Bawdsey BR Eastern Region (Originally ‘Strove’ LNER)
Many introductions to a layout description start with a brief rundown of the authors start in the hobby, and then into the basics of how they built the layout. I’m no different to many of us who’s interest started as a child from my father’s interest. The difference with this layout is that I didn’t build it, I bought it. If you’ve been in the hobby for about fifteen years or so, bought the Railway Modeller regularly, and visited exhibitions on the northern circuit in the first half of the ‘noughties’, this layout may seem familiar to you. It was built by the late Chris Matthewman, appeared as ‘Strove’ Railway of the Month in September 2001, and took part in twenty one exhibitions under Chris’ ownership. This then is a look at the layout today, and some things to consider if you purchase a second hand layout.
I visit Roy Jackson and his EM layout regularly, on one of his running days David Woodward had some EM locomotives for sale, from Chris Matthewman’s estate. I was captivated by an LMS 2-6-0 ‘crab’ from DJH origins which I subsequently bought. Whilst talking to David he advised me he was helping with the estate sale after Chris had died, and I asked what had happened to ‘Strove’ as I’d seen the layout once and had been considering making an East Anglian branch line. He advised me it was available and with the families blessing arranged a sale with myself. At the time I had quite a few other projects under way both at home and modelling. To get a layout that was ready to go, and that I could just play with was a key motivation too.
Buying a second hand layout can be difficult. ‘Strove’ hadn’t been used for about two or three years, so David arranged for it to be set up so I could view it working and see its condition prior to purchase. Having viewed it I was pretty certain that I wanted it, and we agreed a couple of weeks for me to think about it and decide definitely if it was for me or not. No stock would come with the layout and not unreasonably it was ‘sold as seen’. This was not a problem, as I had stock of my own, and Chris’ reputation as a builder who’s layouts were of good quality and reliable made the choice to go ahead relatively easy. One thing to bear in mind if you do a similar purchase is that there are no warranties and you are on your own as far as maintenance, see later. The layout had been built with old equipment and very much a typical 1960/70’s style. This means that you can’t go to the local model shop and expect to get a replacement component. If a problem occurs you will have to repair or replace the component, and possibly modify it to make sure it fits. I’ve described this layout on occasion as a ‘heritage’ layout, and if you think in terms of prototype diesels and multiple units, and look underneath, whilst well executed and tidy, its most certainly got some age to it. Having said that, it has been very reliable. Chris used to attend exhibitions with his layouts and his attention to detail, practical design and reliability really come to the fore at those events. To date I’ve had two point blades fail and one point throw arm from the motor to the microswitch. This last fault meant that I had to re-make the component, bending cutting and forming aluminium tube, there was no ordering it on-line, and this is a real consideration when you buy someone else’s layout. The layout didn’t come with a transformer either and one was made for me specifically for the layout. Unfortunately one of the components failed burning the unit out. John Mcrea was very helpful in coming to my assistance, and rebuilt the transformer box upgrading components along the way, and this resulted in a reliable unit.
The signals are all operational apart from those that are ground mounted, and are operated by Fulgarex electric motors, however the mechanism reflects its age in that there are lead weights and cotton cord all in the mix, making it a ‘unique’ arrangement in terms of maintenance. Obviously with Chris having passed away there’s no one to ask how to fix something, I have to work it out myself or ask friends if they have any advice or experience that can help. If you are buying or are going to look after a layout these sorts of issues must be thought over. A previous owner may not want anything to do with their layout once they’ve handed it over, and I imagine it’d be extremely frustrating to have an unserviceable layout especially at an exhibition.
When I bought the layout I had a firm idea of what changes I wanted to make to it. One of the assurances I gave Chris’ wife was that any development would be sympathetic to the layout and of a similar quality. My main interests in railways are predominantly BR era 1950’s through to the 80’s. The layout was firmly based in the 1930’s and fortunately little changed through the war years and it was only when BR got into its modernisation plan that we saw wholesale changes across the rail network. I wanted to run early diesel initially, and then also have steam introduced to my stock at a later date. The buildings are all permanently fixed to the boards and are of mounting board and Superquick paper construction. Any changes to them would mean very careful work. Over the years the layout coloring has faded slightly resulting in a toning down of the colors, so any changes would need great care to carry off. To date the main changes have been removing the majority of the people on the layout and things like horses and carts which whilst appropriate for the earlier era, would have reduced significantly by BR days.
I’ve shown the layout as being re-signed using Modelmasters transfers for BR station lettering. On the platform one of the porters has just dropped off the running in board and two BR totems to complete the signage change. The signal box is in early LNER colors, by the 50’s it should have been cream or white main panels with the framework in either green or black. I looked at changing this but decided that it would be too difficult to effectively mask the layout, windows and panels to get a suitable quality finish. I did carefully remove the original signal box name plates and replaced them with nameplates for Bawdsey. I do have a mind to do a few further changes to the layout in particular, a new backscene depicting winter together with new trees are under consideration as is a row of houses to be added to the front of the layout. Any changes like this will need careful design as the layout all packs into a custom built carrying frame and also I don’t want to disrupt the visual balance of the existing display.
