An Edwardian Interlude

I continue to explore ideas for my layout space – and while my current focus is on the potential to model a segment of the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway in S Scale, I have lots of other options.

One of the most unorthodox candidates is from across the pond: Specifically, a Great Western Railway branch line in 7mm (British O scale).

My 7mm model from Lee Marsh of a GWR 517 Class. This speaks to me loud and clear.

I’ve long been a fan of British modelling.

When I was a wee kid, my first train sets came from the toy shops in the big department stores and were British outline. I had a Hornby clockwork set in 00 scale, followed by a succession of battery-powered Hornby-Meccano trains in 0.

My connection with British railroading was further entrenched through the magazines that were available to me. At the time, finding a North American modelling publication such as Railroad Model Craftsman or Model Railroader required a trip to the hobby shop – something that took most of a day via public transit and therefore only happened a few times per year. By contrast, I could find British magazines in smoke shops and bookstores – and there seemed to be one of those every few blocks in my neighbourhood.

My hobby hunger was fed a steady diet of UK railway modelling. Buffers, three-link couplings, carriages, goods wagons, W irons, solebars, and bogies – all those terms were more familiar to me than AB Brakes, trucks, boxcars, or Kadees.

Obviously, North American railroading eventually won me over and I have enjoyed several decades of modelling and operating layouts based on Canadian or American prototypes. While UK railway models always fill me with nostalgia, I’ve been happy to admire them from a distance.


But then a few years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to help my friend Brian Dickey exhibit his 7mm (British 0 scale) layout, Roweham. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and decided to acquire some 7mm equipment of my own. Since Brian models the GWR, I selected that as my prototype. I was especially attracted to the Edwardian era of open-cabbed locomotives with three-colour paint schemes and polished brass fittings.

I bought a 517 Class 0-4-2T (also shown above) to run on his Brian’s layout on occasion, and I finished four four-wheeled passenger cars for it to haul in time for our next appearance, the Great British Train Show … in April 2020.

My 517 Class on Brian’s layout, “Roweham”
The train, ready to go in my workshop. It’s still waiting for its train show debut.
My GWR Brake-3rd, from a Slaters kit.
My build of the Slaters GWR All-3rd kit.

Obviously, that didn’t happen as Covid suspended all train show activity. And then my wife and I moved 3,000 km west.


My GWR equipment was among the first boxes I unpacked in my new layout space and I’ve enjoyed looking at it for several months now. Could I embrace the nostalgia of my early days in the hobby with a British 7mm layout?

One of the many excellent books about GWR branch lines that Wild Swan published.

An expansion of the tried and true “branch line terminal to staging” configuration would certainly fit, even providing space for the next station up the line. I have doodled layouts based on several prototypes, described in detail in my library of Wild Swan books. Of all the sketches, the Tetbury Branch feels the most promising.

A concept sketch for the GWR at Tetbury in 7mm

I won’t go into too much detail about this branch, because I probably will not model it at this time and the accompanying layout plan and photos should be fairly self-explanatory. What’s not obvious is that branches like this often supported several passenger trains per day, plus one or two round trips of a mixed train or goods train to handle freight traffic. So a layout such as this could be quite busy while still supporting solo operation.

In addition, an online search turned up an impressive collection of laser cut kits for Tetbury structures in 7mm.

Tetbury station, looking down-line towards end of track.
Tetbury goods shed and engine house, looking up-line.
The absolutely magnificent station at Culkerton. This alone is reason to model the branch!

For a while over the winter, I was certain that this was my next project – and I decided at a minimum I could build a small shelf to try my hand at UK-style trackwork and provide a place to test some equipment.


But then I ran into roadblocks. Many UK suppliers are literally “one man in a shed” operations and dealing with some of them can be trying at the best of times. But add in shipping issues and supply chain shortages brought on by counter-Covid measures and it became incredibly frustrating. I had some excellent experiences – for example, Walsall Model Industries supplied me with a half-dozen kits for goods wagons that I look forward to building and I’ll definitely buy more from them at some point. But I also had challenges – from other suppliers – with acquiring basic needs such as turnout kits, three link couplings, and wheel sets.

I have not had such problems with model railway suppliers in other countries during Covid – and did not have problems with UK suppliers catering to other hobbies I enjoy. But I decided that at this time, I could not commit to a large layout that depended on a supply chain that was, overall, unreliable. So I’ve shelved Tetbury for the time being.


What does that mean for the UK equipment I have?

Well, my friend Brian’s Roweham layout proved that even in 7mm, a fun layout can be built in a modest space. I’m sure that at some point I can find a length of wall in the layout room that could support an Edwardian interlude – perhaps along the line of David Stone’s 7mm scale Sherton Abbas layout. (If you are unfamiliar with it, Google is your friend.)

