London Model Tramways

4mm scale model trams

Dog Kennel Hill - the model

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Articles on Dog Kennel Hill appeared in the September 2008 edition of Railway Modeller magazine and the March/April 2008 edition of Tramfare magazine.  

The layout was exhibited for the last time in 2010.

Having built, operated and modified Kingsway Subway, my mind turned to what to do next. The combination of features that made up Kingsway was a hard act to follow.

I needed to find a subject that had the appeal of a true to life location with easily identifiable buildings that preferably still existed. Along with this an important tram heritage was required. There were a number of important tramway junctions of varying complexity that were considered, but a junction generally meant that there would be tracks shooting off in many directions which would make the layout unwieldy. It would also mean that special crossings would be needed - which is not really my area of expertise.

The steep Southampton Row ramp on Kingsway catches the attention and people had mentioned Dog Kennel Hill as being a rather more impressive incline. Like Kingsway, Dog Kennel Hill was another unique tramway installation - the four tracks having been built to enable an intensive service without the need for more than one car to be on the same incline at the same time, to reduce the risk of an accident should a car run out of control.

The buildings were rather more prosaic than those on Kingsway but in sheer magnitude had a grandeur of a sort. On the eastern side of the hill was, and is, an estate of brick built LCC council flats that were constructed between the wars. The flats are still there today making the scene instantly recognisable to anyone who knows the area. 

When I visited, and walked up (and down) the Hill, I counted about seven blocks of flats depending upon how one marks the change from one block to the next.  On the model I built four blocks copying large chunks as accurately as possible. Slight variations in the arrangement of the component parts makes for a less repetitive scene that might be expected.

The two lowest blocks incorporate shop units on the ground floor and these have been modelled. Period looking shops are provided as I have been unable to find clear enough photos of the retailers of 1951. 

The hill was straight-ish with a kink halfway down. At the bottom the road and the trams passed under East Dulwich railway bridge. The hill was reported as being 1 in 10 at the steepest point. Basing the design around two four foot base boards, I sketched out a design which had a foot of level ground at top and bottom with six feet of incline between. The west side of the hill, which would be where the viewer would stand, had a line of trees along the pavement. I considered the idea of having these in place - in the event I decided to position the kerb of the road along the edge of the board for most of it's length. At the top and bottom where the road narrowed I did put in a pavement with some trees. This helped to give the effect of the 'kink' in the road and reduced my expenditure on trees!  




Like Kingsway, Dog Kennel Hill was the scene of an intensive tram service. To enable this to be demonstrated I again provided return loops at each end of the layout. Each loop was provided with switched sections. The northern loop (at the top of the hill) was equipped with a passing loop. At the bottom the railway bridge provided a useful scenic break. At the top the 'hole in the sky' was rather inevitable, although the trees and a wall on the front of the layout provided some cover.

The top end of the hill viewed through the trees. To the left is the 'hole in the sky' and the top loop. HR2 1884 has halted at the compulsory stop prior to the 'junction with the extra tracks' as the rule book puts it. When the previous car has reached the halfway point down the hill, 1884 will proceed on the alternate track and will again pause at the second compulsory stop at the end of Albrighton Road. 


The bottom of the hill. Trolleyless HR2 on route 56 is heading under the East Dulwich railway bridge towards Goose Green and Peckham Rye. 1884 with a trolley, is emerging from the bridge on route 84. These two routes worked a frying pan shaped journey with the 56 working clockwise around the Embankment loop and the 84 anti-clockwise.

Baseboards and track

I built a one twelfth scale card model of the proposed model. It looked rather like a wedge of cheese with sky boards attached to one side. This was marked with scenic items and was useful in designing the arrangements for transporting the layout - when the two boards are packed face to face.

The baseboards are made from plywood on a softwood frame and bolt together. The top section of the hill has two pairs of legs bolted to it and the lower section 'piggybacks' onto this. 

