In 2011 I had to take early retirement so money became tight and despite several rounds of cuts in other expenditure it became clear I could not ring-fence railway modelling. However I wanted to continue building and exhibiting layouts so I decided I would have to make even greater efforts to recycle materials. Having checked available baseboards, track, electrics, buildings, etc., I came to the view that there was sufficient material for an 8’ x 1’ or 6’ x 4’ layout of either a branch line or light railway terminus. Given the size of the potential layout I felt a prototype based layout was impractical. If a suitable prototype is unavailable I research to identify a geographically practical railway and station. My friends’ interest in the Southern Railway and my pair of M7s with related stock suggested somewhere on London South Western Railway’s Withered Arm.


As I researched I dropped the light railway option and focused on Mawgan Porth the terminus of an extension of the Rutherbridge ‘twig’ to the North Cornish Coast on the 8’ x 1’ layout and Mere the terminus of a branch from Gillingham on the 6’ x 4’ layout. Further research showed that despite its name Mawgan Porth is not a port and its economy was and is based on tourism so not much activity other than long summer Saturday trains that would be difficult to fit into an 8’ x 1’ layout. Mere was different, research showed a larger population and a wider range of industries that would have made use of the railway.

I plumped for Mere as I felt I could justify a larger number and range of trains that would give more interest to operators and viewers. The last test was a visit to Mere with my brother. We visited the site of the station saw industries and photographed buildings. My bother recommends the Angle Corner Cafe which would have been almost next to the station.


In building the layout I have tried to reflect both Mere’s history and the history I developed for the branch. Set in the Blackmore Vale the branch follows the Shreen Water for five miles and rises seventy feet in its travel between Gillingham and Mere. On the out skirts of Mere the branch passes Edge Bridge historically the location of Mere’s silk throwing industry that collapsed suddenly in 1894 leaving mills and mill ponds. Subsequently the gas works and Hill Brush Company set up at Edge Bridge. A much later arrival was F. E. Beaumont Ltd. steeplejacks and industrial chimney manufacturer.

The visit and research showed that at the time of the branch’s potential construction, the 1880s or 1890s, buildings in Mere were built from local stone an almost chalk like soft limestone dug from nearby Dead Maid Quarry. There was another quarry to the west of Mere at Charnage Down that recently had been shipping chalk and hoggin (a compactable groundcover) and possibly in the past lime. Being in the Blackmore Vale the milk industry is important with the milk factory at Mere being famed for its dried milk. In Water Street there was an out-station of the Royal Wilton Carpet Company manufacturing hand woven carpets. Mere is noted for its wholesale nurseries with J.B. Plants to the west and the now closed Ashwell & Burtonford to the east. The last industry of note was Charles Farris Ltd’s candle factory. As the layout is set in the period 1936-1939 it is unlikely that Dead Maid Quarry was making use of the railway and F. E. Beaumont Ltd had not arrived.

The need for a 180° curve between the station and fiddle yard created space for a mill pond but trying to fit all the active industries proved impractical. After some thought I decided on a siding at Edge Bridge with coal staithes for the gas works and a loading dock for the Hill Brush Company. Had the layout been set in British Railway days the loading dock would also have served F. E. Beaumont Ltd. The gas works and Hill Brush Company would each have needed one or two wagons daily so it seemed reasonable for the Edge Bridge Siding to be extended to Charnage Down quarry.

The Milk factory was more difficult but following research I decided to follow the arrangements at Torrington. Like Mere the dairy at Torrington is some distance from the station so the milk is trucked in and pumped into milk tankers with milk for the dairy unloaded from arriving milk tankers. Facilities at the station were basic comprising a small hut containing a pump, a gantry to load milk, and hoses. Charles Farris Ltd. receives raw materials and ships out candle and church supplies so I took the liberty of moving the company’s factory to the station where it could conveniently receive and send parcels. At this point the layout was full so I assumed the Royal Wilton Carpet Company would ship and receive via the goods shed. As Charles Farris Ltd. and the wholesale nurseries need rapid transport of their products the station was laid out so that off peak the buffer end of the platform could be used to handle live stock, milk churns, boxes of plants parcels, etc.

