Category Archives: Photos

Micklewhite Wharf – We’re Getting There

Hullo all, I realise it’s been a while since I updated this thing. You know how it is with this hobby. Anyway, the layout’s been taking shape over the past few weeks, and now looks like this:


There’s still a long way to go, obviously. I’ve decided to scrap the “siding in the sky” idea (although a siding on a stub of viaduct isn’t impossible – only today I saw one on the approach to Cannon Street). Instead, the bridge will act as a scenic break. It’ll still carry a railway, but will be static.

A lot of the scenic features you see above are from Saxondale Mouldings, in their Finishing Touches range. They don’t have a website, but sell quite a lot on eBay. I encountered them at the Croydon show last week. They produce accessories in various scales, mostly lorry and wagon loads. The crates saved me quite a bit of work making and painting clutter for the wharf. The yellow resin thing at the back is, I think, intended as a viaduct side. I think it looks a bit like an early 19th century dockside building, so that’s what it is. I think a whole row of corrugated iron warehouses would be a little monotonous.

Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for ruining shipping.

Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for ruining shipping.

I’m rather pleased with the canal basin. I wasn’t sure what to do with this at first. I wanted it to be muddied up in order to add to the general air of dereliction I was trying to achieve. If a dock isn’t in use, it won’t be dredged and it’ll silt up pretty quickly. Here are some examples from my own explorations.

St Katherine's Dock

St Katherine's Dock

One advantage of the docks in London closing down is that there’s no shortage of silt. But I was worried that, again, it might look boring to just have mud. I considered a boat, but most boat kits are pretty expensive, especially given that this one would most likely be chopped up to fit the space. In any case, most boat kits are unsuitable for the London Docklands. The other option was the Hornby butty boat, but I didn’t much fancy the idea of hacking resin about – the dust is clingy as the Dickens. Fortunately, The Finishing Touches came to the rescue again with a short boat that looks about right for a canal – the sort of thing that might be used to carry miscellaneous rubbish and just moored wherever. There was a similar vessel moored in Richmond a few years ago until it sank.

St Saviour's Dock

St Saviour's Dock

However, in the meantime, I’d had another idea for making the basin interesting. I’d come across a photo of an abandoned canal basin in the East End that had filled with rubbish brought in by the incoming tide. So I used Polyfilla to create the mud and pressed various bits of plastic, wood and card into it. The edges were lined with sections of those wooden stirrers you get in Starbucks and suchlike places. Finally, everything was painted with Tamiya Olive Drab for that slimy effect.

What else, what else… The crane is Wills, again intended to be long-abandoned. The lamp hut is also Wills, which I’ve weathered down to an acceptably grimy shade. The girders and the lighter-coloured crates are Exclusive First Editions, albeit I’ve given the crates a wash in brownish-grey thinned acrylic to tone them down in line with the rest of the scenery.
More when… well, when I get around to it, really.

Bricking It

WARNING: This entry takes a while to get to the point. You may want to scroll down to where there are pictures. I know I would.

As you may have gathered from previous entries, I’m not exactly what you’d call a rivet counter. I’m more of the Impressionist school of modeller, in that I’d rather create something that feels right than something that’s precisely accurate. Put it this way – Hornby Dublo, to me, often seems more “real” than finescale stuff because it has a real weight and momentum to it, despite the fact that the detail is often laughable by modern standards.

Similarly, my favourite layouts are often the ones where there’s less attention to detail, where the builder has shunned conventional accuracy to create something genuinely different. Quite often, these are created by people who are new to the hobby. I recall British Railway Modelling published articles on Midge Grassing’s Sancliffe Junction some years back, a layout created using some unconventional scenic techniques which, as a result, really stood out. See for some photos. I also enjoyed Model Rail‘s recent article on artist David Shepherd’s home layout, built according to the philosophy that “‘it’s my railway and I can do what I bloody well want with it'” (to quote the article). Even Allan Downes, who has been wowing us with his buildings and scenery for decades, admits that he doesn’t worry about getting things dead on, provided they look like what they’re supposed to.

However, this philosophy doesn’t necessarily mean that you can get away with anything at all, as I discovered while researching my current project My layout is set in the East End of London, and one of the things I wanted to include was track on more than one level – a characteristic of railways in East London is that they are carried on viaducts. My initial thought was that I could just get away with weathering Hornby’s standard single-arch road bridge, which is already brick red.

brid1I mean, bricks is bricks, right? It turns out not. See, my research, which largely consisted of wandering around the East End with a camera looking suspicious, showed that brick viaducts in the East End are yellow.

This, according to people who know these things, is because the bricks were made in Kent, where the clay is low in iron. Anyway, what this meant in practical terms was that I was completely wrong. I could still use red brick – there are red buildings in East London – but yellow would be better for creating the feel of the area.

Yellow brick viaduct, East London, apparently in the middle of an atomic explosion.

Yellow brick viaduct, East London, apparently in the middle of an atomic explosion.

And so I set to work with various shades of brown and yellow. In addition to the fact that the colour was wrong, it was also clear that I was going to have to do quite a lot of weathering.

