Copyright © Tim Hitch. All rights reserved.
West Wiltshire Model Railway Circle
History of the club 1967 to 2017
On the evening of 12th September 1967 a group of railway modellers met in a Trowbridge house and formed “The West Wiltshire Model Railway Circle.” One of the original eight enthusiasts, Derek Sharman, is still an active member of the club.
From the humble beginnings suitable premises were soon found on the top floor of an old Trowbridge Cotton Mill. The main problem was that access was via a steel external staircase up to level three, with only the last two floors being via an internal staircase. On frosty winter nights the metal stairs were lethal. Being five floors up limited the desire to move models from the club to external exhibitions and also limited scope for exhibitions to be held at the club.
On taking over the room, a considerable amount of work was required to level the floor. The layout eventually stretched around the whole room and even through the kitchen/ meeting room via a couple of holes in walls. The club started out predominately OO but now the majority of members operate N gauge layouts.
Finally in 2012 we were given notice to quit by the local department store who owned the premises. Space was found in a former tannery outbuilding in the village of Holt. The site had plans for redevelopment in two and a half years, but at least it was a temporary home for the club.
In the Trowbridge mill the club had access to a loft some 50ft by 40ft and had obviously established a policy of not throwing anything away just storing it in the loft, in case….. As part of the overall move, it was agreed that we would design and build new layouts and salvage all usable items from the existing layouts which were all attached to the walls of the building for structural integrity.
The building at Holt had not been used for many years and through a grant from Wiltshire Council, several club members installed an insulated ceiling under the tin roof. The tannery funded the electrical installation and a helpful electrician worked round us to complete the job and provide the power points and lights we required. The biggest problem was that the floor had been designed to drain water away from a central high point to the outside of the building. The insulated walls that the club members installed blocked the draughts from these former draining points but left the room with its “loaf shaped” floor. Layouts at one end were mounted on blocks some nine inches high, which was OK for taller members but required a stool for the more vertically challenged. Members began to build new 00 and N gauge layouts, which were both free standing.
Some twelve months later, with concern about the future a pure chance encounter identified new premises in a local village, Steeple Ashton. A former cow shed which had been slightly converted in the 1980’s for a scout hut, but then left purely as a storage hut for the last 20 years. It also had a tin roof with no insulation or ceiling, the electricity had been sealed off and condemned and there was no mains drainage, or toilets. The other problem was that the roof beams were only just over five feet off the ground – fine for cows and little boys.
In February of that year the Parish Council had taken over responsibility for the hut from the County Council and were considering what they should do with the hut. Within 24 hours the Parish Clerk had our proposal and within one month we had negotiated a 5 year lease with an additional 5 months free of charge, to allow us to bring the building up to a habitable standard. We were able to dismantle the ceiling we had fitted in Holt and transport it to Steeple Ashton. The same dedicated team set about building a similar insulated roof and ceiling, as well as raising the beams to an acceptable height. Following the guidance freely given by Wiltshire Council, in addition to a further grant as we had to have the place rewired, install mains drains as well as the insulation of the roof and the ceiling. The now experienced team worked well and well before our five month deadline we not only had moved the layouts but we were able to hold an exhibition in our new premises. Its often joked that DCC only requires two wires and on that day our big new 20ft long Canadian n gauge layout had all the droppers from two tracks of the the multi-tracked fiddle yard all joined by two wires, but it ran OK, Fortunately no one asked us to run a train on one of the other fiddle yard tracks. The00 layout was a little further ahead, but after the event, the team soon decided that the plan had to change and instead of cassettes , a fiddle yard had to be installed.
We are now over two years on, with another exhibition in the local village hall to add to our experience. The Parish Council have been considerable in their assistance. Originally we were allowed to park on an area of hard standing, covered in grass and the council installed plastic matting to get us from the road to the hard standing. The very wet winter played havoc with the driveway and the grass on the hard standing. One of the villagers came to the rescue and scraped off all the grass and soil to leave a large area of solid standing (formerly tennis courts). Further down the line the Parish Council and the Railway Club were able to obtain, again from the County Council, all the scrapings from a local road resurfacing, some 12 lorries carrying 20 tonnes each. (all for free!) The same villager brought out his JCB and he and his son (who mainly works on contract with the Highways Dept.,) laid and levelled the whole lot from the entrance gate to the clubhouse. A few weeks later all his sons spent a Saturday morning , mixing concrete and laying a 2 metre wide slope up to the main entrance.
This whole project is a great example of how a County Council, A Parish Council, local villagers and club members can work together for the benefit of all. The Parish for the first time, has access to a small kitchen and a toilet in our rented building, which is located alongside the playing field , whilst we have a well insulated and useful clubroom and are able to use the same kitchen and toilet facilities, yet keep every aspect of our club locked safely away.
Currently our membership stands at twenty three.
Chairman, West Wiltshire Model Railway Circle
28th December 2017