Bolton School Former Pupils

Nigel Cropper recalls the School's Model Railway

Nigel recalls his involvement with the School's Model Railway

I have never owned a model railway myself, nor been enormously interested in them. My interest always lay in the real thing. It was Alan Wright (Headmaster, 1983-2002) who asked me if I could do anything with the School’s model railway, mainly because he thought (probably incorrectly) that it fitted in with my Transport Society – which I had started in my first year at Bolton School in response to conversations with a number of pupils who shared my interest in trains and buses. (I spent a great deal of my own boyhood collecting the numbers of the rapidly diminishing numbers of steam locomotives and the habit stuck. I had rather more reservations about toy trains.)

In my early days at School, the model railway was something that only functioned on Open Day, which in those days was in the dog days of the Summer term, after the Bolton Holidays. It consisted of about four boards, roughly 4ft by 18in, that were stored for the rest of the School year in the Physics Department (I can only assume that some time before I joined the staff there was a Physics teacher who ran it with some enthusiasm!).

When I was approached, I think Alan Wright was quite keen to do more with the railway, but if he had not managed to interest a member of staff, he would have just disposed of what there was. He offered a space for a permanent set-up in the cages, under the Sergeants’ Office and the Entrance Hall, and he offered some money to help build it up.

A chance conversation I had with Charles Walker (Boys’ Division Staff, 1978-1994) sparked his interest. He was a keen railway modeller (and he still is – I've seen his layout at his home in Argyll) and he offered to help expand the railway. The first task was to build some more boards and Mike Whitmarsh (Boys’ Division Staff, 1980-2006) kindly made some for us. Charles and I went to a scrap timber merchant he knew somewhere over Rawtenstall way to get the trestles on which the boards were subsequently supported and we put in quite a lot of time over a half term holiday to construct it all. Eventually the layout afforded a double loop around a hollow rectangle, roughly 10ft by 6ft. We bought new track and controllers, but no rolling stock – boys who wanted to run trains brought their own.

I ran the railway on two lunchtimes a week and one night after School. It never attracted huge numbers, but there was a steady interest. Some merely wanted to run trains; others were keen on landscaping and painting scenery. I was persuaded to let the railway run on any lunchtime under the supervision of more senior members (not necessarily Sixth Formers) and for a while it worked quite well, although there were always problems with intruders coming along and causing a nuisance. As a result, we had to restrict it to opening when I was available, which unfortunately became increasingly difficult as I was involved in so much drama and music. I tried to interest other members of staff in helping supervise the railway, but without success.

What spelt the end of the model railway, however, was the renewal of the School’s central heating system. You may remember the old boiler room down where the sports hall now is. When the old boiler became life expired, a decision was taken to put a new gas boiler in the cages, adjacent to where the model railway was. This immediately raised safety issues (even before formal Health and Safety legislation was in place): we could not allow boys near the boiler. In fact, the exact location chosen was a storage space for the School’s archives, and so a decision was taken to move the archive to the area occupied by the model railway. I asked Alan Wright if we could not have a space somewhere else, but he decided there was nowhere suitable. Had the model railway been thriving it might have been a different story, but by that time no more than about half a dozen boys were regular attendees. So we dismantled it. We had an auction of the track and controllers plus a few bits of rolling stock that had been donated over the years and the proceeds went to the Charity Committee.

I am sure that the model railway had great potential, but it was never in an ideal location and to fulfil that potential and flourish, it probably needed someone in charge with a lot more free time and probably rather greater interest. I did what I could – but I never pretended that I wasn't more interested in my drama productions!

Nigel Cropper (Boys’ Division Staff, 1976-2012)