Model Rail pays tribute to master modeller Allan Downes.
Chris Leigh presents a tribute to master modeller Allan Downes.
Iwas fascinated by Allan’s model-making from the days when he first started submitting to Model Railway Constructor, back in Steve Stratten’s time in the 1970s. In those days, he created stonework using fire-clay cement. Later came the magnificent cathedral, its rose window made from the lid of a margarine tub. Like most great artists, Allan had his ups and downs and would disappear from the scene – sometimes for several years – then pop up again with something sensational. Allan approached me when I was editor of Model Rail as he wanted to show off some of his latest offerings. To give it a nice rural feel, I called the series ‘The Downes Way’. I went to his home on to or three occasions, and recall being squashed inside the door of his garage workshop while I held up a huge white backscene behind his model of Scunthorpe Steelworks. The inside of the garage was a dull grey-brown colour from floor to ceiling where Allan had expended countless cans of red oxide and grey primer to get the effects he wanted. You could taste the fumes in the air! Much of the steelworks was made from recycled odds and ends, yet it looked exactly right. A few minutes later I managed to knock a fine whitemetal horse and cart off the front of his layout. It didn’t stop him giving me a number of his buildings to sell for charity. I still have one or two of them, awaiting a suitable opportunity to sell them for a sensible price. I couldn’t resist buying his Tintagel Post Office, which is the only model I have in my sitting room. He gave me a massive wooden industrial structure – a North American sawmill – but the one Downes structure I’ve never owned was one of his cottages, much as I would have liked to. Allan’s modelling was quirky. He never finished bits that you wouldn’t easily see. Tintagel Post Office, for instance, has no slates on the back part of its roof. There was one subject on which we never agreed. He never put any interior detail in any of his models and I tried to convince him that the addition of some simple curtains inside the windows would make a big difference. I never succeeded. Perhaps he felt it would slow him down, and it was the speed at which he worked that gave his creations their character. He had a stroke some years ago, and it seemed that would be the end of his model-making but, amazingly, aged 80, he made a comeback and his recent models, including those black and white half-timbered structures from Chester and Ludlow, are surely some of his best. Allan was one of a kind. Artistic, creative, eccentric – certainly. I was told that he was banned from York racecourse after he drove his Land Rover across it to make a hasty exit. For many years, he’s been known to us all at Model Rail simply as ‘Downesy’. Successive editors, and photographer Chris Nevard, were invited to his home to see his latest creations. He was always welcoming, jovial and friendly, and when it was time for us to go home, he would pick up his guitar and fill the house with Apache, sounding for all the world like Hank Marvin. Sincere condolences to his wife and family.
Allan Downes with his trusty Fender Stratocaster – and the model buildings that have inspired generations of modellers.
Below: Allan liked to build layouts on 6ft 6in by 2ft 9in wooden doors from Wickes. This layout was typically Allan: “It inspired me to have a go and build a little quayside but, being me, I went over the top and included castles, warehouses, villages…”
Above: Allan didn’t just model ‘chocolate box’ cottages… The famous ‘queens’ blast furnaces at Scunthorpe steelworks inspired this model, which features Plastruct girders, sprues from kits, bits of drainpipe and old aerosol cans!