Do you remember Meccano – the model construction system that involved using metal plates, wheels, nuts, bolts and axles to create your own miniature mechanical device? writes Holly O’Mahony…
It was invented back in 1901 by Frank Hornby in Liverpool. While it maintained its popularity for much of the 20th century, by the 1930s interlocking bricks known as Lego came on the scene, offering an alternative for those less focused on mechanics, more intent on simply building a model replica of something. Today, of course, equivalent activities exist inside apps and other forms of technology accessed via a tablet, smartphone or other digital device. But Meccano is still alive and well in south east London. In fact, the South East London Meccano Club (SELMEC) is holding its 40th Annual Meccano show in Eltham on Saturday October 27.
It all began for SELMEC back in January 1976, when the club’s founder, Chris Warrell, held an inaugural meeting in his parents’ house, for which eight people were present; some of whom are still SELMEC members today. Subsequent meetings were held in St. Luke’s Church Hall in Eltham, then the Salvation Army Hall in Welling once the church hall felt too cramped. Within a couple of years, the club was well established and a pattern formed in which four quarterly meetings were held every year.
The club held its first public exhibition in 1979, an event which saw a turnout of nearly 400 visitors, surprising the 16 members of the club at the time. “All our members turned up with models along with a number of modellers from other clubs,” said Chris Warrell, in a post about the club’s history on the SELMEC website. “Of the 366 visitors who paid the sum of 20p or 10p for entry, fifteen decided to join the club that day, almost doubling our membership in an instant!”
SELMEC became actively involved with the biennial Meccano exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden in the winter of 1983. The models remained on display there for a week over Christmas and New Year, attracting attention from the BBC, which led to a one-off filming of the BBC Breakfast show there.
For Tim Surtell, who now runs the Meccano Show, a recent SELMEC highlight coincided with the 2012 Olympic Games. “We decided to run our own MeccanOlymipcs at the Meccano Show, with events like the Push of War and Ping Pong Put,” he recalls. “Then in 2014 we had our own version of the Tour de France, complete with yellow and green jerseys for the winners.”
Tim has been a member of SELMEC since he was 12 years old, and for a long time was the club’s youngest member. He’s exhibited at most of the Meccano events since then, today running the website, the London Meccano Club Events Guide and many of their other events held throughout the year.
“One of my favourite things is helping children discover Meccano for the first time,” says Tim. “We run a Make It With Meccano workshop at our events where we provide parts and instructions for simple models, and it’s great seeing how children use their imagination to build on from these models to create their own unique designs.” The children then have the chance to enter the show’s Meccano Creative Challenge, where prizes are awarded for the best models built over the course of the day.
Fast forward to 2018 and on Saturday October 27, the 40th annual Meccano Show is being held in Eltham United Reformed Church – the site of the club’s initial meetings, where they’ve been based again since 2004. The event is a chance to browse models of cars, cranes, trains and more, all built entirely from Meccano. It’s also an opportunity to buy Meccano parts from dealers, build your own model and be entered into the Meccano Creative Challenge – with a chance of winning a prize.
“This show will bring back childhood memories for parents and grandparents, as Meccano was once one of Britain’s most popular toys,” points out Tim. “For kids, it will be a great way to learn about science, mechanics and engineering, by seeing what can be made with Meccano parts, and by building their own models.”
South East London Meccano Club’s 40th annual Meccano Show is being held at Eltham United Reformed Church, 1 Court Road, Eltham, London SE9 5AD. October 27, from 10:30am – 4:30pm.
Admission: £5/FREE for children accompanied by an adult.