From our March Newsletter as written by Mike.
Many of our readers, of course, will be well aware of Ken Ball’s modelling skills and the huge contribution he has made over the years to our hobby.
Regular exhibition attenders almost anywhere in the North-West of England (and beyond!) will, no doubt, have seen many examples of Ken’s superb models. He has specialised in modelling buildings and. though most of them
are of original buildings with an historical interest, he has not been deterred from modelling modern examples.
But Ken is best known, certainly in our part of the UK, for his modelling of old buildings in the Macclesfield area. The picture above is a classic example of Ken’s attention to detail in his model of Macclesfield’s gas works. Sadly, the original building no longer exists but the model (in ’N’ scale) takes ‘pride of place’ on MMRG’s ‘Macclesfield Central’ layout.
It is an incredibly imposing structure that lends a certain grandeur to an otherwise ordinary railway coalyard scene.
Ken’s attention to detail is more than illustrated by his miniaturisation of the row of shops at the end of Chester Road (between Pinfold Street and Chestergate) in Macclesfield. The shops now include an antiques dealer’s but, at the time of the model’s setting, consisted of Sheldon’s butchers, G.M. Rush basket works and a linen shop. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures amply show Ken’s love of capturing the character of a building ….. even including the bowed front wall!
Fine examples of other well known Macclesfield buildings can be found on Ken’s own 4mm scale layout……. but not always in their original setting! The picture below shows a good example of real buildings in an unexpected setting.
Ken’s farm setting may not be a model of any farm in particular, but it is based on his observations and vast knowledge of buildings of all kinds. The scene gains its realism from the buildings included in the scene, his attention to detail (including the ‘sway back’ roof on the building next to the barn) and the positioning of the buildings relative to each other.
Ken is a ‘Macc Lad’ through and through. He was born in the town in 1930 and has been married and lived in the same house for 64 years! He went to what was known as the ‘Central School’ in Macclesfield and had thoughts
on becoming an architect …….. but the reality of 5 years with no pay whilst training soon halted that thought! Whilst in the RAF (he left before National Service began so is classed as a War Veteran!) he was asked if he could sign write for a model shop in Salisbury. He did and instead of taking a ‘wage’ he opted for a Graham Farish train set ……. and that’s when ‘the rot’ started!
He moved back to Macclesfield and, amongst other things, took a temporary Saturday job at Arthur Whitings model/toy shop on Chestergate where he started making cardboard building kits. There was a Hornby Dublo ‘train set’ in the window to which he added model buildings and scenery to transform it into a model railway. In 1953 Ken, in the company of others, set up a ‘small scale’ sub-division of the model engineering group in premises behind the Dolphin (that explains its long association with MMRG!) and in 1957 he, Arthur Whiting and 4 other model engineers moved the club into a two up, two down house on Longacre Street. Space restrictions meant they could only work on one layout at a time!
This property was eventually condemned so they moved again, this time to the Community Centre on Black Road where they had space enough to work on several layouts (and in different scales). The group became well known for the innovations they made – they were the first group to include lighting on their layout for an exhibition at the Corn
Exchange in Manchester! Today, presenting a layout at an exhibition without lighting would be almost unthinkable!
Another first for the Manchester show was a winter scene complete with snow and frost! It was a one-off exhibit. It had to be. The ‘snow’ was created from shaving foam and the ‘frost’ from sugar. It barely lasted for the duration of the show.
Ken models with a variety of materials, but he does like his plastic card. When I asked him how he laminated his ‘plasticard’ walls to give them the strength they needed he just looked at me with a wry smile and said, “Double sided tape.” I thought this was one of those ‘urban myths’ that had grown up around him, but not a bit of it! He simply tapes the two wall/roof panels together and seals the edges with MekPak (or similar). So simple and none of his buildings have ever fallen apart!
Ken has, over the years, produced somewhere around 600 model buildings for his own layout, club layouts and, on a commission basis, for a host of other people. At 87, Ken is still being asked to take commissions for his work!
Sadly though, Ken has decided to draw a line under ‘doing’ any more exhibitions – a conservative estimate puts his tally at well over 250 – and he thought it fitting to end where it all began; Macclesfield. This will be his last show and your last chance to see at least some of his ‘buildings of Macclesfield’ and see him demonstrate his skills. Over his lifetime, Ken has been an inspiration to other modellers and has contributed significantly to making our hobby what it is today.
Thank you, Ken