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A toy soldier quest
Heading into the wilderness of the Peak District Dennis Diamond happens upon one of the jewels of the toy soldier hobby
I had no one to blame but myself. An expedition into the wilderness that is the Derbyshire Peak District in the middle of December was foolhardy almost to the point of lunacy. The weather can change in an instant in this rugged ancient landscape, with mainly resilient sheep haughtily watching your slow progress as you traverse the long seemingly endless miles. If it were not for the quest itself I very much doubt I would have endured the journey. So why was I there, what on earth was I looking for? If you guessed toy soldiers, then you would be correct, what else could lure me out of my warm burrow on a bitterly cold day to scour unfamiliar territory.
Patrick Adams, who is the inspiration behind the British Toy Soldier Company, lives in the hidden depths of the Peak District, I had met him on previous occasions at the Birmingham toy soldier show and found him to be a man consumed by a love for toy soldiers. I recalled Patrick once telling me of his museum near Buxton. Though highly intrigued I however put the notion of calling in one day to simmer on the backburner.
Having driven up from Devon, where I live, chiefly to visit my sick mother who was in hospital in Birmingham, I decided to take the opportunity to push myself even further up country and track down Patricks H.Q. With my trusty driver Mary we followed Patrick’s daunting instructions. “Where I live, at Reapsmoor near Longnor, there are only three farms and a pub, but it doesn’t look very much like a pub.................look for a union jack on a flag pole...............Find the flag and then look for a gap in a hedge..................there are no signs to indicate where I live or work. “ Hmmm, tricky I thought, and I was right. Longnor, 5 miles South of Buxton, is a decent sized community boasting oodles of character, with roads crisscrossing it in all directions. Once you find Longnor you start to feel more relaxed, you must be close, mustn’t you? I could see no signs for Reapsmoor where Patrick lives, so we did what we always do when lost, take potluck. Two long drives to nowhere followed until we found a local who put us right. Great we were now on course again................... Err, okay, we are on the right road but where is the union jack flag pole? Suddenly, after what seemed an age of scanning, reminiscent of Knights of the Round Table on a grail quest the skies parted, a choir of heavenly angels sang and a shaft of sunlight shone down on the identifying standard, we had found our goal! I told Mary to turn off the divine melodious tones of The Mediaeval Babes on the CD player, we had arrived!
Patrick and his wife Chris made us very welcome at their charming stone cottage set in nine acres of picturesque countryside. Hot coffee and mince pies were certainly well appreciated on a cold day and the conversation that followed was equally warming to the senses. Patrick is a man of multi talents with an extraordinary career CV which ranges from designing handbags and shoes back in the sixties, to now being ‘An event creator in the field of mountain biking and off road running’, along with of course his very own British Toy Soldier Company to manage. Interestingly Patrick also informed me that he and his wife had found the time to make from scratch some gunboats for King & Country. With no previous experience in such a delicate and intricate handicraft venture the end results are quite remarkable as the gunboat in question, copied from a King & Country original, is no less than the famous U.S.S. San Pablo (Pueblo), better known to most of us due to the Steve McQueen film ‘The Sand pebbles ‘made in 1966, the movie focusing on the turbulent situation in revolutionary 1926 China. Sadly all that Patrick had to show me of the gunboats were photographs, but even these made me envious to see the real thing for myself and you have to admire Patrick and Chris’ drive and determination.
2010 marks the tenth anniversary of Patricks toy soldier company and I was eager to see inside the museum, housing his collection, purpose built to his own specifications. We had chatted for over an hour, engrossed by a mutual love for the hobby and the man’s colourful past, then eventually Patrick said what I had been longing to hear, “ Would you like to see inside the museum? “ Try and stop me!
Unassuming from the outside the museum is one man’s manifest passion for toy soldiers. As you step inside you cannot help but stifle a gasp upon seeing row after row of toy soldiers. Patrick refers to himself as a toy soldier ‘ purist ‘, by that he means he collects only lead and white metal figures, you will be hard pressed to find any evidence of plastic toy soldiers here in his own miniature world. What he and his wife Chris have done here is little short of magic. The last time I can recall having the same buzz is perhaps as a small boy venturing into the toy shop to marvel at the colourful display shelves jam packed, as they were in those days, with toy soldiers for sale. Chris is responsible for a lot of the layouts and bears the brunt of the unenviable dusting too! But she clearly loves the museum as much as Patrick and the shared pride in their achievement is very evident.
The museum is home to old and newer toy soldiers covering just about every conflict you can name with civilians thrown in for good measure, I spotted Britain’s in abundance, because, like me and many of us likewise Patrick was brought up on Britain’s Ltd figures, but King & Country featured heavily, there was also Trophy Miniatures of Wales, Steadfast and Dorset Soldiers and a large swathe of Patrick’s very own brand figures.
Until my visit to the museum I had never actually purchased any British Toy Soldier Company figures, I had admired them yes, but when I saw massed ranks of world war one Tommie’s in khaki and sheepskins how could I resist, I was transported back in time for a moment being again that small wide eyed boy in the toy shop. Patrick has stacks of stock for sale and is exceptionally generous to those people bulk buying. I filled the car boot up! No word of a lie. Not only does Patrick have for sale his own companies’ fabulous wares but there are also many discontinued Britain’s boxed sets to rummage through, most notable for me was spotting, how could I miss it, the enormous Britain’s Ltd Delhi Durbar amphitheatre, long since out of production and something I had always regretted not buying when I had the chance several years back. I have to say though that his own range of WWI figures are truly lovely, there is crispness about them and a style which begs closer inspection. The WWI British army cyclist ( Set 108 ) is terrific as is the marching nurse ( Fig 84 )which I also purchased. Most thrilling of all was buying a group of 8 British WWI soldiers marching in sheepskins from set 80. Each of the sets comes beautifully boxed, proudly embellished with the British Toy Soldier Company logo, what else but a union jack and additionally something Patrick is keen to stress ‘Exclusively made in Great Britain. ‘ With so much of the products within our hobby stemming from China it is reassuring to find home grown talent.
Four hours later, and it seemed more like four minutes, we were away, having had a superb visit, my bank balance lighter, my toy soldier collection enhanced as was my faith in the hobby and the wonderful colourful characters who make it such a pleasure to be a part of. When we left Reapsmoor it was dark, fog had descended and we picked our way carefully through the country roads back to the world outside. Next time, and there will surely be a next time, we will know how to find Patrick Adams’ place a whole lot easier just so long as he doesn’t move the flag pole! Oh and by the way if this has inspired you to make a trip to the museum yourself don’t be put off by the remoteness, you will get there in the end and most especially telephone or email Patrick first as all visits are by appointment only, good luck, you will not be disappointed, the quest is worth the effort.
Date Published Mon, 04/05/2010 - 16:43
Author: Dennis Diamond
The British Toy Soldier Company
Tel: 01298 687331
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