History of the Loch
You may well be wondering why a lake in a market town in Norfolk should be known as Loch Neaton. There are very good reasons for both 'Loch' and 'Neaton'.
Firstly, the 'Neaton' part. In 1875 the Thetford to Watton Railway was extended from Watton to Swaffham by the Thetford and Watton Railway Company, a privately owned company, at a cost of £72,000.
About a mile of track needed building up, as it would be passing over low lying land at Neaton, a hamlet on the outskirts of Watton. An enormous amount of earth had to excavated in order to form this embankment, thereby leaving two large holes, known as the 'Ballast Holes'. The one furthest from the town filled with water from the adjoining River Wissey, the one nearer the town remaining dry.
A group of far-sighted and community-spirited businessmen saw the possibility and attraction of turning the area into a leisure park for the townsfolk, with a tennis court, bowling green, bandstand and, by filling in the deep depression left by the excavations, a lake for swimming, boating, fishing and, when frozen over in severe winters, skating. High and long diving boards were installed at the deep end, where the water rose from a depth of 2 feet at the shallow end to a depth of 8 feet. Concerts were held at the bandstand for many years.
Following a few unsuccessful trial runs to channel water into the larger hole, eventually a wind operated pump was installed to pump water from a spring at the north end of the area.
With financial assistance from the businessmen, voluntary contributions and an enormous amount of back-breaking voluntary labour, their vision gradually took shape, the leisure park having a rather grand entrance just before the railway bridge spanning the Dereham Road. Steps led from the entrance down to the level of the lake, where a lower path surrounded the water. A high level path running parallel to the railway embankment afforded panoramic views across the lake with its water lily beds. The area around the lake was landscaped with trees and the area between the two paths was planted with a variety of shrubs and wild flowers.
An area was set aside for playing quoits and, after acquiring a piece of adjoining farmland, four grass tennis courts were laid, one for men, one for boys and one for ladies and girls, with a pavilion for use by the players. Changing rooms were provided for the swimmers. During the summer months, rowing boats were moored close to the entrance to the park and could be hired for a few pence.
The whole leisure park became known as Loch Neaton, being administered by a committee of townsmen, and in 1906 was conveyed to Trustees on behalf of the town for all time, for the benefit of the people of the town and the surrounding villages.
Other sporting events took place on special days throughout the year, such as the marathon races held on Whit Mondays, attracting competitors from all over the country, beginning and finishing at the entrance gates.
Fairy lights were suspended from the trees around the Loch on special occasions, which must have been utterly magical, particularly with fireworks at dusk and dancing to round off the evening.
A splendid new concrete lined 100 feet by 60 feet swimming pool was constructed at the end of the second world war incorporating a diving well, children's pool, spectator stands, changing rooms and a filtration plant at a cost of £11.000, raised wholly by the community.
The bowls Club went from strength to strength, so in 1982 a new, full size, green was opened in its current location at the Sports Centre and the old green became an open grassed area.
Regrettably, the railway line, known locally as 'The Crab and Winkle Line' was closed by the infamous Mr Beeching and the last passenger train left Watton for Swaffham during the evening of the 12th of June 1964. The last goods train travelled the track about a year later and before long the line was ripped up and the sidings built by the Americans to cope with the goods and equipment needed for their air base were removed.
The swimming pool has long since gone (as have the other forms of recreation), the area having been filled in, now being the site of the picnic area.
Swimming and boating are no longer permitted, for safety reasons. Skating is definitely not allowed and very dangerous, since even in severe winters these days the ice is too thin.
And as for the 'Loch' part? The excavations were carried out mainly by Scottish labourers, so the lake was named 'Loch' Neaton in their honour.