 A view of the entire scenic area of the layout, showing the gradient and the backdrop of LCC flats. At any time up to four trams are climbing and descending the hill. 

The loop boards at either end of the layout were cantilevered out from the main boards. Fascia boards in front of each loop brace the whole structure, and provide space for information display boards.

As on Kingsway, the loops are formed from flexible track. It is important to use a good quality track - cheaper types are prone to have the rails jump out of the moulded chairs. To provide electrical sections in the loop adds to the difficulty, but with care a tight loop of six or seven inches radius is attainable.


With the Dog Kennel Hill layout comprising mainly straight track I was able to use a printed card pattern of setts between the rails. Once again the remainder of the road surface was made up with hardboard which was painted. Initially I used some upturned PECO code 100 flexible rail which had a groove along the centre of the bottom face. This simulated the conduit slot rails.  With a recent change of motor chassis, the  trams now sit closer to the track and I found the centre rail would catch on the bottom. I have now replaced the printed card between the running rails with one that has a printed conduit. This system is also used on the pointwork.

Electrics and operation

It was essential that the model could demonstrate the method of working the trams up and down the hill. This would mean that it would be neccessary to have up to four trams moving simultaneously. Each of the two pairs of trams would be heading for a single piece of track where the cars would be halted on separate sections. I had found the SPUD chassis to be a effective and capable unit and used these once again. 

I provided the layout with six independent power feeds. Each of the up and down tracks had it's own supply, as did each of the top and bottom loops. The two up tracks were powered from a Morley Vector - the CDU of which was used to power the facing points at the top and bottom of the hill. The two loops used the outputs from a H & M Duette. For the downhill tracks I experimented with some very cheap variable output transformers from a cheap shop in town. These had a switch which would give a choice of outputs of 3v, 4.5v, 6v. I found that depending upon how warmed up the motors were the 3v or 4.5v settings would provide a suitably slow progress down the hill.

Car 1854 waits with another at the top stop just before the junction with the extra track, prior to descending the hill.

To operate I have a pair of cars at each end of the layout. All of the six controllers are switched on, and the cars are held on switched sections. The first car is set off from the top loop and will head towards the compulsory stop at the top of the hill where a push to make switch will halt it. At the same time one of the cars in the lower loop is started. As it enters one of the ascending tracks, the point is changed and the second car started. This will take the alternate uphill line. At this point the car at the compulsory stop is started on it's descent towards the halfway compulsory stop, and the second descending car is sent from the top loop to the top stop.

Car 1858 (now preserved at Carlton Colville) waits at the halfway stop which was compulsory regardless of passengers needs, in order to control the speed of descent.


With the ascending cars now reaching the top of the hill and switched (off) sections awaiting them, the first descending car is started on the second half of it's journey, and then the second car is sent off from the top of the hill. 


1858 is on the inner ascending track with another car just visible behind which will take the outer track. Another car is on the outer descending track.

The whole performance is rather like juggling and after a while one can manage it with little trouble. It is essential that the mechanisms enable the trams to each travel at broadly similar speeds. This was difficult to acheive with the SPUDs and since May 2009 I have substituted mechanisms taken from the 'Underground Ernie' inspection vehicle. These are a little more difficult to adapt and install in the trams but are beautifully consistent in their running. I have also found that should two get onto the same powered section, they continue at the original speed rather than slow drastically as the SPUDs did. The disadvantage was that the track clearance was much reduced and I had to change the arrangement for the representation of the conduit slot as described above.



Buildings and scenery 


A view down the hill showing most of the layout. The full extent of the flats are shown here - remember it should be twice this length.  

 Although the scene is dominated by the flats, the fact that they are on an incline together with the many subtle variations in the way the component parts are arranged, help to make them an impressive and interesting backdrop. The buildings are produced by printing a kit of parts which is glued to mounting card - a similar method to the buildings in the Kingsway range. Siting the flats on a sloping baseboard was tricky involving using shims of card to ensure each block was level. Throughout the build of the layout the hill was a nuisance, as discarded pencils, screwdrivers and other bits and pieces were overcome by gravity!

