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For more than a century, some of us have been
captivated by the miniature world of the model railway.
A land of tiny, detailed wagons and scaled-down stations.
It's a world that once gripped the imagination of children.
I saw the shape of the box and I thought,
"Ooh, that's a Hornby Dublo train set."
Model railways were shaped by our love of the steam age.
It's an incredible visual spectacle.
The only way you can recreate that is by having a model railway.
It was a hobby that drew fathers close to sons...
You don't get changed out of your school or your work clothes,
you sit down immediately with your dad
and engage in running some locomotives.
..and a fascination that lasted a lifetime.
You may go off it, at times. When you find your wife,
she may take a bit of your time up,
and then the first child comes along and guess what you think about?
"I think I'll build a model railway."
This isn't the story of eccentrics in duffle coats hiding in lofts.
Railway modelling is bigger than that
and about much more than just trains.
The way that industry, economics, technology,
impacts on our social and cultural life.
I would argue for a re-claiming of rail enthusiasm as something
which we should celebrate now instead of just being suspicious of.
That's spot on, that is.
The British love of model railways
is etched into our historical obsession with the real thing.
Britain invented the railway and it became a source of national pride.
But more than anything else,
steaming through British identity is the drama of the locomotive.
Seeing a steam engine go past on the main line at high speed is
something that leaves a real mark on you.
You saw coming in this huge piece of iron that was on fire,
smoke belching out.
I mean, I used to grip my father's hand and think, "What's that?"
Steam issuing out from underneath, the whole thing is alive.
You put your hand on it
and it's quivering like a horse as the water boils.
The thrashing of the rods as it goes along at 100 miles an hour.
It's an incredible visual spectacle.
The only way you can recreate that is by having a model railway.
Gives you a little taste of that same feeling
and it triggers off the memories of seeing these beasts flying around.
For Pete Waterman,
capturing that railway atmosphere has been a lifelong pursuit.
Leamington's where I started spotting in 1951,
it's where my mum took me and stood me on the station
while she went off with my auntie shopping, you know.
Half a crown to go to the buffet to get me a cup of tea
when I wanted one and I spent from about '51 to '63 at Leamington Spa.
It's what I did.
Leamington also had other attractions for Pete
and his fellow modelling club members.
It was an area where different railway companies all
converged in one place.
You've got the LMS on that side,
you've got the Great Western on this side, you've also got LNWR
and LNER and Southern trains through the station.
So, for a modeller, the world's your oyster, you can build anything.
It's all signalled correctly, and all the signals work.
There are complicated junctions.
The problem we found when we built the layout, of course,
we were overenthusiastic so, as you can see, if anything falls off in the
middle, we don't remedy that because if it falls off you can't reach it.
And also on the railway I've got things like this,
I actually own the real one of these tanks, so, you know,
a bit of self-indulgence that I'm playing with my own train,
but I never get time to go and see the real thing
but I get time to play with the model.
Everything's hand made.
There's one and a half hundredweight of ballast
all put in with a paintbrush.
It's never-ending, it won't ever be finished, but it keeps us modelling.
Modelling first got going in the Edwardian age
when a young entrepreneur called Wenman J Bassett-Lowke
began to produce models that fed on our passion for locomotives.
He would stoke up a fascination with model railways in Britain
that has lasted more than 100 years.
Bassett-Lowke's genius was
to miniaturise the engineering wonder of his day
at a time when railways were at their peak.
The Edwardian period before the First World War is arguably
the golden age of railways in Britain.
These locomotives are like the jet aircraft of today.
Passenger services were unparalleled, finely decorated locomotives,
exquisitely decorated coaches,
you could get pretty much everywhere in the United Kingdom by train.
When you combine that with this general attitude towards
railways as being cutting-edge technology,
then it's quite easy to understand why some people,
some members of the public, men mostly, it has to be said,
become interested in representing
this kind of cutting-edge technology in miniature form.
Wealthy man of leisure wanted to feel that they had
a stake in the great railway enterprise.
What better way than through a scaled-down version?
Bassett-Lowke introduced them to the new model world.
He loved modern engineering, he loved structures.
Aircraft, he loved aircraft.
Bassett-Lowke was a man of his time, he was a Victorian entrepreneur.
He made his first money by selling black and white
pictures of a train crash in Northampton.
Bassett-Lowke's father was a boiler maker and engineer
but Wenman didn't want to follow in his footsteps.
For him, the future lay in a much smaller world.
He spotted that people wanted to mimic the real railway.
He was the first to make... They weren't toys,
they would be classed as engineering art pieces
for people who wanted a bit more for their garden.
