Comedian and actor Eddie Izzard returned to his home town and re-lived his boyhood last Tuesday (July 12).
With the flick of a switch, Eddie inaugurated Bexhill Museum’s latest attraction - the Izzard family train set which has been given to the museum by Eddie and his brother Mark together with their father.
John Izzard started the lay-out while working in Aden in 1959 and awaiting the birth of Mark. Layout continued when the family returned to Bexhill after the birth of Eddie in 1962 and lived in Cranston Avenue.
The train set is of great significance and poignancy as John greatly extended it as a project to occupy the boys during the illness and tragic death of their mother, Dorothy, at a young age in 1968.
The train set has lain unseen for 40 years. But Eddie, patron of the independent, voluntarily-run museum, wanted to share the family’s enjoyment of it.
Since January, Bexhill Model Railway Club members Ken Bywater, Colin Feise, Owen Skinner, Alan Douglas-Hayden and Michael Canning have put in countless hours of work to weave the Izzard family 00-gauge track and rolling stock into a layout representative of the Sidley and Bexhill that Eddie and Mark knew as boys.
A row of scale properties evokes their Laburnham Cottages, John’s home and from where for eight years from 1948 he rushed daily to Sidley Station to catch the commuter train to London on the Bexhill West-Crowhurst branch line.
An industrial unit evokes the old Chiltonian biscuit packing factory behind their home, a garage represents Smith and Humphrey, which happily still operates.
There’s a forge and a primary school, a church and a chapel – even the ice cream van which Eddie ran at Galley Hill as a student.
Like the rest of the buildings, John’s model ‘Sidley’ station is lit by 21st Century LED bulbs.
Ken Bywater scoured the country in search of points for the long-defunct Triang track, tracing a supply via the Manchester-based Triang Society.
Opening the layout accompanied by his father, Eddie told a packed museum technology gallery: “What they (Bexhill Model Railway Club) have done and what they have put into it is amazing!”
The layout, he said, had far exceeded their expectations. He swiftly set the ‘Crowhurst Flyer’ in motion around the tracks and was immediately totally immersed in operating the system.
John Izzard says he has never seen anything like it. “The detail is tremendous,” he said. “You don’t see anything as good even in the best displays.
Museum chairman John Betts said the train set is a wonderful gift not just for the museum but for the town. “The museum is custodian of it but it belongs to everybody. Hopefully, it will boost our admissions numbers.”
Museum visitors young and old will be able to send two trains around the double track via press-buttons but technology - undreamed of when Eddie and Mark were boys - will allow fully-digitalised automatic operation of the whole complex of points and sidings, accompanied by steam engine sound-effects.
The layout sits on a custom-made wheeled platform in the technology gallery alongside steam, petrol and battery-powered cars of special Bexhill significance.