The Early Years 1935 – 1960

In January 1898 Percival Marshall began the publication of a magazine called the Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician. It was suggested that a Club be formed and in December 1898 the first meeting took place of the Society of Model and Experimental Engineers. The meeting took place at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London.

In 1899 the Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician announced a local branch of the S.M.E.E. had been formed in Leeds by Mr. H. E. Wilkinson and Mr. W. M. Buckingham who lived in the Roundhay area of the city. A set of Rules were drawn up at the initial meetings held in Roundhay and it was stated that the Society intended to relocate to the centre of the city. Little is known about the subsequent activities of this first Leeds S.M.E.E but it does not seem to be directly linked to subsequent events relating to model engineering in Leeds.

On the 5th December 1935 a group of 19 people interested in model railways met at the Temperance Hall, Wesley Road, Armley, Leeds and decided to form the Leeds and District Model Railway Society. The Society’s first President was a Mr. F. Thompson.

In March 1936 meetings moved to the Amalgamated Engineering Union offices located inside the Mechanics Institute which was situated in Woodhouse Lane next to the Albion Brewery. In May 1936 a group of engineers approached the Model Railway Society and the outcome of the discussions which followed was that they joined the existing group and the society was re-named the Leeds Model Railway and Engineering Society. The Society developed actively in pre-War years and purchased a portable ‘O’ gauge electric track as well as constructing the Society’s first passenger carrying portable railway track which was of wooden construction. The Society’s first exhibition was held in the Mechanics Institute in September 1936. The entrance charge was six pence and it was noted that Mr. Cook and Mr. Aston were later seen to be busy counting a large bucket of sixpences.   Mr. D. Gracie became President. He was the District Superintendent of the London and North Eastern Railway.

In June 1937 the Society moved its meetings to the Albert Hall in the Leeds Institute in Cookridge Street, where it remained until the outbreak of War. In December 1937 a large exhibition was staged in the Albert Hall which attracted 1500 visitors. It was such a success that it was repeated the following year.

In 1938 Alderman Rowland Winn became President and this proved to be a busy year. In June the portable railway was in use at Yeadon Regatta and in July at Yeadon Carnival. In December 1938 the Society staged its second large exhibition which was held in the Crypt below Leeds Town Hall. This exhibition was supported by the Brighouse and Halifax, the Bradford and the York Societies of Model Engineers.

On September 5th 1939, a meeting was held on the steps of the Albert Hall, which like many public buildings was closed for the duration of the War. Some recent meetings had been held at Mr. Hayes’ workshop at Marshall Mills, Water Lane. The members present resolved that, War or no War, the Society would go on and Francis Cook generously offered the use of his business premises in Kidacre Street for Sunday morning meetings. These meetings continued throughout the War and were well supported. Francis Cook was a sign writer and is known to have put his skills to good use by painting some of the early locomotives made by Society members.  It was at these Sunday morning meetings in Kidacre Street that the Society’s new portable railway track was built. It was first used in 1939.

Although it was difficult to organise exhibitions during the War years a display was put on in Lewis’s Department Store in July 1941 in conjunction with the Yorkshire Evening News proceeds being in aid of the R. A. F. Benevolent Fund. This raised £65-10s 0d.  A second display at Lewis’s in 1944 raised a further £163-14s-10½d.

In January 1942 Francis Cook became President. He lived in Pollard Lane, Bramley, Leeds.  His premises in Kidacre Street continued to be used for ‘working meetings’ taking place on Sunday mornings and Committee Meetings taking place on one or other weekday evening.

During the summer of 1943, 1944 and 1945 the Society participated in the Government inspired ‘Holidays at Home’ programme where events were staged so that that people could enjoy their ‘Holiday at Home’ brought about due to travel restrictions ruling out trips to the coast. The portable miniature railway was heavily used at these events at Roundhay Park, Cleckheaton, Ordsal, Springhead Park, Rothwell and at Harrogate on the Stray. It was during these events that a new steel portable miniature railway track was built. It was 232ft. long and included six curved sections. At that time two locomotives owned by the Society were extensively used on the portable track.  They were a 3½ ins. gauge LNER ‘Shire’ Class D49 4-4-0 locomotive No. 234 ‘Yorkshire’ originally in LNER livery but later  rebuilt in British Railways livery and a 3½ ins. gauge LNER Class A3 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive No. 2751 named ‘Humorist’.

In 1945 the Society held its first Exhibition at the Yorkshire Copper Works. In subsequent years the track was regularly in use at the Copper Works Annual Sports Day. There were at this time seventy members and active speaker and visits programmes. The new  portable railway track was in use at Horsforth Hall Park at Whitsuntide, at Leeds Park at the August Bank Holiday and also at Rothwell Park.