So he saw that there were all these posh blokes out there who
would like a model railway that could afford his locomotives.
In 1900, there were over 100 railway companies
competing for the public's attention,
and steam fans all had their favourite locomotives.
There was a kaleidoscope of colours and liveries
and if Bassett-Lowke could offer replicas of choice locomotives,
the market was his for the taking.
On a trip to the continent,
the 22-year-old saw what he needed to do.
Bassett-Lowke originally imports his trains from Germany, in particular,
from Nuremberg in Germany, which is the capital of wonderful
toy makers who make these scaled-down trains,
He set up the company that really started what
we now class as model railways. Without a doubt, he set it all up.
He would take these German toys, make them
look like realistic versions of British trains,
and sell them as models for adults, earning a mint in the process.
His first attempt was the Black Prince locomotive,
which was over two feet long and cost around £500 in today's money,
which didn't even include any track.
Looking at his catalogues, you will notice he never, ever
uses the word "toy" trains. It doesn't come into it.
Model railways, models, model steam engines,
the whole thing is based on models.
They were very expensive, they were far too elaborate for children,
yes, they were grown-up gentlemen's toys, that's what they were.
The distinction between toy and model
was an important one to Bassett-Lowke's clients.
His models were detailed,
engineered, accurate depictions of real locomotives.
The scientific man about town couldn't be seen to be
playing with toys.
It's about mechanics, it's educational,
it's about engineering, science, mathematics.
It's about self-improvement through building things.
For Bassett-Lowke's customers, it was all about having the money
to buy the trains and the space to run them.
For his larger engines, a billiards room,
estate gardens or perhaps an old tennis court would do the trick.
But Bassett-Lowke had even bigger ambitions.
His locomotives weren't all for
watching go round a track on the floor.
His miniature ride-on trains were models for millionaires.
They pushed shrunken-down steam engineering to its limits and ran
through stately homes or served as tourist attractions at the seaside.
For his smaller models, power was provided by steam, early electricity
or even clockwork, a somewhat hit and miss method of propulsion.
Some of the big engines had enormous clockwork mechanisms.
There was one that was so powerful this would pull a kid.
It obviously had distinct disadvantages.
You wound it up and set it off on your layout
on this hopeful journey, it was going to arrive
in Peterborough or somewhere
and it of course wound up stopping in a tunnel.
For such a young capitalist, Bassett-Lowke was an enigma.
He was a fan of the Arts and Crafts movement
and hung out with George Bernard Shaw.
He championed workers' rights and commissioned radical modern artwork.
Bassett-Lowke is a fascinating man.
Politically, he's on the left, he's a Fabian, he's a pacifist,
his house in Northampton was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
It's the last great Mackintosh house.
Wenman was a man of progressive ideals, but one who knew his market.
He was servicing a very particular clientele, the filthy rich.
I mean, the Bassett-Lowke who's who of the time was very interesting.
I mean, Churchill, there's Walt Disney,
all sorts of people like this were clients
of the Bassett-Lowke showroom. Members of the Royal family...
So his left aspect seems to be a little bit...
bit awry there.
By 1912, business was booming.
He was opening new shops
and the rich couldn't get enough of his German-built trains.
Model railways had arrived.
In 1914, I think it was the imports
from German toy factories,
were £1 million at 1914 values.
It's a huge sum. And, of course, that was cut off with the war.
When the war ended in 1918, money was tight
and Bassett-Lowke had lost many of his clients.
The landscape for his miniature locomotives had changed.
A lot of the wealthy middle or upper class people who could afford
these fine early models would have been fighting in the war
and many of them, unfortunately, would have been killed.
This was, of course, the time when the largest number of country houses
went on the market in a five-year period that Britain ever knew.
Lots of people lost a lot of money.
So the market for...
The size of the market that people like Lowke
were serving went down.
The large trains, which had been so successful before the war,
had become a liability.
They were so expensive, they just sat in his showrooms in Holborn
and in Manchester and Northampton, and they were not selling
because they were, frankly, too expensive.
Even worse, no-one wanted to buy products made in Germany any more.
All German imports carried the trademark label
German Reich Registered Design.
The German toys had a trademark, DRGM,
which was Deutsch Reich Gebrauchsmuster.
In Britain, the kids used to call that Dirty Rotten German Make.
With a diminished client base and expensive unsold stock,
Moving production to a new British factory,
he would have to expand into a wider market beyond the very rich.
By the 1920s, Bassett-Lowke was having the sort of trains
that were being made in Germany, were being made here in Britain.
Very proud to put in his catalogue "British-made".
And he had to go downscale to smaller models,
which needed less space and which were capable of being
housed in smaller houses which were being built.
