A HISTORY OF OO GAUGE
The Years of Experimentation 1920-39
By Stephen Siddle
During the first two decades of the 20th century, Gauge-0 was the smallest recognised size of model railway, and there was no British based manufacturer of commercial model railway equipment. The leading British name in the trade, Bassett-Lowke, commissioned often remarkably accurate Gauge-0 and Gauge-1 models from the great Nuremberg toymakers, especially Bing with whom relations became very close.
But after World War One there was a general revulsion in Britain against the purchase of German goods. As a result, in 1920 Britain’s biggest toymaker, Meccano Ltd., launched a new range of Gauge-0 tinplate trains: Hornby Trains; anti-German feeling was one factor in this decision, but the British market proved well able to support a domestic manufacturer and over the next two decades the hobby in Britain was to benefit immeasurably from the availability of Hornby Gauge-0.
These new Hornby Trains were a clear threat to Bassett-Lowke’s position in the ‘Indoor gauges’ and the next development was almost certainly intended as their response. According to a magazine interview in September 1922, Bassett-Lowke had been contemplating the introduction of a new, much smaller, gauge as early as 1914; indeed according to his son in law, Bassett-Lowke’s engineer Henry Greenly had gone so far as to draw up a standard working sheet of principal dimensions, including a scale of 4mm/ft and a track gauge of 5/8″. The outbreak of war had killed the project, but now it was revived.
In 1919 W. J. Bassett-Lowke’s lifelong friend Stephan Bing had become managing director of Bing-Werke AG, and the following year Bassett-Lowke asked Bing to produce a new ‘table-top’ toy railway to approximately half the scale of Gauge-0 for Bassett-Lowke to market in Britain. The actual design of the table top railway system was the work of Henry Greenly, in collaboration with Oswald Fischer of Bing.
It is important to grasp that Henry Greenly was not a model-maker but a professional engineer who had made his career in miniature railways and model engineering. When Bassett-Lowke produced a live-steam engine or Greenly published a design in the Model Engineer, the principal requirement was that it worked well, not that it be an exact scale replica of a full-sized locomotive. Consequently many of Greenly’s designs were more or less freelance, and when we reach his largest locos, for 15″ gauge, it is difficult to say whether we are dealing with a freelance model or an independent prototype design.
Greenly seems to have carried this approach over to the design of the Table Top Railway, for which he specified wheels 5mm wide running on 5/8″ tinplate track – that is track half the width of Gauge-0. The new system was far smaller than any working toy train hitherto produced and the grotesque wheel profile adopted was presumably cautious engineering intended to ensure that the new system worked reliably in the hands of children. The trains were stamped ‘Foreign-made’ and marketed under the Bassett-Lowke brand to avoid anti-German feeling. Publicity began in the autumn of 1922, and the first sets were available in the weeks before Christmas.
The Table Top Railway, forerunner of the world’s most popular sizes of model railway, was only a moderate success. An electric version (centre three-rail with trip reverser) appeared in 1924, in which year Bing released the system under their own name in Germany, but although it was copied by JEP in France (under the name Mignon using a gauge of 16.5mm), and one or two Nuremberg toymakers, the range did not develop, and it does not seem to have made inroads into the market for Gauge-0. In August 1932, in the depths of the Depression, Bing-Werke’s financial difficulties resulted in its collapse and production ceased. The tooling subsequent passed to Karl Bub who restarted production in 1934 for the German market but this in turn ceased at the outbreak of war.
However, by 1924 Henry Greenly had obviously decided that this new small size had significant potential. In his famous book, Model Railways, published In May 1924, he writes in the section on scales: “Gauge No. 00, ‘Table Railways’:- This standard gauge has recently been introduced by the writer at the instance of Mr. W. J. Bassett-Lowke to provide for those who are limited in space to that of an ordinary dining-room table. Clockwork and electric locomotives are supplied. The actual gauge is 16mm (5/8″) and the scale is 4mm to the foot.”
The last statement must be regarded as putting down a marker for the future, rather than as an accurate description of the Table Top Railway, as the little tinplate 2-4-0Ts and their coaches were toys with only a faint resemblance to any prototype.
Why 4mm/ft ? The track gauge was half that of Gauge-0, so logically the scale should also have been halved: ie. 3.5mm/ft. Drawings for 7mm scale modellers were at that time being published to this ‘half-size’, while some modellers had experimented with 1/8in scale (3.175mm/ft) prior to World War 1. In subsequent correspondence Greenly was to state “I submit that the gauge is not the correct method of arriving at the scale”. Yet in 1903 Greenly had done precisely that to establish scales, wheel, and track standards, appropriate to Marklin’s Gauges 0, 1, 2 and 3. What caused this U-turn?
Greenly had spent much of the intervening twenty years designing live steam engines of all sizes and had become thoroughly used to playing fast and loose with scale and gauge to make them work. In his book on live-steam engines he stated that a gauge wider than scale was necessary to accommodate an adequate (pot) boiler, and at the other end of the spectrum it had become accepted that 15″ Gauge locomotives should be. constructed to 1/3rd scale, not 1/4 scale as implied by the gauge.
The Table Top Railway pushed small clockwork and electric motors to their then limits. The point is made vividly by a drawing in Greenly’s first 00-gauge article (Model Railway News [MRN], April 1925) which shows a 4-4-0 based on the ex-NER R1 class with its entire boiler occupied by a pair of Bing mechanisms. The reason for this arrangement is explained in the article: when testing the first Bing set with a load intended to equal 300 scale tons Greenly found the 6V motor overheating. Twin motors halved the current flow through each motor for the same power output. The penalty was a mechanism 9cm X 3cm x 2cm which would only just fit into the largest pre-grouping 0-6-0s and 4-4-0s. Only one British railway, the GWR, then had a large fleet of 4-6-0s and as Stewart-Reidpath noted in the very first MRN, GW engines had taper boilers “which at the smokebox end are really very small in diameter” and made it impossible to fit in a contemporary 00-gauge mechanisms.
Underlying all these problems were the facts that in 1925 less than half of British houses had mains electricity, and the only rectifiers then available were small versions of the big mercury-are rectifiers used by inter-war suburban electric railways. Consequently the normal method of supply for model electric trains was from “accumulators” : large high-current rechargeable 6V batteries which could be obtained and recharged at wireless shops. In the Thirties and Forties 6V car batteries were commonly used, supported (as new smaller low-current rectifiers became available) by a trickle charger. As with full-sized third-rail electrics, low voltage meant high current and interwar 00-gauge locos drew anything between 1 and 3 amps. These difficulties were compounded by the poor magnetic materials then in use, which necessitated massive magnets for small motors. Indeed in 1926 A. R. Walkley felt it necessary to demonstrate that one could actually fit a permanent magnet motor in an H0 tank engine, so great was the apparent problem. Building a sufficiently strong, small, controllable self-reversing clockwork mechanism seems to have proved just too difficult.
It is at this point that a new strand enters the story, in the shape of three modellers from the newly-formed Wimbledon MRC: A. Stewart-Reidpath, A. R. Walkley, and Michael Longridge. Sometime in 1923 they began experimenting with models roughly half the size of Gauge-0. In Stewart-Reidpath own words (MRN Jan 1925): “A scale of 1/8″ proved to be just too small for efficient tractive power and 4mm or 3/16″ scale revealed that the saving in space required (which is one of the main objects in the introduction of this new Gauge) would have been considerably less in proportion … 3.5mm scale has proved to be the happy medium for this small gauge”. There is no mention of Greenly or indeed of the exact track gauge, but there is mention – critical mention – of Greenly’s wheel standards. “I cannot see the necessity of wheels having treads 5mm wide even for the German-made tin-plate sets … It is not only unsightly, it is bordering on the ridiculous … By using built-up permanent way, wheels having treads 1.5mm wide and flanges 1mm deep can be used with confidence, the only important point being that track must be well and truly laid” (the comparative BRMSB dimensions for EM were 1.5mm tread and 0.75mm flange!). Stewart Reidpath concludes with some a statements of principle: “Scale is a thing that matters and it is possible to work to it. Detail is worth the time and trouble it takes – lay your track carefully … Always work to drawings, and see that they are good ones. And for the love of Mike, never say ‘That’s near enough'”.
In short, we are dealing with the hobby’s first fine-scale movement. Their relationship to the Table Top Railway is shown by an article by A. R. Walkley in the July 1925 MRN, which contains a photograph showing a train headed by what is obviously a Bing 2-4-0T, with the comment in the text, “the loco speaks for itself and will not have a permanent position on the line”.
This movement quickly attracted support. Even the Rev. Edward Beal, who in later years preserved a firm silence on the 00/H0 controversy while building the most famous 4mm scale layout of the period, was bold enough to write in the Oct 1925 MRN “For practical purposes, however, in the writer’s opinion, there is nothing to beat the ‘half 0 gauge’ scale”. There now followed what MRN dubbed ‘The Battle of the Gauges’, in which Greenly at first stood nearly alone for 4mm scale. In December 1926 MRN printed the results of a vote on the relative merits of 3.5mm and 4mm scales: “At the time of writing we have received 131 votes divided as follows: 3.5mm and 5/8″ gauge, 106 votes; 4mm and 19mm gauge, [American 00) 13 votes; 4mm and 16.5mm gauge, 2 votes.” In the light of subsequent history, it is an astonishing result.
It also shows that the traditional view of the adoption of 4mm scale 16.5mm 00-gauge in Britain – ‘that it was All Greenly’s Fault’ – will not hold water. Greenly was a very authoritative figure, but one man’s authority does not overturn a general consensus in the hobby in favour it of an apparently logical exact scale position. Something else is required. In fact, we have to explain two contrasting phenomena: the virtually complete abandonment of H0 in favour of 00 in Britain between 1926 and 1939, and the universal adoption in Continental Europe and the USA of a scale (3.5mm) invented by a group of South London modellers.
One reason for the demise of British H0 – the difficulty of fitting the only readily-available electric mechanism into a loco – has already been touched on. A second, and probably more important, reason was raised by Greenly in the June 1925 MRN. “In fixing a scale it is important to get sufficient space between the outside of the tyre and the outside of the vehicle. Don’t worry about the exact scale equivalent of the gauge … the width over the outside of the tyres should be correct”. His accompanying Fig.3 shows he was now proposing 2.5mm treads for 4mm, a value which is comparable to present day Hornby (2mm) and British Lima (2.9mm) wheelsets.
Greenly makes a second point: while it is possible to get away with a great deal in a model of an inside-cylinder engine, when Walschaerts valve gear has to be modelled, the restricted width available in 3.5mm between the wheel face and edge of a scale-width British footplate would make the task almost impossible. Indeed Sydney Pritchard of PECO, himself an H0 modeller between the wars, later maintained that certain types of British outside-cylinder locomotives simply could not be built in H0.
