25yrs, Not Out

Written by ex-chairman, John Green in 1999.

The start of 1999 brings our society into its Silver Jubilee year. As one of the founder members of the society, I recognise that a quarter of a century has passed rather rapidly and also that many of the present members do not have local roots. So a brief potted history of progress to date may be appropriate.

Northwich itself in those days had quite an engineering background. Apart from ICI, which had its own in-house facilities, there were many smaller concerns, such as W. J. Yarwood and Isaac Pimblots, shipbuilders, Joseph Parks, structural engineers, Henry Bates, iron founders and engineers, Kerrs, fire pumps etc.

In addition many local wage-earners traveled daily to work at the Locomotive works & Rolls Royce in Crewe, Fodens and ERF in Sandbach and the Broadheath complex of Lynotype, Richards etc. Therefore Mid-Cheshire contained a good proportion of engineering expertise.

Despite this, no model engineering society ever existed in this locality, the nearest perhaps being Urmston & Warrington. However on 23 May, 1974 an article appeared in the local “Guardian” stating that Terry Robinson, who turned out to be a local builder, was appealing for people interested in model engineering to contact him, with a view to forming a local society. My own interest was immediately kindled and I rang Terry to arrange a visit. On seeing his workshop and discussing his proposals, I was “bitten by the bug” and an inaugural meeting was arranged.

“The Club”, as it was subsequently known, was formed with Terry as Chairman, Ken Boley as Secretary and Barry Storey as Treasurer. Terry, being a current member of the Urmston Society and a well-equipped and seasoned model engineer, was assumed to be the fund of all knowledge and, apart from Alan Gordon, the guiding light. No one else possessed much expertise or equipment.

The initial meetings were held at Terry’s home in Beech Road, Hartford, and over the next few months the membership increased to about twelve and future objectives were, formed. Firstly the need to raise club funds, made a portable track the highest priority. At the time the only locomotive available were a 3½” gauge Heilan Lassie and a LMS Mogul, both belonging to Terry. He managed to salvage some rather mangled scrap steel extrusions which we were able to straighten and from which we were able to produce about sixty feet of portable track.

Our first working sessions were carried out at Terry’s Cuddington workshop. The first passenger truck was a rather rudimentary affair, which nevertheless served its intended purpose. The first fete we attended was at Hartford village the following year, and it soon became apparent that 3½” gauge was totally inadequate for passenger hauling. However we soldiered on for the next couple of years and membership built up to over twenty, although some of these were primarily modelers who soon drifted away. Our next objective was a permanent track site and clubhouse, which was eventually located at the Moss Farm complex, solely due to Terry’s desires and negotiations with Cheshire County Council.

The track, a straight up and down affair with run round loops and turntables, between a line of poplar trees and a large ICI stockyard chain link fence, was hardly scenic! The track panels were pre-constructed at the workshop and then concreted in the following weekends. The project was completed in 1977, by which time Alan Okel had acquired a 5” Simplex, a big improvement on 3½” gauge. In addition, two new sit in bogie passenger cars were constructed, one comprising “coffin” components and both of which have subsequently been modified and are still in use by the society.

The Moss Farm project was an ongoing disaster. After a short while the poplar tree roots moved and cracked the concrete base, causing track misalignment and we suffered vandalism and the theft of items locked in a below level bunker. The Moss Farm manager failed to provide us with a meeting place and we were denied the promised permission to erect a club building. Terry then seemed to lose interest in the society, membership fell, the site was hardly used and loco ownership was virtually non-existent. Meetings were then held firstly at Barry’s home in Winsford and then at Northwich Vics Social Club. Our new Chairman, Bob Manifold, managed to rekindle interest in the club, fetes being our main source of revenue. New steel angle portable tracks were constructed, the original track and passenger track being given to Terry, who had departed for pastures new at Bethesda, as a parting gift.

Over the ensuing years, the society stabilised and I must mention that much help and encouragement was given by the late Bob Manifold and Tom Hankey. Alan Okel also supplied much help and assistance with transport although sadly he, along with many others, is no longer a member. I well remember that until the building of the Club Sweet Pea, we struggled along with Alan’s 5″ gauge Sweet Pea, John Moss’s Bagnall and my own Simplex, although the club is better equipped nowadays.

After a couple of years, the decision was taken to dismantle and abandon the Moss Farm site and I am sure this was the right thing to do. After a succession of meeting places, culminating at the Three Greyhounds, under the chairmanship of Geoff Foreman, the decision was taken to relocate and plan the construction of a track site complex. Now almost completed with a lot of dedicated planning and hard work by most members, the site must rank highly among any club facilities. A few years ago the society decided, not without reservations, to adopt Limited Liability status, but in the light of the times we live in, it is perhaps an inevitable decision.

Another sign of the times is the fact that the majority of the members are retired, the average age must be over sixty. What the future holds for recruiting younger members must be a cause for concern, particularly as the schools and colleges are no longer so involved in practical engineering training. Another aspect is the change over the years from 3½” to 5″ and towards 7¼” gauge locomotives and also from the smaller scale traction engines up to the larger 4″ – 6″ scales. Perhaps this is an indication of our greater affluence and acquisition of larger workshop facilities and better machine tools.

The society, although mainly railway and locomotive orientated, does have members who build other models. John Moss has built a wide spectrum of locomotives, traction engines, clocks, boats, IC. engines, cycles and motor cycles et al. Geoff Foremen is a tool maker par excellence and one only has to examine his work to appreciate his dedication and ability. Steve Brown is also very versatile, building locomotives and traction engines and whatever task he undertakes it is a first class job. Ken Drakeford can turn his hand to most things and his fast developing Romulus is looking good. In Craig Dyer we have the most meticulous and dedicated Treasurer, a great improvement on my earlier efforts on the back of the proverbial “fag packet”. I am sure the Jinty will make progress. Geoff Johnson is a first class Secretary and a great asset in many other ways. Roll on Speedy! Cliff, well he certainly churns them out, Indeed the newly completed “Metre Maid” is a credit to all concerned. There have, in times past, been many other members who have helped our society in numerous ways, some sadly no longer with us.

The society has come a long way since 1974 and one thing is certain, that, given the quality and ability of the current members it will long continue, although at present I think it has reached its optimum membership level, quality rather than quantity. So onwards towards the half century.