Monks Bay Model Railway


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  • This “O” gauge model railway layout represents a fictitious location somewhere on the Cornish coast – although I believe there is actually a real place called Monks Bay somewhere. I decided that the model should be built in Mablethorpe ‘cos every seaside town should have a model railway – and I like Mablethorpe - Rob who runs the funfair on the seafront wanted a new attraction so we got together.

    The model is 40ft long and 14ft wide – minimum track radius curve is 6ft including the points. Track is Peco bullhead, as are the points – near enough scale and so reliable - electrically operated by very old H&M point motors under the baseboard – thanks to my good friends Steve, Peter and John for rewiring, adding new microswitches, and installation.

    Control is through Helmsman units which are specially designed for ESCAP and ABC coreless motors. They are very smooth, keep very cool and are ultra reliable. Signals are a mixture of scratchbuilt and 7mm kits made by John Pryke and Peter Lapworth. Uncoupling is by hand held shunter’s pole with 3 link couplings which have proved to be ultra reliable and realistic. We tried auto couplings but they were not reliable enough. Electrics are very simple ‘cos I’m a very simple sort of chap – points are operated by the probe and stud method . Isolated sections are worked by simple On/Off switches wired through to track breaks cut in the rails. At any one time trains can run on both the “Up” and “Down” main lines whilst the station shunter is busy in the yard, and up to 9 trains can be stored in the fiddle yard at the back.

    We need 4 operators to work the layout to its full potential at this stage of its development – 1 for each main line, 1 for the goods yard and 1 for the fiddle yard. I tried to resist the temptation just to cover every inch of baseboard with track and I hope that the “railway” side of things looks as though it was built to serve the town and is only part of the overall town scene – which was here first after all. Therefore the baseboards are two thirds scenic and one third railway. A big “Thank you” goes to the part exchanges done with the late Peter Marshall at Wagon and Carriage Works – Midland Region locos one way – model buildings/coaches the other. And what buildings - by “The Master” – professional model maker Allan Downes - another good friend of mine, and at 79 years young he’s still the very best in my opinion.


    It’s a source of amazement to me that it all looks so realistic - and as Allan points out it’s a waste of time paying lots of money for a fine loco and then £5 for the scenery and buildings which surround it. Total quality is essential. Allan then built even more buildings – the disused mine at one end for instance - to add to those from Peter Marshall. The castle was next, followed by the mill scene. Vehicles are from a variety of sources including kits and some old repainted Dinky and Corgi models - why is it that so many vehicles advertised at 1:43 are in fact much too small and nearer OO gauge ? Figures are by PLM Castaways – thanks to Phil, and John the artist who paints ‘em – he really IS an artist in my opinion, only in O gauge from a real craftsman do you get such detail of clothing and faces.


    Trees are made from twisted multicore wire covered with Polyfilla and various types of scenic materials - thanks to my friend Faron - there are some ready made trees too from Ceynix - and the other scenery is a mixture of all sorts of materials – the slate came from Wales. Alan Gee built Mac’s scrap yard. Ballasting was done by other good friends Ted, Joe, Peter and Barry. Jeff Tomlinson built the tunnel scenery. Peter – yes another Peter – also became a scenic modeller and provided us with those very realistic bushes and other countryside developments. He also designed our website.


    Locos were mostly built by John Constantine, Dave Roome and myself – some kits, some scratch built – some bought from Keith Barber – 5 Deltic on eBay - some at exhibitions. My first loco was the Mucky Duck – wrong region, but it’s so nice I can’t bear to part with it So, what else did I do ? – well – initial concept (and anyone who thinks that’s easy should try it – I think this was version 7 – or was it 9 - that we ended up with), design, tracklaying and some wiring, tying together all the scenic developments, most of the rolling stock – station buildings and signal box. Oh, and did I mention the supply of my debit and credit cards at regular intervals ? And of course the personal journey of going from being a lone modeller to being part of a team of volunteers without whom Monks Bay would not be here today. So my thanks to the Friends of Monks Bay - Jeff, John P., Steve, Peter R., Joe I., Peter L. and Alby for making my railway dream become a reality.