For the base coat, I used Games Workshop’s ‘Bubonic Brown’  (are buboes yellowy-brown?). Then I went over with several layers of ink and thin, grey-brown paint. This adds depth to the basecoat, as well as bringing the colour closer to what I was aiming for.

One technique I used was to apply slightly darker paint to areas such as the underside of the arch and below ledges – areas that, on the real thing, are in shadow. This is because, with the best will in the world, you can’t scale the actions of light and shade down. Therefore, in this scale, shadows look a bit feeble unless you give them a helping hand.

Here’s the result, as compared with an unpainted bridge.

brid2It’s not perfect, I’ll admit. It’ll need several more layers of paint before it achieves the old-and-dirty look I’m aiming for. But it’s a massive improvement over the out-of-the-box road bridge, and now looks like it might actually be made of bricks.

Incidentally, I took several close-up photos of brick and concrete, which I will bore you with in a future entry.

Low-relief buildings – prototype for everything

It’s been commented before that model railways share certain conventions with the stage (see for a full article by Carl Arendt on this very subject), particularly when it comes to exhibition layouts. Like plays, model railways need to create the illusion of a world. That means hiding the technical gubbins – few plays are staged with no set whatsoever (those that are generally do so as a conscious artistic decision) and few model railways are displayed without scenery (unless they’re incomplete).

For model railways, a handy way of creating the illusion of a bigger world is the low-relief building. If you’re not familiar with this concept, it’s basically part of a building stuck on to the backscene. Say you want a row of shops – just model the front of the shops, stick them on the backscene and there you have it. A row of shops without the loss of space and general immense hassle of modelling the complete buildings.

Done well, this can look fantastic. Done badly, however, it can look as fake as, well, half a building. What looks great viewed front-on looks awful from the side. But here’s a thing I found today.


As you can see, it’s a hospital building that’s being propped up with scaffolding. But let’s look at it from further along the street:


Yep, it’s just a wall. The front of the hospital building is being propped up, but the rest is mysteriously missing. The idea seems to be to incorporate the lovely Victorian frontage into the new development behind it. It looks sort of like, well, a bad low-relief building. Behind it is nothing but rubble – the plans to redevelop the area are currently on hold. This would make a fascinating scene on a layout – have the front wall slightly forward of the backscene, sky clearly visible through the glassless windows. Some scaffolding propping it up, maybe some construction workers and machines parked in front. Temporary fencing around, maybe a couple of tiny, tiny posters about the exciting new development.


Here it is from the back. The brickwork seems to be protected with some sort of cloth, which again would look interesting and could save you some time messing around with brick paper or whatever your preferred medium is.

[For those of you interested in such things, this was originally the Middlesex Hospital, in Fitzrovia, London. The plan was to turn it into a luxury apartment complex, the inanely-named Noho Square. The Credit Crunch has put paid to that, but no doubt whoever takes over the site will do something similarly awful with it]

Here’s another building being redeveloped, this one in Chelsea (alongside the line from Victoria, in fact).


Beyond the Vale

A short while ago I made a short pilgrimage to Aberystwyth for my sister’s graduation (very proud moment there, wipe away manly tear etc). And it almost goes without saying that after the ceremony, I found time to explore the railways of Aberystwyth.

The most famous, without a doubt, is the Vale of Rheidol. Why, it’s even mentioned in Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Mon Amour. This line runs from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge, and shares a terminus with Arriva Trains Wales. The main station is severely reduced from its original glory, with only one platform in use and the main building having been turned into a Wetherspoon’s (although admittedly they’ve done a fine job preserving the original architecture).

The Vale of Rheidol departs from alongside the main line.

Number 8, Llewellyn, pulls into Aberystwyth

Number 8, Llewellyn, pulls into Aberystwyth

It then climbs through the titular Vale to Devil’s Bridge, which I am told is scenically spectacular. Unfortunately, the day we went there were only two trains running, so there wasn’t time to get out and look.

However, here is the station.

However, here is the station.

No. 8 at Devil's Bridge

No. 8 at Devil's Bridge

The line is currently owned by the Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Railway Trust, a somewhat cagey charitable organisation founded with the aim “to preserve, exhibit, display and loan for demonstration for the public benefit and for the advancement of technical, historical and general education, steam and other railway locomotives, rolling stock, equipment, machines and relics which are historical, operational and of general interest and in addition are of educational value.” To this end, they keep the engines in private locations and don’t let anyone see them. Several are apparently stored at Capel Bangor on the VoR, presumably in that locked shed with no windows. I mean, I don’t want to cry “conspiracy”, but I strongly suspect that one of the trustees got drunk once and started boasting that they have, like, fifty locomotives. Then, the next morning, rather than admit their booze-fuelled exaggeration, they got caught in the lie and now they’ve got to act like they really do have all these rare engines. A cautionary tale for us all, I feel.

