Britain's 'biggest' model railway to pull into Wakefield Market Hall
A businessman who says he “wasn’t even into model railways” has assembled a mega miniature creation which has been named, unofficially, as Britain’s biggest.
Simon George, 53, keeps the stunning scale model in a below-level basement in a Wakefield industrial unit, and has been working on the super structure for more than eight years.
At 192 ft in length and with such intricate detail it has already caused a stir among enthusiasts, it will now be brought to the attention of the general public when it goes on display at Wakefield’s Market Hall this December.
It’s the first stop for what Simon hopes will become a new business venture, showcasing the model around Britain and even Europe.
Admitting he became tired of his previous venture, a supercar experience company, he sold his share and began mulling over his options.
He had already started assembling his rail creation in his former office in Birmingham, but then moved it to Wakefield, where it began to take shape and take up his time.
But what started as a hobby, presented itself as a potential business opportunity.
He said: “For the first three months I told my girlfriend that I was working as a wine merchant, and when she came here she said ‘there’s not much wine in here!’.
“About half way through I thought, ‘I could make a business of this’.
“During lockdown I spent my days down here on my own.
“I’m not sure if it’s the biggest in Britain but the modelling press have said they don’t know of any other that’s bigger.”
With incredible accuracy, it depicts a 1.5-mile stretch of real track at Heaton Lodge Junction in Mirfield in 1983.
And the nostalgia has continued to fuel his enthusiasm.
“It all started because I used to spend a lot of time at Heaton Lodge as a 12-year-old kid watching the trains go by,” he explained.
“I had happy memories of it all. I wasn’t even into railway models -it could have easily been a park or a corner shop I had memories of.”
To get the detail just right, Simon has managed to collect in around 500 photos of the track area from 1983, so he could recreate every bush, hedgerow and patch of grass.
One photo he found even captured him as a youngster leaning over a fence watching a freight train pass through, which he has recreated on the model.
Even more impressive is that the model is largely bespoke.
Painting a bleak mid-winter scene, there are realistic-looking bare trees made from car battery wire and 3,000 ferns made of copper that he painstakingly hand painted.
The leaves are genuine - ground up and varnished to prevent them rotting - while half-a-tonne of ballast has been ground up to look like track chippings.
There’s even fly-tipped sofas on the bank, while tiny Tesco carrier bags, with an authentic 1983 design, can be found snagged on branches and railway sleepers along the stretch.
“It’s like it’s captured in time,” Simon added.
“It’s a really accurate map of where everything was, even down to the graffiti and the hedges.
“It’s as far from a Hornby model railway as you can get.”
Music mogul and self-confessed model railway enthusiast, Pete Waterman, will be heading to Wakefield and officially open Simon George’s display.
Simon explained: “He has a big interest in model railways and got in touch.
“He has got a passion and wants to bring his passion to a more mainstream public, so he offered to help.
“He has had one on display at Chester Cathedral and has had 44,000 visitors come to see it, and it’s not as big as this one.
“If I could get half of that I’d be pleased.”
Such is the mammoth task of transporting the model, it will take eight people a full week to dismantle and reassemble the parts.
There are 115 sections that need to be slowly separated and then marked to ensure they can be pieced together again once they reach Wakefield’s Market Hall.
Two articulated lorries will be used to transport them.
Once up and running, there will be 28 trains operating at once automatically, including steam locomotives.
Electric timetable boards will also be in place to keep visitors informed of when the next steam engine will be due.
Simon, who is being sponsored by Danish firm Heljan, which specialises in model railways, is hoping that if the Wakefield exhibition is successful, he will take it on tour around Britain next year.
Then he is hoping to take it onto Europe, starting in Denmark to help repay the faith shown by Heljan. The display will be in Wakefield’s Market Hall from December 4 to 21.
Simon George’s model railway will feature on TV this coming winter as part of a series looking into history of famous model railway company, Hornby.
The Kent-based company’s first clockwork train was put into production in 1920.
Although Simon does not use Hornby equipment, he will still play a part in the documentary series, which will be called Hornby: A Model World.
There will be 10 episodes, each an hour long, and be screened on the digital channel, Yesterday, later this year.
It will follow the company’s engineers, model makers, as well as collectors and model shop owners.