A Quiet Word With: Historical Lego Modeller @peggyjdb

Two weeks ago History Mine featured a blog about Anne Boleyn, and why she is so popular online. That blog featured a picture of a Lego model, which was carefully researched and built by Mr James Pegrum. Mr Pegrum is a true artist with bricks, and a great historian, with an eye for everyday dramas as much as important historical events. I thought it was time we had a proper look at his work.

All In The Past by James Pegrum
All In The Past – courtesy of James Pegrum – Venerable Bede at work on his Ecclesiastical History of the English People

History Mine: What are Lego MOCs, and what is the appeal?

James Pegrum: MOCs are ‘my own creation’; basically something individuals come up with as opposed to a set made by Lego or somebody else. As a kid I never got on too well with Airfix and similar kit models. All that glue got messy and then the painting; oh dear. With Lego I could make a mistake and put it right as many times as I felt necessary.

I could also make my own creations, whether it be a model of something in real life or from my own imagination. My older brother used balsa wood, but I didn’t have the skill to follow him. Having continued the hobby into adulthood it has kept its appeal. It helps me unwind from work, and at the same time is highly rewarding once you have made a model. I’ve also combined it with my interest in history and, at times, architecture, which has influenced quite a few day trips!

HM: With LEGO you have to work with the bricks that are available. You’re doubly limiting yourself by building historically accurate pieces. Do you like to make things hard for yourself?

JP: Yes! For me part of the enjoyment is the challenge of trying to recreate something in Lego and keep it as close as possible to the real scene of building. The number of types of Lego bricks has increased since I was a child, and that has made it a lot easier. At the same time I’ve learnt from other adult fans of Lego (AFOLs) ways of using older bricks in different ways, it’s been amazing how much I use basic old bricks in techniques I never knew as a child. It has helped of course being able to get more bricks as an adult.

From the historical accuracy aspect, I get great enjoyment studying a building, a boat, a plane or whatever it maybe I’m modelling. In my everyday job I work in the construction industry as a surveyor and detailing is a very important part of the job, so I’ve brought that into my modelling. So if you ever see somebody at a castle looking at the stone work in close detail; that could be me!

HM: Which creations are you most proud of?

JP: That is an increasingly hard question! My Great Fire of London scene was very rewarding, from both a model and photography aspect. Lego doesn’t lend its self to wonky leaning buildings and I wanted to try to capture the old timber frame buildings of London, which came out quite well. With the lighting it took a lot of shots, but was fun

I’m a firestarter by James Pegrum
I’m a fire-starter – courtesy of James Pegrum – the Great Fire of London begins

The Golden Hinde/Pelican is high up there for me. I have always enjoyed building ships and I visited the recreation of this ship in London with my oldest boy a few years. We spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring and taking loads of images of the ship to help me make a model. Sculpting the hull was very draining and I’m happy with how it came out.

The Golden Hind by James Pegrum
The Golden Hinde – courtesy of James Pegrum

In my top three would have to be one of bigger projects; Tigelfah Castle. This isn’t based on a real castle but takes inspiration from many castles around the UK. I tried to capture the stages of castle development is this model and keep it as realistic as possible at the same time. It has features such as working drawbridges, portcullises, toilets, fires and much more. Furthermore it was part of a team build with seven other UK AFOLs, and overall the medieval scene we created was amazing and a great privilege to be part of.

Tigelfáh Castle by James Pegrum and friends
Tigelfáh Castle – courtesy of James Pegrum – and this is only a corner of the whole build

HM: Do they get broken down once you’ve finished with them?

JP: The large majority do. Part of the appeal of Lego is that it’s recyclable (it would have to be to make it economically viable as a hobby!). The models also take up a great deal of space. That said, I have kept the Golden Hinde along with a few other smaller builds.

HM: How much planning goes into a piece?

JP: It varies depending on the size and complexity of the model. A large castle can take over a year of building and planning. With the Tigelfah castle I kept changing the layout as I progressed. A big factor is whether I have an idea/technique to hand, I’ve found as I’ve been making more models the planning is taking less time as I’ve got more techniques developed and ‘filled’ in my technique library. Recently I’ve been doing forestry scenes so have been developing how I do trees and the like.

HM: How do you go about buying the bricks? What about the very specific bricks (I think I saw a ‘dissolution of the monasteries’ that used diving flippers as gargoyle ears)?

JP: There’s a number of sources to get bricks. Going direct to Lego means you can get pretty much anything that’s current, though it does cost more. The Lego stores have a wall of parts, which can be a good source, though there parts are very limited. Other than that I use a website called Bricklink. It’s cheaper, but you can’t get everything, or in the quantity you need.

I used to buy more in bulk, though now I’ve got a good stock (particularly in light bluish grey) so it’s more about getting those few bricks to finish something off. On specific parts, I would use Bricklink, on the flippers that was a friend, Barney, he worked on the Tigelfah project, and I believe he picked them up on Bricklink.

Hot Water by James Pegrum
Hot Water – courtesy of James Pegrum – A Dubunni tribesman gives a sacrifice to the Celtic god Sulis at what is now Bath

HM: If LEGO licensed 3D printers, would you get one?

JP: Interesting idea! As long as the bricks were official Lego and at their high quality, yes! There are a number of other brands out there, but they don’t match Lego’s quality, which is why Lego are the leading brand.

HM: And is this a social activity as well?

JP: Very much so, there’s a lot social interaction done on the internet as well as public shows.  Over the years I have made good friends with other AFOLs and it hasn’t just been limited to doing group projects.  I belong to a couple of Lego user groups (LUGs, as Lego likes to call them) and these vary in social activity.  The London LUG meets in a pub, which raises a few eyebrows!

Thanks to James for sharing your thoughts. If you’d like to see more of his creations, they are available through James’s Flickr page. We’ve now spoken to guys from both sides of the Atlantic, but the rest of the world, not to mention the ladies out there, are still a bit underrepresented here. Please get in touch and help me redress the balance.

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