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On the right track: Meet the enthusiasts behind model railways in south west London

“He wouldn’t let me touch it, I had to stand on a stool with my hands behind my back and watch as he controlled the trains back and forth, with the instructions ‘do not touch’.

“Saying that to a six-year-old is purgatory,” says Bob Wildeman, as he recounts a childhood memory of his father’s model railway.

Instructed to shield over lockdown due to a medical condition, Wildeman, 62, started from scratch on the construction of a childhood dream: his own model railway.

“Some days I’d lost track of time from starting a model at 9am and before I knew it, it was 7pm.”

Wildeman’s story is just one of many up and down the country who have re-discovered the charm of model railways.

It comes as modelling retailers reported sales increases of 50% between March and April, with Peco reporting relentless demand for their products.

Simon Kohler, Hornby’s marketing and product development director believes the surge in popularity is due to the escapism of the hobby.

He said: “Throughout this period people have learnt what the important things in life are – talking and creating.

“It’s allowed people to hark back to days gone by and think back to something that they have really wanted to do for a while.

“When you’re modelling you forget everything else that’s going on around you, you’re just focusing on one thing, you’re losing yourself in your own world and that’s been important over this period.”

It is a sentiment echoed by long term enthusiasts.

Paul Raven-Hill, chairman of Twickenham and District Model Railway Club, based in Hounslow said: “A lot of people have had a lot of spare time on their hands and asked themselves: What can I do? What can I fill my time with?

“The charm of the hobby comes from the ability to either recreate something or somewhere that you remember or grew up with or create something purely from your own imagination.

“My particular interest having lived around Richmond, Whitton and Hounslow is the area’s rail networks, so I like modelling Southern electric trains.”

Like Raven-Hill, many enthusiasts enjoy reflecting aspects of their life in their models.

Lockdown modeller Wildeman says: “Various elements in my model are from family history and places on the model are family names.”

TIMES GONE BY: Bob Wildeman captured his family links to Tyneside’s collieries in his lockdown model naming this ‘Stubbs Colliery’. Credit: Bob Wildeman

But nostalgia is only one part of a hobby that requires a high level of craftsmanship, with enthusiasts learning a range skills.

Rod Gould is a committee member of Wimbledon Model Railway Club which was founded in 1924, the second oldest model railway club in the world.

He said: “Through this hobby I have learnt a great deal with regards to skills as it can involve local and social history, carpentry, metal working, soldering, hand painting or air brushing, electronics and many other disciplines.”

Wildeman agrees: “My artistic talents were renewed in my painting, my observations of the landscape and being able to put such a lot of details into a small space.”

However, much of the charm of the hobby is the joy of recreating replica models of times gone by.

Through extensive research and study of the club’s library of reference books and DVD’s, Twickenham and District MRC, which has around 55 members, ageing from sixteen to early-eighties, have made a replica of Twickenham station.

AS YOU WERE: ‘Twickenham Junction’ is a replica of Twickenham station, as it would have looked circa 1961 had it not been demolished. Credit: Twickenham and District MRC

Raven-Hill said: “We were modelling the station as if it was never demolished to represent circa 1961. Everything is correct to that era, from the liveries to the rolling stock.

“It’s nice for me as I used to go trainspotting at Twickenham station in the fifties back when there was a lot of steam and pre-war stuff on the railways.”

While historical elements are important to many enthusiasts, new technology is making tracks into the hobby as well.

Paul Marshall-Potter uses a 3D printer to create figures based on real people, he also says real-life engine sounds can be fitted onto trains and there are even apps available for users to control their train set from their mobile phone.

MODERNISING: Paul Marshall-Potter shows off two men he crafted using 3D prints of real people, saying new tech is a big part of the hobby

“You’re building your own world, putting in exactly what you want and getting out exactly what you want,” says Kohler.

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