For many of my projects, I use this wonderful list of fake but realistic sounding British place names. But for my exhibition layout, I wanted something different.
After a lot of thinking, I’ve settled on White River Mills.
Why I picked this lies in storytelling, curiosity, and a desire for an evocative, thought provoking, memorable name that reflects the rich history and picturesque setting that inspired it, and I hope are captured in the layout.
Let’s begin with the Mills element first.
As I sketched and planned the layout in the early days, I had a particular image in my mind, a meandering river weaving its way through the green wooded hills and valleys of Cornwall, long the wellspring of inspiration for many of my layouts.
Perched alongside this serene river would be a picturesque watermill.
The watermill would be the very heart of the layout and the raison d’etre for the railway. The trains bustle to and fro, carrying goods to and from the mill and its sidings. As a blacksmith works to craft essential tools and equipment, the scene painted a picture of harmony between industry and nature.
Admittedly, watermills may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Cornwall. Huge tin mines dominate the landscape, but watermills, no. Yet, my explorations of the St. Austell region revealed a treasure trove of these historical gems: the Watermill at Withiel, The Waterwheel Inn at St. Austell, Melancoose Mill at Newquay, and the Waterwheel at Wheal Martyn.
And each of these charming structures from a bygone era ignited my imagination, providing the artistic spark for this layout and this part of its name.
Including ‘Mills’ in the name, raises questions – what mills? Where? Why? It also conjures up the spirit of a simpler time that’s then bought to life on the layout by the slowly turning watermill.
And the White River part?
While Mills raises questions and reflected the blend of industry and nature, I wanted something in the name that spoke of a location, captured its essence but also had a sense of mystery.
In Cornwall, nestled amidst the breathtaking Luxulyan Valley, flows the Par River, its waters dancing with a white foam as it cascades down through the valley. The reference to White River is quite obvious, of course – the river cascading down Cornish hills, creating a stunning spectacle of frothy white water.
And if you get the chance to see my layout, listen for the background sounds that play. Yep, you can hear the water crashing over the rocks.
But there’s more to the story.
Back in the heyday of Cornwall’s china clay mines and quarries, another river the St. Austell River (also known as the River Vinnick) flowed near these bustling industrial sites. As the waste from the clay operations found its way into the river, a transformation occurred. The crystal-clear waters turned milky white, tinted by the clay, and locals affectionately dubbed it the ‘White River.’
Incorporating this into the name, gives it a place, adds a touch of mystery and reflects of the charming setting.
So there you have it, White River Mills
And so, the name White River Mills was born, a name woven with storytelling, history, and the spirit of a bygone era that hopefully captures the blend of industry and nature seen in the layout. Each element in the name tells a unique story – a tribute to the vibrant energy of industry of Cornwall’s past and a reflection of the charming setting.
> This post is part of a series on the construction of a lifelike model railway for exhibitions. To read other posts in the series covering its development, track work, scenery and model building making, see building an exhibition model railway.
Subscribe to my free email newsletter for more articles like this, plus the latest model train news, regular and exclusive tips, tutorials and guides. It's free, you can unsubscribe at any point and i promise never to sell your information. Click here to subscribe now.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.