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LMSS Masthead

Fostering Interest in Research & Modelling of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway

Bob Essery

22nd November 1930 - 23rd November 2021

Photo of Bob Essery photographed by Keith Harcourt at an LMS open day within the HMRS Centre at Butterley in 2008.

Bob photographed by Keith Harcourt at an LMS open day within the HMRS Centre at Butterley in 2008.

The world of model railways lost one of its greatest personalities when Bob Essery died the day after his 91st birthday following a long illness. I think it is safe to say that there are very few Midland or LMS modellers who have not made use of Bob's researches and writing in some way and in the majority of cases there will be several volumes bearing his name on their bookshelves. But Bob's extensive knowledge was not restricted to the Midland and LMS and he wrote at some length on how the real railway was operated plus other topics that many modellers have used for their own benefit as well as contributing towards making a good number of exhibition layouts more realistic.

Robert John Essery was born in the Hall Green area of Birmingham on 22nd November 1930 and from his childhood he was interested in model making. His first ventures were in aeromodelling but after seeing his flying creations reduced to matchwood following sudden returns to earth he tried model boats, only to have his first craft sink on its maiden voyage. Turning to model railways as a safer option he began on the path he was to take for the next eighty years, albeit gradually at first as his available funds in the 1940s were very limited.

After leaving school, Bob decided that a career on the footplate would be a good idea as his interest in railways had developed from modelmaking to embrace a fascination with the full size, particularly locomotives. Therefore, when he was sixteen he applied to the GWR and was accepted as a cleaner at Tyseley in 1947 but shortly after starting realised that the chances of promotion in footplate jobs there were limited and discovered that they were better over at Saltley. He thus applied in 1948 to leave what was by then the Western Region of the new British Railways and transferred to the London, Midland Region, becoming a cleaner at Saltley, where he remained for the next ten years or so. He progressed from cleaner to passed cleaner then fireman on the shed and control links, happy in the variety of jobs and locomotive types that the latter entailed. His time on the footplate gave him a rich fund of both knowledge and tales to tell, one such being the experience of running away down the Lickey Incline that was enough to make you hair stand on end.

But after several years as a fireman Bob saw the writing on the wall for steam and decided on a change of career, leaving the railway in 1958 to take up what would be his main occupation in sales and marketing. He proved to be a natural salesman with a keen understanding of marketing and after experience with firms such as Heinz and Prestige eventually became sales director for the cutlery firm Arthur Price of England. He met and married his wife, Wynne, in 1962 and their children Steven and Sharon were born in 1966 and 1969. Being a truly dyed in the wool railway enthusiast Bob tried to find an LMS constituent engine after which he could name his daughter and with a little adjustment the L&NWR 'Waterloo' Class Charon became Sharon.

By the early 1960s Bob Essery was becoming a well-known figure in model railway circles, writing his first magazine articles in 1962, and was part of a group of like-minded modellers whose main interest was in the LMS, his own allegiance having been formed during his time at Saltley. At the 1963 Easter show in Central Hall, Westminster, several of the group were standing in the coffee queue and discussing how they could overcome what was seen as the bias toward the GWR in the modelling magazines. In front of Bob in the queue was Cyril Freezer, then editor of Railway Modeller, so Bob tapped him on the shoulder and asked whether an issue of the magazine could be devoted to the LMS. Freezer's reply was basically that if Bob and Co. would write sufficient high quality articles he would print them and thus was born the LMS Society, formed for just that purpose with Bob as its founding member.

Bob Essery's stature as a railway modeller went from strength to strength with many articles in the modelling magazines as well as other publications and, always one to embrace finer standards and methods, when he saw what could be achieved in true scale 4mm modelling he readily became a P4 devotee. Once again he approached Cyril Freezer to ask whether he would promote P4 in Railway Modeller, the reply being that if a large exhibition P4 layout could be shown to run as well as the best 00 examples he would feature it in the magazine. At a December 1972 meeting of the North London Group, members were in the throes of deciding what to do about their P4 test track, which was in urgent need of repair. Bob Essery, who was a guest at the meeting, suggested that the Group scrap it and start again with a layout that would satisfy Freezer's criterion and after some discussion his idea was accepted. Thus Heckmondwike was born, but how a London based group of modellers who were far from LMS devotees was persuaded to produce a layout based on a might have been LMS line in the Spen Valley must rest as a tribute to Bob's salesmanship.

A few years later, on 14th February 1976, the Founding Meeting of 'The ScaleFour Society' was held and within two months 'Heckmondwike' both graced the cover of 'Railway Modeller', April 1976, and was the featured 'Railway of the Month'. From that modest beginning finescale railway modelling has grown from strength to strength, with 'The ScaleFour Society' now being a major force within the hobby. Similarly, to this day, 'Heckmondwike' can be viewed to this day within the web-page of the 'North London Group', whereat one can easily see what a ground-breaking layout this model was. The ScaleFour Society also accorded Bob with 'Honorary Life Membership' in recognition of his work and endeavour in promoting finescale, authentic railway modelling, and honour which he retained even when he moved up to 7mm scale modelling later in life.