The layout has a regional design element that places it firmly in East Suffolk. Chris took Aldeburgh as his starting point and based the layout on that station. As it had key elements of Aldeburgh it was logical for me to look at that area and see where a railway may have been built in addition to the Aldeburgh, Snape Maltings and Framlingham branches. Having an aviation background I looked at the area Great Eastern lines through Norfolk and to south of Ipswich. During the war Orford Ness and Bawdsey , (south of Ipswich), were very secretive areas, Bawdsey having a major part in the development of Radar, as did Orford Ness. I imagined that the original railway served Bawdsey and that the Quay with its ‘ferry’ to the Felixstowe side of the River Deben had in the past grown to a size that a Branch line to Bawdsey and the Quay could have been built. I also imagined that the branch had a Junction at Alderton with a further branch to Hollesley and then across to Orford. After the first world war these lines would have been ripe for rationalisation even then, but the second world war provided a lifeline in helping supply the military establishments at Bawdsey, Orford Ness, and RAF Woodbridge. The layout is now set in the period where the old traditions and working practices of grouping and pre-grouping companies are being absorbed into post 1948 British Railways, and prior to the arrival of Dr Beeching’s infamous axe. Even by this time the decline in traffic and modernisation changes would have signalled a grim outlook for the railway. At exhibitions I’ve had a number of ex RAF personnel mention they were stationed at Bawdsey too.
I have been very fortunate with the rolling stock for the layout. The coach and wagon stock I already had in OO gauge. They were converted to EM gauge by either replacing wheel sets or re-gauging the existing sets. I’d previously worked in EM gauge so there were no challenges there and the motive power comprises two class 24’s(Bachmann), two class 15’s(Heljan), one class 08(Hornby) and a Vulcan models whitemetal 04 kit. For exhibition purposes I carry a spare class 25(Bachmann) and a couple of Western Region steam locos in case of any irreparable damage to normal stock. The Bachmann class 24’s have had quite a bit of work done to them. They were used to prototype develop the Shawplan laser cut glazing for that model, (as was the Hornby 08), they also have had roof panels changed and new exhausts fitted, as the Bachmann roof is a compromise from class 24 and class 25 details. Once you compare before and after the difference is particularly noticeable.
The Heljan class 15 like the class 24 is particularly appropriate for an Ipswich area branch line, all these needed were the wheels changing, the rest of the locomotive is as far as I’m concerned is excellent. Wheelsets across the diesel fleet are a mix of Ultrascale and Alan Gibson, both of these types are easy to fit. There are two types currently operating on the layout that aren’t entirely typical for a Suffolk branch in this era. They are the class 08 and the class 108 DMU, these have been used to enable me to get the layout up and running to a consistent standard which is important when attending an exhibition. For the future both these types are being replaced with further Cravens class 105 DMU’s and a converted Bachmann class 03. Also in the wings are potentially a Hornby/Lima class 101 and typical Suffolk steam types with an Alan Gibson J15 and London Road J69 to be built in the next year.
The layout isn’t on the exhibition circuit as such due to my occupation, but when it does go out I try and get the operations as authentic as possible. As mentioned above the recent introduction of Heljan’s class 15 and Bachmann’s Cravens DMU helped in giving the layout an immediate regional flavour. The layout’s regional design element is based firmly on Aldeburgh. The track plan has been mirrored, with a couple of sidings added, but the buildings are very close to direct copies of the prototype, with one or two detail and dimension alterations. Together with the layout I received a pack of notes made by Chris, and there are some charming hand written notes and sketches which are a pleasure to look at. It underlines the quality of the work, when you look at the buildings they are all square and straight lines are straight. The realism of the model is emphasised by these critical touches, and it takes a while for people to notice that the buildings are made from as simple a product as Superquick brickpapers. Chris had also developed an operating sequence for the layout, where each part of the track plan is used at least once in the sequence. It rotates through approximately twenty moves and returns the stock to original positions at the end. Having had the time now to do a little extra research changes are being made within the sequence. I started by swapping the steam locomotives for diesel and running the sequence. This worked ok, but we found that with modern stock some of the moves wouldn’t work, specifically due to length of vehicles. It also became apparent why some moves were now unrealistic, the influx of diesels in real life meant that local trains were now DMU operated, rather than coach stock, and no coaling and watering would need to be done.
These cut down on running round passenger stock and the opportunity to run mixed trains, so I came across the benefits of BR’s modernisation programme in model form. The sequence does operate very well and now there’s just some fine tuning to be done. I’ve recently added a DMU with parcels tail traffic into the mix, it took a while to get the operation into a logical gap in the established sequence, the parcels van needed to shunted and removed by other trains without unbalancing the flow of the traffic. Couplings are currently three link, but I’ve done some promising experiments with Dingham auto couplings and in addition some stock may be fitted with those. I’ve been fortunate in having some expert guidance on exhibitions from my late father, Roy Jacksons ‘Retford’ team, and Peter Kirmond all giving valuable common sense assistance. I must also thank Ian Mellings and Al Reynolds for also coming out to play trains with me, it makes the job of a layout owner much easier with such valuable help.
Finally I should also thank David Woodward, Cheryl Matthewman, and the late Chris Matthewman. It’s a privilege to own and operate this layout.