In the 1920s, as the economy began to pick up again,
Bassett-Lowke's smaller-sized models put him back on track.
Over the previous 20 years,
he had popularised the idea of model railways.
But this was still a very expensive hobby,
which only the affluent could afford.
But there was a large potential market that had barely been touched.
Bassett-Lowke considered his products to be models
for discerning adults rather than children's toys.
For them to become a Boy's Own favourite took a man that
became famous for his toy trains.
A compulsive inventor, in 1901 Hornby had created a design
that changed the toy industry for ever.
Called Meccano, it made him very rich.
It was touch and go to start with,
but he succeeded and by 1916 he was able to publish a little, handy
pocket book of how he'd made his first million,
and a million really was a million in 1916.
As German toy makers were frozen out after the war, Frank Hornby saw
an opportunity for a new toy which was entertaining and educational.
He would mass-produce toy train sets for middle class children.
During 1920, he launched his first model railway,
toy railway set and it really was a toy railway, not a model railway.
One of his by-lines, I think, was "British toys for British boys"
which was fairly naked and jingoistic.
Hornby's new trains were a far cry
from Bassett-Lowke's detailed models.
Hornby designed wonderful, ungainly-looking locomotives with
tall chimneys, tall cabs, but embodying the nut and bolt principles
as you can take the whole thing to bits if you wished to.
And indeed, when you open the lid of the box
it showed you all the components that you could fit together.
Or lose, depending on how you felt inclined.
And it was a huge success.
He by all accounts was a very jolly and jovial father
and there are stories about their Christmas parties at home where
everyone would have to rush upstairs to see his latest invention,
they'd crowd into the bathroom to see
the submarine that he'd invented.
His niece told a story of one time she was actually
thrown into the bath in the excitement.
The submarine sank, but you know, it was this kind of feeling,
he was a constant inventor, he was constantly trying out new toys
and new marketing ploys.
Hornby was one of the first businessmen to target children
using sophisticated advertising and branding techniques,
which he applied to his new train venture.
His genius for manufacturing and emphasising detail,
and also for marketing and promoting, really drove the product.
The Meccano principle, he applied to trains, which was that the quality
would be second to none, but you would never be completing your kit.
You could always expand it, it could always be developed.
Here's a railway on which nobody ever rides.
It's a perfect system yet the trains carry no passengers
nor the barges goods.
The railway is the result of really amazing skill and untiring patience
and it's only these that have made this boy's school dream come true.
It's this kind of dedication and a love of accuracy
which is so important to modellers.
I started it in 1994, so that gives you an indication.
I suppose it was finished to a reasonable standard in about 2005,
so about ten years.
Buildings are the thieves of time, especially when they're done
like this, each stone is carved and painted one at a time, as it were.
And that does take a long time.
Iain Rice has been making model trains since he was three years old.
I used to make everything out of toilet rolls
and you can make a good model train out of toilet roll, yes.
Slice toilet roll for the wheels, toilet roll for the boiler,
flatten a toilet roll out to make the cab, yes, that's how I started.
I suppose making a model is a way of encapsulating an experience.
So you couldn't bring a real train home, but you get a model.
Making models, I mean, it's a basic creative urge, really.
First thing you've got to do, obviously, is to analyse what
you're trying to make a model of in terms of its components.
You've then got to measure and mark out the components.
You've then got to cut it out.
You then have to shape materials, so you've got to learn how to form
curves, form bends and you think, "Well, maybe I need to heat this
"bit of metal to bend it," so you've got to know how hot to get it.
So there's lots of fun in trial and error and experiment.
It's essentially a pointless activity,
it's not going to get anyone a meal on their table for tomorrow morning
or save someone's life, but it might save someone's sanity.
Escaping into the model universe wasn't just
about the trains for Hornby boys of the 1930s.
Hornby publications offered another world of Boy's Own adventure
with articles on engineering as well as the latest engines.
From 1922 onwards, they always produced a Hornby book of trains,
which was brilliant marketing
because the front cover had
a very dramatic picture of either
a Great Western Castle Class engine,
it always had a locomotive
or one of the big LMS Royal Scot Classes in its crimson red.
Beautiful looking pictures, the artwork was fabulous.
You looked at these books and you can imagine any kid thinking,
"I have got to have some of these things,
"I would love one of those!" because they just looked delightful.
The world that you see in Hornby is a particular kind of a world,
it's a world for boys in short trousers
whose heads are full of engineering detail, who know
the names of the locomotives and the great train lines of the world.