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The station, fiddle yard, and the 180° curve round the mill pond are on separate boards recycled from prior projects. As I want to avoid a hernia I build light but rigid baseboards. The decks, sides, and back scenes are 6mm ply and are joined together with softwood fillets. Joints are screwed and glued to give greater rigidity. I provide lips on the U turn board where the station and fiddle yard boards butt up and the boards are held together with G clamps. The legs are of 2” x 1” softwood. 6mm ply may warp or flex too much. The decks are held rigid by sides and fillets and I added a “V” of 18mm ply glued to the U turn board’s underside. For the longer back scenes I added softwood supports at the ends. Then an idea! If I added top and bottom strips to the rear of the back scene the point operating rods would be protected and I could use the back of the back scene for mounting wiring so there would be no need to crawl under the baseboard should any wiring need fixing and after further though I used 4mm ply to create a box for even greater protection.

In transit the station and fiddle yard boards are joined by bolting on 6mm ply ends creating a ply box with the scenery inside. There is no board to pair with the U turn board so I decided to make a carry box to store and move the board. I‘ve used carry boxes in the past and they have successfully protected baseboard and scenery. I get a large cardboard box and refashion it with craft knife and straight edge with wood glue used to fix the joints and bulldog clips hold the joint while the glue dries.

Third Dimension

As I wanted Mere to have a third dimension the mill pond and the climb to Charnage Down Quarry was very acceptable the question was how to build the contours. In the past I’ve cut holes in the baseboard for streams ponds etc. However I felt cutting a hole into Mere’s U turn board might cause the board to distort so I decided to raise the scenery round the mill pond. For the climb to Charnage Down Quarry I decided to build a hillside of expanded polystyrene with a ledge for the track. This is prototypical as a friend Bob Hawes told me a railway embankment near Warrington was rebuilt using expanded polystyrene blocks. I’ve used expanded polystyrene from recycled packing material but was unhappy with the results especially when used to support track. My experience is that expanded polystyrene ceiling tiles give a better and faster job. I prefer the tiles with a stipple finish as it adds interest to the scenery.

The tiles were cut with a craft knife and fixed with wood glue. The only problem is the tiles don’t take track pins. I overcame this by using 6mm ply off cuts cut into pieces of approximately 70mm by 30mm then gluing the pieces along the route of the tracks. This has the added advantage of raising the track on the boggy ground round the mill pond to a prototypical depth of ballast.

On the layout I’ve used a mix of Peco’s points, flexible track and where practical curved Setrack to avoid track going out of gauge. As an economy measure all track except for one point is recycled. It speaks well for Peco’s track that points and Setrack have been dug out of the ballast of more than one layout. Flexible track has largely come from an old fiddle yard as track from scenic areas loses its flexibility when I paint it rust colour.

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Track electrics and signals

In developing the track plan I had to balance the operating potential, the facilities the prototype would have required, the shape of the layout and availability of track. For reasons of aesthetics I wanted as little track parallel to the baseboard edge as possible.

My first choice was the location of the run round loop, should it be part of the station or round the pond? There are pros and cons for both locations. The advantages for the loop round the pond are passenger trains could be three coaches long, having the loop in front of the station speeds up shunting to the appreciation of some viewers at exhibitions, and shunting locos only had to use the first few inches of the fiddle yard when running round. The advantage of having the loop by the station is it’s the arrangement preferred by railways. I weighted both arguments and after some thought decided to have the loop round the mill pond.

The next choice was the location of Edge Bridge Siding. If the branch had been built with the loop in front of the station Edge Bridge Siding would have been at the Gillingham end of the loop in railway jargon on the up side or geographically east side of the loop. So the point should have been just before the entrance to the fiddle yard. This would have denied the watching public an interesting set of shunting movements and from an aesthetics perspective it would have been less appealing. I decided to uses ‘modellers licence’ and move the point to Edge Bridge Siding to the Mere end of the loop and have the siding on in railway jargon the down side or geographically west side of the loop. This had the advantages that the facilities used by the gas works and Hill Brush Company could be modelled and the siding could cross a catch point and commence the climb to Charnage Down Quarry. The curving climb I felt would strengthen the layouts aesthetics.

Having positioned the Loop and Edge Bridge Siding the station baseboard’s track plan fell into place. Given my desire for as little track parallel to the baseboard edge as possible I decided to have all the tracks on the station board flow inwards by about 50mm (2 inches) giving space for three tracks and the platform. The rear track runs in front of the platform with the buffer end used off-peak for parcels, etc. The front track would be the goods yard with goods shed and coal staiths, the latter is important as until Breeching a major role for the railways was moving coal. The centre track was much more demanding. However I rearranged the track on the station baseboard I couldn’t fit prototypical facilities to load and/or unload goods and initially thought the centre track would be used for storage. As I researched milk traffic I realised the buffer end could be used to load and unload milk leaving the front as much needed storage for parcels, milk, and coaching stock.

