History of NDSME
Norwich & District Society of Model Engineers Ltd. was founded in 1933. The aim was to encourage all forms of model engineering and its allied interests. The first display of members’ work, organised a year later, was a great success. Profits arising from this enabled a workshop and meeting room to be rented in premises in King Street. These buildings had housed the original Laurence Scott & Electromotors business in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Society workshop was provided particularly for the “…impecunious junior, who can find somewhere to work with plenty of tools available and a senior in attendance to give advice and discourage bad work.”. The cost for junior membership was 2/6 (12½p.) per annum, around £10 in today’s money. Annual exhibitions were held until 1939, when the show was cancelled due to the outbreak of WWII. The first post-war event was promoted in 1950. Writing in the catalogue, the Secretary invited offers of suitable premises to replace the King Street accommodation, which had been destroyed during the war. No suitable buildings materialised.
Over the years many successful exhibitions were held and model making had broadened its horizons. In the early days, steam locomotives and stationary engines dominated the scene. Fine decorative wood and metal crafts provided a more artistic content to the exhibitions. In 2003 space was given to almost every type of model-making activity. Aircraft and marine vessels built in plastics or glass reinforced resins, as well as metals. The military modellers showed their skills with realistic men, weapons and vehicles produced in plastic and die cast metal. There were some fine examples of wooden farm equipment of a bygone age and perhaps a few clocks. Visitors should remember that these detailed models are fashioned from raw materials; few components are bought in ready-made.
It was not until 1956 that an area in Eaton Park was offered by the City Council for the layout of test track. In 1958 the 365 feet of track, prepared and built by the Society members, was ready for use and the following year public trains were offered. On Summer Sundays members of the public could ride round for 3d (about lp.), with part of the proceeds going to good causes. Rolling stock was stored away from the park and nad to be carried there each time. This track was extended to 955 feet in the early 1970s and has been a very well supported facility in Eaton Park. Local good causes benefited by about £400 each year as a result.
In 2001 the Society was still without its own headquarters or workshop. For many years meetings were held in the impressive surroundings of the Music Room of the Assembly House until the disastrous fire of 1995. The venue had to be changed. For a time we met at Angel Road Middle School but the society now meets monthly at the ndsme building in Eaton Park. These meetings have been disrupted by the pandemic. In Summer a barbecue is usually arranged at the site. The City Council acknowledged the amenity value of the track and in the early C21st the Society negotiated with the City Council for the use of more land at Eaton Park. This was with a view to making provision for secure storage accommodation and the construction of a new and more extensive miniature railway track of dual 7.25″ and 5″ gauges.
In 2002 plans were drawn up and agreed for a building to house the rolling stock and provide a place for members to meet and service the proposed rolling stock for the ground level railway. Work started and went on through the winter of 2002-3. With the help of one professional bricklayer members were able to erect the new club house that was officially opened by the Mayor on 3rd June 2004. Track laying had already started and was successfully completed in time to open for the public on Easter Sunday and Monday 2006. Since 2006, trains for the public have been offered every Sunday during the season, a tradition that, with a brief interruption in 2016, continues. A station canopy was completed by April 2008 and another canopy over the raised track was in use by May 2009. A tunnel was opened in 2014, extensive trackwork laid in 2015 and a new signal box was commissioned in 2016. Visiting engines are welcomed and may work hauling passenger trains. There are regular working parties on Tuesdays throught the year and an extensive signalling system is currently being installed.
The society’s public railway has become so popular that now the ndsme is able to donate thousands of pounds to local schools and other charities, rather than the hundreds of forty years ago. In 2016, for the first time and as an experiment, Santa Specials were run in December and, like the summer trains, these proved highly popular. In 2019, the society celebrated sixty years of trains in the park.