Organising a group for the South East was the brain child of Peter Wilson, our first Secretary. Formed in 1998 the first meetings were held in a pub basement in Sevenoaks, Kent, and then migrated to the Montefiore Hall, Three Bridges, Crawley, for 2 years. The advantage of Three Bridges was the close proximity to Three Bridges station plus a large off-road car park, as well as being the approximate geographical centre for the S.E. Division. Having two rooms, the larger room/hall was ideal for modules/running, presentations and open days whilst the smaller hall was gainfully and successfully employed with the bring and buy and traders, quite often overflowing into the main hall. During this time, mainly on account of the healthy increase in membership, our Division adopted the name Seaboard Southern (a play on words/names of American railroads) and placed on a more formal basis by way of a constitution and committee.
Disadvantages of location were the hall costs allied with the need to erect and dismantle modules each meeting before the caretaker arrived to lock up. It was not always feasible to have all modules available for each meeting (once a month) so costs, combined with the practicalities of module assembly and transportation provided the incentive to explore alternative permanent premises where layouts could enjoy a more permanent status. Fortunately a suitable venue was located in Crawley. As everyone in the UK is all too well aware, property in the South East is very much at a premium and extremely expensive.
Following six months of negotiations we were fortunate, and indeed very grateful that Crawley Council offered us the exclusive use of purpose built premises commencing December 2000. Redecoration was completed, using surplus paint kindly supplied by the Crawley Model Railway Society, allowing permanent layouts, work areas and most importantly tea/coffee refreshment facilities to become a reality, ensuring the future of the S.E. Division is secure for a good many years.
Unfortunately, on 26th July 2010 our clubhouse was destroyed in a fire, resulting in the loss of years of hard work and club members' locomotives & stock. We had a huge response from the American Railroading clubs around the UK and from local suppliers who have offered us replacement layouts, general support and even offers of store credit! Now the good news...due to the hard work of one of our past members, Richard Harreiter, we secured a lease on new premises in a commercial development, giving us more space and a more secure environment. We officially moved in at the end of September 2010 and currently have a 3-year lease. We are planning on building a Freemo modular layout, with club modules and modules supplied by club members. So, the club lives on!