These were to prove formidable problems within the confines of British loading-gauge steam. They still trouble today’s P4 and S7, where they have been resolved only by the adoption of large radii curves, small layouts, and fully compensated chassis. The accepted solution in US and Continental H0 is to let the wheels spread outwards to accommodate the wider treads; as steam engines in these countries were generally built with high running-plates and exposed wheels there are no splashers to foul the wheels, whilst the bigger loading gauge results in wider vehicles with plenty of room to fit valve gear and a generous overhang to veil over-wide bogies in a decent obscurity.
The spread of H0 beyond Britain is difficult to trace. It is almost certain that the Americans imported the concepts from Britain in the period 1926-8. The name H0 and the existence of ‘American 00’ (4mm scale/19mm gauge) are clear evidence for this – as both originated in Britain in 1926-7; MRN reported in September 1927, “A name for 3.5mm gauge ( sic) is coming into use in some corners of the model railway world. This is H0 gauge which means half ‘0’ gauge, to distinguish it from 4mm scale, which is adopted in the trade for ’00’ gauge”.
The first British mention of 16.5mm gauge (as opposed to 5/8″ or 16mm comes in a letter from a French correspondent in July 1925. JEP had adopted 16.5mm in France, but the real reason this figure became established is believed to be the profile of the wheels of the Bing Table Top Railway. These had a huge root radius which was fine on round-topped tinplate rails, but when modellers started making hand built track , using 1/8″ four-square or 14×22 gauge brass bar for the rails, it was necessary to spread the gauge slightly to ensure the flat part of the tread was running on the flat rail surface.
Although H0 may have appeared later in the US than in Britain, it was to spread more rapidly. In its first Reader Poll in 1936, Model Railroader reported that 36% of respondents used H0, and another 2.1% American 00. Judging by the magazines, the comparable British figure would have been under 25%. Two-rail electrification was already common in the US in the late Thirties, a time when It was regarded as a controversial and potentially unworkable novelty in Britain.
By 1925 the new gauge had aroused considerable interest but only isolated experimental models had been built. The first significant layout in the smaller scales was A. R. Walkley’s ‘Layout in a Suitcase’ described in the June 1926 MRN, this was the first ever portable layout (and the very first exhibition layout), fully scenic, depicting a small goods yard, built on hinged, folding boards with backscenes, and (almost unbelievably at this date) two-rail.
Over the next few years a number of specialist firms emerged to serve the new gauges. The first, Marshall-Stewart (later Stewart-Reidpath Ltd) were H0 specialists; their cast metal 0-6-0T body was almost the only widely available loco, and Edward Beal kit-bashed them into everything from an a 0-4-0T to an 0-8-4T. By the mid-Thirties Stewart-Reidpath were also advertising 00-gauge material, a first sign that British H0 was fading. Holtzapffel, who merged to become Walker’s & Holtzapffel, and who as W&H Models remained London’s largest model shop until their demise in 1994, began advertising 00-gauge components in 1928. Bonds of Euston Road were advertising a hand built 0-6-2T in 00 from April 1929, whilst another London firm, Hamblings, proclaimed themselves ‘The Home of 00 Gauge’ and stocked nothing else, and Edward Exley became famous for their hand-built coaches. Most of these firms combined a model shop with the production of a range of their own components and a small range of hand-built 00-gauge locomotives and rolling stock available to order. By 1939 it was possible to obtain a surprisingly wide range of good 00-gauge models form such sources – albeit at a price, often a considerable one.
The big name in British 00-gauge modelling in the Thirties was the Rev. Edward Beal (1889-1985), a Church of Scotland minister, whose freelance West Midland Railway was the first demonstration of the potential of 00-gauge on a grand scale. Begun in 1930 and rebuilt and enlarged three times by 1937, the West Midland featured a long series of firsts: a double-deck girder bridge, an operating hump yard, a working Beyer-Garrett, a coaling plant with working wagon hoist, and many more, all written up in MRN with fine perspective drawings, along with a seemingly endless stream of designs for realistic operational and lineside features. He published a book, West Midland, A Railway in Miniature, in 1952 giving the full story of this remarkable railway. Indeed during the 1930s Beal was the main and at times only source of the MRN’s 00-gauge articles, as well as the author of what became the standard books on the hobby, Railway Modelling in Miniature (1st edn 1935) and The Craft of Modelling Railways (1937).
Beal was a highly competent scenic modeller, and in the early thirties he and Sir Eric Hutchinson founded MERCO of Dundee who produced brick papers and wagon and coach litho papers in 4mm and 7mm scale. By the a standards of the day these were very realistic; they were also modestly priced and opened up many possibilities to modellers who could not afford hand-built models from the London shops.
Beal was a freelance modeller: all his models are essentially ‘generic’, and they lack the intense sense of a very specific time and place which has come to characterise British modelling; but they were always under-pinned by a very thorough understanding of the operating principles and working practices of the contemporary mainline railways. His vision of a really big layout depicting the operation of a modern mainline system has been taken up in America although not in Britain, but as Beal was both keenly aware of U.S. developments and a friend of Linn Westcott, editor of the Model Railroader, this is perhaps not inappropriate. Nevertheless Beal inspired the post-first world war generation of British modellers by showing them what could be done in 00, and he provided them with their main source of practical advice on how they could do it.
In 1927, Stephan Bing resigned from Bing-Werke after a disagreement with his Board. He subsequently purchased a small Nuremberg toy company, and along with several other former Bing-Werke staff began to develop new products under the trade name ‘Trix’. By 1932 he had established a UK agent, Trix Ltd, with W. J. Bassett-Lowke as one of the directors, and this company set about manufacturing Trix products at Northampton.
As the Depression began to ease in Germany, Trix started to develop a small-scale toy railway system; the design team included Oswald Fischer who had worked on the Table Top Railway. The gauge adopted was 16.5mm; the new trains had a credible DR look to them, but were not scale models so it is difficult to specify the scale exactly. They operated on a 14V AC 3 rail system which allowed two trains to be controlled on the same track.
The new Trix-Express was launched in Germany in March 1935 and marketed in the UK for Christmas 1935 under the name ‘Bassett-Lowke Twin Train Table Railway’. British outline stock appeared in November 1936; this was made at Northampton using chassis and parts from Germany and was again toy-like. Meanwhile Marklin had launched a competing table top range in Germany, also on 16.5mm track and using 14V AC but at a scale of 1:85, under the name ’00 gauge’. These two German ranges, Trix and Marklin, mark the appearance of H0-gauge RTR in Continental Europe.
1937 saw the first ‘scale’ RTR trains from Trix, a two-car Diesel Flyer and a DR Pacific with Walschaerts valve gear; both had readily identifiable DR prototypes although they were never so advertised. The scale was approximately 1:90. Trix’s French agent also received the first (non-scale) French outline model. The following year saw the Pacific chassis used to produce an LMS Princess, an LNER A3, and a US Pacific, followed in 1939 by the culmination of pre-war British Trix, an LMS Coronation. Appropriate lithographed coaches were produced for each engine.
The Trix Twin Railway had begun to affect sales of Meccano’s Gauge-0 Hornby Trains. Meccano responded by developing their own 00-gauge range, Hornby Dublo “The general scale of the models will be 4mm to the foot, but the track will conform to the usual 16.5mm gauge. In general our ’00-gauge’ material will be as near to scale as possible” ( Meccano letter, 2/5/36). Hornby Dublo was launched in September 1938 in three-rail 12V dc and clockwork, with wagons for all four mainline railways, LNER coaches and scale models of an LNER A4 Pacific and N2 tank. All models were very close representations of well-known prototypes and comparable to or better than the best commercial Gauge-0 of the day. (Indeed the locos were to remain in production into the 1990s under the Wrenn banner). Hornby Dublo was just over a quarter of the price of Trix Twin, it was better engineered, and it was backed by Britain’s biggest toy manufacturer; it was an immediate success and additional wagons, track and accessories quickly followed. Then came World War Two.
It is sometimes said that Hornby Dublo killed off British H0. In truth by the mid-Thirties British H0 was already at a very low ebb, surviving mainly in the letters columns of the two modelling magazines. In 1936, one letter to the MRN pointed out that more than 80% of components available to 16.5mm gauge modellers were to 4mm scale. And in 1939, after another bout of H0 v 00 correspondence, the editor of the Model Railway Constructor [MRC] proposed a National Register of H0 modellers (perhaps the first attempt to establish a ‘scale society’ in Britain). Fewer than a dozen modellers replied expressing interest.
Why did British H0 fail, and why did ‘American 00’ (19mm gauge) vanish without trace? The size of motors alone was not the issue, P. O. W. Chubb, later proprietor of the Constructor and a member of the later BRMSB, wrote in the July 1936 MRC: No.1) Can one build strictly to scale? No. 2) Can one reduce external lines and details to scale? Yes. if one is prepared to go the ‘Whole Hog’ and reduce all working condition to scale. 3) (That means) (a) scale curves: in Gauge-0 15′ or over, (b) sprung axles…if standards of absolute accuracy throughout are laid down the very conditions themselves would kill the hobby”. And in a later letter ( MRC Dec 1941) “The reason 3.5mm failed is that it was much too difficult for the man of average ability to build anything satisfactory that would work”. George Mellor of GEM wrote in his 1938/9 catalogue: “It is impossible to employ exact scale wheel-treads and flanges…as these would be so small that the slightest error in aligning the track or the suspicion of a warp on the baseboard would be sufficient to cause derailment…Goods of our manufacture are ALL built to 4mm scale 16.5mm gauge, the original and only practical ‘Double-0 Gauge'”.
As we have seen, exact scale wheels are needed to fit inside the splashers of a scale British outline steam engine. All the Trix engines, including their British Pacific, had their wheels below and clear of the bodywork, meaning seriously under-diameter wheels on British prototypes. But even with exact-scale wheels there is no escape for either British H0 or P4 from F. W. Chubb’s point three above. In a period when layouts were built at home and compensated chassis were still 30 years in the future, that spelt death to British H0.
One further pre-war development must be noted. In 1935 the National Model Railroad Association was formed in the USA, to bring order and compatibility to the chaos of proprietary standards then existing in the US. After another round of H0 v 00 correspondence in the MRN the following spring the April 1936 MRC announced the formation of a ‘Bureau of British Railway Modelling Standards’, which it stated would establish standards for British modelling and which it claimed the trade were pledged to support. The next MRC saw an article headed ‘Proceedings of the BRMSB’ and signed ‘The Editor’ which reported that a pair of exact scale 16.5mm gauge wheels had been made and the flanges had shown no sign of breaking off despite extensive testing. The following month, under the same heading came a set of wheel standards for 16.5mm gauge including a 15mm back to back measurement.
