Recreating The Living Past
Landscape|September/October 2017

A painstakingly - created model landscapes encapsulates the essence of a rural Oxfordshire vale in bygone times

Katy Islip

UNDER BLUE SKIES, a steam train puffs its way through the peaceful countryside. Rumbling over a bridge, its London-bound passengers catch a glimpse of a bus stopped on the road below, its driver disembarked and deep in conversation with a farmer filling his horse-drawn browser from the river. Pushing on, the train passes grazing sheep and horses, fields of ripe crops and harvest-time activities, before drawing into a village station. This is Pendon Parva, in the Vale of White Horse, but despite all the signs of activity, no passengers will alight. For Pendon Parva is an imaginary village sitting in a model landscape, painstakingly built, largely from card, to capture a slice of rural life in the vale in the 1920s and 1930s.

Known as the Vale Scene, this incredibly realistic layout is the centrepiece at Pendon Museum in Long Wittenham, Oxfordshire. Measuring more than 69ft by 30ft (21m x 9m) and covering more than 1,991sq ft (185sq m), it is the ongoing realisation of the dream of one man, Roye England. It speaks of a deep connection to the world it replicates, made all the more remarkable by the fact Roye was not born here, but half a world away, in Perth, Australia.

Arriving in Plymouth in 1925 as a young man of 18, he boarded the Star Class locomotive Westminster Abbey to travel to his new home and was immediately captivated. “Roye was inspired by two things that day. He fell in love with the Great Western Railway, because of the elegant locomotive, and with the English countryside, which was very characterful and green, and a great contrast to Perth,” says Chris Webber, museum curator and long-time volunteer at Pendon.

A visionary man

A lover of trains and modelling from a young age, Roye came to Britain to patent a complex automated model train control system he had created. Settling in Wanborough, near Swindon, in the western end of the Vale of White Horse, he became fascinated by the surrounding farmland and its way of life. “The interesting thing about the vale is that it was one of the last pre-industrial landscapes in southern England,” says Chris. “There was little mechanically that was not horse powered.”

Even so, times were changing. Buildings were being updated, farming methods were modernising, and new methods of transport were making their presence felt. Appalled by such changes, Roye vowed to preserve the vale’s buildings and way of life in model form. He wanted to create an imaginary village typical of the vale in the years 1923 to 1938, set on a hill and surrounded by farmland. The Great Western Railway would run through it, and every element would be as realistic as possible.

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