Gods Wonderful Railway. The Hornby 00

Hornby type 40

Our inner child sometime yearns for the chance to look again at yesteryear memorabilia but the opportunity rarely shows itself. However, sometimes, by chance, that childhood dream becomes reality. When researching Peggy Nisbet’s dolls for my blog, I came across a secret hoard of railwayana. I say secret as there is no mention of the collection in the museum’s guide and what’s even more startling is it is the railway enthusiasts Holy Grail of model railways, the pre-war Hornby 00 series!

The fine detailing of wagons, coaches, trains, stations, figures etc are exquisite and the designs so lovingly fashioned that the photos do not do them justice.

Hornby crane

Here’s a short recap of the pre and post war history of Hornby.

Hornby was at first a tradename for the railway productions of Meccano Ltd and based in Liverpool, which released its first train, a clockwork 0 gauge (1:48) model, in 1920. Large numbers of Hornby trains were exported to Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Scandinavia.

Meccano introduced its 00 trains in 1938 under the name ‘Hornby Dublo’. The locomotives were diecast metal, and the carriages and wagons were generally made of tinplate.

The range expanded quickly, but was curtailed from 1940 due to World War II, production being completely suspended in 1942. Production resumed after the war but did not reach full capacity until 1948. Clockwork models were not produced in 00 scale after the war.

The museum closes on the 18th April so there is not much time to see the collection in Clara’s cottage but if you can get there you will surly see one of the finest exhibitions of a Classic Hornby train set in the country. Follow the links below for more information.




The Broken Time Machine

Broken time machine

Dr Fox and JamesIn celebration of Easter at the museum, characters from Weston’s past are brought to life: from Iron-Age ancestors right up to the ever-popular Clara Cottage Victorians.

What has happened is the Time Machine is broken, but by finding the cogs of the machine within the galleries over two weeks, visitors can repair the broken timepiece.

Museum supervisor, Katherine Cutlan, invited me to portray an important notable: Dr Fox of Knightstone. With the help of my assistant, Dr James, empty glass phials were dispensed to eager boys and girls who made up potions using multi-coloured bath salts; the children being supervised by their parents. While the potions were being made the story of Dr Fox was told.

“The idea of spa bathing was very popular in the 19th century and was considered a cure for many maladies and ills.

In September 1830, Knightstone was purchased by Dr Edward Long Fox (1761-1835), a prominent Quaker physician in Bristol and he spent up to £20,000 to improve the existing lodgings for the invalids as well as the refreshment and reading rooms. His treatment was seen as a cure for physical and mental disorders. Today, you too can enjoy the sea air at the Dr Fox tea rooms on Knightstone Island.”

Sir Harry Secombe interviews Peggy Nisbet

Sir Harry Secombe 1987

While trawling through the museum archives, a newspaper cutting caught my eye. It had on it a picture of Sir Harry Secombe alongside Pinky the donkey and Don Trapnell in the atrium and entitled ‘Harry’s Return’. I decided to dig deeper into the story and the reason why such a distinguished comedian and singer came to Weston museum.

Sir Harry was a devout Christian and presented a popular Sunday evening religious programme ‘Highway’. In March 1982, he was in the area with an HTV outside broadcast unit. Harry spent two days in what was then called Woodspring museum and visited the sea front and Grand Pier. Previously Sir Harry had appeared at the Playhouse several years ago so was no stranger to Weston.

There is a fine collection of Peggy Nisbet dolls on display in Clara’s cottage and Peggy was invited to be interviewed by Sir Harry.

Peggy explained that in 1952 she designed the dolls and her Aunt Kitty, (an able seamstress), made the prototypes. She made figures dressed in national costumes, historical costumes and dressed as famous historical figures. Through exhibiting at toy fairs in Britain and America the demand for Peggy Nisbet dolls grew. She conducted detailed research on each costume and their character which were designed with great accuracy. There was wide variety ‑ from Henry VIII and his six wives, to Tutankhamen, and the doorman at Harrods! She regularly attended collectors’ conventions in America, which further promoted the dolls.  At its height, the House of Nisbet was the second largest doll manufacturer in Britain.  In 1979 she was honoured to be awarded the MBE for her services to export trade. Harry said this was a fitting tribute to someone who put Weston-super-Mare on the map, especially in America.Henry 8th with wives Nisbett

The interview concluded and Sir Harry was taken to meet Cllr Mary McEwen Smith as well as other personalities.

