Mr. Nicholas Azzopardi
in the Railway Museum
ATTARD MINI MUSEUM
This small museum can be found
at No. 37, St. Dominic Street in the village core, a few metres
away from the parish church. This place was built in the nineteen
century and consists of a large hall with its ceiling resting
on five large arches. Some people say that once it was a bakery
but from within, there is nothing to indicate that it was used
as such. No one knows exactly what was its use up to 1920. Between
1920 and 1935 this place was used as a playhouse. In fact on
the left hand side of the entrance, part of the hall is divided
by a larger arch to house the stage. On the right hand side,
in addition to the seating accommodation, there is also a small
balcony to house part of the audience. Shows were held regularly
by a dramatic company from Attard. Among the actors of this company,
there were Francis Pace and Oreste Cumbo, both from Attard. The
latter, on several occasions used to play the role of a woman,
because in those days, women in Malta did not take part in such
During the second world war,
that is between 1939 and 1946 this place was used as a store
for all kinds of timber. After the war, it was a carpentry shop.
In 1964, Mr Vincent Buttigieg took over the ownership of this
place. Here he built a large mechanical crib and also modelled
eleven miniatures of old Maltese trades. In 1995 the place passed
in the hands of Mr Nicholas Azzopardi, who took great care of
all these works left by Mr Buttigieg after his death. In 1997
some structural works took place on the left hand side of the
building. The part where originally was the stage of the playhouse
was divided in two levels. The lower part was converted into
a garage and the upper part houses the permanent exhibition on
the Malta Railway which Mr Azzopardi modelled between 1981 and
Thus, who visits this small
museum can admire the crib and miniatures of old Maltese trades
on the ground floor while on the first floor, there is the Malta
The Museum is now run by Nicholas
Azzopardi who was born at Zebbug on the 18th October 1930 and
is married to Helen Buttigieg daughter of Vincent Buttigieg.
THE MALTA RAILWAY
- Model in N Gauge.
The hobby of model trains
started with a train set which I bought on the 17th August 1962.
This set consisted of an 0-4-0 engine and two passenger coaches.
Since we have no trains on the island, I had to read magazines
and other literature on the subject to form an idea how to construct
and run a model train. From these magazines and a little experience
of overseas travel, I began to plan and build my small layouts.
A couple of years later, the
idea that some day I try to model the Malta Railway came to my
mind. The Malta Railway was inaugurated on the 28th February
1883 as a private company. The Line started from Valletta to
the old capital city of Mdina - a length of about 7 miles. There
were six stations along the route which were Valletta - Hamrun
- Birkirkara - Attard - Rabat and Mtarfa. After seven years,
the company went bankrupt and the Line closed down in 1890. The
Government took over and after relaying a new set of rails -
45 lbs per yard - and replacing wooden bridges with stone ones,
the Line, under government ownership, reopened in February 1892.
The Malta Railway - one metre gauge - was always a passenger
train and made her last journey on the 31st March 1931. Unfortunately,
from a total of 10 engines and about 34 passenger coaches, nothing
is left on the island to remind you of the existence of the railway.
The only exception is a 3rd class coach which up to 1984 was
used as a dressing room in a private tennis-court. In 1984, the
owner gave it to the government and after being restored, was
placed at the Birkirkara Railway Station on the 31st March 1987.
I started with my plans to model
the Malta Railway in 1969 when I began to take photographs of
what was still standing such as station buildings, bridges, embankments
etc. I tried to acquire old photos depicting the Line and other
useful information. In the beginning of 1970, a book entitled
The Malta Railway written by Capt.B. Rigby was published.
I bought this book and read it several times. The book contained
useful information that I could utilize for my project. I divided
the Line in eight sections, that is:
4 feet in HO Gauge.
Princess Melita Road cross-over
7 feet in HO Gauge
5 feet in HO Gauge
9 feet in HO Gauge
3 feet in HO Gauge
3.5 ft. in HO Gauge
Notabile (Rabat) St.
3.5 ft. in HO Gauge
6 feet in HO Gauge
By the end of June 1970, I designed
in detail all the plans of the sections concerned in the HO gauge,
that is, scale 1:87 or 4mm to the foot. The information on the
Valletta, Birkirkara and Attard Stations could be found in the
above mentioned book and that on the cross-over in Princess Melita
Road and part of the Hamrun Station from old site plans. I went
on the spot and took measurements of what was still standing
for the remaining stations of S. Salvatore, Notabile and Museum.
For example, the Notabile Station was below Saqqajja Hill. The
ticket booth was at the top of the road and the station building
was at the lower end. Between them there were 12 trees about
15 feet apart from each other. From these measurements I could
find almost the exact length of the platform below.
I began my project by modelling
the Attard Station which was the smallest of them all. This model
was ready by October 1970. The next section to be taken in hand
was the San Salvatore Station. Although this was not one of the
main stations, it was an important part of the Line which catered
for the employees and visitors of a nearby hospital. Of particular
interest one may mention the slanting arch forming part of the
Rabat road over the Line. It was a sort of a small tunnel through
which the train emerged from the station on its last leg towards
Rabat. This part was ready by the end of April1971. Two years
later I finished the Notabile (Rabat) Station. This station was
actually constructed in a cutting and the station platform was
some 25 feet below street level. With the help of photos, measurements
taken on the spot and a little imagination, I think this model
was very near to the original one.
