Ex-LSWR Class 700 hauls a mixed freight through Upwey Junction under the watchful eye of operator David Rockey

Newton Abbot’s hidden gem – the Railway Studies Collection holds its first ever Railway Studies and Modellers Show

Laura White
Laura White
Old and young admire the delights of Upwey Junction, an OO Gauge model railway layout based upon Upwey Station on the Dorchester to Weymouth line, set in the closing days of the steam era in the mid-1960s / Gordon Vickers and Pete Ross, two of the founder members of the Dartmoor 009 Railway Group’s layout based on the pre-war narrow gauge Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, that was inspired by Rob Whish. / Dylan Branson, aged five, totally enthralled by the Dartmoor 009 Railway Group’s layout based on the pre-war narrow gauge Lynton & Barnstaple Railway that closed down in the 1930s / An original railway carriage poster from the South Eastern & Chatham Railway / An original engineer’s drawing showing a profile and bird’s eye view of Brunel’s railway bridge at Saltash, designed by Brunel in 1848 and finally completed in 1859, the year of his death, held in the Railway Studies Collection / Ex-LSWR Class 700 hauls a mixed freight through Upwey Junction under the watchful eye of operator David Rockey / Bulleid ‘West Country Class’ Light Pacific 4-6-0, ‘Bude’, hauling a rake of Southern Railway Maunsell coaches passes through Upwey Junction – all photos © Mike Rego / All photos © Mike Rego

By Mike Rego

Saturday, 4th December, saw the first ever Railway Studies and Modellers Show to be held at Newton Abbot Library, to publicise the Railway Studies Collection that is held there, the second largest collection of railway material in the country after the National Railway Museum in York.

The show was organised to raise awareness of the Collection in general, as it is felt by many of the staff and the Friends of the Railway Studies Collection that it is a tremendous asset that is not as well-known as it should be and deserves greater recognition. Shelley Pearson, an employee at the library says that it is not just about books on trains, it is about all things connected with railways, and whilst primarily focused on the UK, it also includes railways from overseas.

The collection covers everything from the usual photographic books, which are important historical records in their own right, to working timetables, magazines, personal diaries and memoirs of railwaymen and for all scales, real railways and model railways, from the earliest railways to the present.
Subjects covered range from mechanical, electrical and civil engineering. Railways were not only a catalyst for the development of the industrial revolution, but gave rise to large-scale civil engineering with the construction of bridges and tunnels, cuttings and embankments and also electrical engineering.

Amongst the first uses of electronic communication by telegraph, if not the first commercial use, was for the development of railway signalling, to communicate a train’s location ahead of its arrival to ensure avoidance of collision.

Incidentally, it was a local boy from Moretonhampstead, George Bidder ‘The Calculating Boy’, who introduced electronic communication for signalling between railway stations on the Blackwall and Yarmouth Railways, and became one of the principal founders of the original Electric Telegraph Company, arguably pioneering the concept of long-distance electronic communication that today is known as the World Wide Web.

But the collection is not just about engineering. It encompasses railway architecture, art, advertising and marketing memorabilia including a collection of posters. Even catering which, was an important development for longer journeys, is represented and of course social history. As such the collection is a valuable resource for academic research at all levels – there are some great school projects in there! – as well as commercial or purely private research.

The great thing about the Collection is that it is easily accessible, and as Lynn West, the Centre Manager explained, with some 28,000 items in the Collection, there is something for everyone. Whilst it is funded by Devon Libraries, it is also partly funded by the Friends of the Railway Studies Collection, who raise money to help curate the collection by selling off (with the consent of the benefactor) any surplus or duplicate stock.

With only a small subscription (which goes towards maintaining the Collection), the Friends meet once a week on a Wednesday afternoon, and help with the cataloguing of material, particularly identifying photographs and other images and enjoy regular, railway-related, evening talks. New members of all ages are always welcome.

One of the events held on Saturday was a ‘White Glove’ event, led by Emma Andrews, a Customer Services Assistant at Newton Abbot Library, where visitors were allowed to handle and look at some of the oldest and rarest books from the collection. This included original drawings of plans for Brunel’s bridge across the Tamar at Saltash, various early rule books for railway locomotive enginemen, early signalling manuals, even a book written in 1907 by a concerned ‘Military Railway Historian’, advising against constructing a tunnel under the English Channel as Germany or France could ‘quite suddenly send a troop of determined men to take possession of the English head of the tunnel… and thus facilitate the invasion of England’!

The staff at the Collection are keen to point out that all their items are available to the public, even the rarest. According to Emma, amongst favourite books of the staff and public alike is an original first edition of Mugby Junction, a collection of railway-themed short stories by Charles Dickens, published for Christmas, 1866. Inspired by the rudeness of a waitress at Rugby station, Dickens includes in one chapter a scathing attack on railway refreshment rooms and their staff. As Emma says, it appeals to railway and non-railway enthusiasts alike, and is a good example of how the Collection caters to all interests through a railway connection.

The Collection was started by the late David St John Thomas of David and Charles publishers, who used to have their offices near Newton Abbot station. A keen railway enthusiast, he wanted to set up a railway-related collection for researchers in Newton Abbot, which was a major railway town not unlike Swindon for the (original) Great Western Railway.

The Collection was initially set up in 1991 with only limited access, with help from Devon Libraries. In 1992 a Friends’ group was formed to support the Collection by fundraising, volunteering and offering specialist advice. With several bequests and the support of the Friends group it soon began to grow, and following recent refurbishment of the library it now occupies a large space on the first floor.

An afternoon talk on the subject of ‘Our Local Railways’ by Amyas Crump, a well-respected local railway historian and author drew a good crowd. Amyas has written various books on
the railways and celebrated trains of the
West Country and gave an entertaining and informative talk.

A number of working model railway layouts were on display, including the display of larger gauge models from the Newton Abbot & District Model Engineering Society. Model gauges ranged from ‘N’ gauge to 5” gauge, with one model of an early broad gauge locomotive being built as a ‘live steam’ model in 7¼” gauge.

Most of the layouts depicted the last days of steam in the 1950s and 1960s with Great Western or Southern Railway themes, but also included a representation of the narrow gauge Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, which closed in the 1930s and is now being restored as a heritage line.

One particular model railway layout that was popular with spectators and very topical in terms of the recent re-opening of the Exeter to Okehampton line was ‘Upwey Junction’, an OO Gauge scale layout depicting a small railway junction on the mainline between Weymouth and Dorchester, again set in the latter days of steam in the early 1960s. This was primarily a Southern Railway-themed model, depicting rolling stock similar to that which would have been seen on the Okehampton line in its last days of passenger services.

We may live in a modern age of high speed rail travel by diesel and electric-powered trains, but railways still hold a fascination for many, old and young, and the biggest crowds of the event were attracted to the model railway layouts. Both children who were clearly fascinated by the intricacy of the models and adults, some of whom remembered the original steam trains depicted in the models, all clearly enjoyed the displays, (and not just the males!), it was a highly popular event.

Considering that Newton Abbot used to be primarily a railway town with an extensive locomotive, carriage and wagon works, which was by far the biggest employer in the town, it is only fitting that it should have such an extensive and magnificent Railway Studies Collection reflecting its industrial heritage.
More information about the Newton Abbot Railway Studies Collection may be found at the following website:

Newton Abbot Railway Studies Collection
Newton Abbot Railway Studies Collection – Facebook Page
Friends of the Railway Studies Collection – Facebook Page

The following weblinks can provide more information on local rail schemes and modelling societies:

Dartmoor Railway Association
Heath Rail Link
The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway
Newton Abbot & District Model Engineering Society

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