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 Oo R2342 Class A3 Br 4-6-2 Locomotive White Knight & Tender Dcc Ready MibGreat Collection Of Hornby Great Western Train Carriages & Van Wagon - Bb A07Bassett-lowke Lms 1924 Lms Post Office Car, Marklin Hornby Bing O-gauge LionelBassett-lowke Lms 13210 Lms Dining Car, Marklin Hornby Bing O-gauge LionelHornby Oo Gauge R2250 Class 5mt Br Black 4-6-0 Locomotive 45253 & Tender - MibHornby Ho Scale "duchess Of Montrose" Train Set W/track-transformer-nice!Bassett-lowke Lms 3490 1st Class Coach Car, Marklin Hornby Bing O-gauge LionelHornby R866 Lner 4-6-0 Class B12/3 Loco With Tender. 00 Gauge New And BoxedBachmann Oo Gauge Br Standard Class 4mt 4-6-0 Steam Engine & Tender #75014Hornby R863 Class 47/48 Diesel Electric Loco. 00 Gauge New And BoxedRed "horse Box" (with Horse) Wagon 4315 2-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge (boxed) Vintage Hornby Train Set By Meccano Gauge O Clockwork Windup Made In EnglandHornby Tank Locomotive In Green Lner Livery. Original Box. With Key.Hornby Dublo 3221 Ludlow Castle Locomotive And Tender Near Mint In Orig BoxBoxed O Gauge Hornby Clockwork SetHornby Dublo City Of London Loco 2 Rail - Good+ ConditionHornby O Gauge Platform Crane - Near Mint BoxedVintage Tri-ang Cp Rail Diesel R.0553 "a" Unit Orange/red/black-1404 LocomotiveHornby Model Railways Ex- Sr Schools Class Loco Dcc Fitted Nr Mint Boxed Tri-ang Davey Crockett (old Timer ) Loco -with Smoke !! _ Boxed Hornby Dublo Cardiff Castle Loco 2 Rail - Good+ ConditionHornby Model Railway Oo Gauge Home & Distant Signal Selection3 Loco's And Various Other Oo Items Used Great Vintage O Gauge Metallic Hornby Freight Wagons & Working Signal - Fc A07Old Tri-ang Railways R.22 S.r. Coaches X 2 For Oo Gauge Model Railways Boxed2 X Hornby R216 Prime Pork Closed Van. 00 Gauge New And Boxed" Evening Star "92220 2-10-0 B.r. Boxed Locomotive Dcc Ready . Mint, Hornby Die-cast Metal Station-ramps-overpass-figures-signals-accessories-nice!Great Collection Of Hornby Great Western Train Carriages & Van Wagon - Qi A07Graham Farish Oo Gauge Die Cast Gwr 0-6-0 Tank Locomotive #9410Vintage Hornby Dublo Blue Spot Fish Van 4300 'oo' GaugeD1 Tank Wagon "shell Lubricating Oil" 32082 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Boxed Hornby Dublo. 3 Rail Electric. Original Boxed Set, 3 Locos, Track, Buildings.2 X Hornby R423 Lms Brake First Carriages. 00 Gauge New And BoxedRed Passenger Fruit Van (wr) 4305 2/3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway Boxed Tri-ang Hornby Cn F7 EngineHornby Edl17 Oo Gauge British Railways Steam Locomotive #69567/boxLot 2: Hornby Oo (ho) Scale Flying Scottsman Locomotive, Oval TrackN Gauge 2 Low Relief Shops From Hornby's Lyddle End RangeHornby Oo Scale William Mansfield Co. "carlisle" 0-4-0 Steam EngineOperating Ho Scale Vintage Hornby Dublo Lighted Metal 2 Light SignalTri-ang Railways R.112 Boxed Model Goods Truckwith Drop Down Sides Oo GaugeD1 Footbridge 5010 2/3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway Accessories (boxed) Sd6 White 6ton Refrigerator Van 4320 2/3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge (boxed) Hornby Oo Scale Wagons X 3 All In VgcHornby R561 People Sitting. 00 Gauge New And UnopenedN Gauge 8 Low Relief Terrace Houses From Hornby's Lyddle End RangeHornby 1:76 Scale '00' Guage,- Limited Edition - Lakes Express, Coach PackHornby Ho Scale Lot Of Six Freight Cars-1950's-some Boxed-very Nice Condition!4 X *hornby Series (o Gauge/3 Rail) 2 X Left Hand Point & 2 X Right HandEubr 3-rail Electric Uncoupling Rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway (unboxed) Hornby Dublo Mobilgas Vacuum Oil Company Ltd. Tanker Train Car Meccano 3 RailEda2 Large Radius Curved Rail (8) 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway (boxed) Tri-ang Hornby R.430 Curved Side Walls Boxed Oo Gauge Model TrainsEdbt11/2 32205 3-rail Half Straight Terminal Rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge (boxed) 2 Vintage Hornby Dublo 13 Ton Standard Wagon (sd6) 4670 'oo' GaugeD1 Signal Cabin 5080 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway Accessories (boxed) D1 Loading Gauge 32150 2/3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway Accessories BoxedOo Ho Scale Parkside Dundas Lner 20 Ton Plate Wagon 1940Hornby Intercity Xpt Locomotive/3 Coaches/catalog-in Excellent Condition

