Cambridge & District
Model Engineering Society Ltd

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About Us

For the origins of the Society, we have to go back over seventy five years as it was formed in 1938 when there were fifteen people in the Cambridge area that had a common interest in Model Engineering and they eventually formed the nucleus of the Society.

Meetings in those early days were held in the Old Railway Band Room, off Argyle Street, and the Society continued on a small but active scale until 1939 when, at the outbreak of World War II, it was disbanded for the duration. However, Society activities were kept alive by several members who, despite the troubled times, still managed to run their model locomotives at local events to raise money for charities.

After the war, there was renewed interest in creative hobbies. The Society gradually expanded in numbers and the late Alderman H C Banham was elected as the first President in 1948. An exhibition was organised and it was such a success that £150 (a lot of money in those days) was added to the Society's funds.

The Society flourished because of the President's guidance and the original members' experience and soon the cry went up for a meeting place and workshop facility. Thanks to the generosity of the local Education Authority, the Headmaster of Chesterton School made available the metal workshop on one or two evenings a week. This was acceptable but not very convenient and to obtain our own premises was the next goal. This was not so long in coming and in 1950, the Society acquired premises in Union Road. They were rather dilapidated but with enthusiasm and vigour, the place was knocked into shape to become the first Headquarters.

At this time, the President made available, 'rent free' a piece of land on which to build a continuous track. This was at Cam Road, Chesterton. An immense amount of time and effort was put into building the original track there. This experience was put to good use when the track at the present site at Newnham was built eight years later.

In December 1954, it was reluctantly decided the cost of maintaining the workshop, which incidentally also held a 00 gauge layout, had become prohibitive so the lease was not renewed and once again, the generosity of the Society's friends came to fore. Mr T B Smith offered, rent free, part of his garage premises in Herbert Street and these were retained until the business was sold in February 1958.

In January 1958, whilst planning an exhibition to be staged in the University Examination hall, we started negotiations for the piece of land at Newnham on which our present Headquarters and track are situated. Immediately the exhibition finished at the end of March 1958, attention was centred on the development of the site.

A few members designed the clubhouse as a joint effort, planning permission was obtained and work started on the two acre site that had been lying uncultivated for several years. By the spring of 1959, the track was completed, the clubhouse erected and on June 20th that year, Sir Vivian Fuchs officially opened the site.

Since that date, many additional facilities and attractions have been added to the site as time, money and materials permitted. Trees, shrubs and grass provide pleasant surroundings for our visitors, not forgetting the catering facilities for that often much needed cup of tea. The site is private and our aim has been to provide a place where we, the members, can enjoy the fruits of our labours and entertain our families and friends.

After more than 20 years of use, the elevated track became due for extensive repair and it was decided to replace it with a more ambitious ground level track. This multi-gauge (7¼in, 5in and 3½in) ground level railway track, approxiamately oval in plan and with a station avoiding loop, gives a continuous run of about a quarter of a mile. Steaming bays, access to which is gained via branch sections and turntables, allow easy preparation and servicing of locomotives. A footbridge, level crossing for vehicles, station and signals complete the railway scene. A second dual-gauge (5in and 3½in) line is constructed on raised steel piers and runs along the southern boundary of the site to provide an out-and-back ride.

In 1995, a new section was opened, this being devoted to 16mm scale, 32mm gauge garden railways. Over the next two years, a railway was built which is laid out in a garden setting, on one side of the site. The engines that run on this track may be steamed using butane gas, meths or coal. Battery powered locomotives are also used.

On the 16th May 1992, the original Clubhouse and Workshop, together with their contents, were destroyed by fire. The whole of the following year was filled with raising funds and reconstruction work. The Club now owns a substantial Clubhouse made of blockwork with timber cladding. This provides a better and much more comfortable accommodation than previously. The secondary timber building, which was formerly a store and was used as a temporary Clubhouse during the reconstruction, has now become the new workshop and fitting it out and the acquisition of suitable machinery proceeds as time and funds permit.

The Present Day

On the second Sunday of each summer month, April to October, the track is open to the public to inspect and ride upon these miniature trains. Car parking facilities are available on site and light refreshments are obtainable.

Steam railway locomotives and train rides are perhaps the active aspects of our work that people most often see, but the interests of our members cover the whole range of Model Engineering - traction engines, clocks, marine engines, mill engines - in fact whatever can be modelled in working or static form.

Regular meetings are held on Thursday evenings and Sundays throughout the year at the Newnham site. Film shows, talks and demonstrations are organised for the winter evening sessions and, during the summer, there are various events such as picnics and invitation rallies for visiting club members and individuals. Excursions are also made to other societies, exhibitions and so forth. Not only are track facilities available to members but there is also a wealth of good advice for the novice which may be readily obtained from the membership.

On 31st December 2016 all the activities of CMES were novated to Cambridge & District Model Engineering Society Ltd.