Leicester Model Railway Group

A personal history by Brian Gillespie.

           I joined the LMRG in October 1959 at the annual auction held at The Church of the Martyrs in Westcotes Drive.  The group soon moved its monthly meetings to Charles St.  Baptist Church.  These were held on the 3rd Tuesday of the month.  January was the AGM, August the exhibition briefing, October the auction, and December a film show.  The others were guest speakers.   When we first moved to Charles St. we had to use 110v projectors as the church was still on the old tram electric circuits.

           One year two of the talks were 'Smokey' Bourne (Birmingham MRC) on wagon construction followed by Eric Tranter (Loughborough) on painting models.  He showed how only one line of colour was used.  This was all that could be seen when viewing the prototype from about 50ft.  The junior members (about 25 at the time) were asked to produce a freight train of handmade wagons to fill one shelf of an exhibition stand about 7ft.  This was completed successfully.

           The original clubroom was owned by Bernard Bettinson who had a shop on Saffron Lane.  The clubroom was across the road in Knighton Fields Lane.  It was upstairs, access was by what would now be classed as an open plan staircase.  Removing the layouts once a year for exhibitions was very difficult.  There were two rooms, in the large one there was the library, a small circulation area and two layouts.  Around the outside was the gauge course scale track (more like the modern test track).  Inside this circuit was the 00 layout (January 1961 M.R.C.).  This was originally part of an end-to-end layout; the two stations were joined by one span of Brunel's Saltash Royal Albert Bridge.  The other station was broken up.  In the other room was the 'TT’ layout, later replaced by an end-to-end narrow-gauge layout (4mm, 3ft gauge).

           The exhibition used to be held during the last week in August for the whole week (the Bank Holiday used to be the first Monday).  This was the last full week of the school holidays.  The exhibition hall was The Boot and Shoe Trades Hall in James St. between Humberstone Gate and Lee Circle.  The caretaker (I think his name was Reg) used to bring tea around every hour.  Usually we used to have good attendance.  One year the weather was wet all through August, so people did not go on day trips (not many families had cars then).  Exhibition week was the only week there was good weather, so attendance was poor.  During the last half hour of Saturday evening, many strange things happened.  The power car on a Midland Pullman set was swapped for a Kitmaster Pug 0-4-0ST.  A freight train was formed up so that the loco banked the brake van.  Also, on the Saturday there was usually a tea party, and on the 25th anniversary there was a special cake.  The opening hours were: -

                         Monday - Friday 2.00p.m.  - 9.00p.m.and Saturday 10.00a.m- 9.00p.m.

           Some of the items exhibited were very valuable.  We had the Manchester Model Railway Clubs Gauge 1 electrically fired live steam 4-6-0 Claughton loco which at the time (early 1960s?) was very interesting.  I think from articles in the model press at the time it was valued at thousands of pounds.  The value was in the time spent in research as the materials were minimal, (scrap electric fire elements cut to precise resistance values etc.).   Other items included Rev.  E.R.  (Teddy) Boston' s number plates from GWR 4-6-0 100 A1 Lloyds.  And R.H.(Dick) Linnell's Princess Ann nameplate from the rebuilt 'Turbomotive' 46202.  This loco only lasted a few months in its rebuilt form as it was destroyed in the Harrow & Wealdstone accident in 1952.

           One of the early presidents was H.N. Lacey who was Biology master at the Wyggeston Boy's School (he encouraged David Attenborough into botany).  His nickname at school was 'Puffer'.  In biology lessons we used to try and sidetrack him by asking for a diagram on the black board of the human blood system.  The diagram of the lungs looked like a plan of a marshalling yard.  This triggered off the red herring 'Please Sir, Wath only had two king points not three as you've shown'.  That was it, a lecture on shunting followed.  He was a GN/GCR fan.  We thought we were crafty getting him off the subject, but he was even craftier, as only one boy in the class failed his G.C.E. Biology exam.

           Another character was Jack Smith (there were at least two J.  Smiths in the club at the time) who always asked a question on some minor matter at the AGM.  This particular year asked the treasurer if he could explain £1. 15s miscellaneous expenses?  This he did down to the last penny.  The bulk of the money was refreshments for helpers on the Sunday evening setting up that years exhibition.  Late on the Sunday evening there had been a fault on the '0' Gauge layout.  The pick-up studs (in those days studs had replaced the third rail) had lost power.  The wire connecting the studs had lost voltage between two studs.  There was continuity but no volts.  It was eventually solved in time for the exhibition to open on Monday afternoon at 2.00p.m.

