Quintessential ‘Ally Pally’

Model Railway Club shows have evolved over the years from the traditional annual exhibition of members’ ‘pride and joy’ to the almost totally commercial provision of today’s 21st century events, says Ian Lamb.

Historically the Model Railway Club haS held its exhibitions in various venues before the now permanent location at Alexandra Palace where undoubtedly it can be rightly considered as London’s premier model railway show.

Some of the first club meetings in 1911 were referred to as ‘exhibitions’, where members took along their own models to show to fellow members. In 1912, one of these meetings was made open to non-members, so it can be considered as the first ever model railway exhibition.

Traditional queues for the Westminster Central Hall exhibition.

In 1929 the show had expanded to a five-day event with 3000 visitors, so the larger Westminster Central Hall was booked for 1931. Fast forward to the 1980s: with the Central Hall bursting at the seams, a move was made to the new Wembley Exhibition Centre.

There can’t be many model railway club exhibition venues in such a magnificent setting? Now in its 19th year, the London Festival of Railway Modelling was a great attraction for every railway enthusiast, and a fantastic day out for all.

Aside from the awe-inspiring venue, visitors enjoyed more than 40 hand-picked layouts (of which only a selection are referred to here) and in excess of 100 exhibitors to browse and purchase from.

The vast selection of trade stands covers those ‘must-have’ items to ‘specialist’ items in rarer scales and gauges. Expert demonstrations gave opportunity to learn about new techniques or tips to improve modelling skills.

Initially the BRM/Warners team marked out the stand sites on the Thursday, occasionally wondering why the halls have shrunk or moved! In the end it all fitted in. By 8pm on the Friday most of this festival was set up, by which time Tom Cunnington, exhibition manager had walked more than 10 miles around the halls.

Rev. Peter Denny’s ‘Leighton Buzzard – Linslade’ layout Ian Lamb

Not quite into my teens, I was brought up (courtesy of my regular copy of Railway Modeller) on layouts of ‘Craig’ and particularly ‘Leighton Buzzard’, the Rev Peter Denny’s much-lauded ‘Buckingham branch’, pioneering EM gauge – all the more impressive considering this part of the layout is now 70 years old! Happily, it’s looking great for its age. I never ever thought that I would see it, so somewhat humbled that it can be once more appreciated.

Being the son of an LNER man, I have always had a soft spot for the East Coast mainline, so I was delighted when my eye caught the superb 00-gauge model of ‘Grantham – the Streamliner years’ covering the period 1935-39. Graham Nicholas and friends had faithfully captured the atmosphere of 80 years ago.

For the full article, see the May edition of Modelling – available now!

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