St.Albans and District Model Engineering Society

Club Outing to Fawley Hill Railway

With a commitment of 50 tickets to sell for an arrival by coach Mike Grossmith almost managed the numbers by also advertising with NLSME.  The day dawned hot and as it was ‘only’ an hour away we had a later pick up of 10:30 am at St. Albans City station.

Previously a few coins in a slot would have got you a parking place but ‘technology’ struck again with almost complete confusion on those trying to pay for the parking.  I checked on the Internet for the payment system with a good video on the method, it all looked reasonable enough!   The problem was that there were no machines like that!   I managed to secure a lift and was grateful as I could not have parked and paid at the time.  Frustration!

Miami Motors and the couple who drive for us arrived ahead of time and we set off.   All seemed happy the sun was out, what more could we ask?  Everyone else must have thought the same and were out on the road with us.  The expected 1 hour journey time doubled and we eventually arrived at 12:30.  It was nice to get out and stretch the legs  and we all walked down to the private, invitation only, railway and exhibition.

From the museum's website:

"Fawley Museum is a private museum established in the 1960s by the late Sir William McAlpine at his estate near Henley on Thames.  It hosts a fine collection of memorabilia and models relating to railways together with a working standard gauge railway operating on the steepest gradient in the country. Since its inception in the 1960s, the railway and museum have grown steadily with artefacts and buildings arriving at the site from all over the country. Many buildings have been rescued and reassembled at Fawley Hill to save them from demolition, creating a unique urban landscape in a country estate"

The park contains a variety of animals including many species of deer. The museum includes a wide range of interesting and unusual transport artefacts which will appeal to visitors of all ages.

There was a small car rally of Morris Minors and Austin-Healey owners there as well.  Having once had a Morris Minor Traveller I found them most interesting but I am afraid the Austin-Healeys all looked the same to me!    I could see the railway and we knew it did not go far so I went into the exhibition and found lots of ex-railway seating with model railways running all round.

Time for sandwiches!  I was joined by Brian and Bob and we chatted and ate and relaxed.  I do enjoy working model railways and the largest of them I later found out was operated and owned by the Oxford ‘O’ gauge group.  There were several LMS trains I had not seen before which turned out to be rather unique scratch built models. Against the wall was a gauge 2 layout railway with beautifully modelled engines and rolling stock, using radio control for operation.

I found a very well detailed 4mm scale railway, mainly shunting in a yard, all running with 2 operators happy to talk to visitors.  The building looked like an aircraft hangar giving high ceilings and cool surroundings.  This also enabled a mezzanine gallery overlooking the railway.  I blundered in halfway along and was pleasantly ‘shooed’ away and asked to leave my back-pack at the shop.  This I did and went up the stairs and started looking at the exhibits.  It seemed to be modelled on the old time exhibitions of my youth with lots of individual exhibits too many to count, with many models of locomotives and associated cars and vehicles of the recent steam age.

There was even a ‘shelf’ railway on the balustrade overlooking the downstairs exhibition.  A notice  said they would be back to run it later.  I like shelf layouts as they are quite narrow and have long runs, like the one I aspire to in my shed at home.  The exhibition seemed endless with much static memorabilia and I was struck by the lovely large murals of the Locomotive Super Intendents who gave us the old steam locomotives through the years.

It was one way hence no back packs as space was limited.  I made my way downstairs and decided it was time to look elsewhere.  Across the railway track there was a small group chatting in the shade and by the Ice-cream van, so with choc-ice in my hand I found a cool seat and joined them.  I looked down the valley and followed the railway track with my eyes.  No steam engines today and I did wonder how a steam engine would cope with the rather steep incline.  There was a trusty D8 class diesel shunter doing the job.  After a bit I went to the station and joined the group waiting for the next train.  The ‘coal truck’ turned out to be fitted with seats and although wooden and hard it was no hardship.

The company was good with fellow club members and I was sitting next to a chap who had had a similar career and we talked ‘shop’.

Off we go with much noise and bustle completely over-loaded with an expectant set of passengers, down the slope and then we backed up changed the points over and went along the track through the park area.  There was much to see with a herd of very relaxed dear and off-spring who must have seen it all before, every half hour I suppose!  The Peacock heard much the whole visit but not displaying, just casually walking around.  It was a well maintained area and when we got to the end we reversed and came back to our ascent of the hill.  I had watched this from my seat and noted that the train had to stop on the ascent and it drifted back several yards or do I mean metres, well whatever.  However our return was uneventful and sounding the horn, the signal dropped and we returned to the station where another group was waiting.

I returned to the model railway where they were starting to pack up and where I got my information from.  The diesel set which had run round for hours I enquired about as I thought it looked very German.  As the packing up proceeded I was handed the centre coach which had no bogies and was told of its origin and it was indeed an English variant on the ‘Flying Hamburger’ of the 1930’s.  Just one LMS 3 coach set built and this model was extremely light and the owner said he had one more example in kit form from the gentleman that made it.  They were never meant for the general market, but very nice models.

It was getting close to leaving and a small group gathered by the shop chatting about the day and soon we were walking back to the coach.  It is odd how when in conversation you do not notice the effort in walking up a hill and we were soon by the coach.  A few goodbyes were said to those members who had travelled south to get to Fawley and we were off.  Again good conversation and the journey time was half that of our arrival.

We just skirted Watford returning us to St. Albans and our cars.  On the way back to Watford it was suggested that in the future we might have the first pick up point where the coach comes from in Kings Langley.  All were happy with the outing as there was more there than we expected and the day had been very pleasant with much to see.

Hands up if you had a great day at Fawley ?

Thanks go to Mike Grossmith for organising the day. Club members will be happy to know that the club subsidised the outing for members, the actual cost was paid by non-members, which was still a bargain.

A video of the day out can be seen HERE

Roy Verden


For more information on Fawley :