           After the Knighton Fields clubroom, the club moved to various places in the city of Leicester.  The Adult Education Centre on Western Road, Halford St. near the old Odeon cinema and a church hall on Melbourne Rd.  I cannot remember much about these clubrooms as I did not have much modelling time with two small boys and my wife running a Girl Guide company.  In the late1970s the club moved to St.  Andrew's Church Hall, King Richards Rd., we had various rooms in the building.  The minute book will confirm dates etc.  Whilst at King Richards Rd.  we held a few weeklong exhibitions at the clubroom, at the time the room we had was as big as our present clubroom.  The exhibition was on two floors.  Then came the move to the present premises.  One of the layouts was a model of Leicester Central Station.  Included on the layout was a model of the Pex factory.  On the Friday of the exhibition (I think it was 1979) the Pex factory burnt down.  One or two club members were seen looking at the layout holding boxes of matches, the compromise was a cut-out of flames and stuck behind the building.  The Pex building was between the new Land Registry building and the canal.

           Throughout the club history, there have been many characters - too many to mention them all but I will try a few.  If I've offended anybody, please accept my apologies.

            Harry Burgess was chairman for many years and would walk around the room smoking a pipe and preaching about 'split potential wiring'.  For many years he had been building an LMS 4-4-0 2P class loco in 4mm.  I had been in hospital for three weeks (not allowed out of bed) with only an article on converting the newly introduced Triang Southern L1 into a 2P.  So, when I came out of hospital what did I do? I built a 2P! - out of an L1, which I took down to the club and ran it on the 00 layout.  Harry saw it and nearly swallowed his pipe and spluttered something about taking the !!*!!  About a month later his loco appeared in Somerset & Dorset Blue.  He later converted to '0' gauge.

           'Tug' Wilson who lived in London had an '0' layout which he worked to timetable.  Normal time but a train every minute or so and when he was Controller, he would announce extra special workings usually when the station you were working at was involved in complex shunting operations.

           Guy Linnell (son of R.H Linnell) just after Kitmaster introduced its 'Evening Star' 9F kit converted one into one of the Crosti locos.  He was an artist and spent hours studying the prototype as they passed through Leicester to get the muck correct.  When he painted LNER coaches for his father he even painted the pictures which used to be in each compartment.  His father also built a model of a very unusual loco.  'Hurricane' a GWR broad gauge engine (7'.-0 1/4).  A 2-2-2.  Not a conventional loco.  The cylinders were on the front power unit and the boiler was on a 6-wheel chassis with a 4-wheel tender.  The prototype was delivered on 5th October 1838 and withdrawn in December 1839.  The model was left unpainted, I wonder what happened to it.  It should have a place at Didcot or Swindon.

           In about 1962 we had two lady members join, Christine Duff and Dorothy Bailey.  They introduced the Tea Bar.  The committee gave a grant of 10s (50p) to start it.  The Baileys were the group's original 'N' gauge modellers.

           Rev.  E.R.(Teddy) Boston was a member of the group and used to bring his Southwold layout to the exhibitions.  This layout was built in two double bed frames and was an imaginary extension of the 3ft.  Gauge Southwold Railway into the North Sea.  For those who know East Anglia, A reverse of the erosion now taking place.  This layout had one or two features.  A cow (Daisy), who walked onto the track to stop the train, and the Church from which could be heard singing - Evensong.  For one exhibition I built an extension so that the trains could run off the circuit in two directions.  Full details are in (I think) the December 1961 Model Railway Constructor.  The layout had to be burnt after he died due to the frame being riddled with woodworm.  No good in a large wooden shed with another large layout in it.

           Another member was Bill Glasspole who worked in Loughborough and if he came home in his lunch hour would return to work travelling on 'The Midland Pullman'.  He ran a wagon on the '00' with a clanging brake handle.  A regular occurrence with the unfitted freight trains of the time.

           The LMRG used to exhibit static models at the Model Railway Clubs Exhibition at Central Hall, Westminster, London, which was held the week after Easter.  The models would be taken down on the Monday and there was usually a group visit on the Saturday to bring them back.  One year my brother sent down two models, a working layout in a Swan Vestas matchbox (more about that later) and a 4mm 3ft. gauge De Winton vertical boilered loco (the complete mechanism fitted below the chassis of a TT wagon).  Because of the size and security, they could not be exhibited.  However, they had been shown to various people.  'Smokey Bourne’ and some of the Birmingham Club had heard of these models.  By chance, the two parties met at the Newport Pagnall Service area on the M1 on the return journey, so there was an impromptu model railway exhibition in the cafe.