With the exception of one article on an unrelated topic nothing more is heard of the BRMSB for five years. Nowhere are its members named, the MRN for the period is totally silent on the subject of the ‘Bureau’, and in its 1950 pamphlet the BRMSB itself stated that it was founded in 1941! The Model Railway Constructor at this period was a ‘one man band’, published, edited, largely written (under various pseudonyms), and even briefly printed and bound by its founder E. F. Carter. It seems very likely that this first BRMSB was another of Carter’s pseudonyms, and represented an attempt to bounce the hobby into adopting an ultra fine-scale set of standards for 16.5mm gauge. That attempt failed, but it planted a seed which was to grow dramatically in the next decade.
The war years 1939-45
By the start of World War 2, OO was already well established. Gauge O was still the more common, but in the pages of the Model Railway Constructor at least, 4mm was running 7mm close, and from the mid 30’s most new entrants to the hobby were going into the smaller scale. British HO had almost vanished. In 1939 Edward Beal estimated “there are about 6000 owners of extensive layouts in this standard [4mm/OO]” (MRN 11/39) although this may be an exaggeration; in the late 1940s he estimated the number of British modellers in all scales as being at least 10,000.
The hobby did not come to an immediate halt in September 1939; rather there was a progressive rundown over several years. During the “Phoney War” a certain normality survived in the magazines: Trix (who were dependant on German components) halted production at the outbreak of war, but Meccano were still releasing new Hornby Dublo items in November 1939 and as late as March 1940 still hoped to release their new Duchess that year, while new items continued to appear from the London model shops. The situation changed radically with the fall of France and the beginning of the Blitz: the MRN lost its office to bombing in the autumn of 1940 as did the Constructor shortly after (neither magazine missed an issue), paper rationing bit hard, large numbers of modellers were in the Forces on active service, the few clubs ceased to meet and very few people had much time for leisure, though a modelling magazine could at least be read in the air raid shelter or in an army Nissen hut.
It was this precise moment, as darkness fell, that the September 1940 MRN published one of the most important letters in the history of the British hobby under the heading “Standards Required!” The writer, Lt.-Col. JTC Moore-Brabazon MP, was shortly to become Minister of Transport in Churchill’s wartime coalition. “..Being…not without mechanical experience, lately with misguided confidence, I plunged into ‘OO’ gauge. I write this letter that others may be warned against false optimism as to the present state of the craft. All model railways to run successfully should be looked upon as mechanisms of precision. The smaller the gauge the greater must be the precision in order that they should operate. Here are some of my experiences. I order a locomotive…it cost me £10 [£375 today]. I place it upon the lines and find that the side collector shoes were put on with such adjustment and with such a strong spring that the leading driving wheels of the locomotive are in the air. I buy some rolling stock and I find that that they are not riding on the tyre of the wheels, but sit – so to speak – in the air, jammed on the two flanges. I invest in a double diamond crossover and under no circumstances does anything at any time go across it without going off the lines. Such dispiriting events drove me to fundamental checking of dimensions and I find that stock rail is frequently sold sometimes as much as 1mm inside the correct gauge. Now 1mm may be nothing in some gauges, but in ‘OO’ it represents a 3-in error. How can one possibly expect railways to run with that sort of error? On curves instead of the slight enlargement always necessary, I am told enthusiastically by one maker that “they do not believe in it”. Still that can hardly account for the diminution in gauge that I have often found put into stock curves. As to breadth of wheels, every form and dimension seems to be indulged in, varying as much as 2mm from maximum one way to maximum the other and the perpetrators of these outrages have the audacity to advocate scale-size tyres and flanges. Frankly the result of this sort of sloppiness is complete discouragement to anybody like myself who would like to go in for ‘OO’
…I really do believe that if this movement is to be as prosperous as it is in America then some powerful body like the Model Railway Club, or somebody, must set some standards and check them…I have no doubt that if anybody has the time to do everything themselves this ‘OO’ could be made very satisfactorily, but it cannot be done by buying parts from various depots in London in the belief that they are going to work; and yet that should surely be the basis for any future business to survive. Engineering standards are not very difficult to work to. Is there any reason why we should not have engineering standards in such a small gauge as ‘OO’?… Proprietary articles [i.e. Trix, Hornby Dublo] I have found strictly to standard and to work satisfactorily but they have their limitations… I write this letter because there is only one way of making ‘OO’ a success and that is to deal with it as an engineering proposition…”
This was backed up with an MRN editorial headed “Stern Criticisms”. Moore-Brabazon was clearly thinking of the buyer of finished models in OO and his stress is on consistency: the fineness of the standard is never mentioned, and it is the scale trade, not “those owners [and makers] of proprietary articles”, that he attacks. Maskelyne introduces a new note: “ there are certain enterprising individuals [WS Norris?] who, working by themselves, have shown that much finer standards are easily attainable, involve no extra trouble constructionally, and are absolutely satisfactory in use. Our American friends, starting from zero, attacked this problem at the outset, and evolved a set of national standards that are adhered to by all devotees of the craft. After the war, many of us will have to “begin again”, and the opportunity for effecting some much-needed reforms seems too obvious to miss”. In three successive sentences, the three principal themes of standards debates – standards as a means of converting the work of a few advanced modellers into a general “finer is better” agenda for the hobby, the situation in America as a model for Britain, and the myth of the post-war “clean sheet”, are launched on their careers. The following month (October) MRN reported the NMRA’s annual convention, and in November it published a letter from W.S.Norris calling for the adoption of a set of standards.
Blitz or no Blitz, by the New Year something was happening. The January issue of the Constructor reported, “There is a rising tide of feeling in the model railway world against the present lack of standards and general coarseness existing, especially in the smaller gauges. In America there is a considerably better arrangement throughout and the standards are fixed by a central controlling body…Track and wheel standards are badly needed…As a result of some constructive criticism from the Rt.Hon. JTC Moore-Brabazon, it has been decided to form a small committee of “unattached” but sympathetic experts…The committee will consist of Messrs. J.N.Maskelyne (MRN & ME) G.H.Lake (Railways) and RJ Raymond (MRCons.).” The Standards Committee’s remit appears two months later: “To discuss the recommendation of certain standard dimensions…; to review the question of the number of existing scales and gauges with a view to possible reduction of the number; to consider the standardisation of voltages…; to consider the possibility of acquiring … suitable premises which might serve as Model Railway House.” (MRN 3/41 – a similar statement appears in MRC 3/41). “ The Committee’s recommendations….must be essentially practical, rather than theoretical in character” and the co-operation of the trade was to be sought. Raymond’s MRC editorial that month led with a piece on the issue, rehearsing the principal themes: “The rapidly diminishing stock of materials on the market…this low ebb is an unrivalled opportunity to put our house in order…To determine these new dimensions has been formed the Standards Committee, but it must have your wholehearted support right from the beginning. Ask for goods of approved dimensions and scale, and above all, see that you get them.”
For the next 15 months the correspondence columns of the Constructor are choked with letters about standards, mainly for 4mm since this was very much a 4mm modellers’ magazine. Proposals for the adoption of 19.5mm, 19mm, 18.5mm,or 18mm gauges, or a 5mm scale (i.e. a form of S gauge), and plaintive enquiries as to why HO had been abandoned filled the air. At first it seemed as if the Committee might rule against 16.5mm gauge for 4mm, Raymond writing in his editorials, “ 3.5mm scale on 16.5mm track agrees with true scale ideas, but if 4mm scale work is to be presented on scale lines then a larger gauge than 16.6mm is required” (MRC 7/41) and “Already the antagonists of the Standards Committee rally to their flag…Controversy rages fiercely round the smaller gauges…Well, you asked for standards and true scale dimensions and surely all of you know that true scale can never be 4mm on 16.5. If the Standards Committee turned a blind eye to this combination, it would fail in its task of laying down true factors…So long as there is a demand for 16.5 track and wheels, the trade will see that you have them, but it is the Bureau’s wish that scale equipment should be available for those who desire to work to the new standards”. (MRC 10/41).
July brought a letter from F.W.Chubb, (whom we met in part 1 advocating a “compromise gauge” of 18mm) now the proprietor of the Constructor: “It would certainly be a tremendous advantage if the toy trade would come into line, but the requirements of that trade are so different that a wholehearted effort is too much to expect. As it is, the Hornby ‘OO’ has made great strides in the right direction, but I think they have gone as far as is practicable…The only course of action would appear to be the adoption of two standards which should be adhered to strictly by all the model and toy trade. A fine standard for the high grade work and a coarser standard for toys and those whose skill is limited.” The following month J.H.Ahern wrote, “It is too late to do anything about the accepted 16.5mm gauge, but anyone who feels so inclined would be well advised to adopt 18mm gauge: it is of course a compromise but probably about the most practical from every point of view. “ In October came a letter from the Worksop Model Railway Circle: “1. It appears to us that two standards are essential – (a) 18mm gauge for the highly skilled enthusiast or person with a deep pocket. (b) 16.5mm gauge, 4mm scale, width and contour of wheel to be correspondingly coarser …. 2.The question of voltage should receive the Bureau’s attention.” (They suggested 12V). By now, modellers working in 16.5mm were raising the familiar issues: “How many can employ real scale curves?” (MRC 8/41) “I was once shown a very nice 3.5mm scale 16.5 gauge Schools class of trade construction which would not take a 6 foot curve.” “The reason the practical maker sticks to 16.5mm gauge is that he can’t get in working outside valve gear and have enough room to swing the bogies on even 3’ 6” curves if he increases that gauge even a millimetre”. (both MRC 11/41), while W.S.Norris weighed in with, “I see the 4mm 16.5 track brigade are already taking up war stations to attack any suggestion to broaden the gauge. Nevertheless I think the 4mm scale track should be 18.0mm” (MRC 10/41)
In the meantime the Standards Committee continued its work. In September 1941 they issued provisional “True Scale Gauge O Dimensions”, based largely on the work of W.S.Norris and Bernard Miller, and Raymond reported the election of Maskelyne as Chairman, G.H. Lake as Secretary, and the adoption of the title “British Railway Modelling Standards Bureau”. As we saw in Part 1, that name had first surfaced in the pre-war Constructor, and by the end of the year F.W.Chubb, its proprietor, had joined the Bureau; Michael Longridge, an HO modeller who wrote for the Constructor and was changing to 4mm, also seems to have become involved. One gets the feeling that the standards for “the smaller gauges” were very much a Constructor production. Coarse scale Gauge O standards were published in the MRN during the winter, and in March 1942 the Constructor published “British Standards for 3.5 & 4mm Scales”; as Raymond wrote that month, “Well the cat’s among the pigeons now with the publication of the Standards Bureau’s recommendations in this issue on 3.5 and 4mm scales. Having played some small part myself in the findings of the Bureau, I personally shall await further views with interest. It will be noted that in 4mm two sets of standards have been laid down”. There, under the name of “Scale OO”, was F.W.Chubb’s 18.0mm gauge, officially recognised, fully defined with a set of standards, and recommended by influential figures within the hobby. What we now call EM gauge was born. Beside it, labelled “Nominal OO” were the OO standards, though the flangeways were not at first specified (1.25mm was later adopted). There was even a second set of 16.5mm gauge standards for HO: clearly betraying the fact that HO was the pre-war finescale, the EM gauge wheel and flangeway were recommended, with the same code 80 rail (code 100 was specified for OO) and a back to back value of 15.0mm. (Compare the DOGA Finescale standard – 14.8mm)
Almost certainly the BRMSB had begun with HO and with the 1936 EF Carter/Constructor wheelset and standards. Carter had probably started with a 1mm flangeway, then derived his wheel thickness using the formula “twice the flangeway plus 0.3mm”. However the Bureau reduced the overall thickness of the wheel from Carter’s 2.25mm down to a “true scale” 2mm, while retaining Carter’s 1mm flangeway, his flange dimensions and his back to back; this arguably left the tread slightly too narrow (The NMRA formula states that flangeways shall be less than half the overall width of the wheel). Having decided to adopt Chubb’s 18.0mm gauge, the Bureau then took their HO standard and simply added 1.5mm to both the back to back and track gauge to produce the first EM gauge standard (which they called “Scale OO”).