After finishing these three models,
the space problem became a headache for me and for a number of
years, this project was shelved. But I never lost hope of realising
my dream. By the end of 1981, I decided to build my models in
the N gauge, that is, scale l:148 or 2mm to the foot.
This small scale cleared the main problem - the space problem.
I had to begin from scratch and redesign everything in this small
scale. In the meantime I acquired more information and old photos.
This time I was faced with another problem. The track sections
and rolling stock were not available on the local market. I had
to import them from the United Kingdom.
This time I was determined to
begin and finish this project which took me about three years
to complete. In fact it was ready by October 1985. As I said
before, the project consisted of eight sections linked together
to make a working model. Between each section there is a space
of a few centimetres for scenery purposes thus bringing the whole
model to just over 8 metres in lenght.
The Valletta terminus with the
station building and offices in Ordinance Street. The railway
track and platforms were in the ditch below Porta Reale, known
to-day as City Gate.
Princess Melita Road cross-over.
The Line emerges from the tunnel under Floriana bastions crossing
over Princess Melita Road and continues to the site of Ta
Hamrun Central Station as it
was known during the railway days. There are the station building,
offices, workshops and engine shed. The maintenance of the rolling
stock was done in these workshops.
Birkirkara Station. The building
was one-storey and not two as it is to-day. In fact all station
buildings were one-storey. At this station there was also a water
pump used by locomotives.
Attard Station with cross-over
in BKara Road. This station was the only one having a one
track arrangement though it was wide enough to take two.
San Salvatore Station was near
the Mount Carmel Hospital and catered for the visitors and staff
of this hospital.
Notabile Station which was situated
below Saqqajja Hill was the other end terminus up to 1900.
Museum Station was opened in
June 1900 and served as the other end terminus up to its closure
in 1931. It is situated below Mdina bastions and took its name
from the nearby Roman Museum known as the Roman Villa.
Here I wish to point out that
the materials used in my models are mainly plywood, jablo, cardboard
and cork. Trees are made from artificial grass commonly used
here in building cribs at Christmas time.
Besides the models shown in this
exhibitioin, there are quite a good number of old photographs
and documents together with other exhibits connected with the
Route map - circa 1900 - showing the 5 stations and the 14 Guard
huts at level crossings. The Museum Station was not yet opened.
An original time-table dated 7th March 1913.
A photocopy of the last time-table dated January 1931.
Parts of the three different types
of rails used between
1883 and 1931.
The upper part of one of the iron columns supporting the canopy
at the Attard Station.
The first Malta Railway Exhibition
was held during the Christmas Season of 1985 at my home. I must
admit that it was a success more than I was expecting. It was
held again in 1987 at the same place and during the same season.
In July 1989 the exhibition moved for a forthnight to the Paceville
Community Centre in St. Julian sea-side resort.
In October 1998, the Malta
Railway Exhibition moved to a permanent place at 37, Saint Dominic
Street, Attard - Malta. It can be viewed at request by both locals
and foreigners by contacting me on Tel.No.2143 5235.
17th May 2003 Nicholas Azzopardi.
THE CRIB AND MINIATURES.
Vincent Buttigieg was born
at Santa Venera on the 23rd March 1910. On the 31st January 1935,
he was married to Rosanna Debono from Attard. He had five children
and lived in Main Street, Attard up to his death on the 8th May
When he took possession of
No.37, St Dominic Street, he built a large mechanical crib which is still in place and is visited by several
people during the Christmas season. The mechanical parts of it
with a large number of wheels, sprockets and chains of the meccano
type are all driven by one motor.
I think that the masterpiece
of Mr Buttigieg works, is a set of twelve miniatures of old Maltese trades which he modelled between 1966 and
1993. Since he was a carpenter by trade, the first miniature
of an old Maltese carpenter's shop was made during the late 1930s
when he was still in his twenties. In 1966, he made another model
of a carpenter's
shop, this time a
more modern one which includes five different machines. Between
1970 and 1975 he modelled another three trades. The first one
was that of a weaving loom with tools connected with this trade.
Then he made a model of cart making. In this miniature one can
see the working of three trades under one roof There is the carpenter
who works the wooden structure of the cart. Then there is the
manual wood-turner doing the hub of the wheels and finally the
blacksmith who works the iron rings to hold the wheels in place.
Another model is that of a blacksmith making and fixing horseshoes.
In 1980, Mr Buttigieg made
a model of a typical Maltese farm. This is the largest one of
the whole set. In fact the other miniatures have an average size
of 60cm x 30cm while this one measures 115cm x 42cm. Here one
can see several different tools used by farmers and animals reared
in these farms such as rabbits, hens, ducks, etc. Between 1982
and 1984 he built another three models. These were the potter,
wine pressing and that of barrel making. In the potter's shop,
two workers are doing their job and on the left of the model,
there is the oven for the finishing of the product. On each side
there are shelves with ready made pottery for sale. Years ago,
wine pressing was done manually - there were no machines yet.
One may observe that the workers are holding on to ropes to avoid
slipping. In the barrel maker's shop, one may see the different
types of barrels made. These were normally made to store wine
During 1986, he began and
finished the model of a bakery. Besides the oven built of Maltese
stone, there are several employees doing different types of work
connected with the production of bread. The model of the cane
worker was done in 1990 while that of the sprinkler was made
in 1993. This small model, the last one in the series, consisted
of a large wooden barrel loaded on a cart and driven by a horse
or an ass. It was used to sprinkle water on the surface of the
roads especially during the summer months.