Model Railway Heaven
Model Railway Heaven at Pendon Museum
We breakfasted, packed and left our Winchester digs ready to meet Margaret and Roger at the South Park and Ride for a wonderful day out. After parking and hugs, Roger drove us to the Pendon Museum in Didcot. The museum as the first information board told us, was the baby of a young Australian called Roye England 1906 – 1995 (pictured with the first model he made for the museum, a public house), he went out and about on his push bike measuring exactly local houses, farms and public houses. Armed with audio equipment and a cup of tea behind us we entered the first display.
Some would look at this display and think model railway with decent scenery. The Madder Valley Railway is completely fictitious although although many of the buildings and vehicles are based on real ones that John Ahern found attractive or had special memories for him. It is not a precise, dimensionally accurate replica of a real railway. (our kind of modelling) For example, it features models of narrow gauge locomotives from the Isle of Man, Wales and Devon running alongside models of standard gauge stock. The journey along the Madder Valley Railway starts from Gammon Magna with Madderport as the eventual destination.
This model is on permanent display at Pendon, preserved as a tribute to the modeller’s art. It was built entirely by John Ahern and dates from the 1930s and 40s. It is a piece of history from the early days of scenic railway modelling and a pioneer in the field of scenic craftsmanship. It showed what could be done with the techniques and materials available at that time, and many light railway and branch line layouts built in the last 50 years are its descendants. For its age and what materials were available to use in those days, the attention to detail is truly remarkable.
The drawing of the layout and John Ahern.
We entered the next room to find Dartmoor, complete with viaduct (wow), a real man-boy control set-up and again, such attention to detail.
Pendon’s Dartmoor Scene portrays a typical but imaginary Great Western branch line, turning from the real South Devon main line at the fictional Pen Tor Road junction to run north-westwards across the tors and into Cornwall. The services in the scene reflect traffic and operations of the area during the period between the Railway Grouping of 1923 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 – considered by many to be the heyday of Britain’s steam railways.
The buildings are all accurate representations of long-lost structures that once stood at Launceston, Ivybridge and Yelverton, on the edge of the moors of Devon and Cornwall. The branch terminates at the fictitious holiday town and fishing port of Porthkerrick, on the north Cornish coast. An imaginary line can show a wide range of stock and operations and demonstrate the changes that took place on the railways between the beginning and end of the Pendon period. It also provides an opportunity to contrast the traditional railway operation shown with that of today – for example, in all likelihood the station yard would now be a small industrial estate.
We happily stood and watched a goods train trundle up hill.
Upstairs to the main display. Huge, accurate and so detailed.
Straightaway we see a mistake but no one is sure if this is on purpose or not – the water collector would draw water upstream of the horse, not down in case it pooped. We watched a goods train trundle past and were really taken aback at the realistic thatching on the exquisite house.
One of the volunteers stopped for a chat and told us that this part of the layout was perfectly accurate, so much so that people buying these houses over the years have come to the museum to take photographs when restoration projects need to be carried out, just as see on the model. We fell in love with The Carpenter’s Arms, the weathering, brickwork and signage so rustic. We were told that some of these models took up to fifteen months to make such is the level of accuracy.
On the board behind us, what you can do with plumbers hemp – various coloured grasses and hedges. Wire becomes weeds and flower tips and balsa wood for bridge building. Nowadays people buy this scenery in bags and boxes, quite expensive but less time consuming than this type of purism.
We got to the far end of the display and looked back just as a passenger train went by. This view represents exactly a one mile run of track.
Along the far end of the display rural life swings along with different houses, conversations, workers and on the stable door - “Doosn’t Disturb Zippy” a nag well-known in the village for owning a bad temper. You really have to look hard to spot all the tiny attention to detail. I would look and go back a few feet, each time I did I spotted more.
Taking in these beauties one of the volunteers asked if we had seen the tiniest details on the display – a robin and a cabbage white butterfly. Back to the beginning to find all the cauliflowers and cabbages. The very first allotment and there it was – apparently under a strong eyeglass each wing and each antennae are perfect. I needed help to find the robin. He was sitting on the handle of a shovel in a back garden, impossible to get either on a photograph.
If I should die and leave you here awhile,
Be not like others-sore undone-who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust and weep.
For my sake turn again to life and smile
Nerving thy heart and trembling hands to do
Something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine
And I perchance may therein comfort you. Anon
This passage was a favourite of Roye’s and was read at his memorial service. It hung next to a picture of Roye, lovely that he is looking over his life’s work and so many people come to enjoy the thousands of hours it has taken to get this far and those putting heart and soul into continuing the project.
Just then, the lights were turned off and we were treated to a nightscape.
The GP makes a house call, a mother’s meeting and a customer at the hardware shop.
The final display as we headed for the stairs was a collection cross-sections of models. The tiny rooms so complete in every way.
The outcome and brilliant result of The Chequers Inn, a firm favourite. After our smashing time at the museum we went to a local for a very late lunch, Roger drove us back to our car and we followed happily to Newtown. After a good catch up of several cups of tea we went went out for supper. Such a good day.
ALL IN ALL SUCH OVERWHELMING ATTENTION TO DETAIL