That is probably where they would have liked to have stopped, with a single wheel profile and a single flangeway. But the outcry from existing 4mm modellers forced them draw up a 4mm/16.5mm standard. So they added 0.5mm onto the tread of their standard wheel to produce a coarser standard for “Nominal OO”, and knocked the same figure off the b to b . No flangeway was originally specified, but they had probably adopted 1.25mm as a nominal figure for calculation purposes (their smallest unit was evidently 0.25mm not 0.1mm – in 1942 few modellers possessed a vernier): as with the Bureau’s two finer standards, the overall thickness of the wheel was then twice the flangeway, which is a value on the extreme margin of today’s NMRA flangeway formula. Presumably they felt it would just about do – one of Chubb’s repeated arguments in correspondence had been that clearances must always be greater than scale, and never less, and the thin wheel achieved this in the critical areas of outside motion and bogie swing.
These three standards had very different fates. That for HO vanished into oblivion with its scale. That for “scale OO” became the foundation charter of EM gauge, and the choice of those 4mm modellers who were not prepared to accept 16.5mm gauge and were prepared to build their own equipment to fine standards. And that for OO proper was never universally adopted by the trade, and therefore failed in its purpose. In 2002 it is still not possible to buy ready-made OO products in the confidence that they are made to a common standard and will therefore work satisfactorily together. That battle DOGA are still fighting.
Despite its achievements in Gauge O and EM, therefore, the BRMSB was ultimately unsuccessful, although its OO standard became an accepted reference for scale modellers for over 30 years, and even today a good few products reflect it. As one of its later members puts it, “The BRMSB was a cabal… It lacked teeth.” It was the product of a particular moment, when clubs and the trade (especially the mass-produced trade) were not functioning, the monthly magazines had become absolutely central to the hobby, and their editors in consequence its only leaders. When normal service was resumed, it gradually became apparent that magazine editors had only modest influence on the scale and toy trades and indeed on modellers’ views and the OO standards slowly broke down. Hornby Dublo and Trix resumed production with their existing tooling, Rovex entered the market with their own coarse standards, and by the late 1950s large amounts of proprietary OO were being sold in Britain, none of it made to BRMSB standards.
Nor did the BRMSB standards gain wholehearted support from modellers. A group of skilled modellers in the Manchester MRS adopted 18.0mm gauge, but reckoned they could design a better wheel than the BRMSB – thus was born the “Manchester wheel” which was later Longridge Wagonsadopted by Pendon. One of them, Sid Stubbs, even wrote an article on building your own driving wheels to the Manchester standard. The one club then large enough and prestigious enough to give a firm lead, the MRC, did not do so, even though F.W.Chubb, Michael Longridge, and W.S.Norris were all MRC members (though Norris not a particularly active one); the then MRC chairman, G.P Keen, taking the view that it was not the function of the club to lay down laws for the hobby in general. In those days modellers’ allegiance was generally to a prototype company not to a scale and the MRC was divided into five “groups”, one for each of the mainline companies, and freelance/overseas: there was little interest in anything other than mainline railways and only in 1952 was it tentatively and unsuccessfully suggested that the club might have an extra Group covering odd ball prototypes like the S&DJR, M&GNJR, narrow gauge, and “those railways that escaped the 1923 cataclysm”. Norris and Longridge were leading lights in the GW Group, very much the most prominent with its own very large professionally built glass display case, the notorious “Aquarium”, in which its models were displayed at the Exhibition; Keen’s own superb O gauge K-Lines system was freelance, and it cannot have helped that it was not to the new Norris finescale standards. Indeed there was a distinct finescale tinge to the GW Group at this time and its knowledge of GW minutiae was sufficient to persuade the young Peter Denny to model something obscure like the GC!
In fairness, the BRMSB did make some attempt to establish broad based institutional support for their work. At the end of the war, the Model Engineering Trades Association (META) was established, under the chairmanship of G.H.Lake, Secretary of the BRMSB: this mainly comprised the London model trade, but it was intended that its members would produce their goods to the new BRMSB standards and thereby ensure the compliance of the trade. But META was overtaken by the development of the hobby: the makers of “proprietary” OO like Meccano and Triang were not members, and in practice META evolved into a trade federation for the retail trade, not the manufacturers, before finally fading away in the early 1980s.
There was also one stillborn attempt to establish a national federation of modellers in emulation of America’s NMRA, the weight of whose huge membership has probably been the critical factor in establishing and maintaining effective standards in America. In May 1941 Albert Kenyon, an architectural modeller who wrote for the Constructor, proposed the establishment of a nationwide “Standard” Model Rail
Association for “the banding together of model railway folk pledged to use and to work to the association standards”. This would have a national headquarters and local groups would be established in each district. W.S Norris wrote in support (MRC 7/41), and in September the Constructor’s editor, RJ Raymond, took up the idea. Noting that, “at the moment there is no one qualified to join the Association… since no volunteer can claim to be working to the new standards – they are as yet undefined,” he proposed a national federation of clubs, “suggesting that the Model Railway Club becomes the parent body” [whether this idea had been cleared with its chairman is uncertain], adding “the [Standards] Committee does not call upon owners of layouts to go to the expense and time of scrapping their work. We build for the future so that we may hand on a torch which burns bright and clear”.
In December came a further letter from Mr Kenyon, suggesting that members of such an association should pledge to make alterations to their existing layout “where permissible”, ensure that all new work conform “if existing conditions permit” to the new standards, and should advise all new recruits to the hobby to follow the new standards. A letter from the Secretary of the MRC then appeared, observing that “there are many practical difficulties that would have to be overcome”, and raising seven questions: this sparked Raymond to reply in the February Constructor, again suggesting the MRC as the central body, and suggesting that the Association could be administered on a voluntary basis. The following month Raymond noted, “No one has risen to the bait of a National Club which was dangled so temptingly…Strange. I should have thought there would have been some feeling one way or the other.” And there the matter died.
Amidst all the theory and the schemes for reforming the hobby, some actual modelling was still being done, and some of it was of great importance for the future. In 1939 letters and articles written by a London insurance broker, J.H.Ahern, began to appear in the magazines. Ahern’s first short-lived layout was a conventional main line, but it was rapidly replaced by another layout, depicting a small freelance light railway, called the Madder Valley Railway. Such a subject is commonplace today, but in 1940 it was unheard of. Pre-war modellers were almost exclusively interested in big modern steam, but Ahern’s first articles dealt with the construction of three small antique engines, versions of a GW Metro tank and Sharpie, and an LNWR Special tank. Beal had written about the possibilities of the “old-time railways”, but Ahern was the first modeller to construct a layout entirely operated by a motley assortment of small antiquities. And this was a scenic layout; one of the landmarks in the history of the hobby was a short article, headed “Bert’s Garage” (MRN 9/40) showing a model of a small country garage nestling against a railway embankment. A.R Walkley had built several scenic cameos of similar realism but not, as far as is known, a full-size permanent scenic layout.
This first Madder Valley was swiftly replaced by a second. Built in a room 7’6” x 14’ 9”, it ran from a small harbour-side terminus in front of a picturesque townscape modelled partly in low relief through the village of Much Madder to an unfinished terminus. Nobody had previously modelled this sort of quaint “picture-postcard” English town or village, and certainly nobody had ever before built model buildings of this quality, or in such profusion, for a model railway. Even today Ahern’s work is outstanding: in 1942 it was simply breathtaking. And this was only the spectacular beginning. A house move in 1944 saw the layout expanded into a room 10’ x 16’, with a branch line, further developed, and then converted to 2 rail .A stream of articles poured from Ahern: between 1941 and 1950 there was an article of his in MRN more months than not, and the latest news of developments on the Madder Valley was continuously before the readers of the MRN.
The Madder Valley revolutionised the hobby. It was loved and admired as much for what lay beyond the railway as for the railway itself, and it thereby changed the whole emphasis of railway modelling: for the next three decades the great ambition of most railway modellers was to be a scenic modeller. And it was decisive in showing the immense potential of the old, the small, the quaint and the single-track rural railway as subjects for modelling. All the many light railway layouts built in the last fifty years, and a good many of the branch lines are descendants of the Madder Valley.
The Madder Valley was a deeply Romantic layout, the first model railway to exude charm, character, and atmosphere. What it was not was an absolutely precise dimensionally accurate replica of a real prototype. It featured models of narrow gauge locomotives from the Isle of Man, Wales and Devon built to run on 16.5mm gauge track alongside models of standard gauge stock. Some of the stock was based on American prototypes. The buildings were based on buildings from all over Britain which had caught Ahern’s fancy, but no more than based: “a prototype building is seldom exactly as wanted, and I cannot remember that I have ever reproduced a building without some modification. Most of my buildings are derived from something, but they are not exact copies.”(Min.Bldg Constr). As for rolling stock: “the photo was a side-on view and I just decided, brutally and firmly, that it was “full-size for OO” and hoped for the best. Dimensions were transferred direct from the photograph to the metal. It follows that the exact scale is a bit vague”. In short “I am not at all a “scale fiend”; on the contrary … I want to make models – models of all sorts of things – and not to spend my time messing about with microscopic wheel and track adjustments.” (MRC 1/42). Ahern was a natural OO modeller: a pragmatist who produced an enormous amount of inspirational modelling in just over a decade, and the era of modelling ushered in by his Madder Valley was to be dominated by OO.
