Jump to content

* * * * * 4 votes

Shoulders of giants

Posted by Mikkel , in Figures, Construction, The Depot 30 November 2013 · 2,467 views

Navvies GWR Farthing Goods depot
Shoulders of giants I’ve been reading Patrick McGill’s “Children of the dead end: The autobiography of a navvy”. McGill worked as a navvy in the 1900s and became known as the “navvy poet”.

It’s a fascinating read, and it made me realize just how much we owe to the men who built the railways, canals and towns. Talk about standing on the shoulders of giants!

So instead of the usual progress report, I’ll let the navvies do the talking this time. The lines are excerpts from McGill’s poem “Have you”.

Posted Image

Have you tramped about in Winter, when your boots were minus soles?
Have you wandered sick and sorry with your pockets full of holes?

Posted Image

Have you sweltered through the Summer, till the salt sweat scared your eyes?
Have you dragged through plumb-dead levels in the slush that reached your thighs?

Posted Image

Have you worked the weighty hammer swinging heavy from the hips,
While the ganger timed the striking with a curse upon his lips?

Posted Image

Have you swept the clotted point-rods and the reddened reeking cars
That have dragged a trusty comrade through the twisted signal bars?

Posted Image

Have you seen the hooded signal, as it swung above you clear,
And the deadly engine rushing on the mate who didn't hear?

Posted Image

If you want to prove your manhood in the way the navvies do,
These are just the little trifles that are daily up to you.

Posted Image

And if you haven't shared the risk, the worry and the strife,
Disappointment, and the sorrow, then you know not what is life.

The young gent in the left hand foreground is McGill (click image for larger size). His book "Children of the dead end" can be downloaded free here, and his poems "Songs of the dead end" can be found here.
  • Like x 36
  • Craftsmanship/Clever x 7

Are you sure you weren't Charles Dickens in another life Mikkel.A fabulous piece of narration and modelling.I like the MT buffer stop by the way.

Nov 30 2013 11:09

Definitely on par with Dickens as a story teller!


Brilliant stuff Mikkel.  I worked on building sites as a young man in the UK for an Irish Civil Engineering Contractor (Ground workers).  Whilst H&S and machinery had improved dramatically by the 1980's it was still very hard work.  Those lines about sweltering Summer days, up to your waist in muck and swinging large hammers, picks and shovels under the curses of the Irish gangers hold a lot of resonance for me.  On the flip side there was great camaraderie among us and I made a lot of friends for life.   


That last picture is brilliant - how did you superimpose the figures?

Job's Modelling
Nov 30 2013 11:09

What a nice entry again. It's a pleasure to read.


Kipling wrote a nice poem called Cold Iron ( our iron railways or the use of iron in common?)


Gold is for the mistress -- silver for the maid --
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade."

"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all."


Also all those people who earned their money working  with hot and cold (track) iron.

Nov 30 2013 12:06
You've completely knocked me sideways with that Mikkel.

Absolutely blown me away.

I think you've taken the bounds of what the imagination projected onto railway modelling can be to a totally new dimension!

I'd been looking forward to a new post from Farthing and it's been worth the wait - a really imaginative and creative post!  Apart from the sheer ingenuity of it all, your 3-planker looks so much better than mine!  I must learn how to do weathering, and the grey underframe looks convincing too :)



Nov 30 2013 18:50

Outstandingly innovative and very very creative! 

You never cease to amaze me Mikkel!

I cabt find the button marked "more than like and more than very clever" !

Nice one Mikkel, inspirational in many directions. It also puts into context my claims to have been a 'navvy' after a mere two month stint digging through frozen ballast with a pick-axe on a siding in the Midlands...

Very emotive.


Thanks guys! I should emphasise that I didn

Mike, Will - sounds like you've had some interesting firsthand experiences from today's civil engineering along the lines, although I hope it wasn't anything like what it must have been in the 1900s. There's some pretty awful stories in McGilll's book. Interestingly, he seems to think the work on the railways was the easiest kind of labour!

