Bassett-Lowke Underground Sets and station at TCS, Biggleswade - March 2015




In 1934 the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB), formed the previous year, organised a demonstration layout at Charing Cross Underground Station (now Embankment), Bassett-Lowke being commissioned to supply the models. The exhibition appears to have been a considerable success - certainly as far as Bassett-Lowke was concerned.  The interest shown in the (rather over-scale) model tube trains was such that for a while they added them to their catalogue.  But herein lies a minor mystery. The catalogue specifically refers to them being made out of wood, and wooden bodied ones certainly exist - in two versions, in fact, as some have an extra blue stripe to indicate a Bakerloo Line train.  But brass ones exist too.  Why?  It is not known for certain, but it is supposed that the brass ones were those actually used on the LPTB exhibition layout, and later sold off by Bassett-Lowke, with wooden copies being made when the stock was exhausted. Curiously, though, whilst the sets are very rare in any form, the brass ones do seem to be more common than the wooden ones - although the relatively fragile bodies of the latter may be a factor.

Aside from the underground sets, Bassett-Lowke also made a station and island platform in the new London Transport style, giving it the name of ‘Ashfield’, surely in honour of Sir Albert Stanley, 1st (and only) Lord Ashfield, who, as General Manager of Underground Electric Railways from 1907, effectively created what became London Transport, subsequently serving as the first Chairman of the LPTB, a post he held until just before its abolition at the end of 1947 on the creation of the British Transport Commission. Despite of his 40 year dominance over the capital’s transport network, however, his peerage - granted in 1920 - was more directly linked to his brief spell in government as President of the Board of Trade (1916-19), the title being chosen to reflect his family’s Nottinghamshire roots.


The layout is based around an original Bassett-Lowke wooden ‘Ashfield’ station and matching Island platform.  However, we also have some replica sections - including a ‘back platform’, which Bassett-Lowke never made - which allows a great deal of flexibilty.

As regards stock, the ‘star’ items are two of the rare Bassett-Lowke Underground sets, one in brass, and the other one in wood with the Bakerloo Line markings, which was bought through a general sale in Ilkley in a ‘distressed’ condition and restored by one of the group.  Aside from the well-known Hornby ‘Metropolitian’ locomotive and coaches, there was very little else made in the 1930s that would be suitable (although we do have a vintage box van, made out of wood, with ‘Metropolitan’ makings that may be by the Windsor Model Company - Windsor did not trademark their products, making attribution difficult), but modern makers have shown greater interest in the subject, and we have a range of items by ACE Trains and Darstaed that allows us to do either a mixed Metropolitan/London Transport layout, or one just using London Transport stock alone.  


Our ‘standard’ layout would occupy approximately 10’ x 20’.  This, however, may need some adjustment for ‘Ashfield’, as the Bassett-Lowke platforms are wider than the Hormby or ACE ones.

This could alternatively be done as a smaller double-track layout, although this is limited by the nature of the platforms, which are each made up of one section 52.5” long.   The minimum area required for a sensible layout would therefore be approximately 6’ x 10’.  However, if the Underground sets were to be used, that would be inadequate, as they need 3’ radius curves, making the minimum area closer to 8’ x 12’.

Photograph courtesy of J.S.W.