We were very excited to be given the opportunity to visit the Pendon Museum this week and take part in their half term model making workshop. Despite only living a couple of miles down the road from here we have never visited before so I was intrigued to see what it was like.
I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by just how well set up the place is. Embarrassingly I had kind of expected this to be pretty much an overgrown collection of someones model railway in an outbuilding or something – I couldn’t have been more wrong!! We walked through the entrance into a lovely little shop with a small cafe attached to it and were greeted by very helpful and friendly staff. We were given an audio tour pod each and shown how to use them. The kids thought these were absolutely brilliant (and I have to say I was impressed too!). You literally just wave them in front of the pod catcher symbol on the wall and the audio begins. The kids loved finding the symbols and listening to what each one said. Such a great way of making the displays interactive, even 3 year old Cody enjoyed listening to them.
I had always assumed this place was built by someone who had always lived in the village but in fact the man who started it, aptly named Roye England, was originally from Australia. He came to England at the age of 18 and fell in love with the Great Western Railway and the rural countryside, so much so that he decided he wanted to preserve it in models for future generations to see. He would take notes of things he saw and from these notes the models continue to be brought to life. There is even a model of Roye himself, in his younger years, writing notes in the huge Vale scene upstairs. See if you can find him when you visit. Bear in mind he is about the size of my thumbnail!
The first model you come across when you enter the museum is the Madder Valley Railway. This scene was built entirely by one man named John Ahern and was the first model railway to be built with its own landscape. The cute little details like people riding bikes and standing on the station platform are brilliant. There is so much to see. In this room are also displays showing how the models were created. The buildings are actually made of card and have an incredible amount of detail painted on them. Many of them take years to make.
The next room brought us to the Dartmoor Scene. The collection of buildings are based on places which actually once existed and there is an imaginary Great Western branch line with a long viaduct stretching across moorland scenery. The size of this model had us quite taken aback and seeing the different trains going round it was great fun. The volunteer operating the trains was very informative and told us all about the trains. He also let the children take it in turns sitting in the control seat. They were allowed to turn the daylights off and put the station platform lights on so they could see what it would have looked like at night. The kids though it was brilliant!
Upstairs we found the final model in the collection which is the Vale scene. This one is absolutely huge – I’m talking bigger than my living room kind of huge. In fact to be exact it measures 21 x 9 metres! It includes models based on real houses and buildings from around the Vale of White Horse in the 1930s. One gentleman who was visiting at the same time as us found a model of the house he used to live in! There were places from East Hendred, Culham, etc. The details in this scene are absolutely astounding. I spoke to one of the volunteer staff and she said that even though she has worked there for 30 years she still keeps finding things in it she hasn’t seen before! From tiny little cabbages growing in the allotments, to sausages in the butchers shop and a tandem bicycle leaning against a fence. We literally could have spent hours looking at this model as there was so much to see.
After having a good look at all the models we headed to the workshop room to have a go at our own model making. With the help of the volunteer staff the children were shown how to design a simple park with a pathway and tree in it. They drew out their path, then covered the grass areas with glue and put their ‘grass’ in place. Next they sprayed their trees with hairspray and sprinkled more green ‘stuff’ (don’t ask me what it was called – I have no idea!) over the tree to give it leaves. They put their trees in place on the model and voila! They were so proud! The museum runs these model workshops regularly in the school holidays so do check their website to see when the next one is running as its a great addition to the visit and is included in the price.
In total we spent about 2 hours at the museum for our visit. There is a disabled chair lift to get up the stairs to the second floor, however pushchairs are not allowed due to the limited space. There are toilets on site and a small cafe serving refreshments plus the shop which sells a variety of model and train accessories, books, etc. Many people tie in a visit to the Pendon Museum with a trip to the nearby Didcot Railway Centre to see the full size steam trains which would make a great full day out (you can read more about that here Didcot Railway Centre ). The Pendon Museum is open on limited days so do check the website before heading off to make sure it is open. Under 5s get in free which is very handy, especially as we felt the admission prices were perhaps a little high for the size of the museum and length of time you would spend there. Having said that, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and found the level of detail in the models both fascinating and astounding. The modelling workshop was a fantastic added bonus and I would highly recommend visiting on a day when this is running.
Address: Long Wittenham, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 4QD
Disclaimer: The Pendon Museum kindly gifted us tickets to visit the museum, however they had no involvement in this review. All photos, words and opinions are that of my own