Over and above the Madder Valley itself (now preserved at Pendon and still occasionally operated), and the articles which described it, Ahern left another important legacy in the shape of the first manuals on specialist areas of railway modelling. Miniature Building Construction (1946?) Miniature Locomotive Construction (1948), and Miniature Landscape Construction (1950) immediately became the standard works on their subjects and remained so for thirty years. If Beal taught the post war generation how to build a model railway, it was Ahern who taught them the techniques of scratchbuilding: even today much in these books remains useful and Miniature Building Construction is still the best available guide to cardboard-and-brickpaper modelling techniques.
Through these books and through contemporary articles it is possible to glimpse the materials, the techniques, and the crippling shortages facing modellers in the late Forties and early Fifties. During the latter years of the war virtually all supplies had ceased: the manufacture of metal toys had been banned as from 1st January 1942, and the sale of metal model and toy goods both new and second hand, whether complete or in parts or castings from 1st October 1943. Some modellers still had bits hidden away in their drawer but otherwise Ahern’s cardboard buildings were almost the only kind of modelling still possible in the latter stages of the war.
Popularity and progression 1945-75
It was not until early 1945 that the first stirrings of post war life began to emerge. Frank Dyer and several others formed a new club at Barnet and were working on a tiny 2-rail OO layout even before the V2 rockets had stopped falling. By the autumn, the MRC were meeting in the Ambulance Room at Waterloo, where Peter Denny joined them in November 1945; in December, Hambling’s MRN advertisement stated “by the time this advertisement appears we should have stocks of META scale OO rail for the first time since 1940” and Peter Denny hurried off to buy his first dozen lengths of rail. But even a craft knife was an unattainable luxury in the late Forties – Ahern used a “cut-throat” razor blade and offered a design for a wooden holder to take the more modern thin double edged type, as well as giving guidance on re-sharpening razor blades on an oilstone to save expense. Card and wood were the staple materials for constructing rolling stock and buildings: card could be had as scrap, and ordinary cardboard boxes were then a good source of thick card, while modest amounts of thin stripwood and plywood could be readily obtained. But larger amounts of timber, such as were needed for baseboards, were another matter. Ahern could write in the MRN (1/47) “As matters stand at the time of writing, anyone is entitled to buy £1 worth of timber [a month]– that is a fact. If a timber merchant tells you he cannot supply unless a permit is produced, the assumption must be that he hasn’t got what you want and does not like to admit it”. But two years later this “allowance” had been cut to 10 shillings a month, and it took one modeller several years to buy enough timber to convert his loft, although this at least eased the financial burden: “Not the least of our present day shortages is a shortage of cash!”(MRN 2/50). Peter Denny built the boards for his first Buckingham Branch largely from wood salvaged from a pre-war Gauge O layout, and P.D Hancock began Craigshire on “a baseboard consisting of two old blackout frames supported upon a miscellaneous collection of tea chests and packing cases”.
Locomotives were built of metal, and if nickel silver or brass were not obtainable, tinplate (salvaged from empty tin cans) provided an acceptable substitute, though in the desperate days of the mid Forties a few brave souls experimented with cardboard loco bodies. Cardboard and strip or plywood were the staples for coaches and wagons, although underframes were normally soldered metal: Michael Longridge’s “Modelling 4mm Scale Rolling Stock” (1948) is based almost entirely on such techniques. Plastic was regarded as unsuitable for model use. A good range of not entirely accurate drawings was available from Skinley, but modellers often had to resort to building from nothing more than a photograph, and prototype information was hard to find as few relevant books then existed. Neither Longridge nor Ahern mention kits or RTR because in 1948 neither was available. Production of Hornby Dublo restarted only in the late autumn of 1947, and it was not until 1949 that anything other than sets was available; the Korean War led to further shortages of materials and only in 1954 did Hornby Dublo issue their fourth locomotive and first post-war design. Kits were regarded as a American idea at this time, but by 1950 ERG of Bournemouth was advertising its “Precision card parts” for OO rolling stock and CCW was offering a wooden component system for building coaches, while the first examples of what might be called loco kits were appearing from Larko, Rowell, and Kirdon. If you wanted a controller, you built it yourself: a spare element for an electric fire normally provided the resistance. Electric motors, or the lack of them, were a particular difficulty in the1940s, and those that were available were not up to today’s standards and were fearfully expensive: in 1950 a Romford motor cost £2 10s – £33 in today’s money – and as late as 1955 there was a controversy in the MRN as to whether any British motor was capable of pulling 9 coaches. It is sometimes suggested that Ahern’s Madder Valley did not work particularly well, but the fact is that in the 1940s model railways in general did not work particularly well, and one magazine editorial (MRN 1/50), after noting that it had become fashionable for exhibitions to include at least one “working” layout, offered some sharp criticism of the unreliability which exhibition layouts then generally displayed. .
But despite all the handicaps, the hobby moved briskly ahead. Fleetwood Shawe recalls that the trade revived very quickly after the war, and despite all the shortages, the range of goods available steadily improved: by the early 1950s support for OO was better than it had been pre-war, even if the heavy emphasis on service in retailers’ advertisements probably concealed a lack of stock. Conditions bred a certain pragmatism: when it was so difficult to build anything at all, a purist finescale rejection of all compromises was simply impractical, and even leading modellers were willing to accept some degree of approximation and occasional imperfections in the cause of building a layout. Indeed, when one recalls both how much Ahern managed to produce in a decade, and P.D.Hancock’s recollections of building freelance narrow gauge oddities in a few evenings, this attitude may have been an advantage. In the late Forties Peter Denny scratchbuilt an engine in seven days while recovering from flu. This pragmatism also manifested itself in a virtual absence of scale/gauge controversy from the appearance of the BRMSB standards to the end of the Fifties. For those who felt that OO was too narrow, there was now an officially recognised alternative, EM, if they wished to adopt it. In practice many liked the idea but few actually took it up: one who did was a young member of the MRC, Peter Denny, who became friendly with F.W.Chubb and Michael Longridge, both then MRC members. Thus the torch passed from the generation of the Thirties to that of the Fifties, and in due course Buckingham GC became one of the star layouts of a new magazine, the Railway Modeller, edited by another young member of the MRC in the late Forties, Cyril Freezer.
A new and very potent idea of the period was the branch line layout. The Madder Valley was in many ways the first example, but the idea also had been floated in several wartime articles: the objection “what do you do at the other end?” had been answered by another new idea, the fiddle yard, a non-scenic section representing the rest of the railway network. Buckingham Mark 1 featured a fiddle yard as early as 1948, and Maurice Deane invented another type, situated behind the terminus with a connection to provide a continuous run. Cyril Freezer, who publicised the concept of the branch line layout, explained its attraction many years later: “A branch line can be operated by one engine, two coaches and a dozen or so wagons. By modern standards that is a ridiculously small amount of stock…but in 1947 it represented at least a year’s hard graft.” Most modellers, like Cyril, Peter Denny, and P.D. Hancock were starting completely from scratch, and a small layout was at least an attainable project. “Since it takes much longer to build a big layout than it does to construct a small one, until about 1955 the great majority of models we saw were tiny ones.” (RM 11/71). And a branch line can be built in a very modest space as countless modellers have found over the last half-century: in the 1940s when wartime bombing had created an acute housing shortage this was an important consideration.
The late Forties also saw the great changeover from 6V 3-rail electrification to 12V 2-rail. A considerable amount of ink was spilt on the subject of 2-rail yet in hindsight one wonders if there was really an issue. A hardy few, like A.R.Walkley and Michael Longridge, had been working in 2-rail since the Thirties (Wimbledon MRC was a hotbed of it) and the principle had been widely adopted in America but for ordinary mortals the great difficulty had been the modification of wheels to provide insulation, as well as the fear provoked by wiring diagrams, especially as the early 2-rail diagrams were both unfamiliar in principle and unnecessarily complex in practice. Everyone was in favour of 2-rail in theory, and the only question was its practicality, but by 1946 insulated wheels to BRMSB standard were available from Romford and modellers entering the hobby after the war worked in 2-rail from the start. The two most famous OO layouts of the day, Beals’ West Midland, and Ahern’s Madder Valley were converted in 1944 and 1946 respectively and when Rovex brought out a 2-rail train set in late 1950 it became rather difficult to argue that 2-rail was too difficult for scale modellers to make work. For those still hesitant there emerged a half-way house, stud contact, in which the outside third rail was replaced by a row of broad headed pins between the rail: this was vastly less obtrusive but was soon obsolete except in Gauge O. The replacement of 6V by 12V (which had been a de facto Allied wartime standard for low-voltage equipment) seems to have passed almost un-noted. The advantages were obvious, in that the same amount of current would carry twice the power, but despite the fact that it must have required the replacement or rewinding of practically every motor, the issue is hardly discussed. Perhaps so many modellers took up the hobby from scratch after the war that the changeover happened almost automatically.
The decade after the war was a period of dramatic expansion for OO, to the point where OO almost was the hobby. Gauge 1 had been in decline well before the war, and in March 1947, a proposal from Capt. W.R.Warrell led to the formation of the Gauge 1 Model Railway Association, in which remaining modellers in the scale banded together to ensure its survival. In this they were successful, but for several decades Gauge 1 modellers remained a tiny fraction of the hobby. For O gauge, the ten years to 1955 were like the retreat from Moscow. Before the war it had been the dominant scale; in 1951 a questionnaire in the Constructor showed 35% of respondents working in 7mm and 53% in 4mm, and when the exercise was repeated in 1961 (with 50% more replies) the figure was down to 10%, with 65% in OO, 6% in EM, and 13% in the newly introduced TT3. In the late thirties almost all the new entrants to the hobby had gone into 4mm, and after the war there was a huge loss of existing O gauge modellers as people came home and, like Peter Denny, sold up derelict coarse scale O for what they could get and went 4mm. The classified columns of the MRN in particular were clogged with adverts- as one (MRN 6/50) put it baldly, “Large O Gauge layout, mostly L.M.C, all as new, cheap for quick sale. Send for list”. Much equipment ended up in junk shops where surviving O gauge modellers picked it up at bargain prices. Hornby never resumed production of their larger, more authentic Gauge O items after the war, and one by one the big names of pre war Gauge O went under: by 1955 the continued availability of even basic components was in serious doubt. Following a letter from W.Loch Kidston, an Edinburgh solicitor and armchair modeller with a remarkable knack of founding things, a meeting was held which led to the formation of the Gauge O Guild to ensure continued supplies of the necessary components for O gauge modellers.
