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]

HOseeker.net

HOseeker.net

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    

Pre War Hornby Series O Gauge Ne Snow PloughAr Kits Ho Scale Sra Nswgr Class 45 Diesel Loco Made In Australia Layout Hornby Vintage C1935 Hornby O Gauge Lms No2 Tender For The Compound/royal ScotHornby Series O Gauge No.2 Footbridge With SignalsMeccano Hornby Type 40 Tank Locomotive O Gauge Clockwork Engine Barn FindVintage "clock Work Hornby Train Set" Plus Turntable And 64 Pieces Of Track, Wrenn Railways W.2225 Stanier 8f Diecast 2-8-0 Loco Hornby Dublo Tri-ang TrainsHornby R252 L.n.e.r. 0-6-0 Class J83 Loco. 00 Gauge New And BoxedEd1 Electric Signal Single Arm "home" 2/3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge (boxed)Tri-ang R1 Passenger Model Train Set Barn FindPrewar Hornby O Gauge 2 Piece Railroard Crossing With Guardhouse With BoxTri-ang Railways Oo Station Platform Sections X 8 Triang Hornby Trains LayoutHornby 00 Gauge Class 5 4-6-0 Locomotive No 5299 "black Five"in Lms Black LiveryHornby O Gauge No2 Gwr Suburban Bogie Coach - 1930's*brand New*set#r1019*hornby*oo Gauge A1 Loco(&tender)no.4472"flying Scotsman"Hornby Dublo Locomotives Engines X 2 Gauge OoVintage Sir Nigel Gresley No 7 Train & Cars 3 Rail Operating Hornby Oo MeccanoHornby Dublo Locomotives Engines X 3 Gauge OoVintage Hornby Tinplate O Gauge No. 2 Single Arm Signal, ExibHornby O Gauge No.2 Double Arm Signal - Lattice Post4075 Maroon Passenger Brake Van B.r.e81312 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge UnboxedD1 Tank Wagon "mobil Oil Company" 32084 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge (boxed) R334 Hornby Diesel Centre Car. 00 Gauge New And BoxedD1 32302 Maroon Switch For Points & Signals Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway Boxed D1 Through Platform Station 2/3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway (boxed)Hornby R2218 Streamlined West Country Class 4-6-2 34041 "wilton" & Tender In Br Wrenn Railways W4315p Horse Box Boxed Oo/ho Hornby TriangTriang Hornby Tri-ang R 440 Cp Passenger Car Canadian Pacific CpHornby R 633 Point Remote Control. New And Boxed.Ho Wagon Assortment X 5 Bachmann, Lifelike, Tyco, Cox Suit Railway Trains HornbyD1 Eodpr Rh Electric Points Track 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway (boxed) Hornby R2204. Rebuilt Merchant Navy Class 35020 “bibby Line” In Br GreenHornby/lima Class 40 Non DccWrenn Railways W4324 Utility Van-blue Boxed Oo/ho Hornby TriangEarly Boxes For Hornby Bing Leeds O Gauge 1935? L N W RVintage Tinplate Hornby O Gauge Railway No. 1 Mcalpine Side Tipping Wagon.Vintage Hornby 2-6-4 Lms 2345 Boxed Loco For SparesorrestorationHornby Dublo Duchess Of Montrose Steam Engine In Great ConditionHornby/lima Class 40 Non DccVintage Tinplate Hornby O Gauge Ne Railways Brake + Refrigerator Vans X 2Hornby O Gauge Lms Container Wagon - BoxedVintage Hornby-bachman-mainline Locos+atender Tidy Lot For SparesorrestorationHornby R2221 Streamlined Battle Of Britain Class 4-6-2 34067 "tangmere" & TenderHornby Sr West Country Loco Exeter Ltd Ed With Cert - Mint BoxedRivarossi Ho Scale Steam Switcher 0-8-0 W/small Flanges And BoosterN Gauge Assorted Buildings By Hornby And Graham FarishHornby Railways - Oo Scale Great Western Railway Royal Mail CarriageHornby Oo Gauge R. 445 & R. 441 British Railway CarsHo Hornby 30" Long Platform Station W/underground Entrances And End Ramps UsedTriang Hornby Tri-ang R490 X 2 Lh Remote Switch Super 4 Like New Triang Hornby Tri-ang R491 X 2 Rh Remote Switch Super 4 Like New Triang Hornby Tri-ang R 4403 Cp Rail Passenger Car Canadian PacificTriang Hornby Tri-ang R 443 Cp Diner Car Canadian Pacific CpVintage Hornby O Gauge Rail Track – Straight Sections X 8 + 2 Connecting Pieces.Vintage Hornby O Gauge Railway Track Points X 4, Right X 2 + Left Hand X 2.2 X #r8073 Brand New*hornby Railways*oo Gauge Track Point(right Hand/rh) *new*Hornby O Gauge No.50 Br Refrigerator Van - BoxedVintage Hornby Dublo & Tri-ang Two Locos & A Tender For SparesorrestorationHornby, British, Passenger Cars, Pullmann, Used, Oo ScaleHornby/lima Class 40 Non Dcc

Recent News: Hornby Model Trains

Source: Google News

Rail passengers ordered to pay penalties reaching hundreds of pounds for fare ...
Southport Visiter, March 1st

MARK Edwards, 52, of Hornby Road, Bootle, has been hit with a bill for £324.65, after he was found guilty in his absence of travelling on a Merseyrail train between Bootle New Strand and Ainsdale railway stations on October 12, having failed to pay the ...Read more

Southport rail passengers ordered to hundreds of pounds for fare dodging
Southport Visiter, March 1st

MARK Edwards, 52, of Hornby Road, Bootle, has been hit with a bill for £324.65, after he was found guilty in his absence of travelling on a Merseyrail train between Bootle New Strand and Ainsdale railway stations on October 12, having failed to pay the ...Read more

Northern California best-sellers, week ending Feb. 22.
San Jose Mercury News, March 1st

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. 2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. 3. The Whites by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt. 4. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. 5. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. 6. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. 7...Read more

ArtsBeat | 'Downton Abbey' Recap: Yes, It's Called the Hornby Hotel
New York Times (blog), February 22nd

She kvetches about everything from the Bombay journey to the Southampton train; she insults her daughter's soon-to-be in-laws; she springs the news of her impending divorce at the worst possible time; and for good measure she frames the groom. Of...Read more

Circus scenes and Thomas the Tank Engine in Ilkeston model railway show
Nottingham Post, February 22nd

Ilkeston and Woodside Model Railway Club hosted its 13th annual show, with 12 intricate displays in the running for the prize of best layout. Youngsters controlled the speed of Thomas in a Scalextric-style display, made up of Hornby scale models...Read more

Hornby history
Thanet Gazette, February 13th

HORNBY Railways' roots date back to 1901, when founder Frank Hornby received a patent for his Meccano construction toy. The first clockwork train was produced in 1920 in Liverpool. In 1938, Hornby launched its first 00 gauge train. Production was ...Read more

Model train-maker Hornby on right track as toy vehicles sales rev up
Evening Standard, February 10th

The latter, Hornby reckons, will “recruit entrants to the model railways hobby”. They'll have to be willing to shell out considerably more than the price of a train ticket on the Pendolino, though: the four-car model (including a buffet coach) costs...Read more

The great (model) train robbery! Hornby sets worth thousands of pounds stolen ...
Manchester Evening News, December 23rd

PC Mike Dawber, of the Knutsford Rural Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “Whoever was responsible did seem to pay particular attention to stealing Hornby model railway equipment which is believed to run into several thousands of pounds in value...Read more