The memories of Robert Symes-Schutzman (July 2007)

The Astolat Modal Railway Circle grew out of the well-established Guildford Model Engineering Society. In the early seventies GMES stared to devote considerable time and effort to the construction of an elevated outdoor track and this proved to be popular with the majority of the members. I too looked at the possibility of moving my railway out into the garden but, for me, railways as per se, were always the strong attraction, immaterial of size and engineering knowledge and skills required.

Slowly the rift between the small railway modeller and the model engineers widened. At the same time railways in general seemed to appear to lose their attraction due to the ingress of the trans-Atlantic attitude towards seeing railways as passé, old hat and old fashioned. The young railway modeller was in turn influenced by the world’s largest toy market, the USA which turned to the futuristic space subjects which predominated in film and computer games leading to a decrease in the fascination with railways. This trend lasted a relatively short time, but it was rough to lose the model railway movement and a lot of young prospective members.

Some of us in the GMES felt very strongly that we should be trying to attract the younger members and branched out to set up the Astolat Model Railway Circle, designed to be specific model railway club for the smaller scales. The policy was to provide a forum for young members at a level suitable for those with less developed skills and smaller finances.

The citizens of Guildford too, were given a new and popular Christmas Exhibition. I organised the first of the annual exhibitions on New Years Day in 1968 putting on show the club’s own layout and members offerings such as private layouts and individual models under construction.

The venue was the respected and now defunct, Belleby theatre. This first ‘public’ show aroused a lot of local attention and support. A well-known Guildford model shop kindly presented a trophy for the best finished model. An internationally renowned model builder (a Germen television engineer) awarded a prize for “immaculate wining an art then in its infancy I awarded a trophy for the most outstanding contribution. This trophy was set of model wheels which made their first appearance live on BBC TV’s Tomorrows World, demonstrating an essential part of the great British invention the tilting train!! The local press gave us a very good pictorial spread. However, this was of no help when it came to find a permanent home for the Astolat.

Despite temporary accommodation, sometimes well away from the public transport, the ‘Astolat’ grew and flourished and became established. The young members grew up. Some of them have become well known and respected in the world of model railways. What might have started as a slight irritant in the model engineering fraternity grew into a pearl in the great British world of model railway enthusiasts. The Astolat Model Railway show now attracts an ever-growing, appreciative and loyal clientele from a wide catchments area.