The editor
14. Completed model
3. Cder

The Model Engineer Exhibition as we knew it is, alas, no more. The publishers of Model Engineer magazine have apparently decided that they can no longer sponsor the Sandown Park event, having done so for most of the previous 107 years.

It was the creation of the great Percival Marshall (left) who also founded the magazine and the Society of Model & Experimental Engineers at the turn of the century. Over the years the fortunes of MEX have waxed and waned. The first was in 1907 and then sporadically until 1922 when it became an annual event. Initially it was in the Old Horticultural Hall, London, then the New Horticultural Hall until the early 1960s, with a break for World War II, until some corporate goings on meant it was missed for a few years. It was to return in 1964 to the Cora Hotel in London as an exhibition for models only with no trade or club stands due to lack of space. At that exhibition, the excellent models on view including Bill Carter’s wonderful Atlantic, Peter Dupen’s brilliant Midland 999 and an unpainted Allchin traction engine by a certain young Miss Cherry Hinds, all helped to revive the event.

Those early exhibitions were held in the summer months, but changed to January in 1968 with the Seymour Hall being the new venue. Success meant that it had to move to a larger venue in 1977, the Wembley Conference Centre, and then to the Wembley Exhibition Hall in 1988. In those days the exhibition included other types of modelling and woodworking - which was eventually given its own event, since abandoned.

Next move was to Alexandra Palace and the start of decline. Clubs and traders feared that the event had no future. Sir Hugh Ford, President of the SMEE, met with people from various organizations and it was decided that the exhibition would continue, under different management if necessary. However, agreement was reached with the organizers to continue and a group volunteered to help with the organization. Many new ideas were implemented.

The exhibition moved to Olympia and later to Sandown Park racecourse where it continued to 2014, shedding its general modelling content along the way due to pressure from some purists who wanted it only to contain model engineering.

An exception was in 2007 after the previous owners went bust, and new owners hired Ascot racecourse as the venue for the Centenary Exhibition and which bought together the finest collection of model engineering ever seen under one roof - modestly put together by your editor and his team at the time. Every famous model engineer was represented with their finest models. Some like Cherry Hill, Ron Jarvis, the late Len Mason, Les Chenery, Bill Connor, etc had their complete collections on show. The following year at Ascot saw erection of the famous Sinsheim track - about 5km of it!

It then went back to the smaller Sandown Park venue, and shrank year by year - the space occupied by the last Sandown Park exhibition was about one third of that of the competing event at Alexandra Palace.

This is neither the place nor time to dwell on why it failed. And all may not be lost.

Owners of the event, Myhobbystore, are said to have offered to hand it over to the SMEE with some financial support if the SMEE can keep it going.

Perhaps we shall see another stop-gap event like the models-only event in 1964. Perhaps new funding and a new business plan will permit again hiring an exhibition team to organize and market the event. Which is a big ask, but necessary to match the resources of the successful events in the UK like Alexandra Palace, Midlands, Harrogate and Bristol which is up there, even ‘tho it is a club event. Trying to emulate Bristol might have some appeal, but Bristol does have a lot of active local members whereas the SMEE’s membership is spread nationally and internationally.

Much simpler, of course, would be to take the  successful elements of the MEX like the competition with its medals and trophies, lectures and the SMEE workshop, and transplant them into one of those existing successful events, which would guarantee some future without the added complication of running the event and being responsible for its commercial health in these difficult times.

If it does end altogether, does it matter? Sentiment aside, probably not. Models will find their way to be shown at other events, and the SMEE would no doubt be welcome to put on a larger display/workshop at other events, it already supports the other major exhibitions, anyway.

But Percival Marshall will turn in his grave.

If you would like to help save the MEX why not join the SMEE in whose hands its future apparently lies, whether it remains an independent event or grafted on elsewhere.

Cherry Hill receives the Duke of Edinburgh Award at the centenary exhibition.