Model Rail pays trib­ute to mas­ter modeller Al­lan Downes.

Chris Leigh presents a trib­ute to mas­ter modeller Al­lan Downes.

Model Rail (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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!

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