Big little world: scale modelling in Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 11:21 03 January 2017 | UPDATED: 11:21 03 January 2017

Boating on Fairlands Valley Lake

Boating on Fairlands Valley Lake


In an age of iPhone apps and online gaming, there is still a thriving scene for more traditional hobbies. Damion Roberts delves into the big world of small models


Regular visitors to Fairlands Valley Park lakes in Stevenage will be used to seeing a paddling of mallard ducks. The hens with their brown-speckled plumage and the drakes’ green heads and grey bodies controlled by a man holding a remote control on the bank.

No, these are no ordinary birds. It’s on Millennium Lake where Stevenage Model Boat Club meets twice a week, and as David Gray explains, there’s a wide variety of motorised models put on on the water.

‘People motorise mallard ducks, playmobil boats, four-wheel drive amphibian vehicles. There are fully working submarines,’ says the chairman of the club that has been running for decades.

‘Some boats are scale models which can be very complicated to build. Others are purely functional. Some racing boats are made from carbon fibre and are built for speed. But some are too fast for the lake we sail on. You can’t have races at Stevenage as some of them are going 60mph!’

The club’s roots lie at the Blackfan lagoon in Welwyn Garden City until a move to Fairlands in 1972 with the creation of the lakes. Today there are around 40 members.

David’s interest in model boats started in the late 1960s. ‘I was down at Poole at the time and I built a boat but then other things came along and it just went into the attic. Eventually it was brought back down from the attic and I started up again.’

Stevenage and District Model Railway ClubStevenage and District Model Railway Club

David still has that first boat, a police launcher.

He says that when he started out, models didn’t have much detail. Things are different now. Often enthusiasts will travel to see boats, photograph them, and then use the images to create a scale model.

‘Model lifeboats are popular,’ David says. ‘Club members will visit a lifeboat station and take photos and create a model of the boat and we will try to raise money.

‘We do shows such as at Stotfold and we’ll tag along with railway exhibitions. We’ll look to raise funds for the RNLI and for Mercy Ships, a charity in Stevenage which has a hospital ship which goes around Africa doing operations predominately on children. It’s good to be part of that.’ 4

The train driver

John Polley is an experienced railway modeller and is also chairman of Stevenage and District Model Railway Club.

Stevenage and District Model Railway ClubStevenage and District Model Railway Club

The club meets three times a week in Datchworth in the former village Baptist chapel, which is almost 125 years old. John says of the building, which the clubs owns: ‘A lot of folk still think it’s a place of worship, well it is – we worship the likes of Tri-ang and Hornby!’

Made up of almost 70 members, the club has its origins in Cheshunt back in 1962 and has been based at the chapel for 41 years.

‘It’s a thriving club and I’m probably the youngest chairman they’ve had for years,’ laughs John, who is a sprightly 56.

Like David Gray above, it’s a hobby John began young and a passion that returned when time allowed.

‘I think a lot of people will have been into model railways most of their lives but things in life overtake it. As people get older they have more spare time and will take it up again.’

Members have varying interests when it comes to railways – some like to build, while others like to operate, explains John.

Lone Star toy diesel train shunter and original boxLone Star toy diesel train shunter and original box

For the former Tube driver it all started with a fascination with the London Underground. This led to a business, Metromodels, and his own miniature world designed at his home in Welwyn GC.

‘I grew up in London and there were never any train models of the underground so I made my own in brass. I then started selling them because people were asking where I got them from.

And what about the future of train modelling? Is it still capturing young imaginations in the digital age?

‘We have about eight younger members, and we’re trying to encourage more,’ John says. ‘There’s so much for youngsters to do. You can look in a toy shop and might not see Hornby or Meccano now. It’s a different world from what most of our members grew up with, but we’re still trying to get younger members involved.

‘I think Thomas the Tank Engine does a lot not just for model railways but the steam preservation movement around the country as well. Putting a Thomas face on a train really helps. Children’s animation Underground Ernie flopped but shows like Chuggington still exist. All these things will help bring youngsters into the hobby, and that can only be a good thing.’

The toy factory

Remote Controlled AirplaneRemote Controlled Airplane

Lone Star Products was the toy arm of Die Casting Machine Tools Ltd, located in a purpose-built 37,000 sq ft factory on Great North Road in Hatfield.

The factory opened in in 1956 to cater for the demand for toys and models from the company and by the start of the 1960s there were more than 200 hand-painted models available, from 000 Scale Miniature Locos (right) to Noddy Trains and cars, that saw Die Casting in competition with the likes of Dinky.

Toys were made at the factory until 1988 when the plant was closed down and the factories demolished and redeveloped.

Many items from the company’s heyday are on show at Mill Green Museum in Hatfield.

Flying clubs

If model aircraft are more your thing, find out about a club near you at these websites:

Hemel Hempstead Model Flying Club, Hertford Model Aero Club, Letchworth Model Aeronautical Society, Phoenix Model Flying Club, London Colney, Redbourn Flyers, Watford Wayfarers

Want to get involved? Get along to a scale model event

Royston Model Aircraft Club is running an indoor flying session at Bassingbourn Village College near Royston on January 13.

Stevenage and District Model Railway Club is hosting an exhibition with Chiltern Model Railway Association at Stevenage Leisure Centre on January 14-15.

Brambleton Model Railway Club exhibition, Harpenden Public Halls, January 21.

Hoddesdon Toy and Train Collectors’ Evening (buy, sell, swap), Robert Barclay Academy, Hoddesdon, January 25.

Sawbridgeworth Model Railway Exhibition, Sawbridgeworth Memorial Hall, March 11.

De Havilland Model Railway Society Exhibition, Methodist Church, Welwyn GC, April 22.

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