The Historic Model Railway Society (HMRS) was formally inaugurated at a meeting in Chessington on 3 June 1950 with a membership of just 24, but its origins can be traced back earlier to the 1930s putting it on a par with other similar railway and land transport societies like the Stephenson Locomotive Society.


Its original name was to be the Pre-group Club with the objective of providing a forum for enthusiasts interested in the pre-1923 railway scene.  Although the idea was supported by E.F.Carter (then owner and editor of the now defunct Model Railway Constructor) it never got off the ground.  The war years intervened but in 1949, against the background of a now-nationalised railway system, the question of a Pre-group Club was raised again by modellers in the Wimbledon Model Railway Club.  This project enjoyed the support of J.N.Maskelyne, who was then the editor of Model Railway News, and a number of interested persons who also embraced the idea.  One of these was George Dow who suggested the rather more dignified title Historical Model Railway Society.  Suffice it to say that HMRS was formed in 1950 with Maskelyne as Chairman.  In no way could the membership be considered average.  Some very able modellers were amongst the founder members and clearly the Society, with a President and four Vice Presidents was intent on becoming a major national railway society. The Committee unanimously agreed to invite George Dow to be the first President, and as Vice Presidents to invite Mr Bassett Lowke, Sir Eric Hutchinson and Captain Howey ‘of the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway’. In the first years most members were mainly professional model makers, professional railwaymen or professional railway researchers.


It was said at the time that many professional Railwaymen saw big changes coming and wanted to ensure that the records of the pre-grouping and grouping railways companies up to that time did not get lost. The major way they felt of doing this apart from preserving documents (hence the society’s approach to saving original documents and drawings) was through accurate models.  Those were largely pre-heritage movement days but soon that movement also got underway with the work on old Welsh narrow gauge defunct lines being saved for leisure use.  The fact that many of the original founders were model makers themselves, some professionally, the Nationalisation of the Big Four, the run down post World War 2 railway system they were working within and the push for modernisation of the system gave some context for the formation of the society. These men (it was then a predominately men’s world) also were senior railwaymen and so had access to unwanted and past records and left a good starting archive for the society.


Initially the society was quite exclusive and potential members had to both apply and be approved and their credentials and what they could offer and contribute in terms of knowledge and experience were checked before they could become members. Those days have long gone and the society has had to move with the times and the culture. It was, for the first part of its existence, largely a correspondence society with local meetings to be a vehicle for discussion and talks. In more recent days and with the rise of email and the internet, the society has evolved to embrace these changes and now much Trustee management is done by emails and online.


The society has always had members who would give their skills for the joint effort and the first electronic cataloguing of photos and the first website were crafted and built by members using the early technologies and databases. This of course has meant re-designing this for better databases, and catalogues and with newer website technologies to allow online trading. Most recently the pandemic of 2020/21 has moved us forward again to the use of online meetings for the AGM, Trustees and area groups by such means as Zoom


So for over 70 years, the HMRS has been helping to record and preserve material on the history of Britain’s railways from the early 1800s up to the present day. Always this information was made available to modellers, researchers and students which has been much easier to do with the internet and email..

But returning to the society history, right from the early days it was envisaged that a headquarters building would be required for storage of the archives as well as a meeting place for members. This was known as the ‘Permanent Headquarters’ or PHQ and was a bone of contention among members for some years. It was not, however, until 1993 that a site was located, within the Midland Railway Centre at Swanwick Junction, and firm plans could at last able to be made for a building to house our resources. Construction started in 1998 and by 2005 we were able to open and make our extensive collection more accessible to the public in accordance with our charitable status. This was not before time as most archive material had been held in a commercial store but a serious fire in the adjoining building nearly reached the store. Once the building was opened all this material was relocated and surprisingly more appeared from member’s lofts!

The MSC was formally opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire on 19 March 2005.  Guests were met at Butterley station by the President, then travelled by train to Swanwick Junction station (about half mile away) which served the museum site.  A vintage bus took guests to the entrance of the Kirtley Museum, where the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire unveiled the commemorative plaque.  Then on the first floor the library was named in memory of George Dow.

A full history including extracts from many committee minutes over the years and a summary of each of the 7 decades was written by a Trustee in 2020 and printed as a booklet for distribution to members at the end of 2020. It was called Celebrating 70 years of the Historical Model Railway Society.


One of the Society maxims is that history begins today immediately after you finish what you are doing now. So this story continues from this point.