Or, perhaps, the supply situation will resolve itself as countries come to grips with Covid as a virus that’s here to stay and the supply of essential components will improve. We’ll see.

Meantime, I have S scale electric freight motors to build and prototypes closer to home to ponder…

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and retired amateur shepherd who trained a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

21 thoughts on “An Edwardian Interlude

  1. Trevor,

    As someone similarly smitten with British trains and maybe building for the ones someone keeps encouraging me to buy ( ;p ), this is a great review of where you are and the discussions we’ve had about it. While I think your version of Tetbury would be an outstanding one, if it isn’t singing to you, then definitely keep exploring the options to find what does make your motivations in the new basement soar!

    Stephen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Stephen!
      Yeah – I could really get into this but I’d have to have a lot more confidence in the supply chain. As I wrote, some manufacturers and dealers were great but others left me frustrated by not answering emails, providing tracking numbers for parcels, etc.
      One even had no facility for e-commerce (which is EASY to set up now) and did not answer emails, so I had to phone in my credit card. His voicemail mailbox was full and he was only available one day per week which meant EVERYONE was trying to call him.
      If customer service improves – or, at least, international mail service returns to pre-Covid reliability – I might jump on this for a basement layout. Until then it remains a side interest.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I personally really like the GWR idea but I am an anglophile and I know diddly about model railroading. To me, though, there is a romance in that place and time that I don’t think you get by modelling a Canadian line.
    Again, though, see the “diddly” comment above.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. There’s a romance – helped by things like, um, castles. Over all, I think, railroading takes place at a much more human scale in the UK than in North America – particularly when looking at earlier eras such as the Edwardian. Trains are shorter. Equipment is smaller. Also, I’m intrigued by the idea of modelling an era that predates the automobile.

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  3. Part of the issue with the smaller suppliers in the UK is the vast number of train shows that normally run – they essentially can sell only using train shows as their main source of customers and thus have felt no need to enter the Internet age.

    For anyone else considering UK modelling, there are lots of GWR branch lines to choose from and 7mm has several GWR models from Dapol and Heljan (particularly if you are more willing to move into the early British Rail era).

    2 that I keep thinking of are Brixham and Kingsbridge.

    Brixham was a very short branch, mainly for fish traffic and the Summer Saturday / holidays. Easy with a 14xx and autocoach, and then just before closing the Class 122.
    http://www.cornwallrailwaysociety.org.uk/newton-abbot-to-kingswear-also-brixham-branch.html

    Kingsbridge was a longer branch, leaving the mainline at Brent. Layout with Gara Bridge and Kingsbridge could be doable in 7mm, with the B-sets and locos available RTR in 7mm.

    http://www.cornwallrailwaysociety.org.uk/kingsbridge-branch.html

    Interesting thread on the Kingsbridge branch, including links to videos on YouTube of operating steam
    https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/125587-kingsbridge-branch-pannier-tanks-and-prairies-the-extension-to-salcombe/

    (despite the name, the Cornwall Railway Society webpage is a good place to waste time looking at pictures for both Devon and Cornwall lines)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points all, “mdvle”.

      I assumed that the reliance on train shows was partly to blame for the poor preparation to deal with online orders. I’m glad someone else has confirmed this suspicion. That said, for the past – what, 18 months? – we’ve been without train shows. That’s plenty of time for suppliers to pivot and embrace new ways of serving their markets. I saw this happen in other hobbies – which, as I noted, include a lot of “one man in a shed” operations. If they could do it, the model railway suppliers could have too. But obviously it wasn’t a priority.

      I also agree there are many possible prototypes from which to choose – and a number of those will be easier to model, since they have a greater selection of era-appropriate models available. In this case, I’m interested in the Edwardian era – it fascinates me, and I’ve already collected equipment for it. And I’ve found there’s less available from mainstream suppliers such as Dapol and Heljan, and a greater reliance on the “one man in a shed” suppliers.

      For this reason at this time – I don’t feel comfortable embarking on a basement-sized project based on the GWR in 7mm set in the first few years of the 20th Century.

      Cheers!

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      1. The UK model railway hobby is strange – on one hand it is very vibrant, with a selection of models that those of us in North America could only dream of (comparing HO to OO) – and particularly they do have a still vibrant steam era hobby with new steam locos announced every year.

        But the flip side is there is a lot of resistance to change – there are a lot of people who still won’t touch DCC never mind DCC/Sound compared to North America.

