Clews Cottages

Clews Cottages

One of the highlights of my year is the AGM and exhibition of the 7mm Narrow Gauge Society held at Burton on Trent. It’s an intimate show illustrating all that is best in, what is for me, a fairly new found hobby. It has all the ingredients of a good day out – a variety of relevant trade stands, layouts second to none, and a warm welcome from fellow members. What more can you ask for? Oh yes, memorable beer from The Cottage Brewery and bacon cobs to die for. Perfect!

On the couple of occasions of my previous visits to the show I had been impressed by the very high standard of modelling and took inspiration from those models and particularly from the Society’s publications from which I have used the plans for locomotives and rolling stock made by me over the past three years.

Early retirement led to a surplus of spare time. This needed to be profitably filled and railway modelling has done this admirably. I spend four or five hours a day shut in my ‘railway workshop’ away from life’s trials and tribulations. I have, however, realised it can be a lonely hobby. My layout, The Glendon Valley Tramway, is securely bolted down and only about twenty people other than myself have ever seen it. Earlier in the year, enclosed with Narrow Lines, was the list of the categories for the competition at the imminent AGM. It happened I was working on a row of cottages for my layout at that time. Set on its own base, it included a garden but was still portable, waiting to be fixed down onto the layout. I read the rules and decided it was eligible for entry into the Earl of Clew Cup section. Not naturally an ‘exhibitionist’ (excuse the pun) I was somewhat apprehensive about entering this, particularly having seen the amazing exhibits in the past. As the day approached I started to have sleepless nights. Silly really, but I suppose not being particularly competitive, I became apprehensive at the thought of my work being on display.

Arriving early at Burton the row of cottages was set up on an empty display table, and it looked quite presentable. However, on returning to the hall an hour or so later, I could not even see the cottages being overshadowed by some wonderful exhibits. The skill and artistry shown by my fellow exhibitors sent me straight to the bar to drown my sorrows. In the afternoon, following an interesting AGM (well, better than most!) the time came for the competition results. Ever since school days I have had a fear of my name being called out in front of the class, and this day was no exception. I must have looked like a Cheshire cat when it was called out. I don’t remember walking up to accept the cup except shaking hands with Howard and grinning cheesily towards Nigel and his camera. This was only the second prize I have ever received in over 60 years. The first was for long jump when aged 11.

I was floating on a cloud, still am in fact a week later. I cannot tell you how excited I have been since and how bored everybody is with my recounting this memorable occasion. An email from Mike Pountney arrived congratulating me and suggesting an article for Narrow Lines brought me down to earth. What can I say about these cottages that may be of interest to fellow enthusiasts, particularly having drooled over the work of Gordon and Maggie Gravett at the show. Whilst no pearls of wisdom are likely to fall from my pen, here goes!…..
I always thought it would be easier to build freelance buildings and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts now always copy an original. The cottage, situated in Long Wittenham, the home of Pendon, attracted me because of its dereliction and a couple of photos were taken, one of the front, the other of one end (Photos 1 & 2). I can’t be bothered to produce scale drawings, so I scale everything as I go having scaled the overall dimensions from a door or even counting the number of bricks if appropriate.

Clews Cottages - By John Mileson

Having been a picture framer I tend to err towards using 2mm acid free mountboard for all my buildings, and the cottage is no exception. I ought to say, however, I was very impressed by those buildings I saw at Burton made from foam-core, so I may have a go using this next.

The carcass was made up conventionally, but I do add a lot of internal walls to strengthen the shell. (Photo 3). Before glueing on the roof the doors and windows (already painted) are glued in. These are made from strips of thick watercolour paper in the usual manner. Using the same paper, strips were cut and then lopped off into brick-size pieces. Hundreds of them!

