What Lionel is to U.S. model trains, Hornby is to the U.K.’s. Its 1937 “Princess Elizabeth” locomotive is considered the pinnacle of O Gauge trains. Its Hornby-Dublo “Cardiff Castle” is in the Guinness Book of World Records for running 153 miles nonstop. The Hornby-Dublo “Deltic” made news by transporting a 35-pound child on a specially made 00 Gauge trolley. And its “Flying Scotsman” was so popular, it was produced in 18 different versions.

Hornby was not, however, the first toy train in the British Isles. Train sets were first sold in England at the turn of the century, more than two decades after tinplate miniature trains were first produced in Germany and France. A man named W. J. Bassett-Lowke, “the father of British toy trains,” hired German toy train manufacturer Bing to produce sets based on British railways and began selling these imported toys.

Frank Hornby, whose Hornby Series is considered the epitome of British miniature train sets, did not come up with the concept of toy trains, either, nor was he even the first to bring them to Britain. In fact, around the turn of the century, Hornby was more interested in patenting his own invention, a construction toy set, first called Mechanics Made Easy, and then rebranded as Meccano shortly after its launch in 1907.

Meccano was a tremendous success, and it wasn’t long before Hornby’s fascination with cranes and bridge-building turned toward the railroad. In 1915, he produced a railway game called Raylo, not sold under the Hornby name, which used a clockwork locomotive, likely made by Märklin. To play Raylo, players manipulated a series of switches to prevent the engine from running into the siding or off the rails.

When the Hornby Clockwork Train, using the standard O Gauge, was finally introduced in 1920, it was considered revolutionary among toy-train enthusiasts. The Hornby Train Set employed the clever technology of Meccano, designed to be taken apart and put back together. In addition, nearly all toy trains of that era were tinplate, but the Hornby’s locomotive and coal-car were made of nickeled base plates enameled in black, red, or green, with brass trimmings.

Only three of the 120 British railroad companies were represented—London & North-Western Railway (black), Midland Railway (red), and Great Northern Railway (green). Their locomotives all had the same running number, 2710, on brass plates attached to their sides. Only the tender was trademarked with “M Ld L England” on the side for “Meccano Ltd. Liverpool, England.”

The Hornby Series was a huge success, partly because German products were so unpopular after the First World War. Around the same time, Meccano also offered a cheaper version of ...

Even though electric toy trains were produced in Germany and America starting around 1900, companies struggled with safety and the correct voltage for their tracks. So, again, Hornby, which produced an electric toy train in 1925, could be considered a little late to the game, but the company had a trick up its sleeve to one-up competitors.

The Hornby Electric Train Set, the first with a locomotive modeled after a real-life engine, was inspired by the Metropolitan Railway, now called London’s Underground Metropolitan Line, which was the first passenger subway. It had been slowly converted from steam to electric power from 1905 on, which means Hornby was able to launch its first electric toy train based on a real-life electric train rather than a steam engine.

Even so, Hornby’s electric model, which had a tinplate body and used 100 to 240 volts of alternating or direct current, was not considered entirely safe. According to some versions of the history, Parliament and the U.K. Home Office put pressure on Meccano until the company withdrew the high-voltage train set and began offering a low-voltage accumulator version.

In the late ’20s, Hornby was also under pressure to make a train on the half-size H0 scale, which was becoming increasing popular, but the company refused to relent. Two years after Frank Hornby’s death in 1936, though, the company launched its own miniaturized train set called Hornby-Dublo. It had its own scale, but it could run on any H0 Gauge track.

In the mid-’30s, Bassett-Lowke had already experienced great success importing the H0 Gauge Trix Twin Railway from Germany, which had 16.5 mm between the rails, as opposed to 33 mm on the standard O Gauge sets of the time. These electric trains were powered by a center rail that could use right- or left-hand pick-ups, meaning two locomotives could run independently on the same track.

When Meccano, now managed by Hornby’s son, launched it’s smaller-scale train in 1938, it introduced its own proportions. While the wheels ran on 16.5 mm H0 Gauge tracks, the rest of the train set was proportioned at a ratio of 1:76 (4 mm to 1 ft), instead of the 1:87 ratio (3.5 mm to 1 ft) of most H0 train sets.

Meccano made the Hornby-Dublo to be deliberately out of scale, with the wheels closer together than they should be (true scale would have required the rails to be 18.83 mm apart), because actual British train engines at the time were smaller than those in America and the rest of Europe. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to fit all the toy-train mechanics of a British toy locomotive into the existing H0 scale.

Meccano dubbed this new scale as 00 or Double 0, and the trains were named “Dublo,” intended to be pronounced as “Double O.” Because Hornby trains were wildly popular, this peculiar proportion became the standard for toy trains in the United Kingdom. In the United States, 00 Gauge means something different—a train that runs on a 19 mm track.

