The Mysteries Of London


Thinking about books on London (367,982 this morning, on Amazon UK alone) one of the problems is that as soon as you’ve conquered an area, new things are found in it, changing your perceptions again.

I’ve just discovered a Secret Cinema club has been operating here for years, two streets away (this week, John Wayne Bingo – no, I don’t know how that works either) and then, there’s this lovely piece about a secret club virtually on my doorstep from Claire Hill…

‘A couple of middle-aged men are milling about in the light of a doorway of an otherwise dark street off Pentonville Road. The door belongs to an anonymous 1960s 3-storey building, enigmatically carrying a sign with only a stylised art deco logo and the letters ‘MRC’. Nosey people like me will have long since googled this to find it’s the headquarters of the Model Railway Club. With a soft spot for anoraks (and trains), and curiosity for stuff in my neighbourhood, I turn up to the regular Thursday ‘track night’.

Admittedly I expect to find grey-haired blokes in tweed engaged in a very dry committee meeting and being told to shush. Instead I see small groups of people gathered in different rooms, pottering on model layouts. I’m greeted in one of the rooms by the membership secretary and the chair of MRC, Tom, and Leslie, who are only too happy to show me around. There’s a small workshop and large scale model storage in the basement, a train model library buzzing with activity, other rooms with track layouts and most importantly, a bar. It feels a bit like a pub that happens to contain model railway layouts, and I chat to a young Spanish couple and their school-aged son who have come to see how the London railway modelling scene compares to their club back home in Valencia.

MRC has called King’s Cross home for 50 years, and is home to a model of the neighbourhood. The layout is called Copenhagen Fields — under construction since 1983, it recreates the area west of the Cally near Caledonian Road tube, including the Metropolitan Cattle Market and clock tower. Set in the 1920s, it features herds of cows, an airship and other quirky period details. Even a section of the underground is modelled in the side of the layout.’

11 comments on “The Mysteries Of London”

  1. Alan Morgan says:

    Cant see a picture – and I want to! Want, want, want…

  2. admin says:

    There you go, Alan…

  3. Brian says:

    Alan, for me clicking on it brought up the image in a seperate tab.

  4. Alan Morgan says:

    No, no, no – ‘want doesn’t get’. Cheers mind.

    I love crap like this. It’s so perfectly manly, so intense and dedicated. I love it that people can commit to such detail, such passion. Real skills without any end other than themselves. It makes me want to go out and buy a pipe, albeit having not smoked for eighteen months it’ll have to be a dry hump of a smoke. As Ripping Yarns would have it:

    Mr. Ellis: [in woodwork class] What is that, Tomkinson?
    Tomkinson: [standing before an enormous ship he’s assembling] It’s a model icebreaker, sir.
    Mr. Ellis: It’s a bit big for a model, isn’t it?
    Tomkinson: It’s a full-scale model, sir.
    Mr. Ellis: [annoyed] It’s not a model if it’s full-scale, Tomkinson, it’s an icebreaker.
    Tomkinson: Yes, it’s good, isn’t it, sir? It’s got three engines, an enormous…
    Mr. Ellis: No no no, that’s not the point. That is not a model. It’ll be hell if this comes out at speech day exhibition. You’re a very stupid boy building icebreakers like this, Tomkinson.
    Tomkinson: [deflated] Yes, sir.
    Mr. Ellis: Now I won’t say anything to the headmaster if you can get it down to a minimum of four foot.
    Tomkinson: But sir! There’s fifteen hundred tons of steel in this…
    Mr. Ellis: Do you want to come and see the headmaster with me?
    Tomkinson: No, sir.
    Mr. Ellis: Well, melt it down at once.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, my yes. Are they keeping a full block clear between those trains? We wouldn’t want another Ais Gill on our hands, would we? That model is superb and has capacity for electrics (3rd rail) as well as steam.
    Next time in London I know exactly what our headquarters will be and I will have to do touring on my own, even if my husband does model North America, not Europe.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    He’s seen it now and wants to know if they have a web site, what the address is, what the hours are…. (I will look these things up for him.) Thank you for this, Chris, I think.

  7. Alan says:

    I used to run a model shop – one of our best selling lines were the good old railway products – “O” to “N” gauge.

    As manager I had to be reasonably knowledgeable about them all – but – to use Mr. Morgan’s lovely word from earlier – I was totally deflated one day…

    I had been to an expo and brought back some ‘photos to show my customers (customer engagement – standard salesman tactic).

    A series of the shots were of a layout modelled on some obscure line from some obscure time. One fellow had a look at them and commented “Not bad – but those are Fresian cows, and Fresian cows did not arrive in that area until…”.

    At which point I zoned out.

  8. Alan Morgan says:


    There is clearly a point whereby things go too far. It’s not that as described the man is an obesessive – you have to be after all and men especially can be, and no harm normally in that – it’s that rather than sharing delight in what you showed him, he had to put it down. Competitive obsession. Chaps with hobbies should celebrate them but all too often they run down others or despise anything that might make for wider popularity.

    I sympathise with your memory, indeed many years back I used to manage a hobby shop in west London so saw a bit of that.

    The quote is Michael Palin/Terry Jones. From the still wonderful Ripping Yarns, on the Beeb.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    We visited the address on Google and found that we turned just a block too soon when we were in London. I am constantly amazed at the interests of this site’s habitues (can’t do the accent mark)and wonder if curiosity is the commonality. Apparently one of the lines on that model is for the Underground (“See, it has 4 rails”) and that blue rocket-like engine is the Mallard. We now know the annual dues and the open times and all.

  10. Alan Morgan says:

    I have to say Helen that with this sort of support for man’s quirky habits you and your husband sound very fortunate in one another. Of course if it’s you that likes steam trains, rolling buckets of dice or obsessive butterfly collecting then the same applies, only doubled.

    I think that’s rather wonderful. :0)

  11. Helen Martin says:

    It’s called sharing and curiosity. Model railroad layouts are fascinating because all tiny versions of things are fascinating and it’s like being a giant looking down on the world below. He goes to my calligraphy meetings because it’s totally different from how he spends his working days and he gets to see beautiful/interesting things. He even takes the occasional class now.

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