I can only agree with the previous comments! I'd not heard of McGill, thought provoking stuff.

Another fascinating post!


Cheers gents!
I like those lines from Kipling, Job. Especially "Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall. Simple but powerful.
McGill certainly didn't mince his words. I couldn't help smiling when I read this in "Children of the dead end":

"I have heard of workers' missions, railway missions, navvies' missions, and missions to poor heathens, but I have never yet heard of missions for the uplifting of M.P.'s, or for the betterment of stock exchange gamblers."

Wonderful stuff, and a lovely read... as always Mikkel ... :-)


I think I read this before any comments had been made, no sorry just checked and I completely missed them.  I was shaken, and could not write anything at the time, not because I did not know this sort of thing happened with and to the navvies but the poem brings it to life.  Real people, real stories, real hardship.


Thank you for sharing

Very original and compelling read - thanks for rounding off my Sunday with a smile :)

I agree it's thought-provoking stuff to read McGill's stories and poems. Especially the book which has some horrible stories in it. Interestingly, the poem that I've quoted from (which is fairly long) ends by pointing out that there was a good side to being navvy also, ie the freedom of being "on the road" and how the hardship made life taste stronger. 


I get the feeling that McGill probably romanticised things a bit though. And he got out of the hard life later on: After the war he went on to become a journalist.


I've just realized that I forgot to give some of my navvies appropriate facial hair! Now that Andrew Stadden has embarked on a 4mm range, perhaps we can convince him to do his 7mm navvies in 4mm too!    http://www.acstadden...FigureSets.aspx

Dec 02 2013 12:01



McAlpine's Fusiliers


The above is a link to a popular song amongst Irish navigators of the 60's/70's (although it was still being bandied about in the 80's). It was written by Dominic Behan and was about the Irish navvies of my Father's generation.  I agree, McGill would have romanticised things as an older man who 'got out' of the industry - I do!  But the work is really only for younger men - after 35 and you've had it really.  I knew a lot of that generation who died relatively young (around the 60 mark) who tried to carry on with the working and drinking - many of them stayed single and followed the work around the country.  We used to call them the 'long distance men'.  Most of them, though, were very noble, honest and hard working.  


You've really started something off here, Mikkel - a great debate about the value of such people.



Dec 02 2013 13:54

If my Dad were still around to read this I'm sure it would bring a tear to his eye.  Thanks Mikkel, your ability to bring life and depth to something as everyday as tracklaying and fitting buffers is inspirational!

Dec 02 2013 23:23
Great stuff Mikkel. Where did you source the figures?

Mike, thanks for the link to McAlpine's Fusiliers. Intrigued by: They sweated blood and they washed down mud ! I think it says a lot about how hard this work was if you were done by 35. Very sad that so many died relatively early. And devilishly ironic that they helped build a civilisation where we are now so comfortable that we have trouble getting enough exercise.


Alan, glad you liked it, it's just modelling but all modelling is a kind of story telling, I think? It's amazing how much there is to learn from historical modelling about past life and times (and the present!). And the life that evolved around the railways was so rich - and still is to some extent, as evident from the "human dimension" thread.


Wiggo (he certainly got the gold, eh!), the three figures in the last two images are Monty's, here's a shot of two of them unpainted: 




The faces are perhaps not the best in the range, but the poses are very charismatic.  The bloke with the hammer is a modification of the porter on the left below, from Alan Gibson. I changed the position of his left arm and added a hammer. Again, the face isn't too good so I modified it a bit with some putty.



Hi Mikkel -


Brilliant as usual..  As I read the words I could almost hear the tune...  Maybe not the 'Dublin Fusiliers' - more Ewan McColl's 'Ballad of Accounting'...  And then, of course there is the folk ballad 'Working on the Railway'!





Hi Ian, and thanks for those titles. I'm off to look them up on Google.

Ashley Bridge
Dec 31 2013 16:39
Mikkel Your Blog is a constant source of amusement and your scratch building an inspiration to many of us. Happy New Year, Rich.

