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 Locomotive 0 Gauge "yorkshire" R/n 234 Electric 20v 3 RailVintage Hornby Series Model Railway O Gauge Mixed Lot Platforms & One Box 14Triang / Hornby Battle Of Britain Class Locomotive & Tender Winston ChurchillHornby O Gauge No2 Bogie Pullman CoachHornby Railways R.51s Gwr 0-6-0 Pannier Tank Steam Loco Oo Tri-ang Triang RovexRestored Hornby O Gauge Flying Scotmans Locomotive Electric TinplateVintage Triang / Hornby 4-6-2 Princess Royal Locomotive R50 & Tender R30/31Hornby R2568 "watersmeet" B/b Locomotive - Br Green - 34030 - Hobby Boxed Hornby R2542 "city Of Wells" W/c Class Locomotive - Br Green - Dcc Ready Pre War Hornby Model Railway Model O Gauge Coach For Restoration 1139Vintage Triang / Hornby 4-6-0 Class B12 Locomotive R150 & Tender R39Hornby O Gauge No2 Lms Brake/composite Bogie CoachHornby Dublo Breakdown Crane. Cat No. 4620. Excellent Condition. Ho/oo ScaleHornby Oo Gauge Br 4-6-2 Steam Engine And Tender #60108 Custom Paint & DecalMixed Lot Spares Lamps Tinplate Signs Etc Old Model Railway O Gauge 1469Tri-ang Hornby Railways R555c & R426 Pullman Three Car Set Triang Rovex TrainsDapol Oo Stroudly Terrier Gwr 0-6-0 Loco Boxed Or On30 DrivetrainHornby R2436 "coombe Martin" B/b Loco - Br Green - Ltd Edit - Hobby Boxed Vintage Hornby Series Model Railway O Gauge Signs No5 Repainted Boxed 1479Hornby Railways Oo R477 & R478 Lner Teak Coaches, Boxed Mint Tri-ang Triang#4620*hornby Dublo 2/3 Rail"2 X Spare Jack(for Breakdown Crane Set)Tri-ang Hornby R.10, R.18, R.124 Boxed Oo Wagons Rovex Triang Railways TrainsTri-ang Railways Boxed Oo Rs.49 Clockwork Train Set 1964 Triang Hornby RovexHornby R.066 "duchess Of Sutherland" Locomotive - Lms Red - 6233 - Boxed Vintage Hornby Model Railway O Gauge Tank Locomotive 50153 Working 1132Hornby Oo Gauge Br 4-6-2 Steam Engine And Tender #21c170 Custom DecalHornby O Gauge Fyffes Bananas VanTri-ang Railways R.81 Station Set Oo With Box Triang Hornby Rovex Trains LayoutHornby ? Or Other Clockwork Motor For Restoration Old Model Railway O Gauge 1475Hornby Series Tinplate Luggage & Post Box Old Model Railway O Gauge 1468Tri-ang Railways Oo/ho R.248 Ambulance Car Triang Hornby Rovex TranscontinentalHornby Lner Shell For Locomotive - Old Model Railway O Gauge 1474*unused*#ck13"wills"(ratio)oo Gauge(craftsman Kit)"black Horse Inn(& Box/instrucVintage German Marklin ? Model Railway Model O Gauge Spare Tender 1138Lionel O-scale Accesories,track,search Lights,hornby Tank Car Ho AccesoriesHornby Dublo Oo Gauge Edl7 N2 0-6-2 Tank "6917" In Lms Lined BlackVintage Hornby Oo Gauge Locomotive & Tender R859 The Fitzwilliam Lner Boxed HHornby Railways Oo R743 & R744 Gwr Coaches With Seats, Boxed Mint Tri-ang TriangHornby Meccano Clockwork 1842 Tin Train Locomotive And Lner Tender WorksHornby R1038 " U S Lines" " M/n Locomotive - Br Green - 35012 - Hobby Boxed European Tri-ang Hornby R354 4-4-0 Dean Single Loco 3046 Good Condition !Hornby R2298b Class 47 Virgin 47841 "spirit Of Chester" Co Coex Display Exc CondHornby O Gauge No.2 Distant Signal - Lattice Post-1940'sVintage Hornby Oo Gauge Loco R589 Br Bo Bo Electric Class 86 Post Haste Boxed CHornby R2169 "clan Line" M/n Class Locomotive - Br Green - 35028 - Nmb Tri-ang Hornby Railways R.357 Brush Type 2 Diesel Electric Triang Rovex TrainsHornby O Gauge No.1 'meccano' Open WagonHo Scale Att Budd Rdc Santa Fe Cars #3400 & 3403 Not Working Gb NtaHornby Tinplate Lnwr Gunpowder Van 1920sRake Of 3 Br (ex Lms) Passenger Coach'sR357 Hornby Br A1a-a1a Diesel Electric Loco. Green. 00 Gauge New And Boxed#4635 *hornby Dublo 2/3 Rail Coal Wagon With Load (sd6) Wagon( Mint) & Mint BoxVintage Hornby Oo Gauge Locomotive & Tender Lner R845 Flying Scotsman Boxed FHornby Series(o Gauge) Tin Plate Metal Trunk & Lid(railway Passenger Luggage)vgcVintage Triang / Hornby R52 0-6-0 Class 3f Tank Locomotive 47606Vintage Hornby Oo Gauge Locomotive & Tender R063 Run No70000 Boxed GHornby O Gauge No.1 Double Arm Signal - Lattice Post7 X (like Hornby Dublo(plastic) Oo Figure(all Women/children Inc Seated)Seagull Live Steam HornbyHornby O Gauge No2 Lumber Wagon Yellow/green Pre-war Tinplate

