Origins and Early Years
In 1925, 18-year-old Roye England came from Australia to England hoping that he could market a complex automated model train control system. He landed in Plymouth and travelled from there in a Great Western Railway train hauled by Star Class locomotive Westminster Abbey. He claimed that he fell in love twice on this first day, initially with the GWR, and then with the countryside through which he passed – which was quite unlike anything back home.
For a time he lived near Swindon on the western end of the Vale of White Horse. The Vale was a depressed farming area where thatched cottages were common. He vowed to preserve the scene in model form so that future generations could witness some of what was around him. His great vision was to model a village that was typical of the Vale, set it on a hill, surround it with farming and have the GWR main line crossing the landscape below. The modelling was to be to a very high standard so that it was convincingly realistic and show the smallest of details.
Near home was the former Calley Arms. It was now a house and was being shortened, straightened, roughcast and reroofed with pink asbestos tiles to replace the thatch. Roye decided that this would be his first model and that he would show it as the thatched pub that it had once been. He began the model in 1931 and completed it in 1936, developing modelling techniques that are now used around the world. The finished model is the ‘Waggon and Horses’ in the Vale landscape.
Roye was ideally placed to view the trains that travelled Brunel’s first GWR main line between London and Bristol. It wasn’t just the locomotives but the make-up of the trains themselves that fascinated him and came in for close examination. The very complete and meticulous records he kept of what he saw have enabled Pendon’s modellers to plan, build and reproduce in exact detail a whole range of trains covering the period 1923-1938.
Roye’s modelling project paused in the 1940s and when he resumed he ordered his first scale locomotive from a Bristol model shop. Guy Williams, who was to become Pendon’s Chief Mechanical Engineer, built it. This model of GWR Collett 0-6-2T number 5624 is still running at the Museum today. Guy greatly improved the standard of model locomotive construction and completed more than 50 superbly crafted locomotives for Pendon.
By the mid 1950s Roye had gathered a small team of volunteers and the time was right to find a suitable site for the Museum. He found the former Three Poplars public house in the village of Long Wittenham and realised that the pub building would provide him with a home and that the attached land had enough space for the Museum. He moved there in 1954 and opened a Youth Hostel where he put his limited number of models on display.
In 1955 he purchased an ex-RAF hut for use as the first Museum building and transferred the models to it. Guy Williams brought his model of the Brunel timber viaduct at Walkham to Pendon where it became the focal point of the Dartmoor Scene. This was intended to be a temporary display whilst plans were made for the Vale Scene. However, it has remained in the Museum as a popular and, indeed, iconic part of Pendon.
By the early 1970s the Museum had outgrown the RAF hut and was ready to expand so that the huge Vale landscape could be started. In 1971 the present building was erected over the RAF hut and the original building dismantled. Over the next ten years volunteers fitted out the new building and several small dioramas intended for the Vale landscape were put on show. In December 1981 these were joined together to create the beginning of the Vale landscape.
Over the next decade and a half there was substantial progress in constructing the buildings and scenery along with development of the railways and their control systems. By the time of Roye England’s death in 1995 sufficient progress had been made for him know that, in time, his vision would be fulfilled.
‘In Search of a Dream’ is an illustrated history of Pendon Museum and Roye England. It is available from the Museum shop.
Other sources of information can be found here.