The Vale, as seen from the train

The Vale, as seen from the train

But more notable is the fact that, prior to 1989, it was still owned by British Rail. Yep, twenty years after the end of BR steam, BR was still operating this little narrow gauge tourist railway. The engines were known as Class 98 and painted in BR blue.

I’m not entirely clear how this is supposed to have happened.

No. 8 again, this time in blue.

No. 8 again, this time in blue.

I mean, it’s not as if BR was exactly sentimental at the time. None of the online histories seem to have any reason why this line survived while, say, the Varsity Line was closed. I rather imagine that it went something like this.

The Scene:  The office of Dr Richard Beeching. BEECHING sits with an UNDERLING, working out the fine details of the Modernisation Plan.

BEECHING: Right, let’s see who else is for the axe… Audlem, Ambergate, Chittening, Cheslyn Hay… Hand me that copy of the lyrics to ‘Slow Train’, would you? I can’t remember what comes next.

UNDERLING: I believe it was the line from Selby to Goole.

BEECHING: Ah, thank you.

UNDERLING: Oh, and one other thing – this Vale of Rheidol Railway rather stands out.

BEECHING: Never heard of it. Please explain.

UNDERLING: Oh, it’s this narrow gauge railway in Wales. Used to be all about timber and lead, now it’s all tourists.

BEECHING: Ah, a good point. Well, let’s –

Enter ERNEST MARPLES, Minister for Transport.

MARPLES: Good morning, Beeching.

BEECHING: Oh, good morning, Mr Marples, how are you today?

MARPLES: Very well. I am glad to say that there is still nothing suspicious about my extensive interests in road building, and that nobody has made the link between my pro-road, anti-rail policies and my many, many shares in road construction, which as you know I sold upon taking office and can buy back as soon as I leave. I also have no track record of corruption and certainly do not plan to flee the country in 1975.

BEECHING: I’m glad to hear it.

MARPLES: How goes the Modernisation Plan?

BEECHING: Oh, well, well. I am confident that our policy of considering each line in isolation rather than as part of a larger national network will not be counterproductive by removing sources of traffic from the main lines. I am also sure that, with hindsight, we will not come to regret the removal of many of these lines and have to reopen them at great cost.

MARPLES: Excellent! And dieselisation?

BEECHING: We think the way to go is to continue buying characterful but non-standard locomotives of varying reliability.

MARPLES: Excellent! Excellent – but here’s an idea. They are indeed characterful, so I suggest that in the long run we should consider painting them blue with full yellow ends that will make them look really ugly!

BEECHING: Brilliant!

BEECHING & MARPLES: (dancing) Paint them blue! Paint them blue!

UNDERLING: Sirs? Sirs? What about… Hell0? What about the Vale of Rheidol?

BEECHING & MARPLES: Paint them blue! Paint them blue!

UNDERLING: (shrugging) Alright then.

Layout ideas – Victoria

It’s great when you can combine two research trips into one. As you may or may not be aware, this isn’t my only blog – there’s also London Particulars, a blog about London in general. My last entry was on the subject of Victoria Station (it’s at While I was poking around there, I came across the carriage sidings for the station, officially known as Grosvenor Carriage Shed. I’ve pictured them below, with apologies for my terrible photography skills:

Left side of the sidings. Behind those buildings is the main line out of Victoria, elevated prior to crossing the river.

Left side of the sidings. Behind those buildings is the main line out of Victoria, elevated prior to crossing the river.

The sidings themselves.

The sidings themselves.

The right side, from the road

The right side, from the road

 What I wasn’t able to get a photo of was the fact that these sidings back on to the Thames Embankment. That is to say, you’ve got sidings, road, river – an unusual combination which would be quite visually arresting on a model railway.

I actually think this would be a good subject for a micr0-layout. On all four sides of the sidings are natural scenic breaks – to the left, the main line. To the right, blocks of Victorian flats. Behind, the entrance to the carriage sheds. In front, the river. It would be a fine showcase for EMU models – I think I’d want to model it in the BR blue era. Extra interest might be gained from having a Class 08 doing a spot of shunting, perhaps with the help of a concealed traverser.

I think that if I were to model this location, I’d set it out so the trains face the spectators. We’re used to locations being modelled side-on, but I think this would be a fine opportunity to do something different. In front of the sidings would be the road (perhaps with a traffic jam – an excellent opportunity to display some road vehicles) and then the drop down to the river. I wouldn’t bother with the main line, but model the viaduct as a sort of “wall”, the illusion of a busy main line being created by sound effects. To the right, the blocks of flats would be created in low relief.

The road would require scenic breaks, which would be easy enough – on the left you’ve got the viaduct. There are a number of large, shady trees planted along the embankment, so by making one or two of these particularly large and shady you could create an “arch” for the road to disappear through.

Anyway, I present this more as inspiration than a full-blown plan. If it’s not of interest for a layout in itself, the site would make an interesting addition to a Southern Region layout with its two-level operation as trains come off the main line above into the sidings below.

Further reading – John Law’s fascinating photo gallery of the area, including several shots of publicly inaccessible areas of Victoria and Grosvenor Carriage Shed.