The following documents record the history of the club.
The Early Years by the late Geoffrey Randell. (1920-1997)
Since the club has now been in existence for over 60 years, and I was present at the inaugural meeting to form the club, I thought a brief account of the first four years taking us up to the outbreak of WW2 could be of interest.
There was precious little spare money about then but there was an abundance of enthusiasm which, it is good to see, still prevails today.We were fortunate in having direct access to LBSC who gave us considerable publicity in his weekly ‘Live Steam’ articles in the Model Engineer and which can be looked up in the early volumes in the Club’s library. Percival Marshall who was Editor at the time also provided further publicity in his weekly editorial.
The inaugural Meeting of the Club was held on the 15th April 1935 in the workshop of a prospective member and a further 25 enthusiasts who turned up that evening. It was decided to run the Club on a semi-informal basis with the minimum of rules and this philosophy has been retained to this day. In a month or so the use of a Scout’s hut was obtained in Wellesley Road next to Sutton Railway station. However, before the end of the year we had secured accommodation in an outbuilding located in the grounds of Benfleet Halls, an estate of 25 acres bordered by Elgin, Benhill Wood, Oakhill and Benhill roads.
By early 1936 the building had been refurbished with a floor, electricity, benches and heating stove. Later a 5 inch Milnes treadle lathe was installed. In the grounds we had also made a start on a 130ft multi-gauge track using 5/16th sq. iron screwed to roofing tile battens for the sleepers, supported on a sub-structure of 8″ x 3″ timber from locally demolished houses. Because of the sloping ground, half the track was in a cutting, 2ft at its deepest.
A programme of visits was drawn up – the first being to Odhams printing works, where the production of the ‘People’ was seen. Also in April 1936 the very first public exhibition was mounted. It was for three days in the Scout’s hall, West Street opposite Marks and Spencer. The hall was part of the old Board School.A good show was put on with a number of models and several layouts in ‘0’ and ‘1’ Gauges. One of the exhibits was a 6″ x 12″ vertical centre flue boiler in steam burning charcoal running several stationary engines. A 3″ scale traction engine gave rides round the hall and a passenger carrying track was erected using the ubiquitous 8″ x 3″ timbers. Two 3 1/2″ guage locos ran on this, one being a 0-4-4 tank, the other a 4-6-0 express. A powerful 2 1/2″ guage 2-6-0 GWR built by the Club, with help from LBSC, was also there which was capable of hauling three adult passengers with ease. The show was a huge success and was crowded out but we had not learnt to take measures to prevent the floor being covered in oil and water.
Then disaster struck. We had hardly finished the rails on the circular track in the grounds when we were given notice to quit our outbuilding. The estate had been sold to Ideal Homesteads for residential buildings. The Club then moved back to the Scout’s hut in Wellesley Road and several unsuccessful attempts were made to find a permanent site. Consequently the track was dismantled, equipment removed and stored in members houses and the track was never used again.
Visiting continued to such places as Nine Elms, Norwood Loco Depot, Tower Bridge then operated by steam-hydraulic and Sutton Telephone Exchange. Meanwhile Sir Malcolm Campbell was readily persuaded to become Club president in 1937 and the second public exhibition followed in 1938 at the public halls in Sutton. This was even more ambitious than the first and filled both the large and small halls. The Trade was invited and Bonds, Buck and Ryan and a number of other model railway suppliers turned up. A decent portable track was borrowed and the show was opened by the Mayor being driven behind a 3 1/2″ guage Royal Scot. The newly opened Surrey Border and Camberley Railway had a 10 1/4″ guage GWR Pannier Tank on view and a novel feature, a high definition television set as it was called then, took pride of place in the small hall with the public anxious to see this remarkable curiosity. This exhibit was arranged by a member, who was an employee of the Baird Television Company, who staged the exhibit.
At this point the title of the Club became the ‘Sutton Model and Engineering Company’ and it was pleasing to note that as well as the basic loco and railway buffs there were now a number of model boating and aircraft enthusiasts. Early in 1938 meetings started at the Inglenook cafe in Mulgrave Road opposite Sutton Station. It was a typical cafe of the period serving coffee, lunches and teas during the day but closed for business in the evenings. In the Summer of 1948, as part of a recruiting drive, the Club was invited to visit the 31st AA Territorial Searchlight Battalion R.E. which had premises in Stonecot Hill.
The third exhibition, again at the public halls, was staged in January 1939 and opened by Sir Malcolm Campbell. It was rather similar to the previous exhibition although more ambitious. There was another exhibit from the Surrey Border Railway’s Pacific this time weighing two tons and proved a nightmare to get it in and out of the hall. The television was as popular as ever – it still being a novelty. The track used at this exhibition was the first decent portable one with a substructure of timber, rod cross ties and 1/2″ x 1/4″ rail.
