A warm welcome to the website of Poppingham - a Table-Top Railway in British 'N' Gauge
In this website I should like to share with you my story of Poppingham – A Table-Top Railway in British ‘N’ Gauge. The website is a collaboration between my friend Graham (web development, video and photography) and me, John, (modelling, text and photography). We both hope you will enjoy your visit to Poppingham.
One of the most common pieces of advice given to a person about to build a model railway is to look closely at the real thing and don’t attempt to copy someone else’s layout. People are encouraged to do their own research, whether by observing the present-day railway or by finding out about railways in the past. I have chosen not to follow this piece of well-meaning advice and have set out to create a layout intended to give an impression of model railways of the past.
The Table-Top Railway is my attempt to create, in British 'N' Gauge, a 'semi-scenic' model railway in the old-fashioned style, hopefully reminiscent of the layouts of the 1930s to the 1950s. If you enjoy Hornby and Bassett-Lowke '0' Gauge or Hornby-Dublo and Tri-ang '00' Gauge layouts, but don't have the space required to build one, perhaps a tribute layout in British 'N' Gauge is the answer - it can be done on a small table-top, which is what this website is all about.
My idea is for the Table-Top Railway to be something between a train set and a ‘proper’ model railway. It is intended to be semi-scenic and with a colourful, idealised appearance, rather like an illustration from a ‘Ladybird’ book come to life.
This layout represents my sixth attempt to create what I had in mind. You can read about the five layouts I built on my journey of discovery in the ‘Previous Layouts’ page.
Almost every model railway starts with a baseboard. Here, construction has commenced. It is to be a lightweight baseboard, made of thin ply and balsa, with all joins glued. To minimise weight, no nails or screws are allowed. Parts of the baseboard frame are seen, on a flat surface, with the joints held by weights until the glue sets.
Here is the finished ‘table-top’ baseboard. A thin ply and balsa frame with the surface a ‘layer cake’ of thin ply, artists’ mounting board and cork sheet. The holes in the front section of the frame are for the rods which will operate the points.
The baseboard surface, where track will be laid, has been painted to represent ballast. The first few sections of track are in place. Simple sectional track, made by Peco in Devon, has been used, but is being laid with great care. The future reliable running of the layout depends to a great extent on well-laid track on a level baseboard.
All the track has been laid, thoroughly cleaned and the electrical wiring connected. Now it is time to run a test train.
What’s normally hidden from view. Below the baseboard showing details of its construction, the simple electrical wiring is being installed as are the rods to operate the points. Manual point operation is very old-fashioned, but as this layout is meant to be a tribute to the model railways of the mid-Twentieth Century, it’s entirely appropriate.
Now the layout is starting to look more like a model railway. Some grass effect scenic work has been done. This is to be a semi-scenic layout, so it has been kept simple using granulated cork, typical of the techniques of the 1930s to the 1950s. And there is a station, complete with Poppingham nameboards. The station platform, footbridge and buildings are vintage Lone Star items, which are around 50 years old. The nameboard were laser-cut for me in Devon.
The station has been removed to allow more work to take place. Roads and pavements have been stuck down. These are made from printed card and come from rural Yorkshire.
Looking much more like it! The station is back in place and buildings for the village are being added. Of course, there is still a lot to do before the layout is complete.
Much more has been done and the layout is looking significantly better. Please note the motor omnibus on the bridge. This is a railway modelling cliché which I was determined to include on the layout.
Although the layout looked fairly complete in the previous picture, a backscene is always a good idea to provide a nice background for the trains. This one was printed in Berkshire and the supplier kindly made a few modifications, at my request, to the original design.
As this is a Table-Top railway, I decided the backscene was best complemented by two sidescenes. The right-angle joint between back and side can be difficult to conceal, but a large oak tree is quite effective. The Northumberland flag flying from Poppingham church was cut out from a ticket for the station car park in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Looking the other way, the poplars printed on the backscene and the poplars placed behind the bridge do their best to conceal the join between backscene and sidescene. The trees were made in Dorset.
Chesnut, a Suffolk Punch mare, and Flossie, a Herdwick ewe, are unconcerned by the steam locomotive. Can you see fireman Neville Hill on the footplate? This class of engine, an ex-Midland Railway ‘3F’ 0-6-0, is right-hand drive. The driver, Dick Trevithick, is out of view at the other side.
This picture of a London & North Western Railway 4-6-0 No. 86 Mark Twain represents what I’m attempting to achieve with the layout. Is the picture ‘0’ Gauge from the 1930s or ‘00’ Gauge from the 1950s? Neither – it is British ‘N’ Gauge from the 2020s! The locomotive, like all the others used on the Table-Top Railway, was made by Union Mills, a small business based on the Isle of Man. Union Mills does not have a website but you can see many of its models HERE. More will be added in due course so please keep looking.
You can read more about the Table-Top Railway and related matters in the Blog page. This will be updated from time to time.
And finally… why Poppingham? Our little cat, who is a dedicated ‘N’ Gauge enthusiast, is called Poppy. You can see pictures of her in ‘Poppy’s Page!’
A bit of fun
Click to view our full entry for the N Gauge Forum Virtual Model Railway Exhibition - July 2021