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    

Hornby O Gauge No.2 Station With Fenced Ramps - Windsor - 1930's Tinplate00 Gauge Hornby R 304 Class A4 Lner 4-6-2 Locomotive Mallard Engine 4468Triang/hornby Railways Att Ho/oo Stephenson's Rocket Train Set Made In EnglandVintage Hornby Meccano O Gauge Maroon Nord 31801 Clockwork Locomotive - Ib F08Vintage Hornby Meccano O Gauge Maroon Nord 31801 Tender Coal Train - Hk F08Vintage Hornby Meccano O Gauge Great Western No 1 Tank Loco With Keys - Hb F08Vintage Hornby Meccano O Gauge Riviera Blue Sleeping Car Passenger Coach- Qa F08Edl11 "silver King + Tender" 4-6-2 Br Loco 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Boxed00 Gauge Hornby Br Class A4 4-6-2 Mallard Locomotive And Tender R.3500 Or 1 Gauge Marklin German Tinplate Northern Railway Wagon 4cm Between WheelsPowerline Ho P234 Class 48 125 Years Diesel Loco For Train Railway Layout HornbyHornby/lima/kitbuilt Oo Gwr 94xx 0-6-0 Pannier Tank - Improved Chassis RomfordsHornby Golden Fleece Live Steam Locomotive Set In Prestine Condition!!Rare 100% Original O Gauge Hornby M1 & M2 Locomotive Train 2728 Tin Train BoxedVintage Hornby Meccano O Gauge United Dairies Milk Tank Freight Wagon - Je F08Hornby 0 Gauge No.2 Goods Platform With Crane - Pre War TinplateHornby Papyrus Live Steam Locomotive In Prestine Condition!!00 Gauge Hornby Lner Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive And TenderHornby O Gauge Sr No.0 Loco - Clockwork Runs - No TenderHornby Mallard Steam Train Set In Prestine Condition!!Hornby Flying Scotsman Steam Locomotive Set In Prestine Condition!!Oo Scale Hornby Lms 4-2-2 Locomotive Ex-caledonian 14010Hornby Oo Lner B17/4 B2 "2871" "manchester City" In Ne Black Weathered DetailedVintage Hornby Meccano O Gauge Great Western Guard Brake Van Boxed - Hc F08Hornby No 1 Tank Engine Clockwork Lms 0-4-0 Spares/repairHornby Oo "county Of Radnor" County Class 4-4-0 Dcc Fitted Hornby Intercity 125 3 Car Set, Motor Not Working, Needs AttentionHoscale Hornby 4472 Flying Scotsman 4-6-2 Steam Locomotive & TenderTri-ang Railways R.59 2-6-2 Steam Tank Loco Black Boxed Oo Triang Hornby Rovex00 Gauge Hornby Lner Flying Scotsman Locomotive And Tender Engine 447200 Gauge Hornby Gwr King Class 4-6-0 King Edward I R 078Hornby / Dublo / Meccano & Crescent Railway Station Accessories 00 / H0Hornby Oo Gwr 2773 Open Cab Pannier Tank 2721 Class 0-6-00pt Dcc Fitted3 X Ho Victorian Railways Vr Scale Carriages - Hornby CollectablesVintage Hornby Meccano O Gauge Hydraulic Buffer Stop With Original Box - Id F08Hornby Oo Scale #r868 S.r. 0-4-4 M.7. Tank Locomotive #328Hornby Dublo 2 Rail Class 20 Diesel Electic Locomotive D8017 Br Green Non RunnerHornby, Northumbrian Coaches, Crimson/cream, (6) Pass Cars, Oo Scale00 Gauge Hornby Locomotives R 157/158 A7 Dmu & Dock Authority ShunterHornby Oo Scale Railways - Station Buildings/platforms/passengers Etc - UnboxedHornby Chinese Made Super Detail Class 31 Spares Or Repair Nmu.Hornby Oo Gauge R077 Lner 4-6-2 Class A4 Mallard Steam Locomotive #4468Hornby R.666 Articulated Car Carrier "silcock Express" - Nm/mint 8-plank Mineral Wagon 'n.e.' By Hornby Minitrix West Germany No 523 'n' GaugeOo Gauge Bachmann Class 416 Two-car Epb Emu Cars (motorized)Vintage Hornby Train Set Tank Passenger No.14 Complete W Papers RareLeft & Right Hand Diamond Crossing (2) Edcl/edcr Unboxed 3-rail Hornby Dublo OoHornby R.199 Mainline Station. New Old Stock. Oo & Ho. Boxed- UnassembledHornby Railroad R2785 Br Green 9f Evening Star Locomotive Boxed Dcc Ready Nr1959 Vintage Triang Rpb Clockwork Train Set With Extra Cars00 Gauge Hornby Intercity 125 Locomotive And Carriage SetLot Of 4 Vintage Hornby Model Railroad Catalogs, Color & B&w. 1929, 1937, 1958Hornby Dublo 1957 Edition Catalogue Meccano Binns Road Tri-ang Triang RovexHornby Railways Stephenson's Rocket Oo Scale - In Original BoxHornby O Gauge No2 Hydraulic Buffer Stop - Prewar TinplateHornby R.007 Ud Tanker Wagon. Excell Cond. Oo Scale. Tri-ang Railways Early 9 Inch Coaches 1 X R28 And 1 X R.29 Triang Hornby RovexHornby Oo Scale Mr TenderHornby & Lima Oo Scale Railways - 4 X Various Train Wagons Inc Findus/pilkingtonHornby Model Railway Oo Gauge Collection Of 61 Various Curved Track C 1970s