The first fete in which we participated was at Benhilton Church, using the 4-4-0 tank and 4-6-0 tender engines. The second took place at Miss Batt’s preparatory School in Beacon’s Way Banstead. This can be said to be the start of the present day involvement in fetes. There were no powerful engines in the Club at this time suitable for heavy continuous hauling except for a 3 1/2″ guage Pacific, which was used on these occasions. It had 1 3/8″ bore cylinders and went on to perform yeoman service during the war. In May 1939, thanks to the negotiating ability of one of the members, our present site was acquired for about £80 and much time was spent in those few pre-war weeks daydreaming about the Club’s future.
There is one interesting connection between this period and the present day. Our second Club secretary was C.J.Grose who was a keen photographer and member of the Royal Photographic Society and LBSC’s official photographer. In 1988 none other than P.J. Grose joined and it was not known until recently that the two are related.
Finally one connection with the past is that my friend, the late Brian Blackman, was also admitted as a junior member at the inaugural meeting and worked with Cubitt Eagling as a toolmaker.
SMEC History 1937-1946
The quest for a permanent club site continued throughout 1937 and in October it was agreed to rent a parcel of land near the railway in Carshalton. However the stringent conditions put on the construction of a clubhouse including providing mains drainage meant the agreement fell through. Over a year later, conditional approval for a clubhouse on a prospective site in Chatham Close, West Sutton was granted by the Sutton and Cheam Local Council.
Plans for a clubhouse with a chemical toilet were submitted in April 1939 and later that month a £5 deposit was paid for the site. On the 3rd May Deeds were registered for the Chatham Close site, they contained a codicil prohibiting the construction of any Hotel, Tavern or Public House and banning the sale of intoxicating liquor. This land which is now our present site was described by the Ministry of Health as “Land on which building operations are permanently prohibited, it being waterlogged and originally a pond with an Island in the middle covered in brambles”. The clubhouse plans were rejected by Sutton and Cheam Council. Sunday morning meetings did commence at Chatham Close but Thursday evening meetings continued to be held at the Inglenook Café, Mulgrave Road, Sutton. The club accounts presented in 1940 indicate that the Chatham Close grounds cost £51 plus £25-1s for fencing and cartage, what a bargain by today’s standards.
The Club lodged an appeal with the Ministry of Health and a local inquiry was held in June 1939. No records have been found as to the outcome of this inquiry, but it must be assumed that a satisfactory conclusion was reached as we are still here! Mains drainage was finally installed by the council in 1943 at a cost greater than the purchase price for the site.The Second World War started on 1st September 1939 and the Committee decided to continue meetings during hostilities but suspend subscriptions. Members continued to meet at Chatham Close on the third Sunday of each month, membership stood at 47. At the 1940 AGM the moratorium on subscriptions was rescinded but members serving in the armed forces were to be regarded as honorary members. The Club held one exhibition during the war years on Warship Day which was held during the first week of March 1942. By this time membership had fallen to 28, but recovered to 39 in 1943 and had risen to 49 by March 1944. After hostilities had ceased in 1945, plans for many improvements to Chatham Close including a brick built clubhouse, a continuous railway circuit and a round the pole model car track, (this was never actioned). A straight track railway track was completed by September 1945 and available to members at “all reasonable times”. By mid1946 plans for the new clubhouse were finalised, the method of construction for a continuous raised track agreed and there was even talk of a club locomotive.
7th October 1937 –
Confirmation of rental of land in Carshalton, near old station. However stringent conditions on a clubhouse, mains drainage etc.
27th October 1938 –
Preliminary conditional approval for a clubhouse at Chatham Close.
12th April 1939 –
Plans submitted for a clubhouse with chemical toilet at Chatham Close.
21st April 1939 –
At AGM £5 deposit paid for Chatham Close.
3rd May 1939 –
Deeds registered for Chatham Close, a codicil no Hotel, Tavern or Public House, no sale of intoxicating liquor.
11th May 1939 –
Clubhouse plans rejected, also boundary disputes.
26th May 1939 –
Sunday morning meetings commence at Chatham Close. Thursday meetings continue at the ‘Inglenook Café’.
6th June 1939 –
SMREC appeal to the Ministry of Health.
4th July 1939 –
Ministry of Health conduct a local inquiry to hear the appeal by SMREC against the Sutton and Cheam local council.
16th September 1939 –
Committee decides to continue meeting during hostilities, but suspends subscriptions, membership stood at 47.
5th May 1940 –
Accounts indicate Chatham close cost £51 plus £25-1s for fencing and cartage. There is no record of architects or solicitor’s expenses.
28th March 1941 –
Discussion about the installation of mains drainage by the council.
March 1942 –
Membership has dropped to 28.
Membership has recovered to 39, installation of drains cost £54-7s-4d more than the site.
Membership has risen to 49.
16th September 1945 –
Minutes report a straight track was available at Chatham Close.
6th December 1945 –
Drawings submitted to Committee for new clubhouse.
3rd January 1946 –
New clubhouse approved by Committee.
23rd May 1946 –
Proposals for continuous track, racing car track (round the pole). Invoice from architect £10-13s-6p for work on the clubhouse.
July 1946 –
Construction of continuous track started.