Wednesday, 18 December 2013

True greats of modelmaking

I was just musing upon the really great modelmakers that were all around in my lifetime.  Mainly when I was a lad and into my teens.
I was thinking of that true gentleman, Geoff Pember.  He was an authority on the Great Eastern Railway and a most complete modelmaker.  So prodigious was he that every rivet on his superb 7mm scale model locomotives was a separate entomological pin, soldered into a Number 70 hole all made with not a minidrill, but a pin chuck, by hand.  He made his own wheels too, spoke by spoke.  Not only that, but he was equally good at scenic work, coaches and wagons.
He spent a long time once at a London exhibition describing to me, a 14 year old, his intricate methods and impressed me so much I bought a box of butterfly pins which I still have, 48 years later.

Ross Pochin, who made models of Furness Railway locos, all by hand, of course.  He also made his own wheels on, if I remember correctly, a Taylor Hobson Model H pantograh engraver, two examples of which I have owned in the past.  Most remarkable with Mr. Pochin was that he made his own motors with integral flywheels, long before most used that essential aid to smooth running.

Contemporary with these gents was, of course, George Iliffe Stokes, the finest scenic modeller to this day.
Nobody has come close to his trees or his sense of atmosphere, even though his track wasn't the finest.
He had once been a member of Cody's Flying Circus and it was the multi stranded flying and control cables from his aircraft from which he made his trees.

Jack Nelson, builder of the finest dioramas of the London, North Western Railway, the Premier Line.  These were true dioramas, where they possessed false or forced perspective and could only be viewed from one position.  He was also a protagonist of 3.5mm scale for British outline models, a rare bird indeed.
Jack had a small flat in Ilford, Sth. Park Drive to be exact and ran the Ilford Junior Model Railway Club, a kind of training ground for youngsters with promise who inevitably then went on to join the Ilford and West Essex Model Railway Club, one of the World's oldest, as indeed did I.  Jack gave me my first sheet of nickel silver to make a model of the LNER V1 2-6-2 tank that I was rather fond of at the time.

John H. Ahern, with his trilogy of "bibles" for railway modelling, Miniature Landscape, Building and Locomotive Construction.  I have them all and still use them.  He built the Madder Valley Railway, which is now at Pendon Museum.  It is generally reckoned to be the first truly scenic layout.  The atmosphere he created with brick papers and hand lettering, was an eye opener to me.

Peter Denny, with his magnum opus, Buckingham Central, a layout which I believe still exists.  He showed that if everything was done to a similar high standard it became unnecessary to work to the very highest standards in order to get a large layout built.

And although the layout was largely made from proprietary models, track, etc., Mac Pyrke's Berrow was one of the few Great Western branch lines I could ever look at more than once.  Atmosphere again.

And so, who have we today?
I can only think of Gordon and Maggie Gravett, who come close.  Many would say Martin Welch, but I'm afraid, I'm not impressed.  I once queued for hours to get into the one and only Model Railway Journal exhibition in London and then again, once inside to get onto the stage to see his Hursley layout.  I was so utterly underwhelmed when I got there, I said so and went to look at better work which had been handmade, not weathered and kit bashed proprietary stuff.  The layout had been so completely overhyped previously, but clearly Welch was an MRJ favourite, indeed he had his books published by them and ended up editor.  But Hursley was small, simple, barely scenic and all out of the box.  I could have knocked it up in 3 months without breaking a sweat.
You see, I am damned fussy.  And no, I don't think there are any true greats left.  And with the proliferation of kits and even accurate looking R-T-R, I think there never will be again.


  1. Have you encountered Peter Greaves? He posts on RMweb as 'Snitzl'. He scratchbuilds everything, including figures, for his own 4mm scale project and for his club's layout.

  2. That's my kind of modelmaker, Paul, but no I don't know of him. I was kicked off RMWeb years ago and can't get back! Not that I really want to.
    I also make my own figures. I'm just too tight to buy anything!

  3. It's really nice to see the old guard getting some of the respect today that they so richly deserve. I would add Ken Northwood to the list, as his "North Devonshire" railway inspired me as a kid...and also PDH, although he wasn't so much a great modelmaker as a genius bodger but what an inspiration he was, and a real gentleman as well. I'm glad you mentioned Mac Pryke, as I stillk look at my old copies of the RM with Berrow in and still, secretly, hanker after something like it.

    1. I can't think of any of the more recent ones who blow my frock up, Iain. I thought of PD Hancock's work, but could NOT recall his name! But yes, he was very inspirational. I had his book out of Collier Row library (tiny suburb) so often I think they ran out of space to stamp it! Ken Northwood, yes! Another I remember now you mention it. There was just something about Berrow. I don't like GWR, I don't like RTR and I hate Peco track, so why did I love reading about Berrow? But I really did.