Recent News: Hornby Model Trains

Source: Google News

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

Market Report: FirstGroup surge puts halt to month-long price decline
The Independent, August 20th

Model trains also had a good day – Charlie Caminada, a non-executive director of Hornby, threw his weight behind the model maker after its recent upbeat trading statement, spending almost £15,000 on shares. Hornby slipped 0.25p to 64.75p. Debenhams ...Read more

MARKET REPORT: Bid hopes fuel Ophir Energy
Express.co.uk, August 19th

Positive trading updates boosted healthcare services group Ultrasis 0.12p to 0.69p and model train maker Hornby 5½p to 65p, while potash development company Sirius Minerals gained 1½p to 13¼p as WH Ireland began coverage with a buy rating and 37p ...Read more

Rail users commiserating after ticket rate rise
Proactive Investors UK, August 19th

Shares in model train firm Hornby (LON:HRN) may have been on the up Tuesday but passengers who depend on the real thing were far from celebrating as the learnt they face a 3.5% hike in rail fares in 2015. The regulated rise is worked out by adding 1...Read more

Johnny 'Unaarrimin' Mullagh — the greatest Aboriginal cricketer of his day
Cricket Country, August 13th

The victory excited both Tom Hamilton and William Hayman, and soon arrangements were made for the Aboriginals to train together on the shores of Lake Wallace at Edenhope. In those scenic surroundings the talent ... Gurnett turned out to be a fraud...Read more

Christmas must-have: worry-eating monster
Independent Online, August 13th

If parents want to splash out, there's the Hornby Digital Train Set or the WowWee MiP Robot, which can dance on two wheels in response to hand gestures. There is also an interactive doll, My Friend Cayla, which can be synched to a tablet or smartphone, ...Read more

Federal Way author describes life as dancer for Germans during WWII
Federal Way Mirror, August 4th

We had to drop everything, cancel our tour and get on a train.” It was time to go to the Russian front. At 16 years old, Hornby remembered that train packed full of soldiers. So much that “you could hardly walk along the aisles.” Once there, Hornby...Read more

Duty calls
ESPNcricinfo.com, August 3rd

At Old Trafford, Monkey Hornby was called from the field where he was captaining Lancashire against Yorkshire and summoned to the War Office, and within hours Sir Archibald White, Yorkshire's skipper, was heading south to join his regiment. The...Read more