LEA MARSTON - EARLY YEARS
In retrospect, the munificence of Joe Pearson, a Vice President and Life Member,
provided the Society with the ability to evolve from humble beginnings into its present established form. Membership at that time was stable, comprising some 90-100 persons, so with very low overheads, generous conditions of occupancy at Lea Marston and a regular income, the Society was well placed to face the future.
However, as Walter Laight recalls, in the early days there was a reluctance to spend any money and great caution was exercised as to any expansion by way of acquiring a permanent site. Therefore, consolidation only took place on a limited scale at Lea Marston. Being a leased site, it was not considered prudent to erect any permanent structures. But the aspirations of the founder members had been attained in providing all the facilities for the unified pursuit of a hobby able to be shared by all enthusiasts in the north Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield area.
In the construction of this history of the first fifty years, as stated in the preface to this document, all the anecdotal material has been drawn from former senior members, some of whom are now deceased.
Of these members, gratefully still with us, are those two wise old owls, Walter H. Laight and John P. Bertinat, both model engineers of great competence who are also much respected for their personal qualities.
John Bertinat has provided, along with the late David Palmer and Roger Addenbrooke, son of the late Ron Addenbrooke, much of the factual detail already set down.
At a recent meeting in February 1997, Bill Hall, Paul Ennis and myself interviewed Walter H. Laight, now in his 91st year (having been born on 24th June 1906). As a result of this meeting I obtained confirmation of many facts. In addition, much anecdotal material was also gathered. This anecdotal material was most revealing in regard to much of the past history of the Society, and in regard to the many members who have contributed so much to its rich heritage.
John Bertinat and Walter Laight, the two remaining founder members, are both still very active despite their advanced years. They provide an indication of the varied background of the members who have comprised the Society during the period of this history.
John P. Bertinat, a professional engineer, originally moved into the area from London during the summer of 1948 to take up an academic appointment at Aston Technical College. In his retirement, he now resides in Orleton, Ludlow, Shropshire. He is a former President of our Society who has delivered many lectures to the members on matters of steam engine design and construction. John is still active in building
stationary engine prototypes and evaluating them prior to their being commercially marketed by a well known local model engineering supply company.
Walter H. Laight on the other hand, a former Vice President and Hon. Life member was born at Studley. South Birmingham, and attended grammar school in Alcester. On leaving school, he was apprenticed to the motor trade, at a garage in Studley. In his younger days he raced motorcycles professionally in the Isle of Man riding for Dunelt-Raleigh and New Hudson. In 1934 he entered into partnership with Nixons of Soho Motors, garage owners.
His model making started at the tender age of 11 years in 1917 and his construction of fine working models of railway locomotives and traction engines is legion, extending over a period of some 75 years or more. His memory of the Society and its members is quite remarkable. Set out below is some of the interesting facts I was able to obtain in discussion with him, which Walter recalled quite clearly: -
a) The First Society Exhibition in 1949. He (Walter) slept on the floor
for two nights as security guard to the exhibits.
b) H. E. Barr (Harry). Harry was a top link driver at Aston shed who drove the royal train, as regular driver of "City of Birmingham" locomotive. His ambition was to "do a ton". He never did, as he could only achieve 99 mph. due to signal checks. He was present when this locomotive was presented to the Birmingham Science Museum.
c) H. Bosworth (Harry). Harry generally dealt with Society administrative matters. A Life Vice-President.
d) J James F.R.R.S. (Harry). Harry was a butcher and botanist, who's ambition was to own a Bentley car - which he eventually did. He is a former Chairman and Life Vice-Chairman of the Society. Ultimately he moved to the Isle of Man.
e) C. F. Palmer. (Fred). Fred was a jig and tool borer who was successfully treated for tuberculosis at Blackwell Court, a sanatorium at the top of the Lickey incline. A skilled builder of models and machines of various kinds, he made a drilling machine and sold the design to Reeves. Fred was Chairman of the Society for many years, also a former President and, at one time, held the post of Secretary for a period of ten years.
f) D. Palmer. (David). David, the son of Fred Palmer (mentioned above), was a model railway enthusiast of the "electric mouse" persuasion, who also acted as Secretary prior to becoming Chairman in the mid 1980's.
g) G. W. Jones. (George)
George was a former Committee Member who was interested in clocks and fine metal work. He was also a motorcycle enthusiast.
h) F. Emmerson. (Frank)
Frank was a Committee Member from the outset. He originally moved
from Yorkshire to the Midlands to take charge of the mirror-rolling
mills at I.M.I. Birmingham for many years.
i) J. D .L. Orme. (Jack)
Jack was an active member from the earliest days having first joined the Society during 1950. He later became President. A highly skilled sheet metal worker, he was well known as being given to cutting and forming locomotive components from the solid. The portable track he made was intended for his own use and, upon his death, the Sutton Coldfield and North Birmingham Model Engineering Society thought it should have been made available for them. However, Mrs. Orme let Walter Laight have it and the track eventually ended up being sold to the Wolverhampton Society. Of the residue of his workshop many items were sold to Society members at one of the many auctions.