Sadly Peggy died on 9th October 1995, aged 86.   Tributes poured in from all over the world. It is fitting that her dolls still remain as collectible as ever.

For such an international doll collection to be held in this small museum in Somerset was a revelation to me and I urge everybody to visit the collection in Clara’s cottage before the museum closes in April; it’ll be two years before we see sight of them again. For further information see websites belowPeggy Nisbet photo



Burlington Museum’s Alfred Jewel Replica

There are many enthusiastic buffs interested in Anglo-Saxon artifacts, including myself, who were unable to see the Alfred Jewel at Taunton museum due to time constraints. This setback was due to the brevity of the exhibition, the Jewel being on display for one month only. The good news is, however, that there is a replica Alfred Jewel on display in Burlington museum. So for all those disappointed people who were unable to get to Taunton, here is a second chance to view the jewel. The replica Jewel will be on display until the museum closes in April. The museum then undergoes a two year refurbishment with the aid of a lottery grant of a million pounds. It reopens in 2017.

Alfred Jewel 2015

A few notes about the Jewel

The design is in the form of a tear-drop shaped gold frame, the edge of which bears the inscription Aelfred mec heht gewyrcan (Alfred ordered me to be made). Within the frame is a highly polished piece of quartz decorated with a pattern formed by pieces of enamel in various colours and separated by strips of flattened wire known as cloisonné, and depicting the figure of a man with wide eyes, long locks of hair, his two arms carrying stems fruiting from a bulb.  The jewel terminates in a stylised animal head, its jaws containing a rivet.

The figure is thought to be of Alfred, or a Saint or possibly a figure depicting sight, the most important of the five senses, and necessary for reading and the accumulation of wisdom.

It has been suggested that it is an aestel (a pointer used for following written text), part of a crown or an ornament worn as a brooch or pendent.

The Alfred Jewel replica has come from one of three manufacturers. Payne and Son of Oxford who produced copies for the millennium celebration of King Alfred in 1901, W.H.Young for the Ashmolean museum and Elliot Stock of London.

The replicas were cast from a mould, probably made from drawings of the original and then hand worked to finish.

The Jewel in The Crown

Alfred Jewel

A few years ago I travelled with the Friends of the Museum to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, to see the Alfred Jewel. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to view it close up and not from a photograph. I had to elbow my way through an eager throng of fellow enthusiasts wanting to see this Saxon masterpiece, and the effort was well rewarded. I was not disappointed. The detailed filigree design on gold and the inset figure of Christ in crystal just took your breath away.

Discovered in Petherton in the 18th Century, it was donated to the Ashmolean and has stayed there ever since. Imagine my excitement at learning from assistant curator, Amal, that the Jewel will be displayed in The Somerset Museum Taunton for the next month; an unexpected second chance for me and many others like me to see the Jewel.

The management are to be congratulated on pulling off such a momentous feat and I hope this will be one of many National Treasures coming to Taunton.

Into The Singularity

On Friday 23rd, staff and volunteers met to discuss the future plans for the museum. This will be a difficult task as it is not known whether the HLF bid will be successful or not. A poignant comment by one participant was that we must remain positive; although there are two roads to go down-the bid is a winning one or not-the path that leads to the greater good, i.e. the closure and refurbishment of the museum should be our priority.

Katherine produced her mind-map sheet and suggestions were invited from the floor.

Many original and inventive ideas were put forward such as using time lapse photography to record the museum’s re-development; cafe enhancements; have the paranormal group to return; re-introduce gallery guides; invite local artists to stage ‘Banksy’ type exhibitions and much more. I was impressed with the quality of the suggestions and will eagerly look forward to the results of our endeavours. Thank you to the caterers for the sandwiches and drinks.

