An Itty-Bitty Bit of the Madder Valley

2023-01In my review of Philip Harvey’s book Amberdale in this issue, I mention that Philip decided to be inspired by John Ahern’s Madder Valley Railway, but not copy it, and try to work to the standards of the Pendon Museum. For those of you who may not know, John Ahern was a British model railroader who started to build an HO layout in 1937 he called the Madder Valley Railway. John wrote three books on his model building techniques: one in 1948 titled Miniature Locomotive Construction, one in 1950 titled Miniature Building Construction and one in 1951 titled Miniature Landscape Modelling.

I have owned and read these books over and over for many years, and was surprised to find them listed today for sale on the internet. John also wrote many magazine articles about his layout including at least one in the Model Railroader. He scratchbuilt most of his models from simple materials such as cardboard. John believed that a model railway should go from one point to another and appear to be traveling through the scenery. He believed in more scenery and less railroad. His Madder Valley had towns with streets, a canyon with bridges, a boat yard, factories, people, wagons, back gardens, and vintage motor cars, another of his interests. The layout was full of all the detail we love and use today to add realism to our layouts in a time when most layouts were all track and trains.

ABOVE: Bert’s Garage appeared on pages 114-115 in John Ahern’s Miniature Building Construction book.

John also had a sense of humor. The names of his railway and the towns along its right-of-way are examples. The layout was called the Madder Valley, maybe some British reader can tell us why. He also had Madder Port, Much Madder, and Madder Still. And then there is the Quibble and Cuss estate agents, Brandy Keg pub, and Cuckoo Island.

After John’s death in 1961, his wife donated the layout to the Pendon Museum with funds to properly display it. So, you can see it today in a splendid glass case. I understand the museum runs it several times a year. If you can’t make it to the Pendon Museum, you can see the Madder Valley in action by Googling its name. There you will find several You Tube videos well worth watching.

While not up to today’s standards, after all it’s almost 90 years old, I have always liked the Madder Valley for its charm. It was scratchbuilt when there were few commercial parts available, and conveys John’s view of the railways he loved.

My itty-bitty bit of the Madder Valley occurred years ago when I found an O scale cardboard kit for John Ahern’s Bert’s Garage. A photo and plans for Bert’s appeared in John’s Miniature Building Construction book on pages 114-115, and I always wanted to build a model of this garage. So, when I saw a cardboard kit of the garage hanging on a peg in Caboose Hobbies in Denver, I bought it. Bert’s has been on my layout for over 20 years and never fails to remind me of John Ahern and his Madder Valley.

—Bob Brown, Editor

2023-01This article appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Narrow Gauge & Short Line Gazette. Subscribe Today!