Three factors determined the location of Mere’s fiddle yard. My desire for easy operation suggested putting the fiddle yard behind the operator who spins on the spot rather than walking up and down the layout. Secondly placing the fiddle yard where it would be less obvious to the viewing public would make the rest of the world seem more real. Finally it uses space where operation would be of little interest to the viewing public. These also reflect my experience in common with other modellers of maximising scenic space by allocating as little space as possible to the fiddle yard with the consequent downside of the fiddle yard’s low capacity limiting the layout’s operating capability. As the line to Charnage Down Quarry rises from just outside the station the fiddle yard had to be built on two levels. Thankfully the higher level was at the back so there was no need to reach down past stock and possibly send them crashing to the floor. I wanted to operate prototypically with empty wagons going to the quarry and full wagons coming from the quarry so decided the fiddle yard’s high level needed two tracks. This left space for three tracks and a wagon store on the lower level. I used a three way point on the lower level to maximise siding and train length. The wagon store stops the fiddle yard becoming cluttered with wagons. It’s a length of 8mm by 4mm moulding as it is easier and faster to position wagons straddling the moulding than placing them on track and as their wheels are on cork they don’t roll about. When discussing Mere it was pointed out that if the back scenes were repositioned the layout would fit nicely into a box room or small garden shed. After repositioning the back scene if the layout’s setting was moved to a coastal location the pond could become a bay with a beach.

The recycled track can be laid like new track though possibly a few more track nails are needed. I use track nails rather than track pins as the latter penetrate through 6mm ply and are a danger when moving the layout. The next step is the addition of point rods. I drill a 5.5mm hole in the baseboard and then use the largest diameter sprung steel wire that will fit into the central hole of the Peco’s points tie bar. Blunt-ended pliers are used to twist two right angles into the wire which is then fitted and held into position under the baseboard with track nails. Next I carried out any soldering to the track. For recycled track care has to be taken before soldering to clean the track by removing paint and corrosion with a small screw driver and fibreglass pen. Having fixed down the track and attached any wires by soldering I give the rails and chairs a couple of coats of rust coloured paint. Recycled track is often already painted and it is only necessary to touch in fish-plates solder joints etc. The sleepers are then painted dark brown to remove their plastic sheen and to make them look like the prototype’s creosoted wood. Recycled track often doesn’t need its sleepers painting. Sleepers are painted with the brush held vertically to avoid rails and chairs.

I mix my own ballast in a shaker. Starting with fine light-grey ballast I add fine buff ballast to stop an appearance of very new and very bright ballast and then add cinders ballast representing the muck locomotives etc. leave on the track. After a good shake I teaspoon it out onto the track and use my fingers and a fibreglass brush to make sure it’s where it’s needed. I then glue it down with a mix of wood glue and water with a dash of washing up liquid. I prefer a weak mix of one part wood glue to three parts water as it sinks into the ballast easier than thicker mixes though it does take a bit longer to set. A thinner mix also makes it easier to dig track out of the ballast for recycling. The track is given a dusting of flock to simulate weeds, lighter on the running lines and heavier on the sidings.

To gain the advantages of keeping costs down and having little to go wrong my approach to layout electrics is ‘less is more’ I identify the least amount of wire, switches, etc. that will allow the layout to function effectively. In Mere’s case the only switch is in the fiddle yard its role is to switch power between the upper and lower level or switch both off. All other switching on the layout is done by the points. I use sheathed computer cable rather than individual wires between boards as I have found sheathed cable more resistant to damage when the layout is moved. I’m told computer cable shouldn’t work but I’ve had no problems for decades. All material used in the electrics is recycled from prior layouts and is soldiered together.

Signalling is an area where I try to restrain my enthusiasm and use the minimalist approach of the prototype. So Mere has a single starter signal. Had a home signal existed prototypically it would have been at the buffer end of the fiddle yard and the distant about thirty feet beyond that.

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Scenery and buildings

I’m normally a traditionalist when it comes to back scenes and make it a matter of sky-blue paint but I’ve had a change of heart. As normal I gave the back scene two coats of undercoats then two coats of sky blue. Next was a radical change I decided to use photographs I’d taken on my visit to Mere on the back scene. On my computer I sized and printed off the photographs and then cut out suitable buildings. The cut outs were then stuck onto the back scene with Photo Mount. To give the back scene a third dimension and to blend in the sides of the cut outs I used Photo Mount to stick a mix of flock and lichen on to the back scene.

