Friday, November 13, 2015

[Pendon Museum]. Bringing the Past to Life (2015)

     [Pendon Museum]. Bringing the Past to Life (2015) The latest guide to the Pendon model railway, the brainchild and legacy of Roye England. Roye came from Australia to the UK in 1925. That was a time when even native-born Australians thought of the UK as Home, and Roye was shocked at the difference between his image of the country as a green and pleasant land and the reality of industrialisation and rapid modernisation. He resolved to preserve the England that was rapidly disappearing, and the medium he chose was a model railway.
     One may argue about whether the situation was as bad as Roye believed, but one can’t argue with the result: an amazing and beautiful recreation of the ambience of the Vale of the White Horse. Pendon not only fulfilled Roye’s vision, it inspired a higher standard of railway modelling. The people that gathered round him and helped him build the layout pioneered not only realistic modelling of  the railway and its setting but also realistic modelling of railway operations.
     The book includes a brief biography of Roye England, a history of the layout, and descriptions of its present state and operations. It’s worth reading merely as an account of one of the great model railways, but its emphasis on its function as a museum reminds us that we need to know the past in order to count the cost of the present and be wary of heedless innovation.  England was not as nice a place to live in as Roye believed. Working the farms was backbreaking, dangerous, and unhealthy: farmers had and have among the shortest life expectancies. The caste system that’s still a drag on Britain was even worse back then: the happy servant stereotype we like to watch in Downton Abbey was and is a fantasy. Even with railways as densely built as they then were, travel was expensive and time-consuming. There have been many changes since the 1920s. This museum model railway reminds us that not all change is progress.
     The text is brief but sufficient. A bonus is the Madder Valley Railway, built by John Ahearn, one of the pioneers of railway modelling. The pictures are well reproduced. A good souvenir and introduction to the Pendon. ***

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