           Another show we used to visit was the Manchester show held the week before Christmas at Manchester Corn Exchange, 'The Affair at Hanging Ditch' because of the address.  The group usually went on the Sunday - sometimes the weather was quite wintery as in those days there was no M6 - only the A6, or over the hills via Leek and Macclesfield.

           In the 1960s the main shows were Manchester, London, and Leicester as these were the only shows longer than two days.  In October there was the Birmingham Conference which was a joint meeting of the London and Manchester clubs and was the best private model exhibitions as some people would show here and not at public shows.

           One trip we had was to the Bass railway system at Burton on Trent.  We were taken around the system in a special train consisting of a 4-wheel coach and loco.  On the return trip, some members called into a scrapyard at Woodville and I was given the works plates off 2 ex BR locos.  (a 2F 0-6-0 and a Jinty      0-6-0T).  The number plate from the 2F went to Cadeby after its owner left the hobby.  A bargain as they only cost the price of a match to light the gas bottles.  Donald Neal's '0' gauge garden layout at Kettering was another visit.  This layout was, and probably still is, with its concrete viaduct across the lawn.  The group also went to the Derby Museum '0' gauge Midland Railway layout and we went behind the scenes.  Scale speed running on the public viewed area but high speed behind and round sharp curves.  Has the layout been rebuilt?

           In 1961 I built a model of one of the 18 inch gauge Hunslet locos at John Knowles at Woodville in 8mm scale (to fit 12mm track).  A member said it was not small enough, so my brother built one in 4mm.  Again, the same member made the same comment, so my brother built one in 2mm.  The same comment with the added rider that if one was smaller, he would polish the brass dome.  This my brother did, the dome was a brass track pin.  I also think he did a 1½ mm model.  These were positioned one on the front buffer beam of the next size up.  I think the 1/4 mm one has been lost.  Other small models my brother built were a 1/4mm working branch terminus in a Swan Vestas matchbox.  I still have some of the above models.

           One of the regular items at the auction was a Rolla-Controller.  This piece of equipment was approximately 6 inches square and 15 inches long, it had 4 sliders to control trains.  At that time controllers had circular movements so linear movement was very high tech.  The controller appeared at every auction for many years.  It must either have been scrapped or the last purchaser left the club. 

           The layout I mentioned earlier with the loco banking the brake van was one of George Reffins.  So, it would have been American 'H0', loco to caboose.  George used to build a layout for the Leicester show take it to Manchester and sell it at London at Easter.  The layouts were about 6' by 4' or that sort of size.  He later converted to British '0' gauge.  The last layout I saw of his was a hump shunting layout, which filled the small Trades Hall.

           Guy Linnell as mentioned earlier was a very good artist.  When his father built '0' gauge LNER teak coaches Guy would paint them including the pictures which used to be in each compartment.  Was it 2 or 3 per side above the seats?  Dick was the secretary of the group in the 1960s.  As an aside, as Dick was the manager of AEI Leicester and Rugby when the New Parks factory was opened, and he tried to get platforms built on the Burton line (which ran next to the factory) so that the workers could come by train.  A certain number of passengers were guaranteed, and AEI would pay for the station.  B.R's reply was that they could not afford the wear on the brake shoes.  The wheel is coming around again as this is to be one of the station sites on the Ivanhoe line if it ever happens.  When Dick first came to the club, we did not know who he was.  There was an electrical fault on the '0' gauge layout.  The electrical diagram was being studied and Dick asked if he could help.  On looking at the drawing he could not make head nor tail of it.  It was a very basic diagram, battery, switch, and bulb as per school.  He then admitted who he was and that the diagram was so simple he had forgotten it.  Put a radar diagram in front of him and he could read it like a book.  Dick had been honoured for his wartime work in developing radar.  It was at the next AGM that he became club secretary.  As he had good contacts with the press, the group used to benefit from occasional items in the Mercury.  Any publicity is good publicity!