O gauge survived but it was not until the 1980s that it was to enjoy a major revival. Some of the reasons for its decline can be seen in the two Constructor surveys of the period. Gauge O was still overwhelmingly coarse scale and, to a large extent, clockwork: one of the Guild’s first major projects was to provide a supply of replacement springs for its members and even in the early Sixties, two rail electric layouts were a small minority in the scale. Scenic layouts were rare, space was a problem, trade support increasingly limited, and new equipment was very expensive. Up until the Seventies Gauge O retained the image of being rather crude and archaic, locked in a pre-war world, and fit only for the garden. The Age of Mammals had arrived, and the dinosaurs were in retreat.
Scale societies are normally founded either as lifeboats (like the Gauge O Guild) or as groups of pioneers to propagate a new scale, and in both cases the supply of components is generally the original focus. 1955 saw the foundation of another scale society, this time of the second kind. EM gauge had been launched with high hopes in 1942 as the way out of the HO/OO controversy, but it soon became obvious that the vast majority of modellers, including a great many who had come into the hobby since the war, were sticking to OO as were all the manufacturers of “proprietary” (i.e. RTR) equipment; indeed by 1955 it is probable that four out of every five modellers were working in OO. The immediate spark for the formation of the EMGS was a letter in the MRN in 1954 under the title “Whatever Happened to EM Gauge?” The writer wondered whether anyone was still modelling in EM and several active EM gauge modellers (including Peter Denny) replied saying that the gauge was very much still alive; as a result of this correspondence the formation of a society for EM modellers was proposed. The immediate result of the EM Gauge Society was to give the gauge a much higher profile, and over the next few years EM rapidly became recognised as a serious alternative for the finescale-minded 4mm scale modeller.
Throughout the 1950s, the premier boy’s toy was the train set, and the train set was OO. There were three major ranges: Hornby Dublo (Meccano Ltd), Trix, and the new and rapidly expanding Triang Railways, made by Triang’s subsidiary Rovex. Trix, with its largely unchanged pre-war product, was very much the third out of three and it experienced several vicissitudes of ownership, leaving the real battle between Hornby Dublo, product of Britain’s grandest and most famous toy company, and Triang. Triang’s system exploited the new technology of plastic injection moulding to the hilt, and once Triang had taken over the original Rovex company its development was rapid. It was 2-rail from the start, utilising the insulating properties of plastic, and although some of the early products were toy-like a steady process of improvement and replacement meant that by the end of the decade Triang products were reasonable models of actual prototypes exhibiting respectable levels of detail, albeit often compromised to allow the use of existing standard components. By contrast Hornby Dublo was 3-rail, and made of lithographed tinplate and die cast metal, although in some quarters metal was equated with quality and plastic regarded as cheap and nasty; Meccano had pretensions to being an engineering firm rather than a toy company, and Hornby Dublo was largely free of Triang’s standard component compromises. But in the early Fifties the pent-up demand was enormous, demand exceeded supply and the train-makers could sell all they could produce. In 1954, the initial production run of Hornby-Dublo’s 2-6-4T was 100,000 units while Rovex (Triang) moved into a new factory at Margate which immediately had to be doubled in size because it proved inadequate. But then in 1954 there were only 11 RTR locomotives with any claim to be scale models on sale in Britain.
For some years the “scale” side of the hobby took little notice of all this. Attitudes in some quarters are vividly illustrated by an episode witnessed by a DOGA member in Hambling’s one day in the Fifties. Someone was rash enough to enter this scale model shop to ask for a Triang train set. The gentleman behind the counter (believed to be Arthur Hambling) informed him furiously, “There is a toy shop in Regent Street,” and physically bundled him out of the shop! RTR did not appear in Hamblings catalogue until the mid Sixties, and then only in the form of Arnold N gauge. Scale modelling meant scratchbuilding, leavened with the odd kit, and in many quarters it was viewed as a branch of model engineering, separated by a great gulf from playing with toys on the floor.
Neither railway modelling, nor train sets, were cheap in the Fifties. In 1950, the newly released Graham Farish Black 5 cost 71/6 (£67-92 today) and the model was not a patch on today’s superb Hornby model, while a handbuilt “scale” 3-rail Black 5 from Tyldesley & Holbrook cost an eye-watering 26 guineas (£518-70) and one of the first kits, Kirdon’s LMS 4-4-0, cost £6/5/1 (£123) with mechanism. In the same year Exley’s OO coaches cost 45s (£42-20) each complete, Farish’s plastic Pullman cost 27/6 (£26.15) and a crude generic LMS coach from Coachcraft cost 16/6 (£15.68) Three years later, Triang wagons cost a more reasonable 3/11 (£3.10 today), while in 1956 Triang coaches could be had for 9/3 (£7.37), their Hornby Dublo competitors retailed for 15s (£11.95) and Exleys were down to 35s (£27.90); if you had the skill to built them ERG card wagon kits cost 3/9 each (£3.10), the new whitemetal shunter’s truck from Wills cost a heavyweight 6/11 (£5.55) and PECO Wonderful Wagons as much as 8s including post (£6.37). At this period one normally bought from a model shop, not directly by mail order, and manufacturers’ adverts were peppered with such phrases as “Ask your stockist for…” and, “Ask your META dealer”, although as many major model shops like Bonds and Hamblings produced their own products, the distinction was somewhat blurred in practice. By this date one major difficulty was a thing of the past, at least in OO, as ready made track using pressed fibre sleepers was available from Wrenn, GEM, PECO, and Welkut; in 1956 a yard of steel flexible track cost 4/8 (£3.72) and points could be had for 10/9 (£8.57). When converting contemporary prices into their 2002 equivalents it must be remembered that living standards and disposable incomes were much lower in the Fifties than they are today, and £10 to build a model railway could loom comparatively large in a household budget. Triang’s new 2-6-2T might seem quite reasonably priced at 54s in 1956 (£43.00 today) with an extra 12/6 for conversion with scale BRMSB wheels, but most modellers would have had to save for several months to afford it. Scratchbuilding was not only cheaper; it also helped spread the cost of modelling in the family budget.
During the 1950s exhibition layouts and exhibitions as we know them today did not exist. There were clubs but they were still relatively few: even major towns like York could be without a club as late as 1960. The focus of the hobby was on the permanent, long-term home layout, and its main forums were the three magazines. The Railway Modeller, founded in 1949 and from 1950 owned by PECO and edited by Cyril Freezer “For the Average Enthusiast” as the cover slogan had it, rapidly became the most important. It was largely a OO magazine with a leavening of EM, and it featured a description of a “Railway of the month” in each issue. Some of these layouts became regulars in the magazine, and readers followed news of their latest developments much as news of the Madder Valley had been in the Forties. The greatest of these was Peter Denny’s EM gauge Buckingham Branch, but not far behind it in fame, frequency of appearance and longevity came P.D.Hancock’s Craigshire.
P.D Hancock was a young modeller from Edinburgh, and his layout, built in the bedroom of an Edinburgh tenement flat, was perhaps the finest example of the “bedroom branch line” that was (and is) the staple of so many space-starved modellers; indeed part of its attraction was that this celebrated layout was built in a 13’6 x 10’6’ room under conditions that many ordinary modellers could recognise as their own. Craigshire was in many ways the direct heir of the Madder Valley, but there were two major differences: Craigshire was emphatically Scottish and the Craig and Mertonford Railway was 9mm narrow gauge, certainly the first 009 layout ever built and probably the first significant British narrow gauge layout. This might seem to exclude it from the history of OO, but Craigshire always had its OO standard gauge section and in the late Fifties this grew from a scenic feature into a side of the layout equal in importance with the narrow gauge, while from 1956 onward Craig also boasted a scratchbuilt OO tramway. Like Buckingham, Craigshire was three times completely rebuilt; like Buckingham, it was a staple of the Railway Modeller from the early 1950s to the late 1970s; from 1960 onwards it, like Buckingham, was that glamorous thing, a pre-Grouping layout; and like Buckingham, it was the subject of a PECO book (Narrow Gauge Adventure, Seaton 1975, 2nd ed 1980); indeed for a short period in the mid 1950s the main station building at both Craig and Buckingham was a version of the same J.H Ahern design!
P.D.Hancock was by preference a scenic modeller and both his townscape and landscapes were thoroughly characteristic and highly atmospheric: indeed in some respects both Craig’s trams and the freelance rolling stock of the CMR were as much scenic features as operational ones. But Craigshire was entirely free from the tweeness and improbability that characterised much late Sixties 009: this was no rabbit warren layout but an entirely convincing small but busy Scottish narrow gauge railway. When Craigshire went pre-Grouping in 1960, it was a serious effort to create an evocation of the Edwardian NBR, with a scratchbuilt Scott and NER M1 and versions of several other NBR classes concocted by “butchery” out of seemingly unrelated proprietary locos in the fashion of the time. There were locos P.D.Hancock probably couldn’t manage but that only made Craigshire more relevant to the ordinary modeller: here was no effortless impossible perfection but a fellow modeller struggling with familiar problems and limitations, and overcoming them spectacularly. And at the end of the day the quality of what he achieved in terms of appearance and atmosphere was very high. Craigshire might not have stood scrutiny with a vernier against a detailed set of prototype drawings but in other respects it achieved “infinite riches in a little room” and richly deserved its fame.
Two other famous OO layouts of the Fifties were also built by members of the recently formed Edinburgh and Lothians MRC (another organisation founded by Mr. Loch-Kidston). The late Ken Northwood’s North Devonshire Railway was a very different kind of layout to Craigshire. Begun in 1951 in a 27’ x 17’ attic, this was probably the first big post-war mainline layout in OO, and represented that most popular prototype, the inter-war GWR. It was notable for popularising many practical ideas that went on to be widely adopted in the hobby – the electric pencil method of point operation, pin-point bearings, tender-mounted motors driving the loco via a shaft and universal joint, hidden storage sidings forming a reversing loop to name a few, while it also featured two ideas of Fleetwood Shawe’s which went on to gain wider currency: ”floating” track laid on a soft underlay, and automatic couplings operated by an electromagnet between the rails. Like other famous layouts of this period it developed over many years, a second version of the NDR being constructed in the mid Seventies after Ken Northwood’s retirement to Devon, and appeared regularly in the magazines over several decades. That it featured a large range of typical GWR locomotives and rolling stock might seem unremarkable today, but in the mid Fifties there were no GW locos available RTR and very little stock, kits were few and far between, and to build up that kind of collection required a lot of work and some ingenuity. The problem then was not to select the best items for each aspect of the layout from an array of products, but to find any products suitable for the layout at all, and modellers were glad to make use of any commercial products available even if they were not absolutely correct or required some adaptation for the task in hand.
