Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Comberton grandfather ‘heartbroken’ as train and ship collection stolen in ‘targeted burglary’

A grandfather has spoken of his devastation after a lifetime’s train and shipping memorabilia collection – as well as his grandsons’ Thomas the Tank engine train set – were stolen in a “targeted burglary”.

Mark Housden, 66, of Comberton, said the discovery of the theft had left him on the floor weeping as he surveyed the wreckage of the room where he kept collectors’ items from famous trains and ships, as well as rare limited edition model trains.

Mark Housden with what remains of his train collection at his home Picture: Keith Heppell
Mark Housden with what remains of his train collection at his home Picture: Keith Heppell

Police have told Mark that they believe the break-in was targeted as only the most valuable items in the collection, “worth thousands”, were stolen.

Now Mark is asking everyone in the model railway, train and shipping memorabilia communities to look out for the stolen items which may now be sold in specialist shops or online auctions.

He said: “I have been collecting for more than 50 years. The relationship between a collector and their collection is very strong so this feels very personal. I’m just absolutely heartbroken. The police told me it was a very professional and targeted crime. They’ve stolen sort of a lifetime’s worth of collecting sort of railway and shipping memorabilia. They must have spent ages rummaging through and picking out all the good bits. The door looks to have been forced open with a crow bar.

“I can’t describe how when I feel, to be honest. When I went in the room and saw what had happened I collapsed on the floor crying. It’s just devastating.”

Mark is particularly sad that a train set that he had built with his twin grandsons William and James has been taken.

“This was a wonderful thing to do with my grandsons – it was something we all enjoyed. The thief took their James and Percy trains, which are characters from Thomas the Tank Engine. What kind of person would steal a child’s toy?” he said.

He will replace the boys’ train set but has decided he can’t face trying to rebuild the collection that he started when he was just 14.

“My heart isn’t in it any more,” he said. Other items taken include a rare railway clock, old signs from stations and other documents and postcards.

Mark began his interest in trains after volunteering on a steam train service in South London. At the end of his time there he was given a sign from the station. It read: “The next train to London will be on Platform…”.

“You could change the platform number on a slider to either one or three. It probably isn’t worth much to a collector but it had a lot of sentimental value. And my grandsons loved using it when we were playing with their train set together. I’m very sad this piece has been taken,” he said.

Mark Housden with what remains of his train collection at his home in Comberton. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mark Housden with what remains of his train collection at his home in Comberton. Picture: Keith Heppell

“People might think this is just a sad old man’s collection. But it was my lifelong hobby, something I’ve been interested in for decades. I’m not the sort of man to go to the pub, instead I would spend the price of a pint on something of historical interest.

“I was planning to spend my retirement writing a book about a particular ship, the St Briac, which had a fascinating wartime story. I had collected lots of items from the ship and other important ships – now they are all gone and I can’t write it any more.”

Mark’s interested in ships was sparked when he started work in the Merchant Navy as a deckhand, moving up to Navigation Officer.

“I could drive an ocean-going ship before I could drive a car,” he said. More recently he retired from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, where he was a purchasing manager.

The break-in at the annexe was discovered on Saturday (24 February), but could have taken place in the days preceding that date. Mark explained that the thief may have been disturbed as some railway signs were only partially unscrewed from the wall.

He said: “This theft is really unusual. They must have known what they were looking for and possibly spent hours going through folders of memorabilia looking for rare or potentially valuable items. I’m hoping any publicity could help raise awareness of the crime in the hope that the criminals can be brought to justice and some items can be recovered.”

If you have any information, call police on 101 with crime reference number 35/13056/24

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More