A number of model railway shows can make claim to hosting some of the biggest layouts the world has ever seen. However, few shows and permanent layouts can compete with the regularity and popularity of the UK’s Warley National Model Railway Exhibition, better known as ‘The Warley Show’ which, even in 2020, aims to share and promote everything there is to love about both modelling and railways. An early meeting of the Warley Model Railway Club. Photo used with permission of the Warley Model Railway Club.
Humble beginnings in 1966 were the result of a group of factory workers in Smethwick, near Birmingham, visiting a nearby model railway shop and from there founding the Warley Model Railway Club which met regularly in the local pub. Over subsequent decades, the club grew and moved, first to an old Nissen Hut and then to an old Post Office depot in Oldbury which could accommodate the growing number of layouts and members. During this time, the club exhibited to both members and the general public and in the local area were responsible for expanding the appeal of model railways at a time when the full-size UK network was undergoing major changes in both the scope of its network and method of traction. The first layout built by members of the club from September 1968. This was exhibited that year in Worcester. Photo used with permission of the Warley Model Railway Club.
By 1992, the size of the club created difficulty in containing the sheer amount of ‘stuff’ that accumulated over almost 30 years of modelling, until the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) south of Birmingham, offered to host the exhibition in a much larger hall. This was a welcome step for the club which had previously been used to the likes of school halls and club rooms. The NEC was better known at the time for the venue that hosted the internationally recognised Crufts and the British International Motor Show and was therefore a much better prospect for gaining the attention of a national audience. In line with this larger stage, the Warley Show sought to bring in some big-name sponsors with the aim of furthering the show’s credibility as the premier showcase for modelling in the UK and Europe. Bachmann, Graham Farish and later PECO, Hornby and Crecy Publishing wholeheartedly supported the event, which in turn provided them the means to advertise their modelling and railway products to a captive audience. The first show at the NEC took place in 1993.
Despite expansion into a much larger and wider audience, the show remained true to its pure modelling club origins and today still puts emphasis on hosting basic, budget-conscious layouts to inspire new modellers, as well as the large and more complex ones that ‘wow’ onlookers each year. In fact, Warley’s larger standing, since it has become an internationally recognised event, has allowed the show to give much back to the hobby and help keep the companies involved with model locomotives, rolling stock and track manufacture in business by giving a boost to the industry. By drawing in more people, it has also furthered its desire to promote the social aspect of modelling railways, which is hugely important from a community point of view and its charitable aims since being established as a charity in the last decade. A busy Saturday during one of the more recent NEC shows. Photo courtesy of Paul Jones.
The show also has an impact on the wider railway and railroad scenes, particularly that of heritage rail. Full-sized locomotives have been in place at previous years’ shows; 92203 Black Prince appeared courtesy of the late David Shepherd CBE as part of its fundraising efforts and Virgin Trains even offered up a Pendolino Power Car one year from the Alstrom factory. As well as modelling companies, charities, museums and heritage railways use the show as a means to tap into the railway audience and with them a more general audience of children and families. In recent shows, up to 15,000 visitors have walked through the NEC’s doors and people come from across Europe as well as Australia and the USA, each with their own modelling preferences and tastes. The show aims to bring layouts from those parts of the world as a result – up to half a dozen on average, building on links with the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) and companies like Kato in Japan, to attract the worldwide modelling audience. SE&CR No. 263 on static display. Photo courtesy of Paul Jones.
So what is happening to ‘Warley’ during 2020? Certainly, the organisers have been keen to put on a show despite the global pandemic and with that in mind have gone virtual for the first time. Digital adverts for the latest products, involvement from high-profile modellers like Pete Waterman and the ability to see layouts that could never have made it to a physical show are all in place to keep the Warley Show fresh in the minds of those that would have attended this year. In addition, stars from Channel 5’s The Great Model Railway Challenge are stepping back into their judging shoes to look at floor dioramas made by children across the country for the Junior Photographic Plank competition. A similar competition was run during the first UK lockdown for club members, which proved very popular. The next generation of modellers and railfans are a vital part of the show’s cause and help ensure the hobby continues to grow. There’ll also be talks from the likes of video game maker Dovetail Games who, through Train Sim World, will shed light on other ways railfans can indulge their hobby in the 21st century. Two examples (above) of entries for the Photographic Plank Competition. One shows a canal scene familiar to those that hail from the Black Country and Birmingham areas. The other is adorned with a GWR 4500 Class 2-6-2T locomotive.
For Railfans across the globe the Warley Show is one of the biggest events of the year and a must-visit for those particularly keen on modelling. The weekend of 28th / 29th November will see the show open its digital doors to the public. Visitors can read more information about the format via the website: https://www.thewarleyshow.co.uk/2020event.html
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