Friday 22nd November saw us hiring a transit van then loading it up with the layout and all the other sundries required to run it at the Warley Model Railway Show at the NEC.
Then we had to negotiate our way up to Birmingham. This entailed the usual slow crawl past Heathrow on the M25, then up the M40 before hitting heavy traffic again for the final stretch along the M42. Including a refreshment break en route we arrived at the NEC around 5pm. Setting up was relatively straightforward and we were up and ready to go in about 2 hours.
Saturday 23rd November. With the show opening to the public at 9.15am we were stocked up and running from 9. Over the next 9 hours six of us were switching tasks operating the trains or one of the fiddle yards. We were also fielding questions from the viewers.
This was the first full session with the new fiddle yard, coming to terms with using it successfully. The screens provide a display board with information about the layout and the location of the station, as well as copies of some of our archive material.
9 hours on an uncounted number of train movements had been performed and the operators were exhausted. Back to the hotel (which was in Tamworth!) for a pint and a meal over which to relax and contemplate on a day that went reasonably well.
Sunday 24th November 2019. Another 9am start. Only 5 operators today, but still managed to put on a good service. We already knew we need more locos and brake vans as well as coaches from companies other than the Chatham so we can put together a proper working sequence to cover all aspects of running; from the goods department taking over platform 1 overnight, to the early morning workmen’s trains, suburban services (LCDR, MR, GNR and LSWR), City portions of boat trains to Dover, mineral trains (MR and GNR) and goods transferred to and from Herne Hill and Battersea to the main goods depot below the station (via the hoists). That would make even more of a show for the viewers.
Once the show ended at 5pm, we still had several long hours ahead of us. Everything was dismatled and the layout returned to its storage and transport coffins in less than an hour and a half and the van reloaded ready for the journey home. With another service station stop (and a slight problem on the Magic Roundabout = M25) we finally managed to unload the van and arrived home just after midnight). Thanks go to the team – John Birkett, Chris Cox, Phil Godfrey, Simon Harris, Phil Taylor and Simon Turner – for all their hard work over the three days. Now time for a bit of a rest. But not for too long. If you missed us at NEC (or would like to see us again) book your tickets for the Erith Show at Longfield in January 2020 where we will again be putting Blackfriars Bridge through its paces.
We still have some finalising of scenery on the main boards, but that should not take too long now. The fiddle yard at the river end has to be sorted out (probably involving a rebuild to match the ‘country’ end) and will also incorporate more of the station frontage.
And, of course, there have been issues identified during two full day operating sessions. Some should be easily rectified and we just need a bit of time (and lateral thinking) for a more major one.
We may not have taken any trophies from Warley, but many compliments were received from onlookers. Judging by the number of photographs being taken, I suspect that Southwark Street was a hit! Only time will tell, but we had several enquiries from railway show organisers, so Blackfriars Bridge could well be going on tour again on several occasions in the next couple of years (as well as the aforementioned trip to the Erith Show in January).