Their heads are chock-full of batting averages
and technical details, and they share this with their fathers,
their pipe-smoking dads, and it's a real sense of childhood
as a separate and particular world, but a world that these boys
will grow from and take all of the values that they've learnt
about engineering and about science and technology.
And it had these principles, it was producing the right kind of chap.
Underneath all the brightly coloured advertising was a pricing hierarchy
that appeals to a middle class sense of one-upmanship.
If you look at the adverts of the time, that the reversing ones
are being sold to middle middle-class
and the unreversing ones are being sold to lower middle-class.
So, beginning a very subtle marketing campaign aimed at a segmented market.
But there were other potential costs, such as health dangers.
When the electrics came in, it wasn't long before you were plugging them
direct into the mains and these things were horrendously dangerous.
If you've got a short circuit or the train derailed, consequently,
you had the full voltage now going through the track.
And there were cartoons of cats leaping off children's
model railways and, again, health and safety, I think
they would have danced a cancan.
Key to Hornby's success was trading on the relationship
between fathers and sons.
Some of the Hornby adverts from the '30s through to the '50s are
fascinating representations of fathers and their sons.
So on the one hand, there's a very formal element to these images.
Dad is usually in his suit and tie,
so we imagine the maybe Dad has just come home from work.
This is reinforced by the representation of the boy,
who is often shown in a blazer and a tie.
A little Mini-Me of Dad. He's probably just come home from school.
What we have here is a marketing for father and son togetherness.
As soon as you get home, that's how thrilling model railways are.
You don't get changed out of your school or your work clothes,
you sit down immediately with your dad
and engage in running some locomotives.
For earlier generations where fathers weren't particularly
encouraged to show an interest in their kids,
it was something that they could both do together
and it was something that the dads felt comfortable with,
because it was engineering and it was technical.
Hornby's toys arrived at a time of turmoil
and change for the real railways.
The First World War had taken its toll and by 1923,
the 100 plus railway companies had been merged into The Big Four.
The Great Western, London Midland and Scottish, Southern Railway
and London and North Eastern Railways.
Competition was fierce.
And now they had cars to worry about, too.
Each company focused on branding to try and lure back
upper and middle class passengers.
New and ever more powerful engines were designed,
colours and liveries were freshly painted,
the railways had never been so glamorous for modellers.
Because they were competing with each other, were extraordinarily
good at what we'd now probably call a branding or marketing
or even public relations.
Those weren't terms that were used at the time
but the railway companies were painting their engines
and their rolling stock and their stations
in distinctive liveries because they wanted to mark out
their services, their trains, from those of the competition.
The railway companies commissioned contemporary artists
to produce iconic posters promoting their destinations
as fashionable, even exotic.
Great Western is the most popular
railway by quite a lot. But then,
it went to the most romantic places for British people
in the '20s and '30s.
It went to Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.
So therefore they had the best posters, they had great colours,
that's what we all bought, we all bought the advertising.
This latest streamline locomotive makes its bow
as it starts its first test run from London to Newcastle.
Everything about it is still very hush-hush,
its perfect streamlining seems to radiate power and speed.
But best of all for railway modellers,
the train companies were trying to capture the public imagination
by setting new speed records.
Trains were getting faster and faster.
Mallard on one special occasion did 126 miles per hour, which was all
very, very important for the railway's publicity machine.
So it's not surprising that model companies,
Hornby is a really good example, make models of these famous locomotives
almost before they're off the real-life production line.
These are popular models,
they tie in with the railway's marketing campaigns.
It was on Mallard, one of the LNER's streamline Pacifics, the driver,
Duddingston, set up a speed record that has never been beaten.
The engine drivers were the astronauts of their day,
they were household names, they were interviewed on newsreels,
in the newspapers, things like that.
And he recalls with some excitement how her speed mounted from 90 to
100, 110, 120, 125, and finally,
126 thrilling miles an hour.
They were breaking the barriers for speed, you know, at a time
when the few cars that were around travelled at ten or 15 miles an hour,
this engine was travelling at more than two miles a minute.
Princess Elizabeth broke a speed record.
The Hornby version of that train was in the shops within weeks,
together with an endorsement of the driver,
"Driver Clark says it's fine."
And it was that idea of authenticity
and absolute detail and quality that was central to the whole endeavour.
As the Hornby brand became a household name,
the middle class were expanding into the suburbs
and the Hornby model railway was the toy of choice.
You see some of the sales literature for some of these houses,
one of the interesting things is it often features boys and their dads
and train sets, and this was the promotional material
for the houses and the housing themselves.
So it's this idea that this is the kind of lifestyle you can buy into,
you can become one of the people that can afford
not just this house, but this kind of toy.