The company boasted that the Hornby-Dublo let you “lay out a complete model railway on your dining table.” Train fanatics loved the product for its highly detailed diecast locomotives, made using techniques Meccano had perfected in its line of diecast model cars called Dinky Toys. Hornby-Dublo was also praised for its top-notch three-rail track that allowed trains to run smoothly.

The 1958 launch of the English Electric Type 1 Bo-Bo Diesel Electric Locomotive marked two milestones for the Hornby brand—it was its first locomotive made from molded plastic rather than diecast metal, and it was the first inspired by a diesel engine, which fans of steam trains resented.

Another innovation, in 1959, was the introduction of Hornby-Dublo’s first two-rail track line, meant to compete with Rovex’s Tri-ang two-rail line. Unfortunately, enterprise brought about the downfall of the company. To keep fans happy, Meccano had to keep selling the three-rail track at the same time, at great cost.

In 1964, Lines Bros., the corporate parent of Rovex, maker of Hornby competitor Tri-ang Railways, purchased Meccano Ltd.—it wasn’t long before the two separate lines of trains were merged into one, Tri-ang Hornby. However, only two Hornby-Dublo products were fully brought into the line, the Terminus and Through Station Kit and the E3000 Locomotive, using the running number E3001.

By 1971, the Lines Bros. business had disintegrated, and the miniature railroads became Hornby Railways again. In recent decades, the Hornby brand has continued to be known for its accurate train models, and has remained a model-railroad leader in the United Kingdom.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Airfix Model Railways

Airfix Model Railways

Dave McCarthy's Airfix Model Railway treasure trove is an in-depth archive of the company's plastic railway kits fr… [read review or visit site]

Gateway NMRA

Gateway NMRA

This great reference site for model railroaders, from the Gateway (St. Louis) division of the NMRA (National Model … [read review or visit site]



This site is a treasure trove of HO scale model railroad manufacturer catalogs and other reference information, inv… [read review or visit site]

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Bernie Schulz’s Lionel Trains Library focuses exclusively on postwar Lionel trains and accessories. The site cont… [read review or visit site]

Eric's Trains

Eric's Trains

Eric Siegel's site displays his collection of O-gauge/O-scale trains, tracks, turntables, and other accessories. A … [read review or visit site]

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

MIT's model railroad club, as one might expect, has one of the best websites for learning about how people play wit… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Triang Hornby R346 S Stevensons Rocket Pro Colour Scheme + Extra WagonsVintage Hornby Meccano E2e 0 Gauge Engine Shed Tinplate NrEdl1 "sir Nigel Gresley+tender" 2-6-2 Lner Loco 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo (boxed)City Of Carlisle Duchess Class Hornby Br Loco And Tender. Mint Dcc ReadyHornby Dublo Edp2 Passenger Train Set Duchess Of Atholl Hornby Lima Tyco Etc Steam Diesel Breakers Yard Locomotives X 6 Hamersley IronModel Train Vintage Hornby Ho 16440 Loco + Wagons + Castrol + TexacoHornby Duchess Class Locomotive City Of Bristol Br GreenTriang Hornby Tri-ang Canadian Pacific Diesel Switcher Rare CpEarly Hornby O Gauge 6-wheel Tender Base Only - 1920'sGreat Job Lot Of Spare Hornby 00 Gauge Track With Track Display Mat - Jc N29Model Train Track Set Vintage Hornby Gwr Freight Ho In Box In Vgc + Xtra Wagons!Lot Of 19 Hornby And Other Tin, Paper Trunks, Hat Boxes For Toy Train LayoutsBlackmoor Vale Southern West Country Class Hornby Loco And Tender. Mint Unused Great Set Of Hornby Train Carriages, Wagons And Lner 8400 Locomotive - Jc N29 Hornby Triang A1a-a1a Class 31 Loco " Motor Bogie X337 "Model Train Set Vintage Hornby Ho Gwr Loco + 2 Gwr 4 Wheel Coach Carriage WagonsHornby Royal Mail Travelling Post Office 3 Coach Mail Van Set Oo Hornby R.771 Starter Set Aust. As New. Oo. Loco & 4 Wagons, Track, Contr. BoxedVintage Boxed Faller 905 Model HornbyHornby Thomas And Bill With Annie Clarabel And 2 Wheel TruckHornby Dublo 4620 Breakdown Crane BoxedVintage Boxed Kibri 8200 Building Set HornbyHornby Tri-ang Brown/cream Great Western Gwr Passenger Corridor Coaches Oo Job Lot Spare Hornby 00 Gauge Switch Track With Wiring For Auto Switch - Da N29Tri-ang Train Set Rsc.2Hornby Dublo 2217 2-rail 0-6-2 Tank Loco Br Black With Coal In Bunker BoxedHornby Dublo Edl18 2-6-4 Tank Loco BoxedDinky Toys No 053 Passengers Set Of 6 Boxed For Hornby Dublo TrainsDinky Toys No 1001 Station Staff Set Of 6 Boxed For Hornby Dublo TrainsHornby €Hornby O Gauge Ne Hopper Wagon - Vgc - Opening DoorsHornby Dublo 3-rail 0-6-2 N2 Tank Loco Lner Green UnboxedTri-ang Train Set Rs.31Hornby Dublo Engine Shed 5005 Suitable For Gauge 'oo' 2 Or 3 Rail Systems Boxed*wow* Hornby Dublo 2 Rail 0-6-0 Loco 31337 Half Inch Motor Spares Repair & BoxHornby Dublo 4078 2/3-rail Br Sleeping Car BoxedHornby €Tri-ang Cn Snow PloughHornby Dublo 3-rail Tpo Mail Van Set Boxed3 X Hornby Dublo Long Goods Bogie Wagons For 3 Rail Oo MeccanoD1 Tank Wagon "shell Lubricating Oil" 4678 2/3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo (boxed) Hornby Series O Gauge Lner Tender For No.o And Zulu LocosTriang Hornby Minix Plastic Cars 7 In TotalDinky Toys No 1003 Set Of 6 Passengers Boxed For Hornby Dublo TrainsTri-ang Cn Diesel F7 Tested And Works GreatHornby Dublo Sd6 Super Detail Saxa Salt Wagon BoxedTri-ang Cp F7 Diesel Engine TestedHornby Oo Railways -r060 Leeds United - Br Green B17 Locomotive-unboxed/playwornHornby Princess Coronation 6220 - 00 GaugeLot Of 11 Hornby Doublo Cars, AssortedEodpr Right Hand Electrically Operated Points (2) 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo GaugeHornby €2 Rail Hornby Dublo Edg18 2-6-4 Goods Train Set 2019 -extrasHornby Dublo Edl17 3-rail 0-6-2 Tank Loco Br Black BoxedHornby-dublo Meccano A4 'silver King' Locomotive - 3 RailRare Vintage Hornby Meccano O Gauge Tin Litho Windup Steam LocomotiveTri-ang Train Set Rs.24 Hornby-00-gauge-lms-coronation-scot-blue-silver-coaches- Newt-and-boxedTri-ang Hornby Railways Catalogue Ed 14 1968 And Super 4 Track Plans Triang

