Pete Waterman’s £1m model train collection goes on sale

pete waterman railway autionSpecialist auctioneers Dreweatts will conduct the sale of what are seen as the ‘Fabergé Eggs’ of the model locomotives world, including what Waterman argues is the finest model ever built, the Beyer Goods, valued at £100,000-120,000.

The man who helped set pop guru Simon Cowell on the road to success has also carved out a pre-eminent role for himself in the world of train modelling and railway preservation over the past 50 years. As the world’s leading collector and patron of modellers, he has committed limitless sums to his interest, championing the best modelling talents in the same way that Renaissance patrons funded the most talented artists of their time.

Now he has decided to sell what amounts to around a tenth of his collection in order to raise enough money to secure the future of his beloved Waterman Railway Heritage Trust, which holds his collection of full-size steam engines, housed at sites around the country.

“These full-size engines won’t be back in steam for ten years. I’m 68 now and this is probably the last chance I will have to restore the engines held by the trust, so I’m making sure there is enough money in ten years’ time to continue the job,” he explains.

The sale includes the Beyer Goods: “The greatest steam railway engine built in miniature,” says Waterman. “It’s an unglamorous goods engine, but David Aitken, the only one of the four great modellers still alive, built it for himself with no thought to cost. It just has everything.”

Waterman has chosen to sell only the live steam side and the 10mm to the foot scale models from his collection. “They no longer fit into the wider collection. It’s almost like I was into Pre-Raphaelite art and I’m now a modernist,” he explains.

The remaining 90% of his collection is of almost incalculable value. It will never be sold, making this a unique opportunity to acquire objects of this calibre. Waterman sees them primarily as works of art.

Dreweatts will conduct the sale on the premises at Mallett of Dover Street, Mayfair, bringing the ultimate prizes in the world of modelling to the magnificent setting of the former London palace of the Bishop of Ely.

A number of the 56 engines in the sale were the creations of George Mackinnon-Ure, who Waterman considers one of the greatest modellers ever, and who worked exclusively for him from 1987 to 2004.

“We planned the whole 15-year programme at the very beginning. There was no budget, it was a case of whatever it took. It took 14 months just to make patterns for casting. He was worried I wouldn’t see a locomotive for three years, but I didn’t care just as long as it was the best.”

Waterman describes his relations with Mackinnon-Ure as a meeting of minds. “If I needed to scrap three models he’d made to get the perfect one, I would. It didn’t matter what it cost. And as a perfectionist himself, he never allowed me to see the engines while he was building them when I visited his workshop.”

Look at the preview display for his sale at Mallett and your eye immediately settles on the huge 12ft long engines, but size is not what it’s all about.

“The big ones are great, but it’s all about the craftsmanship and uniqueness. Because everything has to be made exactly to scale, it takes longer to make the small ones. So with a loco like City of Birmingham, the accuracy and scale means that you can’t steam it because the pipes are too small,” says Waterman.

Even more incredibly, working out every last obstacle to the scaling down process had to be done before construction had even started. Any mistakes and they would have to begin again, no matter how far down the road they had gone.

“Even in the showcase gauges of 7¼in and 5in gauge I did something different. Other people who collected them wanted to show them in a garden or park, whereas I approached them as works of art.

“I set out to create the best, and I have done for railways what some people have done for model cars and planes.”

Waterman has been collecting for 56 years, starting at the age of 11 when he paid around £8, twice the going rate, for a rare engine that had gone out of production 20 years earlier. “I sold it about five years later for £30 and that’s what got me started.”

He funded that first purchase with money saved from his paper round – a guinea a week – and the five bob he’d get fetching coal in his sister’s pram. Another source of income was the ‘flying choir’, a venture he launched when he realised he had a good singing voice and could earn 10/6 from three weddings at different churches across Coventry each Saturday. The entrepreneurial spirit had kicked in at a young age.

The reason his love affair with trains started so early and reached such a fever pitch?

“When you live in a council house and these things go past your door, it’s your first encounter with beauty. There were people sitting with white tablecloths and table lamps having dinner. It was magical. Think of the contrast: we didn’t even have glass in the windows at home.”

Other famous names in the music business who also collect: Jools Holland, Chris Evans, Roger Daltrey, Rod Stewart, for instance.

“It’s great when you meet up though. Model trains are an interesting calling card and give you a break from the music to have something else to talk about,” says Waterman.

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