How two of Yorkshire's model railway clubs are on track with building interest in traditional past-time

Sally Clifford hears from members of two Yorkshire model railway clubs - in Barnsley and Keighley - about a new chapter of interest and enjoyment in the traditional past-time.

It is not long since Barnsley Model Railway Club moved into its new home - but already members have set about an unusual transformation from ecclesiastical setting to model railway showcase.

In the Sunday School of an old chapel in the town, intricate train track layouts now sit, as members look to secure to club’s future and bring enjoyment to generations for many more years to come.

The move will help them meet the demand for interest within the club, which was founded in the fifties. “It was set up by a small gang of guys, mixed ages, who were all interested in model railways,” explains member Steve Watson. “They met in somebody’s house and it developed from there. Early meetings were in rented rooms.”

Barnsley Model Railway Club who have recently acquired new premises at Mount Tabor Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Wombwell.

When Steve initially joined in 1977, he was appointed treasurer and, over the years, he has successfully overseen the club’s financial affairs.

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Then, nine years ago, club secretary Danny Kaye became aware of an old chapel, Mount Tabor Wesleyan Reform Church, in Barnsley - and the club has finally moved into its new home. “It’s what we have always dreamed of,” says Steve. He explains that the expansion will help them meet growing interest. “We have got more interest. We have new members that have joined us.”

He believes it may be to do with people seeking out traditional pastimes. “Model railway interest has been on the downward trend since the early eighties when computers started to come along and electronic games, but we have noticed, going back three or four years ago, there was a drift back to older hobbies and model railways was one of them.”

Keighley Model Railway Club. Les Goater, Eddie Spencer, 12 and his Uncle, Gaz Hird.

The space within the Sunday School has enabled club members to set up their six layouts – many featuring hand-crafted buildings of popular places of interest such as the historic Shambles in York and a station inspired by Scarborough Station with platforms and people.

Stephen Cornforth and his son John, who create models from a mix of professional and recyclable materials including cereal packets, coffee stirrers, cardboard and artist mounting board, are working on an impressive layout, measuring 16ft wide by 24ft.

“It was inspired by my childhood in Scarborough,” recalls Stephen, whose brother worked on Doncaster railway. “I used to go to Scarborough two or three times a year for the motorbike racing. I used to stay with a relative on Seamer Road near to the engine shed in Whitby.”

The layout is a work in progress, with many of the buildings waiting to be located once the line is complete. For John, railway modelling gives him the opportunity to create something hands-on. “I was inspired into model making by being taken to exhibitions from a young age, and being encouraged to have a go by my Dad, often being lent tools and materials before acquiring my own,” he explains.

John says his artistic flair developed through observation. “Taking inspiration from the real world when out and about and piecing a scene together. Visiting areas where the layout is set and choosing subjects to model and how the building sits in the landscape.”

“I think of it as a 3D work of art,” adds Stephen, proudly.

Another impressive layout is the largest of them all. The O gauge Frickley Bridge Junction, named after an area in Barnsley, is 44ft long by 15ft wide and is a collaborative effort by club chairman Stephen Kaye, wife Joan – who works on the scenery - and her son Ian, Len Street and Colin Goldthorpe. It has taken three years to get to the stage it is at, and while there is still more to do, it’s on the right track.

So too is the club’s ecclesiastical transformation - and the whirring sounds of trains running around tracks fill the former Sunday School. The church is a work in progress and there are plans for the creation of a new building between the two, which will eventually, extend this railway modeller’s showcase.

Technology is adding a different dimension to the controls. Club secretary Danny Kaye and member Steve Jubb demonstrate how using a special app on their phones allows them to control Danny’s Smokey Joe loco through Wifi signal.

The complexities of it all are housed in a box underneath the scenery on this DCC layout – one of three at the club - where a raft of locos are standing still as Smokey Joe hauls its weedkiller and water tankers to spray the track.

There is certainly something to be said about the enjoyment of a hands-on hobby, and the appeal is also growing in Keighley – home to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, well-known as ‘The Railway Children line’.

Members of Keighley Model Railway Club recently recorded their greatest exhibition turnout, post-Covid, with more than 3,000 visitors over the June weekend. “Since the pandemic there has been a lot more people looking at the hobby,” says club chairman Steve Ward.

He believes the growth in interest has been prompted by people looking for something new since lockdown.

Steve’s own interest stems from receiving the gift of a Hornby two rail train set from his parents when he was 10. “And I’ve been hooked ever since,” he adds. He believes parents are also seeking something for their children to do which doesn’t involve a computer. “They are trying to get their children interested in that sort of thing rather than computers, although these days computers do form part of it because a lot of the layouts are designed on them, which they never used to be.”

Since Christmas, the club has seen its numbers expand with 12 more people joining, taking the membership up to nearly 80. Ages range from mid-30s to members, like Steve, who are in their 70s, proving it is a pleasurable past-time for all.

“We get people who are interested in the engineering of the actual models because these days you can get sound and smoke fitted to the locomotives – they are all very well detailed,” explains Steve.

“We have people modelling in various gauges – American Railroad, mid-40s to the present day. We have garden railways, 7mm – which is the largest scale – so we have a good mixture.”

Steve says the recent attendance at the club’s exhibition has given them a ‘real boost’. “It has been one of the best we have had for years. It’s been brilliant.”

Barnsley Model Railway Club model railway exhibition runs on Saturday and Sunday November 12 and 13.

It takes place from 10am until 5pm at Hoyland Leisure Centre, Barnsley.

To find out more about the club, or to get involved, visit Barnsley Model Railway Club on Facebook.

Keighley Model railway club was founded in 1974.

The club meets in Units T1 and T3 on the third floor of Keighley Business Centre, Knowle Mills, South Street, Keighley.

As well as exhibitions, the club hosts regular open days throughout the year.

Its Autumn Open Day is Sunday, October 23.

For more information visit keighley-mrc.org.uk