Croft Spa in N gauge

01 June 2020
Les Richardson satisfied his layout-building addiction with this ode to the trains of yesteryear on the rails of the East Coast Main Line in County Durham.


Layout name: Croft Spa

Scale/gauge: 2mm: 1ft / 1:144 scale / N

Size: 10ft x 2ft 9in

Era/region: BR (E) 1957-1965

Location: East Coast Main Line four miles south of Darlington

Layout type: Continuous loop

Having completed three exhibition layouts, the urge to get on and start another became strong in early 2016. The overall size of the layout was to be the largest I could fit into my car. The layout was to be N gauge and DCC, with an Eastern or North Eastern Region focus on a main line. I also thought I would try to model a prototype location a lot more closely than last time, and to include a station, but where?

The East Coast Main Line was the obvious first place to look. I looked through track plans and prototype photographs and finally came upon Croft Spa, at the southernmost point of County Durham, about four miles from my birthplace of Darlington. When the Darlington to York main line was built it was actually the second railway to be constructed in the village. Croft Depot was at the end of the Stockton and Darlington Railway’s Croft branch, somewhat to the west and at a lower level. Hence, Croft Spa Station was built with a carriage dock at each end and a trailing crossover, making it compact to model. There were disadvantages, however. The station buildings were distinctive with the platforms on the Down (northbound) side being low level to the end. There were two useful overbridges on the line that could conveniently frame the ends of the layout, but the line runs straight between them and I don’t like straight main lines.

Croft Spa in N gauge

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Rail Infrastructure

Baseboards were built to a much higher standard than I can achieve myself by Professional Layout Services of Nottingham. Track is laid on a bed of cork to give a shoulder and allow the cess to be below ballast level. Peco streamline was used with Code 55 track along the front with large radius points powered by motors mounted above the baseboard behind the backscene. The curves at the ends are Setrack third and fourth radius. The 12-road fiddle yard was laid with Code 80 rail with a conventional ladder at the entry and curved points at the exit to allow the greatest train length possible. As a result, the shortest road will take a 12-coach express train. Points in the fiddle yard are thrown by hand.

Control is digital, with an NCE booster on the floor feeding two circuit breakers, one for the Up line and the other for the Down. Currently two Powercab handsets are used, one usually handling each line. There are no isolated sections on the layout. On the prototype there were no signals between the two bridges other than ground signals. If I can source a two-lamp four-aspect signal, I might site one non-prototypically before the crossover to add more interest. The ground signals are present but non-working.

Croft Spa in N gauge


A series of site visits and a long close look at Google Earth gave a good idea of how to fit the main features of the Belgrave Terrace area into the plan. To the west of the railway, the earth excavated when it was built into the hillside was piled to create a cutting. Belgrave Terrace behind the railway actually drops below the level of the railway, but on the east side, gardens are built up the slope to finish at the top of the cutting. I wanted to show this even if the buildings are not exact replicas. Beyond the end of Belgrave Terrace a track leads across the field to a farm that has been substantially modernised. I decided to split this field in two and create the Croft Cricket Club to fill half of the space.

Sub-structure was built up using foam board and plaster bandage, with some balsa to make level bases for structures. The plaster was painted brown, then green over the top and a layer of scatter applied, with static grass where I wanted to show the grass as a little longer. The cricket ground is grass matting. Trees are by Noch, Heki and Woodland Scenics. The bridge at the north end is recycled from another layout, while that at the station is balsa faced with Redutex.

Croft Spa in N gauge

Building Structures

The station buildings were built for me in Plastikard by the late Trevor Webster, and are the very last set of structures he made. All of the buildings that stood on the site are included, though not all were present at the same time. The tall signal box looks over the road and was demolished around the end of World War I. I defy anyone to say “I remember that box and it is wrong”. The footbridge gave me a few anxious moments, but Hornby kindly included a standard NER footbridge in the Lyddle End range.

Croft Spa in N gauge

With the area outside the railway being shortened, I decided to keep to the pattern of the buildings on Belgrave Terrace and look for smaller buildings that fitted the pattern. Where the current buildings on the Terrace are 1970s or later, I have substituted them for something plausible. Hopefully, the model catches the flavour, even though it isn’t an exact replica. I was able to make the distinctive shop on the corner of Belgrave Terrace by putting together three Lyddle End buildings in an order they certainly weren’t designed for, whitewashing two of them to match the prototype. The remaining houses in the village are a mixture of Lyddle End, Scenecraft and wargamers' ready-to-plant items, with resin castings by Ten Commandments and kits by Kestrel and Peco. Most of my hard work has gone into making them all look as if they belong to each other. The gardens of Belgrave Terrace face the front of the layout and I put a lot of thought into these, giving each householder a character to reflect the garden created for them. Neither of the two pubs is in the right place; The Station Inn is really on Hurworth Road to the east of the railway, while the Iron Horse is in Newton Aycliffe, some 12 miles to the north. Similarly, the chapel has been moved up the hill and reduced in size.

The farmyard is a bit fanciful; the old barn is a wargaming resin casting, while the two Dutch barns were up-cycled from a swap meet scrap bin. Fencing throughout is a mixture of what I could get hold of. As with many farms there is a good tractor, with older ones in increasing states of filth. I’m still not sure there is enough clutter here, but I don’t want to add too much too quickly. I spend a long time sitting in front of my layouts adding figures to bring it to life. In particular, I try to make sure that figures interact or ignore each other as they would in real life.

Croft Spa in N gauge

Life on the road

Being a prototype location and with a set time of 1960 (plus or minus five years), the trains needed to be convincing. There is the usual procession of expresses and fitted goods hauled by Gresley and Peppercorn ‘Pacifics’. A Berwick to York semi-fast is an eight-car Metro-Cammell DMU set with a Buffet Car in one four-car set. Stopping trains are two-car DMUs and an ex-LNER autotrain propelled by a G5. One signature train is an eight-coach express hauled by a tender-first V2. This is a troop train headed for the Catterick Camp branch. Slow freight trains are hauled by WD 2-8-0s, including an occasional ex-works example on a running-in turn, or by J25, J26 or J27 0-6-0s of North Eastern origin. There is a northbound oil train that is hauled by a Class 33 as these occasionally got as far north as Tyne Yard, while a southbound train of sheeted opens has a disreputable Class 25 propelling a brake tender.

At exhibitions a sequence of trains is operated at appropriate speeds, ranging from the local goods ambling home, to the Deltic-hauled 'Tees-Tyne Pullman', which runs at full line speed. One northbound parcels train leaves a van in the parcels bay on one trip and collects it again next time round. A brave operator might attempt to swap the van in the bay with the next one on the train. Two trains are on each track backstage and the handsets are set to allow the second one to be called forwards while the first is out-front.

Croft Spa in N gauge


To finish, my thanks to Trevor and Geoff for their help with structures, to Neil Stevenson for his superbly-engineered baseboards and to the fearless team of operators who are coping well with handling two trains at any given time, one of which may be belting round the front threatening to pile into the back of the other. Lastly to my wife, for answering endless questions of the “Do you think that looks right there?” variety.

To read more about Croft Spa, see the November 2019 issue of BRM. Download today from