    The basic principles are;

  • It has to look right – not always clean and polished, but mainly work stained – one or two locos and items of rolling stock are “ex works” - but most bear the marks of lots of hard work and lack of cleaning.
  • Locos have to run properly – here’s where very expensive motor and gearbox combinations really pay dividends.
  • Rolling stock has to shunt without derailment – ‘cos at my age I’m simply too short tempered and cantankerous to deal with anything else .
  • Sort of – scale speeds - and movements – I was inspired by Frank Dyer’s articles and his brilliant model - “Borchester” .
  • The only “big hand from the sky” would be for (un)coupling in the goods yard and the harbour sidings.

    Like most 0 gauge railway modellers I’ve always wanted a “tailchaser” but have never had the room until now – I think this layout really is the minimum needed for a reasonable curve radius and a really good straight run with a long train. I can already anticipate the comments from fellow modellers who have done O gauge in spaces such as 6ft x 3ft - but I would ask – “Do you have a model layout – or a diorama ?” Not that there is anything wrong with dioramas.
    My previous layout – Millhouse Lane at the GCRN in Nottingham – was an “end to end” with fiddle yard – 38ft x 3ft – and was lots of fun too – but nothing went faster than 35mph, and the scenic area was only about 20 ft long. But I did learn a lot from it.
    The baseboards are made from MDF braced with 2x2 timber which is screwed and glued to keep everything rigid – and the track flat.


    So it’s probably summer time in the mid 1950’s to early 1960’s, the 2nd World War had not been over that long and was still fresh in many people’s minds. Many of life’s luxuries were still rationed.

    We also didn’t have many;

  • Computers
  • Motorways
  • Colour televisions
  • Mobile ‘phones
  • Satnavs
  • Gameboys
  • Tesco, B&Q, PC World etc
  • Internet links
  • Japanese motor cycles
  • Digital clocks or watches
  • Fitted carpets
  • ASBO’s

    All we knew about China was that it had a big wall, foreign holidays were a novelty, most people went on holiday by bus or train during “factory fortnight” when the works closed, very few cars did 100mph, doctors had surgeries not health centres, banks still had money – and managers , most women stayed at home and raised the family – a vitally important job that is often sadly overlooked today for financial and other reasons - most men went out to work – we didn’t know what a “sickie” was. Men and children stood up on full buses and offered their seats to ladies. Children did as they were told – and parents had some control over them - no-one was absent from school – at my school, the masters wore black gowns and flat mortar boards - only a very few of the best students went to University – we’d never heard of gap years or student loans.


    These events happened in 1955;

  • Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister aged 81
  • James Dean dies
  • The first McDonalds opens in America
  • ITV, the first British commercial TV station comes on screen
  • Popular TV shows include The Perry Como Show, Lassie, The adventures of RinTinTin, The Phil Silvers Show
  • The first Guinness Book of Records is published
  • Ruth Ellis is the last person to be hanged for murder in Britain
  • The Hovercraft was invented
  • LEGO and VELCRO were invented
  • Albert Einstein dies
  • Birds Eye bring out Fish Fingers
  • Disneyland opens in Florida
  • Clint Eastwood stars in his first movie
  • Coca Cola is called Coke for the first time
  • 77 spectators die in the Le Mans 24 hour motor race crash
  • The world’s first nuclear submarine is launched
  • The Boeing 707 is introduced
  • Popular films this year include Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls,
    The Lady and the Tramp, Abbott and Costello & The 7 year Itch

    Monks Bay represents a fairly busy through station somewhere on the Cornish Coast, and so is served by the Western Region of B.R. - change here for Newquay and St Ives.

    It was probably originally opened around 1900, although nothing really remains of the original station buildings after the floods of 1923, which of course also hastened the closure of the nearby mine workings at the edge of the town. This small coastal holiday town really comes alive between June and September when the tourists flood in and together with the B&B accommodation, the “Duke of York” in the High Street is also usually well patronised and “Daltons Bar” rarely closes before midnight.


    The town is of course dominated by the old castle It was first designed as a lookout and first defence against sea borne invaders who often raided the Cornish coastline in olden days. There is mention in the Doomsday book of a fortified settlement on the site in 1090, which was then developed into a Saxon manor house . The building was strengthened, extended and considerably more fortification was added in 1109 to provide more safety for local people. It encountered its first siege in 1136 and was taken by Lord Fitzroy of the West, who further extended and rebuilt its defences against possible future attacks by the family of the previous owners.

