The first step towards forming the Society was taken by the late Albert. O. Sale when he inserted an advertisement in The Model Engineer inviting those interested to a meeting at the home of fellow enthusiast Mr. C. B. Powell on 28th May 1936. Those attending were A. W. Fairgrieve, W. R. Gowans, F. W. Lampard, A. T. Lee, C. B. Powell, A. O. Sale, E. I. Vaughan, and D.O. Whitehead.
Meetings started in the old Cavendish Cafe in the Cornmarket and later moved to a room at Unity Hall. The Secretary was Mr. A. W. Fairgrieve, succeeded in 1939 by Mr. Eric Shimmin from whose notes the early part of this history is derived. Eric has recorded that the members were mostly interested in small model work, and that he particularly admired the work of Bill Gowans who was building a 2 ½ inch gauge Dyak in spite of being handicapped by the loss of one arm. Alan Lee out at Etwall had a fine 5 inch gauge railway in the grounds of his house, and members were invited to take part in running days, a facility that existed at least up to the time when the Society got its own track in 1962.
Up to the outbreak of war, the Society enjoyed a varied programme of meetings on a range of topics and visits of general interest. At this time activities had to be suspended but re-activation came in 1944 when a further notice in M E. brought new members to join the Society. A small exhibition was staged in a shop window in East Street, and this again brought in more members, including members of the Forces away from home. Interest ran high in most areas, particularly in the power boat field, numerous regattas being held in local waters.
In 1946 the Society staged its first real exhibition in an empty shop in Babington Lane. There were models running on compressed air and a star attraction was a model of the Blenkinsop locomotive. Entry was 6d (2.5 pence today).
This was followed by the acquisition of a clubroom at the rear of the old St. Andrew’s church, which brought with it the unexpected burden of paying rates to the town, albeit with a rebate! In 1948 a major success was achieved with the staging of a four day exhibition in Queens Hall. Clubs from several neighbouring towns were invited to participate, trade stands were present and a 7¼ inch gauge railway operated beside the hall.
The Exhibition became a yearly event for the next three years, the venue being changed to the old Assembly Rooms in 1950. Membership was around 40, falling to 28 in 1951 when the last of this series of exhibitions was held. The membership had fallen to 14 in 1960, and was still only 22 when, in 1962, the Society obtained its own site on the Ford and Weston recreation ground at Darley Abbey. Here, a ground level 3 ½ and 5 inch gauge permanent track was laid out and opened in 1963.
Unfortunately the Society was obliged to leave the site at Darley Abbey in 1967, but was granted access to the present site at the grounds of the former Barnardos home at Morley Manor. The track was lifted and taken to the new site, consisting of a heavily wooded area of about three-quarters of an acre.
Here the members put in a lot of hard work, digging cuttings and making a tunnel, building embankments, etc., to form the basis of the present track layout. The layout was a figure of eight folded inside itself to give two circuits of the site. The crossing was made by a bowstring truss girder bridge. A two-road station was connected to the outer loop, and steaming bays and sidings were connected to the main line by arrival and departure roads.
Whilst all this was going on, the Society with a membership less than thirty, also found time to run an exhibition in 1967 jointly with the Derby Locomotive Works Society of Model Engineers. The exhibition was repeated in 1969 occupying five days at Queens Hall, with 179 exhibits plus 4 working model railway layouts. There were further joint exhibitions in 1971 and 1975 (by which time the membership was approaching fifty), and a fifth exhibition was staged by the Society in 1977.
Originally, the Derby SMEE News which became The Blower, was produced on foolscap sheets, with a change to A4 in March 1973, and then to the present A5 booklet format in March 1993.
In 1972 signalling was installed, with the main line divided into sections, each protected by a two aspect colour light signal (some signals also have an additional yellow caution aspect). The switching of the colour light signals is handled automatically as the train passes over insulated rail joints forming the track circuiting system. Points are operated by 24 volt electric motors and with one or two exceptions route direction is given by semaphore signals. Some of these can be operated from a ‘scale’ Midland Railway signal box that was built in 1972. This houses the point and signal controls as well as the associated electrical equipment. Most point-work can be operated from track side switches obviating the need for the signal box to be manned. In addition there are several manually operated points in the sidings.
The track was laid originally as steel bars carried in slotted wooden sleepers. In 1978 an improvement was made by the use of ‘scale’ aluminium chairs cast on site from scrap.
In 1976 the old hut which had served as a clubroom, was moved to a new position. In its place the present timber clubhouse was erected, with a veranda on the front serving as the station building. The proceeds from the final exhibition held in 1977 mentioned above, paid for the new clubhouse.
With the advent of the annual Midlands Model Engineering Exhibition then held at Donington Park, the need for the Society to organize a local exhibition was not necessary. Instead, the Society exhibited the work of members on its own stand at this important gathering. Since this has moved from Donington Park, we have currently not had a stand at any of the exhibitions.
In 1983 work commenced to extend the track by the addition of a third loop, bringing the total length to 1600 ft. This entailed heavy earthworks and the complete rebuilding of the bridge to increase the span. All the work was carried out without disruption of members’ running facilities, and was completed in October 1986. Ted Jolliffe of Model Engineer opened the new layout officially in March 1987.
Since the inception of the Morley site, the Society had been the guest of Barnardos, paying no rent although making an annual donation to show the members’ appreciation. However, from as early as 1971, the owners had been contemplating closure of the home, and our tenure of the site had been precarious for some time. But it was not until 1995 that Barnardos finally announced their intention to sell Morley Manor, whilst letting it be known that they would try to ensure our continued occupation of the site. After a period of uncertainty during which only the most essential maintenance was undertaken, the Society was granted a lease on the site by Barnardos in April 1998 with a quarterly rental. This gave security of tenure for 20 years, with the Society having the right to take an option for a further 20 years, and enabled the Society to tackle the backlog of maintenance work and the repair of other damage.
In common with many other societies, DSMEE took the step of becoming a company limited by guarantee in March 1997.
As from the 11th May 2012 the site became ours when the contracts for its purchase were exchanged. This will ensure our long term future.
Recent actions of the Health and Safety Executive have brought safety legislation to the attention of model engineers. Whilst the Health and Safety at Work Act does not have immediate effect for our Society as the public are not present on site, it does demand that safety is ensured in any activity that could affect others. The measures as defined by the Society required to ensure safety are contained or referenced in our ‘Rule Book’. The Society takes safety seriously and by complying with these measures the risk of incident is reduced.
In the past, the Society has been financed almost entirely out of members’ subscriptions but in recent years the club holds various fund raising events to support new projects on the site.