Having built the terrain from ceiling tiles I used as little plaster as possible to fill joints in the tiles and create details. The surface was then covered with a sloppy coat of paint into which I drop flock, new and recycled. This is my scenic undercoat that I develop by adding trees bushes and details in various sizes and colour of flock to create fields, weeds, and dirt areas. I glue trees in the holes I dig in the scenery and everything else is held in place by spraying with watered down wood glued.

The mill pond is modelled in a rundown condition as in the four decades from the collapse of the silk industry in 1894 to the time of the layout the mill pond would have seen little tender loving care. To create an impression of depth the shallower sides were painted in light green, as the pond deepened darker green was used and finally the deepest water painted brown. The water was created by many layers of matt acrylic varnish and to create a rundown look the top of the water was streaked with gloss varnish giving the impression of a mix of stagnant and moving water. Little TLC would mean a leaky dam, the valve open, and over grown stream bed and spillway. Course flock was used to model the weeds and the water trickling through the weeds is acrylic varnish. The mill pond is populated by two swans and several other swimming birds.

Stations and even buildings develop in stages. For example Wrexham General Station was originally built in local stone, enlarged with new buildings in brick, and further enlarged in concrete. I’ve followed this phasing on Mere. The original buildings of local stone are the station platform, goods shed and loading dock. The first enlargement was a new station building, signal box, coal office, and weight bridge. The final phase saw construction of the shed holding the milk pump and the Southern Railway concrete fencing. The station platform and loading dock are card box with the sides veneered with Slater’s random stone and topped with Evergreen paving slabs. The goods shed is slightly more complicated with a core of styrene with the sides veneered with Slater’s random stone and a top of Slater’s tiles. For the first enlargement the buildings are card kits as is Charles Farris Ltd.’s candle factory. The final phase is Ratio concrete fencing and the milk pump shed is scratch built. Timber structures are a mix of kits and scratch building using Slater’s 4mm planking. The design of the milk gantry reflects my fear that in the hurly burley of exhibiting it might be venerable to damage so it’s supported by the goods shed. The uprights are aluminium tube, and it’s glued together with Uhu give it some flexibility. I try to give structures a matt finish by having as much solid as practical in the paint and where possible components are painted before the building is assembled. The colour of Mere’s local stone is most nearly matched by Humbrol’s undercoat and it has been used on the random stone. A variety of other Humbrol paints have been used on plastic structures.

Recycled model people and clutter are used to give the layout a lived-in appearance. People are set in clusters to give the impression they are talking. At the buffer end of the station platform staff are seen working with crates, milk churns, barrels, etc. that reflect local industries. Mere is milk country so there are cattle in the fields and cattle pens. At the junction end of the platform to give a feel of place posters promote Southern Railway offers and to give a feel for the time signs advertise commonly available products. Except for the signs on the Charles Farris Ltd.’s candle factory Tiny Signs have been used.

Operation & rolling stock

A timetable has been developed for the layout.  There are seven passenger trains a day with peak passenger trains of three coaches and off peak passenger trains of one or two coaches augmented with milk tank wagons, parcels vans, and cattle wagons. Daily two goods trains will run to and from Charnage Down and a third goods train will deal with all the other goods traffic. Charnage Down inbound trains are a mix of empty limestone wagons, full coal wagons for lime burning, and lime wagons. Outbound trains will mirror this mix with full limestone wagons, empty coal wagons, and lime wagons. Inbound Charnage Down trains will have to be lifted from the upper to lower fiddle yard and vice versa for outbound trains.

On the Southern Railway most pre-grouping locos stayed in the area of their original company so as Mere is on the erstwhile London South Western Railway [LSWR] I’ve emphasised LSWR locos. M7s seemed the most likely loco for the Mere branch but as the LSWR owned a pair of A1xs (Terriers) one works the trains to Charnage Down.

Passenger trains use Hornby Southern Railway Maunsell coaches.

A variety of wagons are used on the layout wagons have been selected to reflect the traffic research has identified. Some of the lime wagons were bought from the Burnham & district M.R.C. as all proceeds are donated to the British Institute for Brain Injured Children.


I hope I have managed to capture the essence of Mere through this layout. It has been most enjoyable to research, plan, and construct. It certainly proves that a layout with operating potential and pleasing scenery can be developed in a small space.