        So I’m not surprised many of them didn’t take the opportunity to get on the Internet – their dedicated customers will as you noticed work with the limitations to get that order placed.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Also, Rapido’s UK branch hinted in their newsletter #5 that they are working on a 7mm model (something larger than OO) so that give more options. With the added benefit that you can pre-order Rapido UK stuff from Rapido Canada (eventually, they need to upgrade the website).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. For those not familiar, Rapido UK is set up as it’s own company and is creating it’s own staff / design team (there are 2 currently who are public, plus others).

        While not 7mm the one product so far that might interest many is they are doing the Titfield Thunderbolt train in OO, to be released in time for the film’s 70th anniversary in 2023 (they announced early when Hornby attempted to get the license rights, and after failing announced a Hornby version of Lion early in February).

        Those who want to watch and see what develops can check out https://rapidotrains.co.uk/ where there is also a UK newsletter option, or their own Facebook page / YouTube channel separate from Rapido Canada.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Also, I’d like to reiterate here:

    I had extremely good service from a number of UK suppliers. In no particular order, I was really impressed with Walsall Model Industries… Hatton’s… Roads and Rails… Rail Model… and others. But a few who supplied bits and pieces that I considered essential to my plans really let me down.

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  6. I’m ever so glad for taking a break to invest time into important things like this fantastic cup of tea I’m enjoying and catching up on your blog. As Stephen notes, this is a superb review of our conversations. It also echoes similar experience with trying to deal with retailers within our hobby. Even pre-Covid when we were still living on the Island the hobby experience was pretty much dependent on mail order–I’ll spare the world my rant on this so we can talk about more enjoyable things like superlatively beautiful tank engines.

    Like you, I was raised on a diet of exposure to the British model railway scene. That immersion creates its own reality and it’s an attractive one. Thoughts of modelling or even just collecting models feels comforting and good; reinforcing that connection as much to Pendon or Chee Tor as it is to actual places.

    You’d mentioned rereading the Sheraton Abbas articles. I’m a really big fan of Geoff Forster’s approach and work and have been enjoying evenings rereading his articles on Llangunllo. It’s a beautiful O gauge layout and I adore the way he’s going about building it: https://luggvalleyrailway.wordpress.com/llangunllo/

    So wonderful to spend some time this morning, here. Thank you

    Chris

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I would like to offer my services to buy things and ship them to you, but I pretty much expect the same problems as you have encountered with suppliers: even a relatively new manufacturer has a website “shop” which involves filling out a form and posting it to them. Including the 3 digit security number on the reverse of the card!

    But, when shows resume, let me know if I can help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Simon. Much appreciated. But I shouldn’t have to rely on third parties to enable my hobby! If a manufacturer or retailer has a website with a shopping cart function, it should be prepared to deal with website orders. If not, don’t try to sell online.
      In any case, my focus right now is on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway and I suspect that my GWR distraction will remain on the back burner for a while. Maybe by the time I’m ready to do something serious with it, more suppliers will actually be interested in selling online. (Given how poorly many jurisdictions are handling COVID, I suspect we’ll be doing a lot more online shopping and a lot less train show visiting for many years to come…)
      Cheers!

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  8. I had no idea you moved so far west! I was planning on also attending (my first) Great British Train Show in 2020 and perhaps meeting you… but well, you know

    That being said, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t ALWAYS have a G.W.R. layout plan in the background. Any sensible person has a few G.W.R. models lying about. I have a few to run on my D&H HO scale layout when no one else is around…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting development announced today in the UK 7mm market – specifically narrow gauge so a space saving way for anyone wanting to model 7mm/O UK outline.

    Lionheart Trains (associated with Dapol) have announced 2-6-2 locos and coaches for the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway – an 18 mile line in north-east Devon that opened in 1898 and closed in 1935.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynton_and_Barnstaple_Railway

    Announced on Facebook, the images on Facebook also available on RMweb at https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/167310-lionheart-lynton-barnstaple-models/

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Re-reading this, I was reminded of something Alan Gibson (the person behind the business with his name, rather than the current owner) told me. Many of the shows he attended did not make a lot of money for him, after he had accounted for travelling, accommodation, food and paying for the space at an exhibition. What he did do, was sell a lot of catalogs, which led to lots of mail order. Typically, after shows in October/November, lots of orders would come in for Christmas presents, and in January, lots of orders came in from people who had been given money for Christmas, so that they could pool it together to get something they really wanted.