The trains themselves, of course, these housing estates
are linked by these commuted lines and these branch lines.
Dad goes to work on the train, it's only natural that his son
would want to have a train set that replicates that.
The company realised there was
a whole world out there to be modelled,
and reproduced every conceivable detail of the everyday world.
The Hornby child would never run out of new things to buy.
You weren't just buying the rolling stock and the track,
you had all of the paraphernalia to replicate the real world,
but to do it in an idealised way,
to leave the grubbiness of the real world behind and create your
branch line with the advertising, with the signs on the station,
with the figures.
Here was the baggage porter, the businessman with his Times,
the milk churns waiting to be collected.
You had that wonderful world, everything from the sleepy
branch line station to the modern Art Deco electric line terminus.
Hornby provided everything needed to make a detailed railway scene.
But for many modellers,
their craft is about being able to show the world as they see it.
I started to get involved doing buildings.
I didn't like the plastic buildings
because they didn't represent what I wanted them to represent.
I wanted funny things, I wanted strange things,
I wanted sheds with roofs that had holes in
and it's a little bit more difficult when you've got a ready-made
or kit ready to make.
So I used to build, I still do, build my buildings right from scratch.
We are deep in rural Brittany in North-West France
in the early 1960s.
Maggie and her husband Gordon have made an award-winning
layout of a small French provincial town.
The layout is based on a small metre gauge railway in Brittany.
We've called it Pempoul, the name is purely robbed from a small hamlet
where there was a gite we used to stay in, so it doesn't have
any sort of bearing on a real railway
or the real railway in the area.
But the Reseau Breton, which was quite a sizeable system
for a metre gauge railway in Brittany,
offered us the opportunity to do something a little bit different.
Even at this late state,
there was still significant freight on the system,
requiring the use of heavy locos, like Corpet-Louvet Mallet number 41.
We started work on it.
We had to look at papers and pictures and maps
and all sorts of things because we knew not a thing about this railway.
A lot of the British railways
we knew a little bit about or could find out about,
but the French one, internet wasn't bad, but not that good.
And nothing was being built commercially,
so we knew it would have to be totally, totally hand-built.
Everything you saw had to be hand-built.
After 17 years of painstaking work, their vision was complete.
Making it by hand was the only way to capture
the essence of French small-town life.
It's that passion for detail
that Gordon and Maggie find so attractive.
You can build a square box as a building,
put a roof on it, make it look beautiful,
but somehow you don't feel like anybody could live in it.
Because there's just something missing,
and very often you can't even put your finger on it.
And then you change the colour scheme slightly,
you put a dent in a front door, you break a window - in model form -
and suddenly it looks like it's been lived in.
And I think that is what we both try to achieve.
Scratch builders, as they are known, like Gordon and Maggie,
can choose the scale and size of their models.
But interwar modellers
had to get whatever would fit into their houses.
Most trains were small enough for large suburban rooms,
but still too big for many households.
To make model railways more popular, they needed to be even smaller.
The answer would come
from the original pioneer of model railways himself, Bassett-Lowke.
All these rich guys had these fabulous toys
and us oiks wanted our own.
And I think that's what Bassett-Lowke spotted.
He spotted that he had to make it at a price and the size
that would fit the modern two-up-and-two-down at that point.
The future of model railways, it was your loft and your bath.
It was a seven, eight foot layout on a board, four mil,
that's what he spotted.
The Trix Twin railway
was half the size of his or Hornby's O Gauge trains.
By his standards, it was relatively crude,
but Trix Twin was a sales sensation.
Bassett Lowke was as in touch with the public as ever.
Hornby had to go back to the drawing board.
Their answer was the new size Double O Gauge.
They gave it a name to match - Dublo.
It was Hornby's secret weapon, available in clockwork or electric.
Hornby Dublo was probably one of the biggest things
that happened in the reign of Hornby.
Pictures famously have Dad with his pipe
looking excitedly on at the panorama of Hornby Dublo trains.
It went without saying that the grown-ups enjoyed it as well,
and indeed played with it
as much as - if not more than - the children.
Dublo was competitively priced
and more realistic-looking than the Trix.
Hornby was back to being the nation's favourite.
But, in 1939, production was put on hold
as Hornby turned to making munitions for the war effort.
All those eager boys and eager dads would have to wait until 1947
for Hornby to go back into toy production.
The effect of the Second World War railways in Britain
was even more dramatic than in the First World War.
In the Second World War, the railways carried
huge amounts of goods traffic, huge amounts of war materials,
huge numbers of troops.
The railways were worn out.
They were bruised and battered,
but the public loved the trains more than ever.
