Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The World of Model Railways - Mevagissey.

These days when people talk about collectors and how collections can create a whole different world for the collector, they often refer to those of the Comicon persuasion and the escaping into a ready made fantasy world. But I've always been more fond of the homemade, and for me the ultimate example of homemade worlds in model collecting is those of the thousands of dedicated model railway enthusiasts. Now I have a confession to make straight away, which society would say goes against my age and gender - I really want a train set - have done for ages - I'd go the whole hog and have a room dedicated to my own crazy train set diorama and it would probably involve dinosaurs and imaginary cities, and most certainly go around the wall like a rollercoaster, and I'd really want a monorail and chair lift. And a volcano and a secret garden. And the amazing thing is if I had the space there is no reason why I couldn't do this - model railways enable us to collect the objects we're fascinated with, i.e. trains, and then bring them to life in a living diorama - the dioramas of the giant collections of the pre 19th century might have done this, but these days they rarely do. With all this in mind I set off for the small fishing town of Mevagissey to visit somewhere I had always seen the sign for and wondered about - The World of Model Railways...

Founded by Arthur Howeson and opened to the public in 1971, the World of Model Railways is situated in an old pilchard plant up a side street in Mevagissey. It was instantly popular and at a time without many purpose built visitor attractions in Cornwall there were queues down the street! It was a little quieter when I went but I was glad as it meant I could get a really good look at Arthur's railway world. 

Built in three sections over time, the main railway display loops round a dividing wall leading the visitor through the world. (There is also a later built diplay of a railway one could make ouside, also using Thomas the Tank Engine to appeal to kids, but I'm going to focus on the main display). We move through town and countryside - there are garages, stations, markets, even a wonderful china clay pit display making it very local! I loved the details - all the people and movement - the events enfolding such as fires waiting to be put out, barges on water or horses playing. At the end the display builds towards an amazing Alpine scene, with yes a chairlift! There's even handgliders! I love how the display's narrative element enables us to make up our own stories about what's going on, and for me echoes the real experience of sitting on a train and watching the world go by - it crystallises those glimpses of other lives and parts of countries we only get to briefly see. I also loved the display cabinets or Arthur's other locomotives and the circus display, which reminded me of the model circus I used to have that was one of my most prized toys when younger. (There was also a somewhat esoteric display of the results of a ferrero rocher box diorama competition - I find such things quite splendid, but it also illustrates one of the joys of small museums and personal collections for me - you get to see the quirks that would be left out of larger institutions, but maybe would have been in a magpie collection of the past - there is a real sense of the personal, but also a community of enthusiasts...).

Reading about the history of its construction I loved discovering that an army of local lads helped out, making this a real community project. I was greeted by really friendly older men (who liked my train skirt I was wearing in honour of my visit) and I wonder now whether they could have been some of the men who helped build it originally. They were certainly knowledgeable and there was a great model shop that doubles as the entrance.  The railway was sold in the '90s and six months later Arthur passed away. This was when things such as the Thomas outdoor display were added to appeal to a more commercial audience, but whilst now being run more as a business I do not believe that the railway can have lost much of its original scope and charm. This still comes across as the work of real enthusiasts - people who really care about model railways - and I hope it will stay that way for generations to come.

More details can be found at
I apologise for the bad camera phone in a dark room photos!

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