Recent News: Hornby Model Trains

Source: Google News

Hornby Plc Earns "Add" Rating from Numis Securities Ltd (HRN)
Mideast Time, May 20th

The company's market cap is £40.53 million. Hornby PLC is a United Kingdom-based company, engaged in the development, production and supply of hobby and toy products. The Company offers train sets such as Analogue Train Sets and Digital Train Sets...Read more

Hornby Plc Rating Reiterated by Numis Securities Ltd (HRN)
sleekmoney, May 19th

The company's market cap is £38.38 million. Hornby PLC is a United Kingdom-based company, engaged in the development, production and supply of hobby and toy products. The Company offers train sets such as Analogue Train Sets and Digital Train Sets...Read more

Mums connect for future generations
The Press, May 19th

Poole is now working with friend and fellow Mum Danielle Hide to help prepare her son for school through Hornby's HIPPY initiative, which launched this month. Home Intervention Programme for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) aims to ensure young ...Read more

Hornby Plc's Add Rating Reiterated at Numis Securities Ltd (HRN)
Dakota Financial News, May 19th

The company's market cap is £38.87 million. Hornby PLC is a United Kingdom-based company, engaged in the development, production and supply of hobby and toy products. The Company offers train sets such as Analogue Train Sets and Digital Train Sets...Read more

Full steam ahead for Hornby, as Thomas the Tank Engine model railway sets ...
Telegraph.co.uk, May 15th

Earlier this month, the toy and model maker reported its first pre-tax profit in three years after a tumultuous period sparked by disappointing sales of Olympic merchandise. In a trading update, the company said it is expecting a pre-tax profit in the...Read more

Hornby appoints new finance boss
Insider Media, May 15th

The appointment comes alongside Hornby's confirmation that it will be relaunching its classic range of Thomas the Tank Engine model railway sets. Steve Cooke was finance director at LSL Property Services. Prior to that, he was finance director at...Read more

Model train company Hornby back on track
Express.co.uk, May 1st

Sales have risen from 6 per cent annually in February to 13 per cent, which analysts suggest means sales have soared by 40 per cent. Model Rail has performed particularly strongly. Hornby, which is expected to complete its headquarters move from...Read more

Steamy trains! Model rail shop puts the horn in Hornby with plastic lineside ...
mirror.co.uk, March 11th

A model railway company has spiced up its train set accessories - by including miniature doggers, prostitutes, peeping Toms and nudists. The new characters are entwined in raunchy embraces and shown being spied upon in one idyllic scene through a hole ...Read more