At a time when there was little entertainment,
children and teenagers discovered the joys of a new hobby.
There's magic in numbers, train numbers.
So think thousands of boys in every corner of the country.
Loco-spotting has become the number one hobby for schoolboys
in recent years...
After the Second World War, there was a huge upsurge in interest
in railways amongst children, and what we'd now call teenagers.
These were the trainspotters
that we all know about and sometimes laugh about.
Because this was something that you could do very, very cheaply.
You could buy yourself one of Ian Allan's ABC spotter books,
get a pencil, go down to the station, start ticking the numbers off.
So a very cheap way of enjoying yourself of a Saturday afternoon.
About 80,000 belong to the Locospotters Club
and, with the cooperation of British Railways,
they make trips each year along particularly interesting routes
in their own specially hired trains.
The trainspotting craze fuelled a surge of interest
in model railways amongst the young.
But those model railways were still only for some children.
With the possible exception of maybe a building block
or a teddy bear or a doll, you can't think of a toy
that is more representative of childhood than a toy train.
And yet, of course, even when they were produced
and, indeed, now, they were always toys for a certain child.
With electric sets, that child was invariably middle class.
That was the preserve of, you know, one's wealthier acquaintances.
The mother would invite you in.
-"Oh, yes, do come in, Peter.
"Andrew is waiting for you in the living room."
And you'd go there and they'd be standing smugly by this big board
with this huge piece of track on it.
But early in the 1950s, one company, Tri-ang Rovex,
aimed their trains at working-class wallets.
Their new inexpensive sets brought the model railway to a mass market.
It wasn't till the 1950s,
when Tri-ang Rovex came on the scene,
that you got these mass-produced plastic trains
that were affordable for ordinary families.
And it was a real process of democratisation for model railways.
They were cheap.
They were cruder, they certainly were not in the class of Hornby Dublo,
but it was still a train set
and it still got as much love out of my house
as any Hornby Dublo did.
I mean, in the past, they'd use mostly die-cast
and tin plate with Hornby et cetera,
and they found a way of producing models
using this very cheap plastic at the time
which warps with age and things,
but it was a great step forward then
and it meant they could produce a decent layout
for a lot less than you would have done with the metal models.
Now there was something available for everyone
and model railways entered the golden age
of Hornby Dublo and Trix Twin, Tri-ang and Bassett-Lowke.
Every child could have a train set to cherish.
I saw the shape of the box and I thought, "Ooh,
"that's a Hornby Dublo train set."
Bassett-Lowke, tin-plate clockwork set.
For me, it was a bright red and yellow Tri-ang train set.
Princess Elizabeth locomotive in green, British Railways green,
and two coaches to put behind it.
Oh, I was thrilled to pieces.
I had to take it up to bed with me
and put it on the table beside the bed.
I think I would have taken it into the bed.
I do remember a little red engine, I remember, on top of the table,
going round and round, and I had hours of fun with it.
It wasn't quite what you'd think from the picture,
but it was a start of developing your own railway,
and you used your imagination
cos you didn't have much more, really.
But just as model railways were hitting their peak of popularity,
there were clouds on the horizon for the real one.
The railway landscape that modellers cherished,
their source of inspiration, was under threat.
British Railways' enormous modernisation scheme
goes full scheme ahead.
The aim is to make British Railways the best in the world.
Throughout the programme, the technique is modernity itself.
In the 1960s, the steam train was to be replaced
by the brutal and far less romantic diesel engine.
For the modeller, it was like a death in the family.
It's at this time that the shift moves from an emphasis
on mainline running to an emphasis on cosy little branch lines
set in the West Country,
with the odd piddling train tumbling along to some line station.
The emphasis shifts from celebrating the technological sublime
to mourning the lost world of the steam railway.
The end of steam affected the baby-boom modellers
on a deeply personal level.
Steam was intertwined with their childhood
and modelling became about nostalgia for a lost age.
When I was very small, when I was fractious,
which was a lot of the time, apparently,
my mother would stick me in a pram,
take me down to the side of the railway and park me,
and I'd be happy as a sandboy.
And I guess that sort of started it,
and I spent a lot of time sitting at the side of railways.
Cos in those days, when we were growing up in the early '50s,
greatest free show on earth.
There was no telly, there was no other entertainments.
We hadn't discovered them if there were.
And there were all these wonderful machines tearing past
at 90 miles an hour - very exciting.
The excitement of speeding trains might be a common experience,
but the inspiration to model is of a more personal nature.
A lot of people, it is nostalgia. It's a very strong drive.
I mean, I model for myself...
