In 1952 the Railway Modeller magazine ran a monthly feature entitled 'Personality Parade' which portrayed a 'prominent and popular' person from the world of railway modelling at that time. The April edition featured D.A. Boreham, Hon. Secretary of the Model Railway Club since 1949 and, by that date, already a distinguished modeller with a pioneering reputation. In 1952 Don had already been involved in the hobby for 16 years but he would go on to produce inspiring models of narrow gauge and often unusual prototypes well into the 1990s, a modelling career spanning seven decades!
Don began modelling in about 1936, initially capturing the South Eastern & Chatham and London, Brighton & South Coast Railways in 4mm scale, two companies he particularly favoured. However space considerations led him to investigate 2mm and he carried out a considerable amount of experimental work in this scale, incorporating adapted 4mm motors in scratch built locomotives, many years before the N gauge movement finally got underway. The transition to 4mm narrow gauge was a natural progression, driven by Don's passion for anything under 4ft 8 1 /2in gauge and particularly the Irish 3ft systems and Isle of Man Railways. His work in this scale began in 1938 but was inevitably interrupted by the war which found Don, a master of many languages, travelling to many distant corners of the globe on 'special operations' on behalf of his country.
In 1945 Donald Boreham joined the Model Railway Club and resumed modelling, returning to his project to capture Irish and l.o.M stock in 4mm narrow gauge on scratch built 12mm track - no ready-to-lay commercial track systems in those days and the 009 Society just a dream! In 1949 Don became Hon. Secretary of the Model Railway Club and began an involvement with their annual Easter Show that was to draw thousands of railway enthusiasts to Central Hall each year until the 1970s. Don launched his 4mm Irish and l.o.M narrow gauge models into the public arena at the 1952 exhibition and the rest is history. In each subsequent year Don challenged modelling conventions with a series of unfashionable or unusual narrow gauge prototypes, each scratch built in his own pioneering style. After successfully developing some of the earliest 4mm n.g. models on 9mm and 12mm track, he moved on to 7mm and finally 16mm scale, adding examples of many other railway systems to his collection, from Fiji to Scotland, North Wales to Cornwall.
In the 1960s Donald was part of a group within the Model Railway Club who founded the Merioneth Railway Society for those who shared his growing passion for 16mm n.g. modelling. The group determined the standards from which all 16mm modelling has evolved and brought together a common fascination for narrow gauge, an interest in modelling and an enthusiasm for research. This determination finally forced narrow gauge onto the modelling map as an acceptable element of the hobby alongside conventional railways and paved the way for the what is now a popular and successful component of our hobby, particularly in 4mm /009 scale.
For over 50 years at Central Hall, Wembley and later the Horticultural Halls, Don held court as one of the MRC demonstrators, imparting advice, but more importantly encouragement, to all who expressed an interest in narrow gauge modelling. He was a popular lecturer at weekend seminars but was happy to discuss modelling with both his peers and the youngest enthusiast. Following retirement he took centre stage at provincial exhibitions in Thame, Aylesbury and Princes Risborough, continuing to inspire and enthuse visitors and fellow modellers alike.
Don's ability to convey in simple terms what for many was daunting and complex is epitomised in his classic book' Narrow Gauge Railway Modelling' first published in 1962. Hundreds of enthusiasts worldwide acknowledge that this publication prompted their first steps in serious modelling and particularly narrow gauge. Much of its appeal is due largely to its practical but laid-back approach, typified by the author's recommendations regarding holiday modelling opportunities. Indeed, many of Don's coaching and freight vehicles were constructed on the beaches of the West Country!
Don was renown for the unusual, no more so than when he took up the challenge to successfully model the Listowell & Ballybunion monorail in 16mm. However his work was not confined to railway and he constructed a number of maritime subjects, culminating in the 'Merioneth Queen, a meticulous scale working model based on a Med way vessel with working feathered paddles!
Calling on his language skills he made a huge contribution to narrow gauge historical research by translating the important 1878 Edouard Vignes narrow gauge publication into English.
Despite playing a key role in the very beginnings of narrow gauge modelling Don was happy to embrace modern technology and trends, introducing during the 1980s live steam, battery power and then radio control to his garden railway alongside the earlier electric locomotives. Few modellers can have witnessed such change to our hobby over those seven decades and still remained the benchmark.
The models on display today span most of Donald Boreham's modelling career. A few of the pioneering 4mm Isle of Man items have survived including coaching stock dating from 1938 and a section of handbuilt 12mm track. Even these early models demonstrate the laminated card construction so clearly described by Don in his writings and adopted worldwide for its simplicity and effectiveness. 7mm narrow gauge is represented by 'Chevalier' of the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway and "Pentarwen" from Cornwall.
Dwarfing these models are the 16mm giants which were Don's contribution to the Merioneth Railway collection developed through the 1960s and 70s and including "Strider", the Festiniog & Blaneau 0-4-2, Thorin Oakenshield, a Double Fairlie, the Burmese Garratt and the Fiji Free Train. Also displayed are historic models created by fellow Merioneth Society member Frank Norrington which were left to Don.
Don gave so much to our hobby, enthusing and encouraging beginners, demonstrating practical modelling techniques and, above all, championing the unusual and particularly the narrow gauge Hopefully this display, as well as ohering a fitting tribute to a man described as " the father of narrow gauge modelling" and, quite simply, "a legend" will continue to inspire young and old alike.
If there has to be one image that conveys the essence of Don Boreham and his modelling then I offer his 16mm Merioneth Railway single Fairlie, based on a Spooner doodle, negotiating one of the triple-gauge 20/32/45mm point on Donald's garden railway. Long live narrow gauge!
Francis Gomme Risborough & District Model Railway Club