Enthusiasts aim to stay right on track

Sheffield Model Railway Club , Club Pres, Geoff Blenkaren, And Colin Longley
Sheffield Model Railway Club , Club Pres, Geoff Blenkaren, And Colin Longley

While Sheffield has been gripped by high-speed rail, the model railway society is celebrating another milestone. Richard Blackledge reports.

FOR half a century, the Sheffield Model Railway Society has catered for the city’s train buffs - giving them the chance to get together and share the delights of miniature trains, tracks and all-important detailed layouts, complete with tiny stations and passengers.

Even after 50 years, the group say their love for the hobby is just as passionate as ever - but the pressure is on to recruit younger members.

The society was founded in 1963 and was based for many years in Dore, later relocating to Hillsborough, and meets to discuss all aspects of railways and modelling, as well as creating new landscapes for an annual exhibition, usually held on the second Saturday of October.

“I don’t know of many clubs that have been around for longer,” said member Steve Saxby. “It’s something to do that’s creative. It’s one of the few hobbies that brings in a lot of different aspects. When you start it brings in the academic side, researching the topic, and then as you build the railway carpentry comes into it. It’s very varied.”

Steve, of High Green, said model railways first became popular before World War Two, but were considered a ‘rich man’s toy’.

“It started off with people who had a lot of money, who could afford to have miniature railways in their gardens when houses were a lot bigger,” he explained.

“Then Frank Hornby started manufacturing smaller ones that people could have in their homes. As people got more and more disposable income, it moved from being a rich man’s toy to being a full-blown hobby.”

Steve added: “Models have become more detailed and the quality of the equipment is getting better and better. If you look at the average age of the members, it’s quite high, but it shows an underlying interest that sticks with people.

“In the 1950s and 1960s trainspotting was quite popular, you sometimes see pictures from the time where the platform ends of many stations are full of little boys. What’s happening is all of those people who were little boys have drifted away from their railway enthusiasm and other things have taken up their time.

“Then later on in life, their kids leave home and they retire, and they have more opportunity to do other things, such as model railways.”

The society moved from Dore in 2005 to its new premises on Burton Road, Hillsborough, equipped with six separate rooms and a canteen area.

“It becomes a club in the way that some members just go for the company and enjoy meeting like-minded individuals,” said Steve, aged 52, a project manager at Lloyds TSB. “Some people don’t have a room at home or anywhere to do this sort of thing.”

He admitted the pastime is a nostalgic one, with many members’ layouts harking back to their own personal ‘golden age’ of railways.

“I like it because it’s creating something in miniature, you can look back at how railways have changed. You can look back at how railways have changed. People like to build something that recreates part of their childhood.”

But Steve said he had little time for modern train designs.

“It doesn’t have any soul to it now, a lot of them are like buses on wheels. They don’t have the character.

“For me, personally, because I can’t remember steam, my golden age would be the 1970s and into the early 80s. It still had vestiges of the old railway, with long passenger trains pulled by real engines,” he added.

He said there are two main risks for the hobby’s survival - the rising price of equipment and the lack of younger members.

“A lot of the things you can now buy are Chinese-made, and the price of raw materials has gone up. There’s a danger of pricing people out of the market.

“Also my worry is while at the moment there is a bit of a peak, with people getting into it again, we’re going to be dependent on people coming in directly, as there weren’t many enthusiasts in the 90s.That’s going to be a challenge.”