    For the next 3 centuries the castle passed through various local feudal lords and families, before it fell into some disrepair following the death by plague of the wife of Lord Robert Du Bois, who proclaimed that the site was cursed. During Tudor times, Sir Bruce Partington then bought the site and embarked on a considerable rebuilding programme inside and out. Indeed it was then so beautiful that King Henry V111 visited several times with his first wife Catherine of Aragorn to rest from court duties. Later, during Jacobean times, the castle passed through the hands of several more families, being altered and extended according to the wishes of the owners. However in 1822, Gilbert of Nottingham bought the site and asked his architect to survey the building and report back on its condition. So bad was the news that virtually the whole building was demolished, and a new castle was built which was very similar to the remains that you see here today. Death duties however forced the family to sell, and the castle was bequeathed to the nation in 1925 to avoid further taxes. For safety reasons, some of the unsafe walls were then taken down and never rebuilt.


    It saw service during the 2nd World War as a hospital for wounded service men, and much pioneering surgery was carried out here. Today the site is not lived in but is now looked after by English Heritage and is open to the public during the holiday season. Thus a variety of architectural styles and different building materials can be seen. The remains of the two lower gates seen in the High Street were part of the much larger building.

    As with most fortified buildings, local people built their houses as close to the walls as possible, so that in the event of any armed attack they could quickly retreat inside the protection of the castle walls. The church next door may well have enjoyed financial help from its rich neighbours, and would not have had to worry about repair costs for many hundreds of years. The customs and excise officer seems to be taking a close interest in the cargo on the wharf as there have been rumours of smuggling. On the dockyard, Roebucks Canvass and Rope shop does well, and Benbows warehouse is often full of cargo. The harbour is small but busy, and fed also from the river which flows into it. The cargos which attract Customs and Excise duty keep the officers in the large customs house on their toes. The High Street still thrives too, although Collinsons outfitters look to be in real trouble and have closed half their windows – there’s a rumour they’re moving out. It looks as though the café in the goods yard is still open. Nevards landing declined years ago, although barges sometimes use the river to the corn mill at the side of the harbour.


    The line and its station has had its ups and downs over the years – probably it was busiest before the war in the 1920’s when the tin mine was in production and the harbour was busy. Goods trains were often held in the station loop to let fast expresses through. Materials and machinery and parts came in for the mine, whilst tin and aggregates went out. Coal was needed to stoke the furnaces – timber to shore up the workings. Workers caught local trains and housewives came in from the local hamlets. As was common with these fairly local mining ventures a number of small companies were needed to fully exploit the natural resources, as can be seen from the names on the buildings – Valley Aggregates – Southwest Drilling Supplies – Caladonia Mining – Pierce Mining Company – MidWest Roadstone – the Marriott Sawmill. However by the late 1920’s, demand for tin declined and the mine was barely open. Just out of view is the beautiful beach at Monks Bay which attracts thousands of visitors during the holiday season. The local B&B’s and hotels are also busy with many families returning year after year.


    Most of the heavy traffic today is to and from the harbour sidings which receive all sorts of traffic from coal to farm machinery. The big crane built by Alby Kirton is kept busy most days. Fish vans go by express freight straight to Billingsgate market in London. There is also local milk traffic where fast trains pick up churns and bulk tankers on the way to London and bring the empties back. Ex Great Western region locos and stock and BR standard locos would have been seen hauling various goods trains and some coaches from crack named expresses. Some trains stop, others pass straight through – passengers also change here for small coastal resorts such as St Ives and Newquay. The occasional passenger train can also be seen passing through with mixed coaches and express bogie vans. The Palethorpes sausage factory is just up the line. “Pick up goods” – so named ‘cos they stopped at lots of stations and dropped off and picked up wagons and vans - also call at Monks Bay. Don’t forget that steam trains were expensive to operate, and they would not set out on a journey – or stop en route - unless it was for a very good reason. In the mid 1950’s – before motorways and thousands of articulated lorries took over, most goods traffic was delivered by the railways and most profit came from carrying goods rather than passengers.

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