A couple of middle-aged men are milling about in the light of a doorway of an otherwise dark street off Pentonville Road. The door belongs to an anonymous 1960s 3-storey building, enigmatically carrying a sign with only a stylised art deco logo and the letters 'MRC'. Nosey people like me will have long since googled this to find it's the headquarters of the Model Railway Club. With a soft spot for anoraks (and trains), and curiosity for stuff in my neighbourhood, I turn up to the regular Thursday 'track night'.
Admittedly I expect to find grey-haired blokes in tweed engaged in a very dry committee meeting and being told to shush. Instead I find myself in a stair foyer, from where I can see small groups of people gathered in different rooms, pottering on model layouts. I’m greeted in one of the rooms by the membership secretary and the chair of MRC, Tom, and Leslie, who are only too happy to show me around. There’s a small workshop and large scale model storage in the basement, a train model library buzzing with activity (yes grey hair, not much tweed, definitely no shush), other rooms with track layouts and most importantly, a bar. It feels a bit like a pub that happens to contain model railway layouts, and I chat to a young Spanish couple and their school-aged son who have come to see how the London railway modelling scene compares to their club back home in Valencia.
MRC has called King’s Cross home for 50 years, but it itself is home to an epic model of the neighbouring north. The layout is called Copenhagen Fields — under construction since 1983, it recreates the area west of the Cally near Caledonian Road tube, including the Metropolitan Cattle Market and clock tower. Set in the 1920s, it features herds of cows, an airship and other quirky period details. Even a section of the underground is modelled in the side of the layout. Here is one of the many oddly mesmerizing clips of it to be found online. If you want see it in the flesh, like a band it has tour dates — you should be able to see Copenhagen Fields at the London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace 26 and 27 March 2011.
The Model Railway Club, Calshot Street, welcomes visitors/new members on Thursday nights from 7pm.