Thanks very much Rich, it's certainly a lot of fun to do. Happy New Year to you too! 

Welcome to Farthing!

Attached Image: farthing2.jpg


This blog chronicles the building of "The Farthing layouts", a series of small OO layouts that portray different sections of a GWR junction station in Edwardian days.


Intro and concept
How to eat an elephant
Design principles
State of play


Gallery (1900-1904)
Four o'clock blues, ca. 1902
What really happened in the Cuban...
The honourable slipper boy (Part 1)
The honourable slipper boy (Part 2)
The honourable slipper boy (Part 3)


Gallery (1904-08)
The trials of Mr Bull
A most implausible arrival
A parcel for Mr Ahern
Blue skies and horse traffic
The Remains of the Day
Motley crew

Edwardian daydreams


Gallery (1914)
All in a day's work, Part 1
All in a day's work, Part 2
All in a day's work, Part 3
All in a day's work, Part 4


Out of period
Undecided sky (1867)
The sleeping giant (1887)
Bunker first (1927)
Fitted fish and piles (1947)


Once Upon a Time in the West
Summer silliness
The unbearable lightness...
Across the years
The Sidelight Job
Painting coach panels

Traverser testing


Low-tech pre-grouping stock

Short trains for short layouts
Short trains with a twist
Hand-me-down coaches
Low-tech coach restoration (1)
Low-tech coach restoration (2)
Low-tech coach restoration (3)
Low-tech coach restoration (4)
Low-tech coach restoration (5)


Sprat & Winkle couplings
3 plank Open in GWR red
Outside Framed 8 Ton Van

In the red: GWR 1900s wagon liveries
In loving memory...
Scratchbuilt one-planker (1)
Scratchbuilt one-planker (2)
MSWJR 3-plank dropside
LSWR 10 ton sliding door van
SDJR Road Van
LSWR stone wagon
Fake news and wagon sheets
Same but different: 1900s wagons


GWR 1854 Saddle Tank (1)
GWR 1854 Saddle Tank (2)
Shiny domes and safety valve covers
Backdating the Oxford Dean Goods (1)


C+L underlay and Carr's ballast
Experiments with C+L track
Comparing track
Messing about with track panels
Laying track on "The depot"


GWR horse-drawn trolley
GWR 5-ton horse-drawn vehicle
Parcels van and coal trolley


Fun with crates
Barrels, baskets, bales
Small crates and tea chests


Andrew Stadden 4mm figures
Backdated Monty's figures
Footplate crew
HO figures for an OO layout
Lesser known whitemetal figures


Constructing the Branch Bay
First bite: "The bay"
Simple structures for "The bay"
Platform trolleys and barrows
Signs, posters and adverts
Six lessons learnt


Constructing the Goods Depot
Second bite: "The depot"
Shunting Puzzle
Sketches of The depot
Soft body, hard shell
Kit-bashed roof structure
Dry Run
Dusting off the cobwebs
Playing with mirrors
Mezzanine floor
Progress on "The depot"
4mm slate roofing
The treachery of images

A roof for "The depot"

A tall bird from Paddington
Cranes for the depot
Shoulders of giants
Flight of the bumblebee


Constructing the Old Yard
Third bite: "The sidings"
Wagon propulsion
Progress on "The sidings"
Rising from slumber
The Biscuit Shed
A shed and a lock-up
Agricultural merchant's warehouse
Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall
Stops, levers, plates, gauge, wall


Constructing the Stables
GWR Park Royal stable block
GWR stables - an overview


Railway modelling and Art
Moving Pictures
Season's greetings


Layout ideas
A flexible layout
Kicking back in Gloucester


Pre-grouping livery clippings
Journey to Didcot
Detail hunting at Didcot
Here's looking at you
The mists of time (and all that)
My friend the operating chair
Ready-to-plonk freight
GWR Modelling website


RMweb Workbench
Flickr photostream

Recent Comments