I model the British Railways I knew in the 1950s, early 1960s,
when I was growing up in East Anglia.
And it's interesting, if you look back,
if you read historical model railway magazines of the '50s,
everyone was modelling the railways of the '30s,
because that's when they were growing up.
So, nostalgia and recreation of probably a very idealised past.
You know, the '50s now seem quite a romantic
and rather calm and ordered era.
But they probably weren't.
This is a model of a traditional Cornish pan dry china clay works,
as it would have been at the end of its life in about 1960.
And I got to know this part of the world about that time.
For Iain Rice, it's all about depicting the drama
of a particular moment and a particular time.
A model railway, especially a small one like this,
functions rather like stage in a theatre.
And you've got a proscenium arch, you got an apron,
and you've got wings at either side,
which define the scene, they limit the scene.
And we're using lighting, we're using a backdrop,
all artefacts of the stage.
And the actors are the actual trains.
They come in, they do their piece, hopefully faultlessly,
and depart again amongst admiring applause.
Whatever the motivation for modelling,
whether it's the craft involved or just the love of railways,
it does often seem bound up with the urge to recover something lost.
Part of why I model is because I'm trying to create, or recreate,
a sense of a railway that I can remember existing
half a century ago now.
What I want to do is to, in a sense,
create a memory of something that I did experience as a very young boy.
The point is, when you're a young guy, or a kid particularly,
when you're stood next to one of these 100-tonne engines,
they were enormous.
They were enormous.
They smelt, you know,
because you have to put oil in the water to lubricate the parts,
so you sort of get a baby oil smell from steam engines,
which is what you do, which reminds you of being a baby
when your mum puts the oil in the water of the bath.
So, you've got all those romantic notions.
Some modellers find that it is a fascination
with the technical skills needed to create a railway in miniature
that keeps them hooked.
We try to recapture a part of the same pride in the job,
so it's not about going and buying a model from a model shop
and sticking it on the layout and running it round.
It's about the same pride, it's about making it
so you know exactly where every part's come from,
you put it on the track and then it's got to pull 14 coaches.
And if it doesn't pull 14 coaches, you've failed.
It's the same mentality.
For Pete Waterman, the best era to model
wasn't the railway in its finest hour.
In the 1950s, the railways were not glorious, you know.
The golden years of railways were certainly passed.
They were dirty, they were run down,
the system had just gone through the Second World War,
there was no investment, it was falling apart.
But for me, it's the opposite. I like the run down-ness of it all.
I actually like the way that it wasn't pristine,
that it was infallible,
that it was hard work, that it was falling apart.
That's the part... If you look round this layout,
you'll see that it's the decay that I particularly like.
But the attraction of railway modelling
isn't just about the lure of recreating a nostalgic past.
Some people just like to build model railways
and watch the trains run round.
For other people, it's all about the construction
and building the scenery and the track.
And others, for others again, it's quite an academic process.
The Crampton patent locomotive, known as the Liverpool.
It was modelled by Mike Sharman,
who lives at Cricklade near Swindon in Wiltshire.
But to say Mike Sharman models railway engines
is a little like saying Michelangelo dabbled with oil painting.
I like the historical research side of it
and it had quite a big bonus from a modelling viewpoint
that you haven't got a lot of space
and a short loco with short coaches on a short platform
looks far more in scale than its modern counterparts
with three or four bogie coaches in an out-of-scale station -
it completely ruins the effect.
You've got this private fiefdom,
this place where the cricketer is always coming up to bowl.
It's where passengers are always patiently waiting on platforms.
Sheep never finish grazing in a field.
It's about creating a miniature world that you have complete control of,
in a world where people,
a lot of people often feel that they've lost all control.
Actually, in this space, they're in charge of it,
and they can influence what happens.
The London, date - 1848.
It was built by Tulk & Ley of Whitehaven
and was the only one ever made.
That is, until Mike Sharman made one.
What we're seeing is a representation
of what, in real life, is actually
a very, very complicated social as well as a technical,
or technological system,
and one can only go so far in reproducing the social in a railway.
You can't reproduce all the complex social relations
that go to make real railways such a fascinating system in everyday life.
And modelling itself has its more social side.
It's not always a hobby conducted by solitary men in sheds.
Model railways don't just consist of locomotives.
So, let's take a look at a couple of working layouts.
Let's start with one that's been run at a club meeting.
Another reason that thousands of modellers
carried on modelling into adulthood was the model club.
It represents a sleepy West Country branch line.
It was built by members of the Twickenham Model Railway Club.
There are over 400 model clubs up and down the country,
which sprang up between the '50s and '70s, offering tea, balsa wood
and a place to swap tales of railway adventures.
