1970 – 2000
Another blow to the Society came in 1970, when it was announced that Melcombe Regis School was to close, eventually to become Weymouth Museum . This meant that the 1970 exhibition was the last one the Society held on a large scale. Though the Portland Branch was able to raise funds by the use of its portable track at fetes etc, the Weymouth Branch now had to finance itself to maintain its clubroom. In 1968 several of the Branch members had gone off at a tangent and bought for preservation attired Southern National Bristol/ECW half-cab single-decker bus, fleet number 1613, which had been based at Weymouth for the last years of its life. This was parked alongside the clubroom at Red Barracks, with the consent of the Post Office, and, in 1971, it was decided to capitalise on the then fairly new bus preservation movement and stage a bus rally in Weymouth .
1971 coincided with the 400th anniversary of the granting of Weymouth ‘s charter, and the local council gave its wholehearted support to the idea, and allowed us to use the Lodmoor coach park for the rally and let the participating vehicles go on a road run to Southwell and back. The rally was an outstanding success, but meant a lot of work in its organisation, work which was very different from our previous experience of exhibition organisation, It was so successful that it kept the Weymouth Branch afloat financially and it was agreed to hold similar rallies in subsequent years. A new organisation, the Dorset Transport Circle, was formed to handle the administration, maintenance and running of 1613, albeit with many of its members drawn from the Weymouth Branch of the Society, and the two clubs co-habited the clubroom at the barracks until 1975, holding a bus rally each year to raise funds.
1975 saw another body blow dealt to the Society, however, when the Post Office gave the Society notice to quit the guard room prior to the barracks being sold for redevelopment. Interest in the development of the model railway had been waning for some time, since the cessation of exhibitions in Melcombe Regis School in fact, and it was decided after much discussion to wind up the Branch and dispose of its assets.
Since 1975, therefore, the Society has consisted solely of ‘heavy engineering’ enthusiasts based at Portland , struggling against rising costs and an ageing membership. Luckily two or three of the younger (relatively speaking!) members still manfully took the portable track with “Juliet” and the ‘diesel’ shunter to enough fetes and rallies to keep the Society solvent and in its workshop, where a new 7¼ ” gauge loco was under construction. This was to a design by Ken Swan and was a model of “Peter Pan”, the prototype being a Kerr-Stuart ‘Wren’-class, 2-foot gauge contractor’s loco.
In 1991, however, the newly-introduced Business Rates levied on the quarry company whose land held the Society’s rented workshop, forced the building’s owners in turn to increase the rent significantly to cover the ground-rent rise. Although the workshop was used regularly, and had become the Society HQ, a Special General Meeting decided the new rent was uneconomical, and resolved to sell the Society’s equipment and relinquish the lease.
There was a glimmer of hope however, as one of our newer members was a teacher at the Purbeck School , in Wareham , and he was keen to develop an interest in model engineering among his students. To further his aim, and to give the Society a focus for its future activities, it was agreed to donate to the school all the track materials which had comprised the permanent track at Yeates Corner. This had been dismantled some years previously when the Stone Firms let the land for the construction of a skateboard park.
The portable track also went to Wareham , and “Juliet” and the ‘diesel’ loco went as well. As a result of this, the Purbeck School now boasts a ground-level 7¼” gauge track in its grounds, which has featured on Meridian Television, and many of the pupils – and their parents – enjoy developing and operating the Purbeck Miniature Railway. The manufacture of components for “Wren”, the new Society loco, continued in the workshops of several members and of Purbeck School and, early in 1997, steam trials of the almost-completed loco were carried out on the Purbeck track.
In the meantime the rump of the club continued to meet on a Tuesday night in the workshop on Portland Road of George Ellis. Little was achieved during this period except to catch up on any local gossip. Almost as if going back to our roots, some members started to engage with the local Weymouth schools to see if it was possible to establish links with them and to have access to a larger meeting room. In 1995 the Head of Design Technology at Wey Valley School accepted the idea of club members coming into the school on a Tuesday evening and setting up a club night not just for members but also pupils of the school. In time members of the Weymouth and Portland Model Boat also started to attend and before long, Tuesday evenings were busy and productive once again with many pupils from the school learning skills from the various club members. The Club members set about building an elevated 5? and 3½” portable track and plans to build a permanent track around the school began to be hatched. Once again the fragility of these arrangements came to the fore when the Head of DT took early retirement. His replacement did not have the same level of commitment and when some members started erroneously to raises issues of health and safety, the writing came on the wall.
The financial situation within the club was limited to membership fees only and therefore the prospect of funding any building activities was very limited. In fact the club insurance bill ate up most of the annual income. 1998 marked the 50th anniversary of the club and so members decided that something had to be done both to mark the occasion and raise some much needed cash. The local museum in Weymouth invited the club to hold an exhibition in their display room. This offer was taken up, not least because it was a free venue. The original plan was to hold the exhibition over the Easter period for 3 to 4 week. Some 8 weeks later and with a four figure sum in the donation box, we were back in business.