I used to buy secondhand model railway magazines for specific articles, particularly drawings or construction products. However, when browsing them now, I find myself drawn at least as much to the editorial sections. I have to admit that the older volumes of Model Railway News are my favourites. It is quite fascinating to look at the very first issue for January 1925. Until 1939 the cover used a line drawing, rather than a photographic illustration, the design passing through three versions, the last being a non-descript, but vaguely “Baby Scot” 4-6-0, partly obscuring the name board at a station that could thus only be identified as “…North Junciton” and pulling past a lower-quadrant starter. Until 1939 the cover also included the slogan “steam – electric – clockwork,” reminding us that for most modellers, there were still several means of propulsion to consider. That first issue included an interview with the legendary GP Keen, an article on the “possibilities” of OO gauge by Mr Stewart-Reidpath and letters of support from a baronet and a colonel reminding us that railway modelling was not quite yet a mass hobby. Pre-war contributors also often used pseudonyms such as engine numbers or the names or initials of railway companies, especially the pre-group concerns, which had just lost their independence and which still enjoyed fierce partisan loyalty. Thus correspondents signed themselves Churchwardian, LSWR, Vulcan, Terrier or 9903.
It is also interesting to read some of the social commentary. So, for instance, the June 1926 editorial decries the General Strike. June 1929, on the eve of a general election, produced some speculations on politicians’ plans for the railways, such as the abolition of private owner wagons in the interest of greater efficiency, and the introduction of new American style 40-ton high capacity wagons. The adverts are of course also period pieces now and some of the items in that year’s commercial sector, such as huge lead-acid accumulators, seem more appropriate to heavy industry than an indoor hobby, although an earlier editorial (January 1927) had warned of the very real risk of electric shocks to children from model railways.
October 1939 brought a gloomy editorial, apologising for the reduced size of the magazine and the small number of illustrations, and even wondering if the ensuing war publication could continue at all. In fact, although reduced to 20 pages and a 5″ by 8″ format, the Model Railway News managed monthly publication throughout the War, despite being bombed out of its office in October 1940, the first of three such direct hits on its premises. Even the Railway Magazine went down to six modest sized issues each year from 1942 to 1949. Paradoxically, the enforced blackouts of the “Phoney War” may have increased the amount of modelling activity in the early part of the conflict. March 1942 brought appeals for the wartime scrap metal drive, and later for other material like waste paper, but with the caveat of saving useful modelling material and historical documents. In July 1945, the editorial could mark the end of the Second World War, although shortages continued, and in 1947 John Ahern reminded readers that everyone actually had a right to buy £1 worth of new wood each month, and that this could be augmented with salvaged timber. Prices were then of course more stable. Having sold initially at 6d per month, the MRN had risen to 9d in 1944, but kept the price for another seven years.
As the 1950s wore on, there was news of the modernisation plan for British Railways; “standard” designs of steam locomotives; and the Atomic Age, with reports of plans to build 12 new nuclear power stations. These items lead to debate about large-scale railway electrification and the preservation of more traditional equipment. By December 1955, some enthusiasts were already bemoaning the end of the Steam Age, but even on BR that took another 13 years. Beeching cast a shadow in 1963, the same year that saw the arrival of Minic Motorways, for a while regarded as a serious threat to the popularity of model railways, and with obituaries like the one for William Stanier in 1965, one could only feel that an era was passing. However, the end of revenue-earning BR steam in 1968, although acknowledged, was not specifically mourned. By then, however, I feel that the days of the old Model Railway News iteself were numbered. It published its last issue in August 1971, went into a chrysalis and emerged the following month as the big glossy, brightly coloured Model Railways.