the line with the existing Navvy House next west in the centre and the demolished Navvy House to the extreme west.
The house is a Grade II Listed Building, having been Listed on 13 January 1988 with a subsequent list amendment of 17 October 2007.
By the late C19 and following action by Parliament navvy housing was of a standard much improved over earlier years. Although considered to be temporary buildings, they provided a good standard of accommodation compared with some rural housing. Internally there were three rooms, with two of them being heated.
At one end was the smallest room, for occupation by a married man and his family. This and the central room were separated by the chimney with fireplace on both sides. The central and other end room were of an equal size.
The centre was a communal living and dining room with the unheated end being a dormitory. The wife would be paid by the lodgers for cleaning, cooking and washing.
Of the nine huts in Wymondham, the 1891 Census records that one was occupied by nine people, two by ten, one by 11, one by 12, two by 13 and two by 14. Of the pair of which the survivor is one, one was occupied by 13 people the other by 14.
One had a Foreman of Works, his wife and six daughters, together with six Railway Labourers, the latter all lodgers. The other had a Railway Labourer, his wife, described as a Cook, two Railway Labourer sons, a daughter described as a Laundress, and eight lodgers. One of these was an Engine Driver, two Engine Cleaners and five Railway Labourers.
Most were demolished after the line opened in 1893 but five examples at Little Bytham, one pair at South Witham and two at Wymondham, were retained and used as staff accommodation. They are all shown on the County Series, 1;2500 Second Edition maps.
Those at South Witham were demolished on 13 October 1954. Those at Little Bytham had all been demolished by the early 1970s. One of the surviving pair at Wymondham was demolished in 1993.
The local authority, Melton Borough Council, and the owner were not informed of the listing at the time because the paperwork had been sent to Wymondham in Norfolk.
One of the pair at Wymondham was lived in until the 1950s. The survivor has remnants of domestic wallpaper on its walls. Oral recollection is that it was regarded locally as rather shameful to live in what was, by the 1950s, a substandard dwelling, and it was occupied until 1956.
An assessment has been made in an effort to establish if the vertical timber cladding to the exterior is original. Surviving photographs of that at Broadgate Lane, South Witham, show it to have had horizontal boarding. However, there was a different contractor employed here, JD Nowell, and he may have clad the huts he provided in a different manner.
SWA Newton’s photographs of Navvy housing for the construction of the Great Central Railway in the period 1894-99 show the use of both horizontal and vertical cladding although where the latter is used it is plain, flat boarding rather than with the relief found at Wymondham.
So, the results are inconclusive but it is clear that the existing boards do have considerable age and, thus, may well be original.
That the building has architectural and historic interest is not disputed. The Heritage Gateway entry refers to it being a rare and almost intact example of its type and that it may be the only surviving example in England.
There is one other similar building, at Dent Station in Cumbria on the Settle to Carlisle line, also built by the Midland Railway in the period 1866 to 1875. It is also a Grade II Listed Building. Once almost derelict, this has now been repaired. It now provides for holiday accommodation, see www.dentstation.co.uk/snowhuts_interior.php
The website describes it as having been built in 1885 as a lineside shelter for railway workers, the name Snow Hut derived from its use for workers in winter keeping the line running at times of heavy snowfall.
The listing description for this building states that it was a dormitory for Navvies with an office at one end. It also has walls of stone which made it of more permanent construction. Indeed, in such an isolated spot, and being sited at the highest railway station in England, it may have been purposely built to more permanent than that at Wymondham.
The list description does also state that the building is a rare survival and that other examples have been substantially altered. No other examples have been listed.
The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Wymondham Navvy house is unique, both in terms of its survival and relatively unaltered state. It is, therefore, a very important building in a national context.