Eddie Izzard helps to keep railway weekend on track

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Actor and comedian Eddie Izzard delighted local children when he dropped in at a big model railway weekend at Bexhill.

John Dowling writes: As generous as ever with his time in his old home town, actor and comedian Eddie Izzard gave Bexhill Museum a tremendous boost at the weekend.

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Fresh from performances in Kiev and Sofia, the museum’s patron devoted the better part of two days to supporting the independent, voluntarily-run enterprise’s model railway display weekend.

Since its launch last year, the Izzard family model rail layout in the Egerton Road museum’s technology gallery has proved a major attraction. The original Triang 00-gauge layout was built for Eddie and his brother Mark by their father, John, as a distraction at a time when their mother was dying.

It lay in an attic until the family decided to donate it to the museum. Bexhill Model Railway Club members re-built and enhanced the layout for public display.

Father and both sons were at the weekend exhibition and there was a queue at the door when the museum opened on Saturday. Eddie had been Tweeting about the event to good effect.

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Visitors young and old were able to enjoy a variety of club layouts in scales ranging from two millimetre N gauge to generous 7mm 0 Gauge with attractions in each of the three galleries plus the Education Room.

Outside in the park, Polegate Engineering Club member Tom Pettitt was offering rides in the sunshine on the trailer behind his third-scale 1910 Burrell traction engine. Two and a half years of work went into assembling the fastidiously-accurate replica.

While his father renewed acquaintances with a host of old friends and Mark quietly enjoyed browsing the displays, Eddie was busy.

Between quizzing club members in detail about their layouts and taking “selfies” on his mobile phone to e-mail to the museum’s website, Eddie made the happiness of countless fans complete by posing with them.

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Among these was birthday boy Rufus Butcher, four, whose family had travelled from Sittingbourne, Kent. But they were far from the furthest-travelled.

Kent and Peggy Cross, from San Diego, California, saw an event in Newcastle, heard about the Izzard family model railway in Bexhill then discovered that an event was planned at Bexhill Museum.

Model railways in San Diego, it seems, are on circular tracks. They had never seen layouts where trains went to and fro and were impressed.

Eddie met Rod Palmer of Baseline Baseboards who had built the base for the Izzard family layout. Model club member, museum volunteer and event organiser Ken Bywater introduced him to John Langley. John created the collectors-item 00-gauge goods trucks bearing “Chiltonian” signage that the museum shop now sells at £12 apiece. The Chiltonian biscuit-packing factory which closed in 1980 stood alongside John Izzard’s old family home at Laburnham Cottages in Sidley.

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The family layout featured locos with steam and diesel engine-noises for the weekend. Eddie was able to show Brian Smith who was running the layout the family history illustrated about the display.

Bexhill Museum is almost entirely dependent on admission for its income. The model railway club’s initiative – boosted immeasurably by the support of Eddie, his father and brother - saw £750-worth of income in the first few hours alone.

After two busy days Ken Bywater said: “I think it has gone far better than we expected – far, far better.”

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