ANNUS 2015

A Happy New Year to all my friends and thank you for your support during 2014.

So it’s out with the old year and in with the new!

The million pound HLF funding decision will be in early March. We are all willing it to be successful and then volunteers and staff can plan their future roles within the refurbished museum. But first of all we have the Friends of the Museum season of talks and lectures.

Friday 23rd January 2 pm. A talk by John Penny on ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside’ showing us Archive Films of the ‘Avon and Somerset Riviera’ from the beginning of the 1900’s.

On Saturday 25th January from 12 to 4 pm there is the Somerset Show at the Winter Gardens and the results of the ‘Day in the life of’ competition at 1.30 pm.

For those fashionados amongst us we have the Mayor’s Fashion Show on Thursday 5th February at 7.30 pm.

My favourite, and I’m sure a firm favourite of like minded folk, is on Friday 27th February at 2 pm when we are led ‘Down the Garden Path’ holding hands with Linda Hall and regaled with the ‘History of the Privy from Roman times to the present day’.

And in March is our AGM on Thursday 19th at 7pm when Cllr John Crockford-Hawley will entertain us with tales of ‘West Country Smuggling’ and will give us an update on the Museum’s bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
As usual, meetings are held in the Museum in Burlington St and are FREE to members. Visitors are welcome at all our talks for a small fee on the door.


Only five days to Christmas and it’s been a hectic time for this blogger! I attended a candle-lit Christmas Carol service at a local church a few evenings ago. In carols and verse the message of Christmas was remembered. A new life was brought into the world, full of promise and expectation; to bring peace in troubled times.

In the flickering light of the alter candles and the dark shadows cast by the rising columns of stone to the vaulted roof, we band of worshipers shared a communal companionship. As a humanitarian gesture and in the spirit of Christmas the vicar had invited some of the destitute of Weston to join us for this service and ensure they had a hot meal afterwards.

Santas grottoOn Saturday, the first of two market days at the museum, the craft stalls in the exhibition room were so numerous that it was a tight squeeze between them but there was adequate frontage for the public to peruse the displays. From home knitted ware to fancy cards, to the Friends of the Museum stall of bric–a-brac, there was a diversity of products to tempt the buyers and free refreshments waiting for them afterwards in the palm court. The children were suitable entertained with music, balloon twisting and exploring Santa’s grotto, ably assisted by enthusiastic museum staff colourfully attired as elves.

I detected a satisfying end to the day for many stallholders. It certainly was for the Friends, who, despite one of their volunteers rushed to hospital-and we wish Vivien a quick recovery, made the event a success.


‘Away in a manger, no crib for His bed’. Many generations of school children have sung this carol when re-enacting the Bethlehem scene. Mary is resting on straw bedding, her child Jesus lying in a manger with three wise men at his side; their camels tethered outside. Only the domestic animals close to the manger give warmth in the stable, all of them in a room without a roof and under a starry night sky.

Pauline Kidner at U3AThis idyllic scene was brought to mind when Pauline Kidner of Secret World gave a talk on her life with wild animals for 26 years, to an attentive U3A audience this afternoon.

From small beginnings of this and that, at a dairy farm, and with no prior knowledge Pauline built up her expertise with the help of a local farmer. Deer, badgers, fox cubs, Hedgehogs and even Porpoises were sent to Pauline and her staff. They don’t hold back in bringing them every attention to restore their health but sadly not all animals were able to be saved. The audience were surprised to learn that vets were not trained to tend to wild animals as it was uneconomic! Pauline hopes to remedy that with a veterinary school exclusively for wild animals and has started asking for donations. The talk ended with questions on the case for Badger culling. Pauline said if the shooting of Badgers was the answer to stop the spread of TB she would be 100% behind it but believes it does not. She tests her badgers for TB and those who are clear are vaccinated before release. We all enjoyed an interesting and informative talk from Pauline and gave her a hearty hand clap.