j) T. H. Prime. (Tommy)
Tommy was another member from the earliest days, and it was he who built "Speedy", a 5 inch gauge locomotive of 0-6-0 configuration. This locomotive is now in the custody of the Society. During its long history it has been overhauled several times by members of the Society. At one time it was loaned to the Birmingham Science Museum. This locomotive has seen extensive use at many of the portable track events.
k) F. Shrieves. (Frank)
Frank was another early member, who along with many others was also a member of the Birmingham Society of Model Engineers. Frank served on mine sweepers during the second world war and, during this period of conflict, suffered two broken legs as a result of a fall down a ladder in rough seas. This prevented him pursuing his career in cricket. He was the first member to build a model of 'Speedy'. This model, unlike the one built by T. H. Prime, ended up, along with a 'Simplex', at a Northern Model Engineering Society.
An Hon. Life Member who, on joining during the early days, donated a sum of money to the Society as an expression of his pleasure on becoming a member.
m) R. Tidemarsh.
He was a very tall man at over 6 ft. 4 in. Formerly with Pat Collins
Amusements, he was mainly interested in traction engines. Regretfully, he died suddenly after joining during the early 1950's. Among his bequests he left a book to the Society entitled A Centenary of Traction Engines by Bill Hughes. This book is now in the Society library at Balleny Green.
n) Dr. G. Reiley. (Gilbert)
Gilbert, who was associated with the Tufnol Group of Companies, is
remembered for giving talks and film show evenings to the members. He provided advice and assistance concerning Tufnol as this material was used extensively for sleepers and fishplates on the re-constructed track at Lea Marston.
o) C. Strong. (Chris).
Chris was a Treasurer for many years during the 1970's. Unfortunately he passed away suddenly in 1981. He built a battery-operated locomotive named 'Pandora' on a 'Netta' 0-8-0 chassis purchased from Jack Orme's estate. There exists, at Balleny Green, a memorial bench in recognition of his services,
p) C. E. Milner. (Eric)
Eric was an early member of the Society, eventually becoming an Hon. Life Member. He was a director of Enots Limited and a very wealthy man, who in 1951, purchased a 3 1/2 inch gauge 'Britannia' which he bequeathed jointly to the Birmingham Society and to the Sutton Coldfield and North Birmingham Society. As the two Societies could not agree on the shared usage of this locomotive it passed, on sale at half price, to the Birmingham Group. Eric also had a replica full size 'Great Eastern' driving cab originally built at the works of Enots Limited. This cab was displayed at an exhibition held at Church House during the early 1950's. It had full sound effects which were provided
by a set of bellows. Such was the interest in this exhibit that two stewards were required to guard it at all times.
q) G. C. Nicholson. (Geoff).
Geoff, who is still an active member of our Society, was also a member of the Burton-on-Trent Model Engineering Society and was also associated with Lord Gretton's private railway. He arranged a number of visits for members of the Sutton Coldfield and North Birmingham Model Engineering Society to these two groups. Geoff served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was familiar with many types of aircraft engines. He is a skilled silversmith and has delivered many lectures and demonstrations on the art of working with non-ferrous sheet metals at Society meetings.
r) S. A. Howard. (Sam)
Sam, who was an early member of the Society, grew up on a Herefordshire farm. An ex-member of the Birmingham Society, he delivered two excellent talks on his childhood experiences and on the blacksmith's skills in wrought iron work. His interests lay in all forms of steam driven plant. A keen gardener, he was particularly interested in layout and design.
It is interesting to note that many visitors to the Society's exhibitions held in the 1950's were so overawed by the high standard of the exhibits that their enthusiasm to take up the hobby was almost destroyed. Two such instances affected George Banks and Garry Tyso.
George, had sold his transport business to British Road Services and was preparing to engage in model making, having purchased some new Myford equipment. He first consulted Walter Laight for some guidance on how and where to start. However, the sight of Walter engaged in screw-cutting had such an effect on his confidence that he instantly sold all his machines as he thought he could never do such work.
Garry Tyso, who attended one of the meetings held at the Co-operative Society Assembly Rooms, Marsh Hill, Erdington, was similarly overawed by the high standard of workmanship that he encountered. So much so that he abandoned his wish to pursue the hobby until some little time later when he re-joined the Society and went on to become Secretary for several years.
One can only conclude, that the standards set and achieved by the founders and early members was of the highest order. This is evidenced by the many awards earned by Society members at national exhibitions. These same standards exist to the present day and reflect great credit on our founding members. They set a great challenge to successive members and the standards existing at the present time are testimony to those original craftsmen who first established the Society.
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