In the 1980s Bob continued to exert a significant influence on railway modelling and railway publications by producing a veritable flurry of books including his seminal two volume works An Illustrated History of Midland Wagons and An Illustrated History of LMS Wagons. He then co-authored with David Jenkinson the Illustrated History of LMS Locomotives and the Illustrated Review of Midland Locomotives series plus Midland Carriages as well as producing many other articles in his own right. He also initiated in 1981 the formation of the Midland Railway Society then went on a few years later to change from 4mm into 7mm modelling, shortly after which he became aware of the small group who were working in and trying to promote ScaleSeven. Once again Bob was taken with the finer standards and became closely involved with Ken Cottle and Adrian Tester during the formation of the Scale Seven Group, his salesmanship and reputation providing much of the publicity that the Group needed. He began work altering his own embryonic layout to the new standards then, following a house move in 1991, decided on rebuilding and extending it to be exhibitable as Dewsbury Midland. In this he was helped by a team, many of whom used to gather at his house during weekends but even had members as far away as New Zealand, such was the attraction of becoming part of the Essery movement.

For several years Bob and the team took Dewsbury to many shows and in the 1990s it effectively became the flagship of the S7 movement. When once asked why he was getting involved in promoting yet another set of finescale standards, Bob replied he was minded to refer the questioner to a quote he liked from Thomas Paine that, "A share in two revolutions is living to some purpose."

But far from resting on his laurels as the 1990s wore on, Bob carried on researching and creating and in 1994 edited the first of the Midland Record series of occasional magazines published by Wild Swan that eventually ran to 36 issues plus two supplements. Then, in 1997, Bob, together with the late Fred James and myself, undertook the cataloguing of the NRM's Derby locomotive drawings and one day whilst working on them he said, "Do you know, there's a book series in this," which is how the Wild Swan Midland Engines and LMS Locomotive Profiles came about. Altogether there were nineteen books and seven supplements produced, all but five of them involving Bob. Then, in 2001, LMS Journal was launched with Bob as editor and eventually forty issues were published. In addition to all these titles, Bob authored many other books and articles, either by himself or in collaboration with others, on aspects of railways including operating practice, which was a feature of railway modelling he thought was not given sufficient attention and on which he was very keen. He also edited photographic collections and contributed material to various other magazines, his writing and editing activities continuing until just a couple of years before his death.

Within the HMRS, Bob was both a long term member, along with being a considerable tower of strength. In 2001, such was the high regard he was held in, he was elected to be their President, a post he held with honour and distinction for several years. He was likewise a regular on their 'speakers' circuits', regularly providing authoritative audio-visual presentations to their own Area Groups, along with kindred clubs and societies. He was a frequent contributor to their journal over many decades, in conjunction with providing book and kits reviews to their newsletter. Likewise, he served as their Company Steward for the Midland Railway, regularly answering members' enquiries and points.

Bob was actively involved in the three volume history of LMS carriages, which he co-authored with David Jenkinson, which continues to serve as a ground-breaking reference for our knowledge and understanding of that company's fleet of carriages and NPCS. He was also a regular contributor to 'BackTrack', which David Jenkinson took over in 1990, and served as a driving force in the launch of 'Modellers' BackTrack' the following year. One of his final contributions came in 'BackTrack', March 2019, when he combined his model-making experience with his railway knowledge to present a detailed explanation of the operating of a typical town's railway goods yard.

Although after many years building, operating and maintaining Dewsbury, personal and family issues meant that Bob and Wynne had to move and the layout was split up, it was not broken up and is now resident in two parts with the HMRS at Butterley and at the Warley MRC. Bob was a long standing and active member of the latter and was also much involved with the club's S7 layout Ellerton Road, on which a large proportion of his stock could be seen running at exhibitions. That stock is now being taken on by a number of S7 modellers and will be seen for many years to come gracing several layouts as a testament to Bob's work.

But there was much more to Bob Essery than just the railway researcher, author and modelling guru. He was a dedicated family man, excellent host, good companion and generous with his time to anyone who sought his help or advice. He was a familiar sight at model exhibitions where he could be seen as an exhibitor, judge or advisor, usually in conversation with one or more friends and acquaintances. To have known Bob and been lucky enough to count him as a friend was life enriching and he will be sadly missed but the immense legacy he has left to the railway modelling and railway historical world will ensure that his name will live on.

Rest in peace my friend.

David Hunt

Photo of a rake of W Clarke & Son wagons on Bob Esserys Dewsbury Goods layout.

A rake of W Clarke & Son wagons on Bob's Dewsbury Goods layout. Photograph courtesy of Keith Hardcourt.

[Editor's Note] Anyone wishing to make a donation to a charity supporting dementia sufferers and their families in memory of Bob may do so to Dementia UK.

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