I have great admiration for modellers who use embossed Plastikard with great success. However, I don’t possess the artistic skills to hide the joints or make a realistic job of painting the bricks. I therefore glue them on using PVA onto the chimney stack and cottage individually. I find it very quick to do and therapeutic. Once dry the bricks are given a wash over with ‘beige’ watercolour to represent the pointing. With a dilute mix of orange/red watercolour the bricks were dry-brushed until the desired effect was achieved.

The ultimate effect was to have some of the cement rendering appear to have fallen off revealing the brickwork below. To do this, the rendering made from DAS modelling clay was smoothed over the card walls which had PVA adhesive brushed onto them. The clay layer was as thin as possible, probably no more than 1mm thick. This was put on by hand and finally smoothed over with a small wet trowel. The DAS was allowed to overlap the brick areas by a couple of millimetres and then when almost dry the edges of the rendering around the bricks was trimmed with a scalpel. (Photo 4). The rendering when dry was treated to a wash of dilute dirty cream watercolour.

The novelty of this building is probably the thatching which is extremely quick and easy to do. Thatch is naturally thick and this was achieved by smoothing over the roof a thick layer of DAS. I really do mean thick! In places it is 10mm or more but is contoured to give the effect of age. (Photo 5). The trimming of the DAS around the eaves and dormers is quite critical and reference should be made to a photograph of thatch before cutting away at the wet DAS.

Once done this base for the thatch is left to dry for several days. The next bit is the exciting bit, well better than watching TV anyhow. A piece of white (or cream) terry towelling was cut sufficiently large to cover the whole of the cottage roof allowing for plenty of overhang. Old towelling is preferable since all the finishing chemicals will have been washed out. I also find a clip round the ear can sometimes be painful if permission has not been granted to use one from the bathroom!

The hardened DAS was coated with a liberal amount of PVA. The operation appears daunting at this stage. However, the towelling was carefully laid onto the glued surface and smoothed over and around the contours. It moulds itself around the sharpest of corners very easily. I checked it was all well stuck down after about 10 minutes and left it to dry overnight. At this stage it looks like … well, more like a sheep than a cottage. (Photo 6). When dry the excess towelling was easily trimmed off using a scalpel and scissors. Where necessary, like under the eaves, the towelling was cut large and glued under. (Photo 7).

Next came the painting of the thatch. Again this is a lovely satisfying job, literally daubing the towelling with dilute enamel (Humbrol) paints. One word of warning though – because the cottage walls were already painted and finished I did ‘mask’ these by wrapping some surplus towelling loosely around them. The painting process was simple. Humbrol colours were used, the main colour No 98, a little No 110 and a little No 80 plus some white spirit. Using a fairly coarse watercolour brush and having arranged before me the three tins of paint and the white spirit, I dipped the brush into the main colour, then into the white spirit, and then scrubbed the dilute mix into the surface of the towel. It is important to make sure the paint is well scrubbed in. The white spirit will ensure the colour bleeds into the thatch. Very small amounts of the other colours were applied in the same manner just to give some variety in the colour of the thatch. The green must be particularly sparingly used as this gives the effect of moss in the thatch. Just to finish the painting, run the brush vertically down the thatch to ‘comb’ the thatch to give a natural appearance. Once dry, detailing can then be added. Carrs weathering powders were used where appropriate on walls and chimney. Ivy and other climbers were glued on where appropriate. The only remaining job was to site the cottage into its garden setting. I glued the cottage down securely, taking some care to ensure it looked a part of the scenery and not sitting on it. (Photos 8, 9, 10 & 11).

I realise I am no threat to the Pendon modellers or any of our hobby’s gurus, but winning the Earl of Clew Cup has lifted my spirit enormously and I hope those modellers that have not had a go at entering the competitions at the AGM will have a go. Even had I not been successful, the pleasure of being involved more in the hobby and not just looking on is enormous. Have a go!

John Mileson
May 2009

Winner of Earl of Clew Cup at Burton AGM and

Winner of Scenic Section, Gauge ‘O’ Guild 2011 at Telford


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