The NDR provided locomotive running rights both to P.D.Hancock (Craigshire being a bit small for things like a scratchbuilt NER 0-8-0 to stretch their legs) and to another well-known modeller of the time, John Charman, who worked under even more severe space limitations; his portable OO branch line layout, Charford, began its life in a caravan in the mid Fifties and subsequently went through a rapid series of RAF married quarters. Originally consisting of two boards 6’ x 1’3”, later expanded with a corner section into an L shaped layout, it depicted a Southern branch line in Dorset: in a period when every second layout was a GWR branchline, this was a breath of fresh air. Like so many layouts, Charford was fictitious, although it featured operation to a detailed timetable. It was in no sense finescale, featuring a double slip in the station throat, an early Airfix signal box kit and a station building concocted out of Bilteezi parts, but its locos and rolling stock were authentic and representative, and were largely scratchbuilt with a leavening of the basic kits of the period. In the Fifties there was no such thing as “shake the box” modelling, and if you wanted a reasonably authentic layout some skill and a lot of work were necessary to achieve it Perhaps the great attraction of Charford was that it was the sort of layout a lot of ordinary modellers found themselves trying to build, only executed with a lot more ingenuity, flair and skill: if John Charman could manage all this in such unpromising circumstances then the contemporary reader of the Railway Modeller might well feel that there was hope for him too.
In many ways 1957 stands out as something of a watershed, the end of the post-war Age of Scratchbuilding and the beginning of a new era of kits and scale RTR. In March the Railway Modeller carried a 6-page feature announcing the arrival of Triang’s new 3mm scale TT system, the first new commercial scale in Britain since 1921. OO was no longer the smallest commercial scale available and the overwhelming dominance of 4mm scale and OO began to be eroded: within four years the Constructor survey was to show one modeller in eight working in 3mm. At the MRC’s Easter Exhibition the following month, K’s released the first complete 4mm British outline whitemetal loco kit, their GWR Collett 0-4-2T; MRN devoted a two page article entirely to this revolutionary product, which used a new technology of centrifugal casting in rubber moulds that enabled a small manufacturer to turn out moderate production runs with low tooling costs. In a decade, K’s released 26 whitemetal loco kits and their great rivals Wills released another 27 between 1959 and 1966, all of which remained continuously on the market, making it possible for the first time for ordinary modellers to possess a varied and authentic locomotive stud without having to scratchbuild.
These early whitemetal kits were seen as something of a second-best: reviewing Wills’ new E2 kit (RM 4/60) Cyril Freezer noted, “It must not be forgotten that the prime essential of a locomotive kit is to enable the unskilled to extend his locomotive stud – the skilled worker can, and does, work from scratch”. This was the path down which the novice then took his first steps into more advanced model making: assembling a Wills Bodyline kit with early glues like Pafra or Evostick to fit on a Triang or Hornby-Dublo chassis, and probably finding that the glue started to fail after a year or two, leading to a resolve to learn soldering. Wills’ stand was one of the highlights of an MRC Easter Show at Westminster in this period, with the latest kit, just released at the show, on sale, and Bob Wills sitting behind the stand demonstrating the black arts of whitemetal soldering to a prospective purchaser in his late teens or early twenties. As like as not, this purchaser would have been the lucky recipient of a Triang or Hornby-Dublo train set half a dozen years previously, who was now making his first ham-fisted attacks on proper modelling such as he read about in the Modeller or the other magazines. For a generation of modellers like Tony Wright and Iain Rice these were the rites of passage into the hobby.
And in October 1957 Hornby-Dublo launched their great riposte to the competition from Triang with the release of a new model of the GWR Castle fitted with the novel Ringfield motor mechanism. This was the most accurate RTR loco yet, powered by the best mechanism on the market: anyone modelling a GW main line needed one, and from that time on there was no point in scratchbuilding a Castle: you merely needed to re-wheel a Hornby-Dublo model. “Bristol Castle” alone would not have made this introduction a watershed, but the point was that she was not alone. In February 1958 came the first of Hornby Dublo’s new “Super Detail” SD6 wagons, in which lithographed tinplate was finally out and state of the art injection-moulded plastic was in: these were the most detailed and accurate authentic RTR wagons yet produced. Two more locomotives (8F and Class 20) were announced by Hornby Dublo in March, the second and third SD6 wagons appeared in April and May, and for the next six years a flood of new models of unprecedented detail and accuracy poured onto the market from Hornby Dublo.
Given Triang’s new commitment to TT, it is not surprising that their OO range had a quiet year in 1957. But thereafter they met fire with fire with a string of new, more detailed and more accurate steam and diesel locomotives, a range of scale-length Mk1 coaches which is still in production today, and extensive retooling of their range of wagons, their track and their lineside accessories. Perhaps the most astonishing Triang releases were two pre-Grouping Singles with matching coaches: the GW clerestories in particular were to be an invaluable resource for scale modellers for two decades. Trix attempted to respond as well, retooling to release accurate scale models to a non-standard 3.8mm scale, a discrepancy which deterred many modellers from buying them. By 1964, Triang were offering 21 authentic British-outline locomotives, Hornby-Dublo 13, and Trix 10,all of them for 12V dc 2-rail, and extensive RTR ranges of more or less accurate contemporary wagons and coaches were readily available to the OO modeller.
The cornucopia of accurate new models did not end there. Airfix had begun to produce injection-moulded plastic kits in the late Forties, but it was another ten years before similar kits of railway subjects began to appear. The pioneer was a doll maker, Rosebud, which decided to diversify into the field: the first Rosebud Kitmaster kit, for the 08 shunter, appeared in April 1959. Rosebud Kitmaster lasted a mere 3 ½ years before the undercapitalised parent company sold it to Airfix, but in its meteoric career it issued 34 kits, of which 21 were British outline 4mm scale; all were detailed, highly accurate even by today’s standards, and unpowered. The first modern plastic wagon kit was Ratio’s Iron Mink, of 1959, which cost 5/10 (£4.35 today), but in July 1960 Airfix entered the railway market with kits for the new class B tank wagon and Presflo cement wagon at a mere 2s (£1.45) each; in a little under 3 years Airfix released a total of 15 rolling stock kits while their Trackside range came to number 29 items introduced over six years. These new Airfix wagon kits were not merely more accurate and detailed than any 4mm wagon kit ever seen before, they were so cheap that even a teenager could afford them, and so simple to assemble that even a teenager could build them successfully. PECO offered card interiors for Rosebud Kitmaster coaches, various specialist traders produced motorising kits for Kitmaster and Airfix locomotives, Superquick launched a new range of sturdy readily constructed card building kits and in 1964 came the news that PECO were introducing a new 16.5mm gauge Universal track system using injection moulded plastic which, unlike pressed fibre, would not swell and go out of gauge in the damp. Truly the OO modeller had never had it so good.
The practical effects of all this were that as Cyril Freezer observed “In OO we have reached the stage where one is no longer forced to make anything to complete the picture”(RM 1/61), and that it was increasingly unusual and even eccentric for a model railway to be built without some use of commercial products. Even the MRN, which was strictly a “scale” magazine, found itself compelled to notice them, introducing a new series on commercial products of use to the “serious modeller” with the remark, “Did you know that there are now about a hundred different OO wagons on the market now, as kits or ready to roll?” (MRN10/63). The layout that typified this new approach most was perhaps Mac Pyrke’s Berrow Branch: beginning in the mid Fifties as yet another L-shaped branch 8’ x 5’ with a strong dose of proprietary stock, it grew to a U shape, was cut back to an L, and developed throughout the Sixties, steadily growing in sophistication and refinement. On the scenic side it was of course basically scratchbuilt, but the fact that it used commercial track, that it featured a Triang Jinty and 3F (both of which were entirely authentic for the prototype modelled) the new Triang DMU, kitbuilt Airfix wagons and coaches from Triang (both converted suburbans and their new scale Mk 1s) along with several scratchbuilt ex LMS locos and buildings based on Ahern designs, shows which way the wind was now blowing. Half a dozen years previously everything on a OO layout had had to be scratchbuilt: now much of it could be adapted proprietary products. The Berrow Branch was the first notable layout to depict that popular prototype the S&DJR, but it is striking that when built it was also a contemporary model, representing the line as it was then operating. In 1961, the traditional steam age branch line was a normal everyday part of the contemporary railway scene; most modellers modelled contemporary railways, and the models in the “proprietary” ranges were virtually all in contemporary BR liveries – in 1961 Triang’s singles and their GW clerestories stuck out a mile precisely because they were historic models.
It is true that the changeover from the Big Four to BR black had been somewhat hesitant: in 1950, JN Maskelyne noted that at the MRC Easter exhibition “the number of models in B.R. colours, out of a total of over three thousand, was precisely three”, (MRN 6/50) and the same year saw the formation of the HMRS. But ten years later the Big Four were a fading memory. In the Fifties and early Sixties, “historical” meant pre-grouping, and going pre-grouping was then a serious challenge, since the period was beyond most modellers’ personal experience and written sources were then very thin on the ground. Often it was necessary to draw on the memories of older enthusiasts who had actually been there and even the basic liveries could be hard to establish. The frequent prototype background articles in the magazines were an important part of their contents: such information was then simply not in print elsewhere
The hobby was booming but this was not to everyone’s taste. The MRN had become a little old –fashioned, somewhat out of the current that bore the Railway Modeller onward and Maskelyne’s successor, Roy Dock, took it in a new direction. What he did was to make the MRN a haven for minorities. It had always been the natural home of Gauge O: he made it equally a home for EM, 2mm, S, and all forms of model engineering and advanced and experimental modelling; by contrast mainstream OO and TT, the bread and butter of the Modeller, appeared only in small doses. And it was in the MRN in 1962-4 that scale/gauge controversy at length revived after twenty years of peace. The spark was a series of letters from a former EM gauge modeller, Malcolm Cross, announcing and defining a new finer gauge of 18.8mm or 18.83mm, “EEM”; this sparked off an extended correspondence, several articles, and at least one editorial commenting favourably upon his work: a remarkable amount of coverage for a theoretical concept which had not even produced a single item of rolling stock let alone a layout! Amongst the reaction was an article from the late “Smokey“ Bourne, “In Favour of EM” (MRN 12/63): this expressed considerable doubt about the practicality of EEM, but some of his other remarks are very striking. “Since then , if anything, the range of basic supplies has become worse and I certainly can see nothing commercial which looks like improving the situation, certainly not in the direction of finer standards…. [EM] is a working gauge which can be operated by anyone who has the slightest pretension to being a railway modeller… owing to the advent of better standards among toy train manufacturers, EM is increasingly recognised as the differential between toy trains and model railways, and OO gauge is a dying standard. Any model-maker who has pretensions at or about 4mm scale really has only the choice of EM or HO”. We seem to be in a very different world from that of the Railway Modeller and the burgeoning catalogues of Triang, Hornby-Dublo and the kit manufacturers; and not the least striking thing is that, in the pages of MRN, Bourne was not an isolated voice. Indeed in terms of the MRN debates, he was a moderate, writing specifically to express doubts about the ultra-purist EEM project. The great gulf between the toy trade and the scale modeller was closing and bridges were appearing across it, but many working in EM seemed to want to reopen the gulf and cast the bridges down. It was in MRN at this time that the phrase “serious modeller” first appeared to describe those on the finescale side of the divide, and it is striking that at a time when a flood of accurate commercial products began to open 4mm modelling to everyone, these modellers latched onto a project that would necessarily lead the hobby right away from mass-market products and back to highly skilled, hand-built “experimental” modelling. “EEM” was to have immense consequences, but for the ordinary modeller these were still a decade away. In 1962-4 these were still isolated voices.
