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ATOM visit Thorp Archive at Arts University Bournemouth


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Modelmakers from ATOM have visited a unique modelmaking archive housed at Arts University Bournemouth.

The original owners of an extensive modelmaking archive dating back to the late 19th century have visited Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) to explore the Thorp Archive, now housed within its Special Collections department.

With combined modelmaking experience of more than 90 years, Alec Saunders and Nick Mines visited AUB to explore how the University conserves the Thorp Archive for future generations and supports the Modelmaking industry.

When Thorp Modelmakers, a prestigious and longstanding modelmaking company with a rich and long heritage, was purchased by fellow modelmakers ATOM Limited in 1995, Thorp’s extensive archive of images, models, ledgers, and journals was moved to Atom’s premises in Sunningdale, Berkshire.

Now re-housed within the Special Collections department at AUB’s specialist arts library, the collection has undergone extensive cataloguing and archival conservation work, led by Dr David Lund, a Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Modelmaking at AUB.

David said: “The Thorp collection is thought to be the largest and most extensive modelmaking catalogue and archive in existence today. This year marks Thorp’s 140th anniversary and the collection gives us a unique insight into the operation of the oldest firm of architectural modelmakers in the world.

“It’s been fantastic to have both Alec and Nick visit us here at AUB. Seeing the archive in its new home, the pair had many questions to ask, including around how students and researchers can explore the archive, and how AUB intends to further catalogue its contents in future.”

ATOM continues to use the Thorp name for the architectural modelmaking side of the business today, and with Alec and Nick each having worked in the modelmaking industry for more than forty years, they have had close connections with some of the key people behind the growth and heritage of Thorp.

Looking through the archive, Alec spots former manager, Peter Bilson, who gave him his first job as a modelmaking apprentice at Thorp in 1974, as well as images of himself as part of the Thorp team, pictured in 1977 during a royal visit from HM Queen Elizabeth II.

He said: “I spent three years training with Thorp as an apprentice, during which time I started getting contract work, where I was given jobs of my own and funds to complete the work.”

Alec then worked on some of the company’s biggest projects, before becoming CEO of Thorp in 1992. He continues: “The way that AUB have set up the Archive is just fantastic. It tells such a story, and it reveals so much. David has such a passion for the collection, and we’ve never seen it laid out with such detail before.

“We have seen various elements of the archive when it was housed at ATOM, but we only really breezed through it – it was interesting, but we could never have gained such an insight ourselves, without it being laid out as it is here at AUB.”

Nick added: “David has analysed company ledgers and employment records in such extensive detail, spotting where and when people started and finished their jobs with Thorp, and the changing rates of pay throughout its history.

“Even though the collection had been with us for all those years, we’ve never really had the inclination to delve into it so deeply. We’re incredibly glad that AUB took hold of it, it’s been so reassuring for us.”

Tim O’Reilly Bennett, Head of Library and Special Collections at AUB, said: “We are very grateful to both Alec and Nick for their time today. They both have such valuable working knowledge of some of the key features of the Thorp Archive, and people behind the company’s successes in recent years.

"As a university resource, the Thorp Archive is invaluable for modelmakers and researchers looking to delve deeper into the UK’s largest modelmaking collection, and we are proud to be able to secure its conservation for future generations to come”.

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