For most people in the hobby, it's more of a social activity.
They get together in clubs and at shows, things like that,
and it's a perfectly normal pastime hobby -
they just happen to be interested in railways
instead of bird-watching or old cars
or anything else you care to mention.
The model railway club is a fantastic male space
for masculine conviviality,
for sharing resources,
for sharing experiences, and also for pooling skills.
So, if you are hopeless at modelling,
you can participate in the model railway scene through a club
because there's bound to be something you can contribute.
Most of us are quite uninteresting, we just play trains.
Not very interesting, really. In truth, you know, that's the truth.
I mean, most of us, when we get together, we talk trains.
You know, most people think we're the most boring bunch of buggers
they've ever sat with, and I have to tell you, I agree with them, we are.
Cos that's all we do, is talk trains.
You've got to be very careful when you bring partners into this,
because, you know, it is interesting to us -
it's not interesting to 95% of the people.
Some men don't need to go to a model club.
For the lucky few, railway modelling is a shared endeavour at home.
My greatest compliment is that I'm treated as one of the lads
and I'm considered to be one of the lads.
Nobody worries that it's Maggie, a female, it's just Maggie.
That's my name and I could be either male or female, I sometimes feel.
I think also that with a woman, people are sometimes,
not always but sometimes,
more willing to ask a woman a question than they are a man,
because if a woman knows the answer then it must be easy.
And I know that's very stereotypical,
but it does sometimes happen.
But as a hobby that crossed the generations,
model railways started to decline in the '60s and '70s.
Children were becoming more sophisticated
in their choice of toy.
Newer, hi-tech products began to take over
and model railways became the preserve of adults.
And there's no point at all in being a dad
if you can't play with an electric train set.
You get a real sense of manufacturers appealing
over the heads of their parents to the children themselves,
with toys that aren't necessarily vehicles for any kind of great moral
or social value system, but in fact are playthings.
And that starts to change the whole landscape.
It's not just Hornby train sets, you see Meccano Erector sets,
a lot of the industrial and engineering toys start to struggle.
By the 1980s,
railways had become about InterCity 125s and anonymous engines.
For children, it seemed to have no connection to their everyday lives.
But in 1985, a saviour arrived.
Gordon, the big engine,
and Thomas the Tank Engine puffed, buffer to buffer, back home.
It had been a busy day.
A whole new generation were introduced to the joy of trains
via the television series Thomas The Tank Engine,
based on the prewar books of Anglican vicar,
the Reverend Wilbert Awdry.
"Remember, Thomas," called Gordon grandly,
"united we stand, together we fall."
Very few people are into model railways
that are not into the real thing.
Thomas has brought very, very small children into it
with his sort of lovable looks,
his little face and all that, where they relate to him.
And it really also rather proves the fact that the railway engine
is almost a bit human,
there's something of an animal about it,
because you can put a face on, you know,
you put a face on this thing, it's a personality.
We have the Fat Director,
later the Fat Controller, once the railways are nationalised.
We have the workers.
There's a lot of interesting sexual politics going on there.
The carriages are all female and all a little bit flighty.
The wagons are rude, working-class fellows
who are always cutting up rough.
So, I mean, the politics of this railway is fascinating as well.
The phenomenal success of Thomas the Tank Engine
is actually drawing in a whole new generation who are, at this moment,
only five or six, into rail enthusiasm.
And, again, I think that's something we should encourage
rather than be sniffy about.
It could be that in another 20 years,
those children are looking to model Virgin Pendolinos.
The new, younger modellers didn't just choose to depict
the lost steam age of Thomas.
They wanted to model the railway of their own world -
of modern diesel or electric trains and run-down urban scenes.
Model railways have become much more than a miniature curiosity.
They tell the story of an obsession,
breathing life into personal memories
and lost scenes of everyday Britain.
With a more youthful crowd continuing to embrace modelling,
perhaps it's time that the craft of the railway modeller
is finally given its due.
Thank God for railway modellers. I really mean that.
When old gits like me
are not going to be here to be going on about it,
about how wonderful it all was in real life, you know,
they will be able to produce this visual mnemonic of saying,
"This is how life was in a period of time, in all its details,
"all its idiosyncrasy, all its great fun",
and I think power to their elbow and to their modelling fingers.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
The Model Railway Story: From Hornby to Triang and beyond, this documentary explores how the British have been in love with model railways for more than a century. What began as an adult obsession with building fully engineered replicas became the iconic toy of 50s and 60s childhood. With unique archive and contributions from modellers such as Pete Waterman, this is a celebration of the joys of miniaturisation. Just don't call them toy trains!