As the train-set boys of the Fifties graduated into the ranks of the scale modeller the hobby had boomed. In April 1960, Railway Modeller was boasting its circulation had risen to the unprecedented height of 50,000 copies but by January 1961 it had reached 56,000 and was out and away the leading magazine featuring the most famous layouts of the day. These years also saw the peak of the long Fifties train-set boom. But in 1962 the tide turned and sales of train-sets began to fall as new toys, notably slot cars, came to prominence. Throughout 1962 Trix’s owners were seeking to sell the company, and Hornby Dublo severely reduced its programme of new products: the flood of new items introduced over the previous five years was translating into ever rising stocks in the stores at Binns Road. Triang, too, felt the wind blow cold: by 1964, sales of the new TT range were down to 1/6th of their 1960 peak and Triang had had enough, announcing that there would be no further introductions in TT but that they would maintain the existing range for five year “to stabilise the gauge”. In fact only small amounts of Triang TT were produced after 1964, and the following year, faced with the effective end of commercial British outline TT, modellers in the scale got together to establish the 3mm Society to ensure a future for their chosen scale. Another lifeboat had been launched.
But this was not the worst. In 1964, the mighty Meccano Ltd collapsed, crushed under the weight of unsold Hornby Dublo and the accumulated tooling costs of so many new models without standard components, launched onto a saturated market. Their products and production methods had become too expensive, and poor commercial judgement had hastened the end. Triang took them over, and promptly ended production of Hornby Dublo. When Airfix bought out Rosebud Kitmaster late in 1962, 25 out of 35 kits in the range disappeared forever. The later Sixties were in fact the only period (other than wartime) when the range of 4mm RTR available actually contracted: in 1964 you could buy a reasonably comprehensive selection of Southern RTR but by the early Seventies changes to the Triang-Hornby range had reduced it to a very patchy coverage. Trix faded slowly away during these years; while nearly all the Hornby Dublo range eventually reappeared under the Wrenn brand in the late Sixties, Wrenn did not develop new models, and in practice Triang-Hornby had a near monopoly of British outline RTR. This was not particularly healthy as the quality of British outline RTR showed only a modest improvement over the next dozen years: if anything can be blamed for the poorer mechanical quality of today’s British outline RTR when compared with overseas models, it is the stagnation of those years when British outline RTR largely marked time.
Nevertheless the period after 1964 was one of continued quiet progress for 4mm modelling. Cyril Freezer noted, “Attendance at this year’s Model Railway Exhibition was down…Yet, despite this fall, all traders I spoke to had actually improved on last year’s sales figures, which seems to indicate that serious interest in the hobby is greater than ever.” (RM 6/65) The range of commercial products available in 1967 was vastly greater than it had been ten years previously, and modellers were becoming adept in exploiting them; commercial support was now available for virtually all aspects of OO railway modelling but the choice of commercial products in each category was still limited. Thus a recognised hierarchy emerged: if your skill was limited your layout featured the same, not entirely appropriate, models as a hundred other layouts and the result was somewhat clichéd and hackneyed and it was only as your skill increased sufficiently to tackle kits and even scratchbuilding that it became possible to build an individual and reasonably authentic representation of a given line. Certain proprietary products became notorious: Superquick kits were a particular cliché and the Superquick low-relief buildings eventually came to blight any layout on which they appeared. The gaps in availability of stock at this date were still huge: even when kits were taken into account only the highly standardised interwar GWR was well covered, and a truly authentic model of any of the three other groups required a considerable amount of scratchbuilding. Only a handful of pre-grouping classes were available at all and in the late Sixties new whitemetal kits had slowed to a trickle: one senses that the novelty and appeal of the Nu-Cast range which began to appear in the early Seventies was that it offered pre-grouping LNER steam from the North of England, something not on the radar at Wills or Ks.
This was the golden era of “butchery” and conversions, the process by which proprietary models of one thing were carved up, modified and re-arranged into a plausible if approximate likeness of something else which was not available from the trade: in this respect an MSWJR 0-4-4T from a Triang Jinty must represent something of a high water mark. (RM1/78) The “butchery” route was less demanding than traditional scratchbuilding, and it enabled modellers of moderate skill and considerable ingenuity to individualise their layout with models that were different from the next man’s. It was heavily dependent on a new material, which had rapidly become one of the most important in the modeller’s cupboard: plasticard. Originally introduced by Slater’s in the mid Sixties, plastic card revolutionised the scratchbuilding of rolling stock, enabling modellers to produce scratchbuilt vehicles comparable with the new injection-moulded kits and RTR: cardboard and plywood now became obsolete for these tasks. Plastic card also proved to be a new material for architectural modelling, pioneered in the late Sixties by Vivian Thompson with various authentic Southern structures on her Eastbourne layout, and taken up in the Seventies for non-railway structures by Dave and Sheila Rowe with their Axford layout, which was as much a Devon architectural diorama as a working layout. Not surprisingly, both layouts were OO.
So the scale side of the hobby continued its steady development with increasing support: by the early Seventies Cyril Freezer could produce a popular series for the Modeller named “Proprietary to Scale” highlighting the accurate authentic models available in the proprietary ranges. But this was also the period when by a strange development the hobby became almost completely estranged from the real railways. For these years were a period of utter gloom on the prototype as steam was sent to the scrapyard and the Beeching Report spelt doom for much of the network. Enthusiasts turned their back on the network in despair and disgust and it became de rigure to put down the camera if a diesel came in sight; diesels were tolerated only when they crept into a shot recording yet another line shortly to close. It is difficult now to recall just how deeply BR was hated by enthusiasts in the early Seventies, and how any comment about the contemporary railway scene that was not entirely negative was likely to be regarded as faintly immoral or a betrayal of the cause.
The new traction had been modelled in the early Sixties – indeed in 1964 Cyril Freezer wrote a series of articles on the modelling potential of recent developments entitled “The Modern Image”. But in the climate of the late Sixties modern image modelling withered and almost died. A model railway magazine of 1970 has a very familiar look: the layouts and articles are similar to those of ten years before, only more numerous and more sophisticated, and virtually everything is still the steam age railway. But the steam age was over: this was no longer the contemporary railway. Every layout, almost every model or article in the magazines, was now historical. Triang-Hornby almost single-handedly kept the possibility of modelling the contemporary scene alive throughout the period, with a modest range of diesels and stock that was just about broad enough to permit a layout. But the bulk of their range was still steam and the big development was their introduction of pre-nationalisation liveries. When in 1971 Triang-Hornby introduced a model designed to set a new standard in British RTR locos, it was of BR’s last steam engine, Evening Star. There were no modern image kits on the market and as late as 1976 the Modeller could publish an article on building a Class 47 bodyshell from papier-mâché cast in a home made plaster mould. In 1976 a diesel locomotive article in the Modeller stuck out like a Martian: this was not what the hobby was about.
One further major development of this period was the model railway exhibition. There had always been a handful of exhibitions in major cities but in the early Sixties they were still few and far between, and as late as 1964 the Modeller did not think it worth featuring a list. By the late Sixties shows were proliferating and an Exhibition Diary was a monthly feature but it only ran to half a page; a new phenomenon, the exhibition layout had emerged and readers of the Modeller could be invited to see Mike Sharman’s original mid Victorian layout on its next appearance at York show. Prestige and status still lay with the long-term home layout like Buckingham or Craigshire but the times were definitely changing. Modellers could now see certain layouts for themselves: it was no longer the case that they could only read about them in the magazines.
Sources & Authorities
Model Railway News 1925-1939
Model Railway Constructor 1934-1939
Bings Table Top Railway. Jeff Carpenter (Diva publications 1996)
Hornby Gauge 0 System, C & J Graebe (New Cavendish, London 1994)
Hornby Dublo Trains. Michael Poster (New Cavendish, London 1980)
Trix Model Railways. Tony Matthewman (New Cavendish, London 1994)
BRM – A Century of Progress. Bob Essery (BRM/Warner’s Bourne/Wembley 2000)
The History of 00. Tony Penn (DOGA Journal Vol 1-4)
One Man’s Railways. Ken Payne (Beer 1989, PECO Pubs)
‘Edward Beal’, David Etheridge (Railway Modeller Nov 1985)
Edward Beal’s Railway Modelling Series 1-5/7/8 (Modelcraft, London, nd.)
Information from Cyril Freezer (pers comm.)
Marklin (USA) website
Part Two & Three
Model Railway Constructor
Model Railway News
Model Railway Journal, and Compendium
The Story of Rovex Pt.1 – Triang Railways P.Hammond
Hornby Companion 5 – Hornby Dublo M. Foster
Trix Model Railways T.Matthewman
Let’s Stick Together S.Knight
R.Forsythe – History of Loco Kits 1 (1999)
JH Ahern – Miniature Locomotive Construction (1948)
Miniature Building Construction (1950)
M.Longridge – Modelling 4mm Rolling Stock (1948)
Peter Denny – Buckingham Branch Lines 1+2 (1993-4)
PD Hancock – Narrow Gauge Adventure (1975)
Ken Payne – One Man’s Railways (1989)
RJ Essery – BRM -Century of Progress (2000)