 At the Trades Hall, the layout of the hall did not alter much from year to year.  As you entered the main hall by a short passage by the side of the stage.   The '0' gauge was half on the stage with the rest projecting into the hall.  The half or rather the one third on the stage was screened off to give hidden sidings.  The crash barriers around all the layouts were scaffolding and sometimes children used to climb up to peer into the hidden sidings.  Usually to the opposite side of the layout from the operators who were in the middle.  There was always the fear, although it never happened, that somebody would be hit by a train.  An '0' gauge loco with about 8 coaches at speed is quite a force to be reckoned with. 

 In front of the '0' gauge (the curved end of the oval) was Teddy Boston's 'Southwold' narrow gauge layout.  The right-hand wall was lined with static stands until level with the end of the '0' gauge, here was the clubs' '00' layout and sometimes the 'TT' one.  On the opposite wall were the trade stands 'Apex Craft' from Church Gate and I think it was ‘Attenborough Models’ from Nottingham.  The rest of the wall might have had static stands as well, including displays from other clubs.  Time plays tricks. 

 In the small hall which I think was not used in the first few years were other layouts as mentioned earlier.  In 1971 my 'Ashmoor' was along the right-hand wall in the main hall.  One year after the 'TT' layout was broken up there was a display in its place including the 'Princess Anne' nameplate.  Usually, on the Wednesday, the treasurer would be seen smoking a cigar, as this was the signal to members that we had covered costs and we were now in profit.  One year the club's narrow gauge layout was in the small hall.  As the layout was end to end the stations were at each end of the hall, joined by a long passing loop.  One line for each direction so about four trains could be held.   In the middle was George Slater with his Plasticard sales stand and he spent some of his time demonstrating Plasticard by making models.  He used to build items of rolling stock which he then used to add or change trains in the passing loop.  Sometimes the operators did not know what train would appear next. 

           One of the clubs' '00' layouts (described in the Model Railway Constructor, January 1961) was a continuous circuit.  There were no hidden sidings just a high hill, which was open at the back.  During the time that the editor of the MRC was watching, two junior members were hidden behind the hill and managed to change trains without being visible.  This was commented on in the article.  The 'N' gauge layout has been featured in another magazine in the 1990s.

           There were two sizes of static display stand, three-foot six-inch, and seven-foot.  The frames were 1by1/4mild steel bent and welded into shape with 3''wide 3/8'' thick ply shelves with hardboard backing painted white.  The shelves were secured to the frames c/sk screws with the nuts underneath.  The 7' stands had three frames, the 3' 6'' had two, when assembled they were very strong units.  I have used them to cover the storage sidings on my layout at shows.  The frames are now holding up the test tracks at Cossington. 

           After the Trades Hall, the exhibition has been held at various venues throughout the city.  These include The Boot & Shoe Trades Hall, Clarendon Park Church Hall, Leicester University, De Montfort University, St.  Andrews Church Fosse Rd.,  Central and Rowley Fields School (near the Post House Hotel), finally to Barrow on Soar.

           In the late 1960s, after an exhibition which was not as profitable as the one before, it was decided to have the exhibition twice and then miss a year to allow for new layouts etc.  It then became alternate years.  I think we only needed one visiting layout per exhibition as we had enough club and members layouts.  Talking about exhibitions, I had to operate 'Teddy' Boston's Southwold layout on the Sunday of the Manchester Show in 1961.  This was held the weekend before Christmas.  The press had made quite a story about the layout which was built in two double bed frames and had a cow (Daisy) who stopped the trains.  As a result of this publicity, the show was packed, the doors had to be closed twice on the Sunday afternoon.  No Sunday shopping in those days.  The layout was surrounded by scaffolding crash barriers.  It was a good job it was as the crush was so bad that I could not sit up to operate.

             Committee meetings were held at member's houses on a Monday evening.  When I was the junior representative, I had to cycle all over the area - Oadby, Knighton, Wigston, Barrow on Soar, and other parts of the city.  I think we sometimes arranged lifts to Barrow.

           Another character in the club was Derek Lewin.  He used to model '0' gauge industrial locomotives.  These he used to make out of tin plate instead of nickel silver.   He was recycling before it was fashionable.  I think he worked on the principle “why buy when you already have your material in your baked bean tin”.  In those days there were no ribs down the tins.

           During the 50 years that I have been involved in the Leicester Model Railway Group, I have exhibited 5 of my own layouts, and my son, one.  There have been many changes and a number of very good modellers, some of whom have become nationally known.


20-3-2011.                                                                 Brian Gillespie.