Late in 1948 a group of local model engineering enthusiasts met to discuss the formation of a club to develop local interest in the hobby. As a result of this meeting the Weymouth and District Model Engineering Society came into being. In its early days the Society attracted some 14 members and, more important, gained the cooperation of the local education authority (at that time part of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Borough Council) which enabled the members to meet in the well-equipped workshop of the Cromwell Road Boys’ School once a week.
During the Society’s first year the members began the construction of a multi-gauge portable track on which members’ live-steam model locomotives, of 2″, 3½” and 5″ gauges could be run. Discussions also took place on whether to build a steam locomotive as a Society project, and it was eventually agreed to begin the construction of a 5″ gauge model based on a design by “LBSC” – the “Maid of Kent” – to be undertaken by those members having the appropriate skills and experience.
It was soon realised that the Society could not rely solely on members’ subscriptions for its income to finance various club projects and, in 1950, it was decided to stage an exhibition of the Society’s work to raise more funds. With the help of the Dorchester Model Engineering Society and the West Dorset Model Car Club, based in Bridport, this was held in August 1950 in the small Sidney Hall (alas, no longer in existence – replaced by the ASDA supermarket and its car park) and was opened by the then Mayor of Weymouth, Councillor H A Medlam. This exhibition was a great success and became the first of a tradition of annual exhibitions by the Society which was to last until 1970. The venue changed, however, and eventually settled in the Melcombe Regis School by Westham Bridge . This gave more space for inside exhibits and the school playground could be used for the portable steam track and demonstrations of control-line flying model aircraft by the Marquis Flying Club, a group of local enthusiasts.
By 1954 the Society’s activities had expanded and now supported a keen model railway group who started to build a large 00-gauge exhibition layout. It soon proved impossible to make much progress on such an ambitious project in the Cromwell Road workshop because of the limited working time available (only two hours per week) and the model railway group began to look for alternative premises. Thanks to a suggestion and help from the Local Education Officer, the group was able to move into the one inhabitable room in the old Chapelhay School , which had been badly damaged by bombing during World War 2. Progress on the layout then accelerated as members were able to work on it every day if so inclined; so much so that, although far from complete, it was decided to include it in the 1955 exhibition.
The live steam group was also suffering from lack of workshop time in 1955, the “Maid of Kent” having reached the stage when steam trials would soon be needed. Fortunately the father of one of our younger members came to the rescue with the offer of a spare ground-floor room at the local Toc-H headquarters, together with the use of the garden. This offer was taken up and, after laying a concrete path in the garden, 60 feet of the portable track was erected for members’ use and for trials and running-in of the “Maid of Kent”. Until the “Maid of Kent” became operational, members’ own locos had been used for passenger-carrying duties on the portable track and mention must be made of three in particular which bore the brunt of such work – a 3½” gauge model of LMS 6201 “Princess Elizabeth”, another LBSC 3½” design “Maisie” based on the LNER Ivatt Atlantic loco and a freelance 3½” gauge model based loosely on the Southern Railway Maunsell “Schools” class.
The 1955 exhibition saw the new 00-gauge layout in operation, albeit without scenery, and the “Maid of Athens”, as the club 5″-gauge loco had been named, was coping admirably with the passenger-hauling duties on the portable track. This exhibition also began what was to become a tradition for a few years – the opening ceremony was performed by the star of the summer show at the Weymouth Pavilion. In 1955 the comedian Derek Roy officiated and a picture of him at the controls of the model railway appeared in the local press. Among the celebrities who opened subsequent exhibitions were Charlie Drake and Bill Maynard – the latter enjoying a spell at the regulator of the steam loco on the portable track.
In 1957 the model railway group was dealt a body blow when the authorities decided to demolish the Chapelhay School and clear the whole area prior to redevelopment. A lucky meeting between one of the members and the local War Department Land Agent, however, resulted in the group being able to rent part of the guard-room block of the old Red Barracks, The group members all rallied round and, on Boxing Day 1957, all the group’s equipment and the model railway were transferred from Chapelhay School to Red Barracks, which was to be home for the group until 1975.
With such a large model railway to be transported to the exhibition site every year, plus all the live steam equipment, when the opportunity arose to purchase a Bradford van which was to be pensioned off by a local trader, the Society decided to go ahead and become its new owner. This old vehicle earned its keep for many years, and was even re-bodied behind the cab to make it more suitable for carrying bulky items like the model railway.
To raise extra cash for the model railway group’s projects, additional exhibitions were held in December for three years in the original venue ~ the small Sidney Hall – to capitalise on the appeal of model railways at Christmas time. These proved very popular with the Weymouth public but the strain of organising and staging two exhibitions each year proved too much for limited staff resources and the December exhibition was discontinued. With the passing of the years the 00-gauge model railway was showing signs of its age and becoming difficult to maintain and it was decided to begin construction of a replacement layout specifically designed for ease of transport and erection at exhibitions.
The live steam members were also looking ahead towards having a permanent, continuous track somewhere in the area. Fortunately we had as our President the Weymouth Borough Surveyor, the late A J (Jeff) Wallis, and he gave us much help by suggesting and surveying potential sites. Unfortunately none of these came to fruition but, eventually, a site at Yeates Corner on Portland was found and hired from the Stone Firms. In the meantime the live steam headquarters at the Toc-H HQ was given up in favour of renting an additional room in the guard room at Red Barracks and all the Society’s activities then came together under one roof.