In 1946 the Society name was changed to the Leeds Society of Model and Experimental Engineers. A search was started for a new meeting room and Mr. Hayes offered the Society the use of a room in his premises in Gelderd Road.  This was eagerly accepted as Mr. Hayes also provided access to a workshop with two lathes, a drilling machine and other equipment. Unfortunately, due to expansion of his works the meeting venue soon had to close down and meetings were again concentrated on Francis Cook’s premises in Kidacre Street.

In 1946 it was decided to award an annual prize for the ‘most meritorious piece of work during the previous twelve months’. The prize was named the Hayes Prize and for the first year Mr. Hayes set the prize at £5.

In 1947, 1949, 1951, and 1954 exhibitions were held in the Corn Exchange, Leeds.  These were usually opened by the Lord Mayor of Leeds.  For the 1949 exhibition 2500 catalogues were printed and sold at 6d each. 7,500 people visited the exhibition.

At the 1947 AGM Francis Cook was presented with a drilling machine in recognition of his continuing services to the Society. The portable track was in use at Adel, Alwoodley, Cleckheaton, Yorkshire Copper Works and was loaned to the Gainsborough Model Railway Society for one of their Exhibitions.

In January 1948 the first meeting took place at Salem Chapel, in Hunslet Road, opposite Tetley’s Brewery.  The room was only available on Thursday evenings and the charge was 5/- per night.  For many years hence Salem Chapel was the venue for formal meetings and speaker evenings. Because Salem Chapel was not suitable for workshop activities such as welding and brazing and also incurred charges for use of the room, the use of Francis Cook’s premises in Kidacre Street continued for workshop meetings and Committee Meetings.  Salem Chapel was reserved for general meetings and visiting speakers. Two exhibitions each of two weeks duration were put on in June and December 1948 in Lewis’s store in Leeds.

In 1949 Francis Cook was re-elected President for another term. The portable railway was again very busy with additional events at Starbeck, Oakwood, Featherstone and Castleford.

In July 1951 the Society held its own ‘Club Open Day’ on Mr. H. Donald’s field in Garforth. Six locomotives ran and sixty members and friends attended. The annual exhibition at the Corn Exchange continued and was successful and made £153 profit.

In 1952 a movie film was made of Society activities capturing mainly portable track events and visits to other societies. Further films were made in 1953, 1954 and 1955. Also, a discussion took place as to whether to build a permanent miniature railway at the works of Fairbairn Lawson in Elland Road. 

In 1953 an application was made to Leeds Corporation for a site suitable for the construction of a permanent miniature railway. Some possible sites were ruled out due to undulating ground including one at Golden Acre Park.  In 1953 the fee for running the portable track was raised from £5-5s-0d to £6-6s-0d and Mr. Cook’s locomotive ‘Samson’ was in frequent use.

In May 1954 a site at Temple Newsam Park was surveyed by members and agreement was entered into with Leeds Corporation in April 1955 to erect the railway. Also, in 1954 it was decided to have a new trophy to be named the ‘Leeds Trophy’ to be awarded annually for the best working steam model.

In 1957 it was noted that there had been no portable railway track running during the past two years as all resources were concentrated on the construction of the permanent track at Temple Newsam.  The Society was running at a loss as there was little income and large expenditure.

In January 1958 Francis Cook was made an Honorary Life Member for his services to the Society. He had been President since 1942 but was stepping down due to domestic commitments. Mr. H. Donald became President and as a token of appreciation it was decided to present the retiring President Francis Cook with a 4ins. Burnerd three-jaw chuck suitably inscribed with the date of presentation. The presentation took place on the 4th March. Mr. J. Hainsworth was made Track President for as long as he was a member in recognition of the time and energy he had put into the construction of the new track with his small band of helpers. Due to the sudden death of Mr. Donald in 1959 Mr. Hainsworth became President.

After five years of hard work by members at Temple Newsam Park the new permanent miniature railway track was opened on the 9th July 1960 by Mr. W. J. Hughes the well- known model engineer and technical author. He drove the Society’s 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive ‘Humorist’ which had recently been rebuilt by President Mr. J. Hainsworth.

Formal meetings continued to be held at Salem Chapel with an active programme of visiting speakers. In 1963 workshop meetings were discontinued at Francis Cook’s premises in Kidacre Street and the Society equipment stored there was removed and taken to Temple Newsam.

The opening of the Temple Newsam Railway started a new era for the Leeds Society of Model and Experimental Engineers.