The lower two blocks of flats have shops on the ground floor. These add a point of interest in the line of similar buildings.

Some of the shops, here a greengrocer and newsagents. On the corner is a green LCCT electrical section box used to allow adjacent lengths of track to be switched together or isolated as required.

The other block with shops is adjacent to East Dulwich railway bridge. This view shows the use of a photographic background for both the side street and the view under the bridge. The first was taken on recent visit and needed to have the modern cars edited out. The second was a view of the tracks being removed after the trams had gone - but provided the street scene viewed under the bridge.

The topmost block of flats had iron railings which somehow survived the wartime appeals for scrap metal to be recycled for the war effort.

The lower blocks appear not have received iron railings but had wooden picket fencing. These were painstakingly reproduced with slivers of matchstick and cotton. After the war (and after the trams had gone in 1951) these were replaced by fencing that was made from wartime metal stretchers, which can still be seen today. 


The compulsory tram stop halfway down the hill was a Board of Trade requirement, but could also be used by passengers. The two ladies are engrossed in gossip, and have yet to board any of the trams that always stop here. As in most other parts of London, boarding a tram meant crossing to the centre of the road. This became increasingly dangerous as postwar car ownership increased.





At the top of the hill was  a house with distinctive advertisng posters. These were carefully copied from a black and white photo and coloured with (hopefully) appropriate colours. In front of the house is one of two more section boxes. The distinctive lamp standards on the layout were soldered up from pieces of copper wire from standard three-core cable. The lampshade is a short section from a plastic biro.

With just weeks to go, tram drivers are being trained to drive buses. For the first time they would have to steer. A novice starts a careful descent of the hill in RTL 2 on training duties. With rubber tyres the hill would perhaps feel safer than steel wheels on steel rail, especially in the wet. Modern motorists barely notice the hill that necessitated the construction of a unique section of tram track. 

Further down the hill and our novice driver moves out over the tram lines to pass a former Tilling ST bus which has been converted for tree lopping duties as the buses will usually pass closer to the kerb. Ex- tram drivers were often accused of driving their buses in the middle of the road where the tram tracks used to be - here he does have an excuse to do so.


The trams


Cars 1877 (left) and 143 (right) are both of the HR2 (Hilly Route) class, but 143 is of the trolleyless variety, and thus confined to conduit only routes, which all of the Dog Kennel Hill services were. When the Dog Kennel Hill routes were converted to buses, 143 and other trolleyless cars were sent to the Charlton 'Tramatorium'. Many of the trolley fitted variety lasted right to the end of London's trams in July 1952.1877 was chartered for an enthusiast's tour and it paused at the compulsory halfway stop for photographs which can be found in many books on London trams.

HR2 1858 was destined to be the sole survivor of it's class, being purchased privately. For many years on display at Chessington Zoo in the open, it is now preserved and can be ridden on at the East Anglian Transport Museum at Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft. 




Having found the previously used Tenshodo SPUD mechanisms to be variable in performance, I have recently used the Underground Ernie inspection car mechanism to power the trams. The bogie side frames must be very carefully cut away as the piece of grey plastic between the two wheels is the clip that holds the whole frame and gear train together.

The Ernie mechanisms seem much more uniform in their performance, and run smoothly. Should two enter the same electrical section they do not lose very much speed. All of these factors are helpful in being able to present the layout with up to four trams moving at the same time. 


A close up of the modified Ernie chassis (right), the plasticard frame with lead weights (left) and an assembled chassis and frame (rear). Also shown is the printed card road surface with printed conduit rails. This replaced the upturned PECO rail seen in the other pictures, as the Ernie chassis is very low and caught on the rail. The plasticard frame slots inside the tram body.



 Car Number Route Notes











EX (Special)




trolley fitted

trolley fitted

trolley fitted

trolley fitted