Recent News: Hornby Model Trains

Source: Google News

Year in review: Top stories at Trib.com
Casper Star-Tribune Online, December 17th

Riley Stringer mourns alongside his coaches and teammates Friday at Powell High School during a pregame speech honoring his late father, head coach Jim Stringer. Longtime friend and former Powell coach Richard Despain wrote the speech for Stringer ...Read more

Best movies of 2014: 'Boyhood,' 'Birdman,' 'Lego Movie' make the Top 10 cut
Chico Enterprise-Record, December 15th

Some years the Academy of Motion Pictures has trouble coming up with 10 films that are truly deserving of a Best Picture nomination. That won't be the case next year. 2014 was a rich and exciting year in film, with bold entries that dared to be...Read more

2015 Critics' Choice Movie Awards nominations announced
CBS News, December 15th

Awards season continues to heat up with Monday's unveiling of nominations for the 2015 Critics' Choice Movie Awards. "Birdman" tops the list of nominees with 13 nods, followed by "The Grand Budapest Hotel" with 11. Richard Linklater's "Boyhood was not ...Read more

Nominees for the 2015 Broadcast Film Critics Assn. Critics' Choice Awards
Los Angeles Times, December 15th

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Boyhood" led the nominees of the Broadcast Film Critics Association's 20th Critics' Choice Movie Awards. With 11 and 8 nominations, respectively, they were joined in the best picture category by "Birdman," "Gone Girl...Read more

Sights to amaze
Hong Kong Standard, December 11th

In another side to Christmas, Elements keeps your heart young by collaborating with Hornby, Britain's leading model train brand with more than 100 years of history. Under the theme of "Spreading love and Christmas greetings by train," the mall in West ...Read more

Highlights from this week's Investors Chronicle
Financial Times, November 28th

Half-year results from model train maker Hornby should reassure investors that the company remains on track with its turnround plan. The group moved back into the black, reporting an underlying operating profit of £0.25m, following a £0.85m loss last year...Read more

Most followed - Rolls Royce, Tullow Oil, Quindell, Hornby and Ophir Energy
Proactive Investors UK, November 21st

Also gaining traction and a popularly read story was one fom model train maker Hornby (LON:HRN). Shares rose 1.39% as it reported an 8% increase in group sales in its latest half year. The group's turnaround plan is making progress and is on track for...Read more

Hornby more than halves loss as train sales rise
MarketWatch, November 21st

LONDON--Hobby products firm Hornby PLC (HRN.LN) Friday said it more than halved its first-half pretax loss, as sales of model trains rose 18% boosted by a new range of products, including the 'P2' and Flying Scotsman train set. The firm, which owns a ...Read more