Recent News: Hornby Model Trains

Source: Google News

'It's not just football - it's like a religion'
Mail & Guardian Online, September 18th

The fantastic fan-run website Arseblog lists an eclectic bunch that includes Fidel Castro, who has been a passionate fan since 1970; the late Chinese leader Zhou Enlai; French President François Hollande; the great train robber Ronnie Biggs; captain of...Read more

Defender Diamond expected to be fit for Cobblers v Accrington
Northampton Chronicle & Echo, September 18th

Emile Sinclair could come back into contention as he is scheduled to train in the build-up to the game after recovering from an ankle strain. Ian Morris (knee), Kelvin Langmead (Achilles), Lewis Hornby (tendonitis) and Evan Horwood (tendonitis) are all...Read more

Uighur rights activist goes on trial in China
Financial Times, September 17th

Last week, three people were sentenced to death and one to life in prison for a group knife attack at a southwestern train station in which 31 people died. Previous clashes involving Uighurs had almost always targeted police or paramilitary in Xinjiang...Read more

In good taste
Bendigo Advertiser, September 15th

For me, the building and drink are as filthy as each other, but of course just like coffee or wine, or cigarettes for that matter, you've got to train yourself into the drink. Brendan Smyth is an old hat at this. Whisky has been his drink of choice...Read more

The Weekend Warrior's TIFF Diary: Days 3 - 5
ComingSoon.net, September 9th

I would love to say that Days 3 through 5 of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) were a breeze. Even just seeing seven movies over the course of two days ended up being so tiring that I had to take a day off from seeing movies to allow my...Read more

New Zealand's Labour Party Commits Funds for Christchurch Rail System
International Business Times AU, September 2nd

New Zealand's Labour Party has committed a rapid transit system for Christchurch to unclog the city's roads. Party Leader David Cunliffe promised that his party would invest $100 million for a modern rail project, if elected, to power in the Sept 20...Read more

Great Electric Train Show back for second year at Heritage Motor Centre
ITCM, August 21st

Over 3,000 enthusiasts are expected to visit the Great Electric Train Show which takes place at the Heritage Motor Centre in conjunction with Hornby Magazine on Saturday 11 & Sunday 12 October. Now in its second year, this superb model railway event...Read more

Hornby to begin move from Margate warehouse to new base in Hersden, near ...
Kent Online, August 19th

The company announced the closure of its historic site in Thanet in June, after it revealed a £4.5m annual loss which could yet see the model railway maker leave its headquarters on the Kent coast entirely. The firm has been based in Margate for 60...Read more