    That said, that was him: you could examine examples of castings and kits whilst buying a catalogue, and know what you were getting. With things like track, it was a little bit different, and the reason being that postage rates increased substantially for yard/metre lengths of rail, so more and more people were pre-ordering rail and chairs for collection at their nearest exhibition. That’s no great excuse, mind – other couriers can deliver it, and it only requires a stout tube or even a piece of timber to act as a brace. As “MDVLE” says, we can be a bit backward about going forward in the UK, and resistant to change – especially in railway modelling (allegedly, when web addresses started to be used in adverts, the publisher of one of the more popular magazines tried to quash this, until they realised that they were on the cusp of losing some of the biggest advertisers and hence readership and revenue…)

    Ironically, for my own dabbling in 7mm scale Edwardian GWR, I require flat bottom rail, which was used on a number of branchlines* until replaced later on (usually just after my chosen era, but gradually). The size and section I need is not available in the UK, but is marketed in the USA. Dealing with Jay Criswell at Right O’Way was an absolute delight. Of course, if you need bullhead rail, then this doesn’t solve your particular problem!

    * The GWR was quite canny, and unwilling to build a lot of the branches that came into being, but they were prepared to support and facilitate connections being made with their own lines. The capital invested in building these branches, with the over-engineered requirements set for them, meant that by the time the track was being laid, money was in short supply so sometimes the rail used by the contractor was purchased. The GWR simply waited until the minor company wished to sell-up shop (the GWR often provided the locos, stock, and even staff, at cost plus a proportion of the residual “profits”) as it wasn’t generating the vast dividends initially forecast, and put in an offer that was based on likely revenues, minus the cost of upgrading things, rather than the original capital invested. The local money wasn’t wasted: the local price of coal was substantially reduced, for example, but the investment wasn’t recouped. The often by now run-down wooden temporary structures were replaced by GWR standard designs, and track upgraded using secondhand materials cast down from mainline use which required heavier to support increasing train speeds and rolling stock weights, rail and chairs which might only be 10 years into a 25-year designed (for mainline use) life cycle. A lot of this rail lasted into the late 1940s on branchlines, and even later in sidings (until closure). Hence during and after the Edwardian era, GWR branches became more and more homogeneous, which served the ultimate purpose of the GWR’s Board: to reduce costs and maximise dividend payments to their shareholders – railways were businesses, and at this time, transport conglomerates with interests in shipping, hotels, local distribution services and local bus services, as well as many other facets of life. The biggest businesses around at the time, in fact.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m tempted to Proto-Freelance. Tetbury is tempting but would fit better as a mirror image. And the Dean Single could use a turntable…
        😬

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      2. I have taken much inspiration from Cardigan as a prototype. It had an interesting track layout (still FB in the Edwardian era, although a few slightly later photos show that BH rail had been laid on the main, part way down the platform road, with the run round and sidings still FB) including a carriage siding and a small turntable. When I say small, I mean small: 23’6”. Even prairie tank locos (used much later – the 1950s) wouldn’t fit, but 0-6-0STs (850 class in the 1900s) and 0-4-2Ts (yep, 517s!) were turned to run chimney first. It wasn’t a massively long branch (27.5 miles!) but it had steep gradients (a lot at 1:40, 2.5%) and sharp – for the prototype – curves and the journey took 1 ¾ hours. Because of this and the needs of the freight service, operating the line required two sets of coaches, and 5 locos. As the two coaching sets were never at the terminus at the same time, and no more than 3 locos, this is a modeller’s dream, as there is a genuine reason for variety and extra stock, but it can be operated by less. The coaching sets were made up of Van third, third, composite and van, to use GWR terminology. Substitute “brake” for “van”, and you realise that Slaters do all the coaches as kits – although you do need to build another 4 to get the right amount. This was a fairly standard formation. One set stabled overnight, along with a loco.
        Photos show a lot of goods vans in use (higher than usual proportion for the time) and regular use of cattle wagons in mixed trains, placed after the coaching stock and with a toad at the end. And it was next to the estuary, but the wrong side of Cardigan Bridge for direct quayside access to fishing traffic. Salmon from the river was a regular load in the van of the early passenger train. A lovely bit of variety comes from the delivery every Monday of barrels of beer from Burton on Trent, which arrived in a standard Midland Railway d299 5-plank open, with the empty wagon returning the next day or on Wednesday, depending on how quickly it was unloaded – demurrage charges didn’t kick in until after 3 days. Slaters also do a kit for this!
        As is often the case where natural features define legal boundaries, the Avon Teifi meant that the station was in Pembrokeshire, but the town (obviously) was in Cardiganshire (now called Sir Ceredigion: “sir” is pronounced in the Welsh/Celtic manner, so close to shire). English people tend to say “shire” at the end of a compound noun as “sheer”, but as it is spelt if on it’s own. Scots are more consistent and always say it as it is spelt. Not sure how the Welsh say it.

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