Tony's built his own tiny world in his attic after a lifelong love of model trains
ACCORDING to Wikipedia, Google and honest, reliable local knowledge, Hognaston has only one church, St Bartholomew's.
But this is simply not true. It has two, one in the centre of the village, the other crammed into the attic of one of the houses nearby.
Admittedly one is slightly smaller than the other – about 10,000 times smaller – and has a somewhat narrower scope as a wedding venue.
But up close it is hard to tell them apart. The key difference is in the construction. While one was made of stone in the 12th century by a team of builders and designers, the other was made from card by just one man, Tony Clarke.
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Tony's church is immaculate. Its grey stonework is mottled perfectly, its dimensions spot-on, even its stained glass windows are genuinely see-through.
It sits on a patch of grass – or grass-effect flock – and its imposing bulk is bordered by delicate spongy hedgerows.
Nearby, beautifully painted cars – straight from the 1950s – make their way down an distressed gravel road, and tiny passers-by hold plastic arms aloft in salutation.
Down the road is the village station, its white picket fences smartly varnished, its station sign swinging gently from minuscule chains.
And coming down the double-O gauge track, the sleepers laid out across a pebbled pathway, is a train, a locomotive from the past.
If you squat down, get your face up close to it all, you can forget you are in the attic of a renovated home in 2012.
Such is the brilliance of Tony's tiny constructions that you can almost breathe a lungful of steam as it billows from the smokestack of the steam engine, almost hear the piercing shriek of the whistle as it approaches the station.
You may be an enthusiastic hobbyist or you may scoff at the very idea of model railways; either way, I defy anyone not to be astounded at the sheer craft and talent Tony Clark has poured into his miniature village.
Even at the simple logistical level, it impresses. More than 30 yards of track run around the perimeter of his attic, through hillsides and across valleys, through a village and several stations.
In the centre of it all, at the controls, is Tony, his 64 years falling off him as he talks me through his masterpiece.
As he talks, he ferrets in boxes, drawers and small filing cabinets stashed under the main deck of the model railway. It is a cornucopia of equipment. Hornby boxes spill out over bags of plastic trees, sheets of modeling card and trays cluttered with scalpels and screwdrivers.
"Here, look at this," he says, holding a maroon model train across his flattened palms.
"It's the Duchess of Atholl. I've had it since I was 18 months old. It's basically as old as me. Still looks good, though."
I watch him pack it away, so carefully, and rummage around some more.
"I've got maybe 60 locos here. It comes down to whim, really, which ones I actually run on the railway. I'll come up and think, 'Hmm, haven't seen that one for a while,' and I'll put it on."
I watch as he does so, turning to a series of control switches connected – all by hand, all by Tony – to a control box on the edge of the table. He flicks several and the train starts to move, whirring softly as it snakes along the track.
He grins through his beard and looks at me.
After careers as teachers living in Harrow, Tony and his wife, Eileen, decided to move to Derbyshire to retire. They chose Hognaston for its beauty and its quiet, neighbourly atmosphere.
Tony said: "We never knew our neighbours in London. We knew they were there but we couldn't tell you their names."
In the living room of the couple's Mills Croft home, a pair of French doors looks out over a sloping lawn which drops away at the end to reveal a stunning vista of fields, swooping down into a valley.
"We saw this place and knew it was right straight away. And, of course, I'd seen the loft."
The loft is where Tony has built his village. It is his best work yet, a culmination of a lifetime practising the art of model railways.
He said: "In the 1950s, the train set was the toy to have. My father bought me a double-O gauge set. It was a basic oval."
For many children this would have been enough but for the passionate man – the born modeller – things can only be improved.
Tony said: "I happened to visit Pendon, to go to the model railway museum there. It was astonishing, the detail, the scale, the sheer work."
So began a lifetime's attempt to recreate real life on a tiny scale. But moving to Derbyshire reset the dials, to a certain extent.
He said: "When we moved, I had to give away most of the kit and buildings I had built up to that point. It simply couldn't be moved.
"It was hard because of the number of hours I had put into things but the idea of my own attic and a blank canvas to retire with was very exciting."
Tony – a father of three and grandfather of four – takes me through the house and up into the loft via metal steps that are rarely folded away.
He tells me the process for constructing the buildings from scratch.
"It starts with a drawing," he says, showing me a folder of quite brilliant pen-and-ink depictions of trains, stations and houses.
"This gives me an idea of the dimensions. Then I'll make a line drawing, then move on to cutting it out of card. Some buildings have dozens of different pieces, many supporting the structure from within.
"Then you add details, window frames, doorways, drain pipes and so on, and textures, like individual roof slates and stone walls. And then you paint it."
Some have working lights, some don't. He says he rarely models the interiors of the buildings because, "I like to actually get things finished, you know?"
I notice that many of the models depict real buildings and the village the railway passes through seems to date from the 1950s.
"Yes, these are all real places. One is a cottage from a holiday we had in Wales, another is the building I used to play in as a child. This, here, you might recognise, it's that building you passed at the end of our road. And here is Hognaston church."
Looking around the set, I remark that it is almost a physical biography of Tony's life, a fictional land populated by very real landmarks from his past and present.
"Yes, I suppose it is. It's lovely to have these places here. Part of the love of modelling was to have that focus, to come home from teaching and just lose myself in the close-up work, the detail of it.
"But now there's something else, to be able to capture parts of my past, I suppose."
I ask how much it is all worth.
"Maybe £5,000? But that's not the real value. See, something like this hotel is only really the value of the card, bits of wood and materials. But it is the hours I put into it which makes it worth more to me."
Watching him as he busies himself in a drawer of partly-finished farm buildings and cottages, finding the next mini-masterpiece to show me, I can see just how right he is.