Monday, 1 September 2008


Sad time for Wigan as far as I’m concerned: the model shop closed down last Saturday.

Boys in my day – or at least all those I knew – grew up making plastic model kits, aeroplanes, armoured vehicles and ships (even though I joined the R.A.F. after leaving school, I had always preferred ships and armoured vehicles). I’m hardly surprised at the closure of the shop though: we didn’t have computers, computer games etc in my day; we didn’t even have much in the way of television. We went out to play – physically very active play at that (often involving air rifles, catapults, bows and arrows, sticks, stones. We frequently hurt each other … ☺ ... but that was life: we didn’t go whingeing to anyone, or rush off to the casualty dept) - or, if indoors we made model kits, built things with Meccano or Lego, did jigsaw puzzles, read comics and books, and such-like. But today not many kids make model kits, so perhaps there isn’t the market for models there once was. I think growing up was more innocent, even if more robust, in those days (50s/60s).

Anyway, the shop may be closed, but the business will still be running an on-line model shop, once they get it up and running.

or at Piermodels Ebay shop.

So all is not disaster for those like me who’s childhood model-making has carried on right through life.

For those who did take the occasional look into the model shop window, the model of the KM Scharnhorst that was in there for the last year or so was made by me. It got a little bit battered while it was there, but I never minded – I got my pleasure from doing a damned good job of making and painting it; what happened to it afterwards was not something that troubled me. I had another model in the shop window too, but it didn’t last long before it got knocked off the shelf and broken beyond repair. Here it is (below) – the Thermopylae, which in its day was also referred to as “The Green Clipper”. Everyone has heard of the Cutty Sark, very few know of ‘the other one’. Yet, the Thermopylae was the ship that produced a world record sailing time, for sailing ships, between Britain (Medway), from anchors up, to anchors down in Melbourne Bay: 63 days. On its maiden voyage too! I believe that record stands to this very day (I’m open to correction if I’m wrong). In any test of speed the Cutty Sark never ever outperformed this ship. Anyway, here are a couple of pictures of the model I made that spent at least some time in the model shop window; 24 inches from bowsprit to stern, to give some idea of the scale:

I got on well with the model shop owner (he’s a shopkeeper, so I guess he probably gets on well with all his customers. It would be sensible wouldn’t it). Currently I’m making a model of the KM Tirpitz, sister ship to the KM Bismark. This I bought from the Wigan model shop. On the last day open, I called in just to speak with him and say bye. I noticed that he had a 1/350 model kit of the Bismark for sale. This set off a conversation – rather rambling and wide-ranging, as is usually the case in conversation with me. I mentioned that during the operation to sink the Bismark, after it eliminated the pride of the Royal Navy – HMS Hood – in about three minutes combat, the only reason a Swordfish torpedo bomber was able to put a torpedo into her was that the anti-aircraft weapons system on the Bismark was too advanced – the predictors couldn’t cope with anything as slow as the Swordfish. The irony is profound. Anyway, in this rambling conversation tha I mentioned that my claim to fame was that one of my uncles was on the boarding party that took the Altmark (reputedly the last Royal Navy boarding party armed with cutlasses – though I’m not too sure about the truth of that). And he said that his claim to fame, seeing as how Swordfish aircraft and torpedos were in the conversation, was that his father had been a Swordfish pilot and once dropped a torpedo onto Aberdeen. Can’t beat that one I’m afraid. It’s a beauty.

There are some wonderful stories out there that will in time be entirely forgotten, but really shouldn’t be.

Anyway, introduce your kids (and yourselves?) to modelmaking. Ten is old enough. I was nine when I made my first model … HMS Cossack, as it happens. Anyone see the connection with what went earlier?

Visit the online Wigan model shop and buy something. Then make and paint it. It soothes the soul.

I have no other connection to the model shop than as a customer. I just think such treasures should not be lost to today’s and future children.



Anti-gag said...

In the early 60's I got 1/6 pocket money, of which most weeks 1/3 went on a small 1:72 Airfix model. No problems in those days for a 7 or 8 years old to buy glue at 3d a tube. Later in the 60's I got around to painting my models. Spitfires, Hurricane, Me 109's, Meteors, and funny looking WW1 bi-planes all on a clear plastic stand, and were the little bottles of paint really only 4d each, or is that just my memory playing tricks on me?

Many years later (2004 I think) Nick Griffin stood in front of a war memorial, to Polish airman who fought in the RAF during the last war, to make a party political broadcast. After its airing many people got on there high horses and faked outrage at the use of a Spitfire for what they called a right wing party. Claiming it was an insult to all those brave Spitfire pilots who gave their lives in the fight for our nation all those years ago. Had anyone of these hypocritical loud mouths been a normal kid who grew up in the 1960's they might have been able to identify a Hurricane! (Having said that Griffin was only stood 15ft away from it, and even he referred to it as a Spitfire).

Later (1969 era) I moved on to 1:24 models (30/- then) hanging from my bedroom celling engaged in dog fights. It was always the me109 going down in flames, at least in my bedroom it was. How I afforded a 30/- model on 15/- week pocket money (I'd had a few rises since the early 60's) I don't know, but I did. And I still can't explaine what the Sopworth Camel was doing in a WW11 dogfight (mind you it did get 2 Me109 if I remember rightly).

And yes I had a series of air guns and catapults as well. Great days the 60's, or is that just my rose coloured glasses again?

Chris Hill.

Anti-gag said...

I always made aircraft never ships, but I can't remember why!