This enabled the live steam group to begin the design and construction of the components of a permanent track to be laid at Yeates Corner. This was an egg-shaped loop of multi-gauge track raised on concrete plinths (yes – more concrete mixing!) although this time the gauges were 3½”, 5″, and 7¼”, the smaller 2 ½” being left out as the trend by now was towards making larger-scale models and the ½”-scale, 2½”-gauge models were becoming extinct. The track gave a continuous run of 400 feet and on completion we welcomed visiting members of many other model engineering societies to the opening day in 1967.
With the opening of the permanent steam track on Portland the distance between it and the clubroom at Red Barracks, Weymouth, was an inconvenience when it came to storing locomotives, fuel and other equipment after a running session and it was felt that the live steam group should look for suitable accommodation on Portland, as near to the track as possible. In due course a shed was found off Easton Lane , in the old Milverton’s Lime Works. This provided a reasonable sized workshop only about 200 yards from the track and the live steam group emigrated there to become the Portland Branch of the Society, the model railway group becoming the Weymouth Branch.
From this point the activities of the two branches tended to diverge somewhat. The Portland Branch concentrated on weekend running on the permanent track and attending local fetes and rallies with the portable track. The construction of another steam locomotive was begun in the new workshop – a 7¼” gauge adaptation of “LBSC’s” “Juliet”, an outside-cylindered 0-4-0 tank loco – a simple but rugged model, admirably suited to heavy duty on the permanent and portable tracks and easy to maintain. This model was built as cheaply as possible, and no castings were employed – everything was fabricated from basic raw materials, even the cylinders. The proof of the pudding was in the eating, and this loco is still in active service after 25 years! In this time it has seen service all over Dorset at steam rallies, church and school fetes and Portland Navy Days as well as many Weymouth Carnivals.
The Weymouth Branch now concentrated on the construction of the new 00-gauge model railway 16 feet by 9 feet in size, with tracks on three levels. Designed to be easy to erect it had six baseboards each with built-in legs and it could be erected by three persons and in operation within two hours of delivery to an exhibition site. In the meantime the first layout had been dismantled and we had no layout for exhibition duty in the mid-1960s. Fortunately, by this time we had a good working relationship with the Poole and District Model Railway Society and we welcomed their exhibition model railway – “Milborne” – to Weymouth to hold the fort for a year until the new Weymouth layout was “exhibition-ready”.
The Weymouth Branch had already been helping out at exhibitions staged by the Poole club and the old Bradford van was no stranger to the road from Weymouth to Poole . It had even earned our President’s model railway to the first exhibition staged by the Poole and District Model Railway Society Anno Domini eventually caught up with the Bradford , however, and on one memorable occasion it broke its crankshaft while on a journey to Portland . While we were able to find another engine in a local car-breaker’s yard, it was felt prudent to keep our eyes open for a replacement vehicle.
By now (early 1966) the Army had transferred Red Barracks to the Post Office, who used the premises as the local base for the telephone engineers- department and parking accommodation for its fleet of vehicles while the new Weymouth telephone exchange was being built. Fortunately the Post Office was willing to allow us to continue in residence in the guard room and the Weymouth Branch’s activities continued without interruption.
This new landlord coming to the barracks turned out to have another advantage .an old Post Office 2-ton parcel delivery van was parked in the barrack square for some months and, after a few discreet enquiries, it was found to be on the disposal list. The Weymouth Branch put in a bid for the vehicle and, in September 1966, became its proud owner for the sum of £25. This van was ideal for carrying the new exhibition model railway, and suitable racking was designed and installed so that the whole of the layout and its associated equipment could be fitted into the van, enabling one journey to deliver the layout to any exhibition. With the acquisition of this new transport the Weymouth Branch was able to present its model railway at exhibitions further afield and, together with Poole and District Model Railway Society, exhibitions were staged at Lymington and Swanage over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend for several years.
Although the two Branches of the Society now led separate existences, they came together on numerous occasions when a large turnout of staff was needed, such as when the portable steam track had to be manned for an intensive session at fetes, rallies and, in particular, at Weymouth Carnival, and members of the Weymouth Branch were not averse to getting their hands dirty on the steam locos. Conversely, certain members of the Portland Branch had been seen at the controls of the model railway at exhibitions to give the Weymouth Branch members a break. During the 1960s, with the advent of club transport, vehicle maintenance had been added to the activities of the Weymouth Branch and some of the younger members served an apprenticeship that they had not anticipated when they joined the Society! One young member, in fact, became so keen that he built his own car, based on an Austin 7 chassis with a kit of body parts – all before he was old enough to pass his driving test! When completed, this car was seen on Southern Television being driven round the barrack square with its young builder at the wheel.
The Portland Branch, having equipped its workshop with a wide selection of old but serviceable machine tools, including a 5″ Holbrook lathe and a full-size universal milling machine, 6″, German-made, IXL-badged Erhlich lathe and antique Hure universal milling-machine now offered excellent facilities and numerous projects were undertaken by its members. A 7¼” gauge freelance [delete adjective] model of a BR diesel shunter was built around an old 125cc Royal Enfield motorcycle engine in the mid-1960s, shared track duties with “Juliet”, herself a replacement for the ‘Maid of Athens’ somehow lost in the early-1970s. The portable track had been rebuilt some time ago previously and now was ground level track of only two gauges, 5″ and 7¼”, instead of its original format of 3½”, 5″ and 7¼” gauges raised about 15″ above ground. This rebuilt track was much easier to transport and now some 120 feet in length.