The Southampton Model Railway Society was formed in 1966. It was John Bailey, then Secretary of the South of England branch of the RCTS, who first thought of forming a Model Railway Society in Southampton. He approached a number of friends who either owned a model railway or who might be interested.
The response was very enthusiastic, and so a meeting was held at the Temperance Institute, in Carlton Crescent, Southampton. At that first meeting, John was elected as the first Hon. Secretary, while Bert Moody, then Chairman of the Southern Counties Railway Society, was elected as the first Chairman. A committee was also elected, whose first job was to form a constitution and to draw up a track plan for the first model, all to be discussed at the next meeting.
Subsequent meetings were regularly held at the Temperance Institute, where ideas were discussed and planning of the first layout continued. Of the problems discussed, money, a club house, scale of the model, the constitution and labour occupied most of the time.
John Bailey first had the idea of using a railway station as a clubroom. He was aware that the station at Sholing on the Southampton to Portsmouth line had been unstaffed since December 1965; it had a booking/parcels office, a waiting room and a ladies room. Most important of all, it had mains electricity, something that most disused station buildings in the area did not have. Negotiations with BR started immediately, but it would be more than a year before an agreement satisfactory to both sides would be reached.
In the meantime, meetings continued to take place at the Temperance Institute. Very quickly, it became clear who would become members, and so the initial subscription rate was fixed. It was also decided to begin work on the proposed layout at the Temperance Institute, where some storage space had been rented; the subscriptions paid the rent and bought some baseboard materials. Thus, the Southampton Model Railway Society officially opened in January 1967.
It was great day for the Society when the negotiations with BR were successfully completed, with the renting of two rooms at Sholing Station. At the first opportunity, working parties began the tasks of cleaning up, painting, vandal-proofing and adding wiring and power points (the Society’s power was separate to that of the remainder of the station).
In July 1967, the headquarters were officially opened by the Sheriff of Southampton, Alderman H. L. Davies, in a short ceremony on the station platform, with 40 or so members present,much to the astonishment of the passengers and crew of the 18:36 Portsmouth to Southampton train, which happened to be calling at the time.
The society remained at Sholing from then until 1986, eventually occupying the whole building. The location had a unique railway atmosphere, and some members would arrive by train.
As time went by, however, the Society began to experience increasing difficulties with the maintenance of the building. In 1986, a meeting room at the Eastpoint Centre, Thornhill, became available, and it was there that the Society moved. It remained there until June 2011, when Eastpoint was undergoing redevelopment.
The Society rented two rooms, which provided sufficient space to have at least one, and often two, layouts to be permanently erected for members’ use. After being used for some years as the ‘N-gauge room’, the second (and smaller) room was used as a workroom, with plenty of bench-space and storage.
From mid-2011, the Society leased a small building on an industrial estate in Millbrook and then in January 2014, we moved into new premises at Kemps Quay. This provides us with the required facilities, i.e. all our layouts that can be kept erected and worked on, modelling work benches, a library, storage, adequate car-parking and a congenial place to sit and chat. Members still meet mainly on Wednesdays and Fridays, although the building can be opened any time.
Over the years, the Society has provided a friendly atmosphere for members and visitors. It has built (and continues to build) and exhibited many layouts of all the popular gauges and scales, and supported both local and out-of-area exhibitions (a former chairman once exhibited his own layout in Scotland). The Society has also helped many members with their own layouts and models. During that time, our annual exhibition has moved on to become one of the top shows in the country.