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    

Britains / Hornby O Gauge 1:43 Lead Railway Personnel + Passenger + Luggage Hornby Dublo (meccano Ltd) Class Al1 Electric E3002 2245 LocoPre War Hornby Series O Gauge 3 Rail Electric Viaduct / Girder Bridge Vintage C1935 Hornby O Gauge Lms No2 Tender For The Compound/royal ScotVintage Tinplate Clockwork Hornby O Gauge Railway Type 501 Locomotive5 Hornby Series O Gauge 3 Rail Electric Points 2 X Right H, 2 X Left & ParallelHornby Devious Diesel R317 Locomotive Thomas & Friends Train Sets In Box Hornby Series O Gauge No 2 Special Pullman Coach - Iolanthe ( For RestorationHornby Trains Railway Oo Scale R.072 Br Lms 4-6-2 Coronation Class "bristol" NibHornby O Gauge No2 Signal Cabin - 1950's TinplateHornby O Gauge 0-4-0 Lner Tank Loco For Repair + Spare Mechanism For PartsTrade Box Of 12 X Hornby O Gauge Tinplate Milk CansHornby R2745 Sr Schools Class Loco 4-4-0 Renamed 910 Merchant Taylors - Vg+ BxdHornby '00' R078 G W R King Class 4-6-0 'king Edward I' New Condition 'rare!'Hornby Ho Scale "dublo" Caledonian Passenger Train Set-unused-original Box-nice!Early Pre War Hornby Series O Gauge No 1 0-4-0 Tender & Tank Loco BodysNorthern Belle Luxury Train Set W/ 4-6-2 Duchess Steamer & Add-on Sleeper New !Vintage 1970 Lot (120 Pieces) Hornby Tri-ang Miniature Train Model Railroad Hornby R1071 Oo Gauge Eurostar Train Set Ex/boxHornby R3207 Oo Gauge Lner P2 2-8-2 Locomotive Cock O' The North RareHornby Dublo 2218 Oo Gauge 2-rail Br Class 4mt 2-6-4 Standard Tank 80033 Vgc BoxBlue Pullman Train Set & 3-car Add-on Set Hornby New Never UsedTri-ang Hornby Railway Model R.753 Br Class 81 Bo-bo E3001 Electric LocoVintage Hornby By Meccano Electric Train Locomotive 'silver King 60016'Vintage 54mm Lead Railway Porter + Golf Bag + Rug/sticks Hornby Series/ Britains( 2 ) ( " Train Engines ) Hornbys -( Great Britian) For Parts Or Restoration3 Hornby Railways Cars, 00 Scale, R.223, R.233 And R.469Hornby/dublo Oo Gauge #edl11 Br 4-6-2 (silver King) Steam Loco (dc-3 Rail)Hornby Ltd Ed 495 Of 1500 Stanier Class 5 Loco 4-6-0 - Excellent Boxed With CertVintage 'triang-hornby' Locomotive...from The Freightmaster SetHornby Dublo In Railway Art "halcyon Days At Milford Yard" Numbered & SignedT.p.o. Mail Van Set 2400 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway Accessories Boxed Hornby O Gauge Low Sided Wagon With Insulated Meat Container In Original BoxHornby Dublo 3 Rail Diamond Crossing L/h & Electric R/hand Points - BoxedEstate:vintage 1950s Duchess Of Montrose Hornby Dublo Edp12 Train Set In BoxLot Of Vintage Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Train Accessories Ebur Electric Uncoupling Rail 3746 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge Railway (boxed) Hornby R 242 B.r. Ventilated Van. 00 Gauge New And BoxedHornby Ho 7391 Blue Restaurant Car W/ Passengers In Box 498419Hornby Ho 7311 Green Sncf Baggage Car W/ Metal Trucks In Box 498418Vintage Tinplate Hornby O Gauge Railway No. 1 Water Tank, ExibVintage Tin Hornby O Scale Internationale Des Wagons - Toy Blue Train Dining CarHornby Dublo Gresley A4 Chassis. N Gauge Brick Engine Shed From Hornby's Lyddle End SeriesHornby-dublo - 5010 - Footbridge Meccano England Boxed InstructionsHornby Trains O Scale - Station Hoarding - Raleigh/bikes/birds/hp - In BoxVintage Hornby Tinplate O Gauge Lms Railway Coal / Mineral Wagons X 2Vintage Tinplate Hornby O Gauge Railway Goods Brake Van, Exib.Hornby Dublo Edl18 4mt Standardtank Loco 2-6-4t - Very Good Condition2 Hornby Railways Cars, 00 Scale, R.483 And R.484Hornby Ho 732 Green Passenger Car W/ Standing Sitting Figures 498422Hornby Ho Paris Lille #2 Green Passenger Car In Box 498421Hornby Ho 7330 Blue Voiture Car 2nd Class In Box 498420Hornby Dublo Signal Box, Bridge And Level CrossingHornby Dublo In Railway Art "folkestone Harbour" No.14 Signed & NumberedD1 Tank Wagon "esso Royal Daylight" 32070 3-rail Hornby Dublo Oo Gauge (boxed) ( 2 ) ( " Train Engine ) Hornbys- Ti-ang / Spectrum For Parts Or RestorationHornby Dublo Meccano Ho Cars (2) Track And Coach - Lot - Train Railroad Hornby Dublo Selection Of Railway Vans X 6 Inc 2 Pre-nationalisation - ExcellentHornby O Gauge Figures - 4 X Train Crew - Brown Overalls

Recent News: Hornby Model Trains

Source: Google News

In search of the source of my family
The Guardian, February 1st

The door was at the side, which meant we couldn't see it. A ticking anxiety circled inside me as finely calibrated as a Hornby train set. She was in there, behind the door that we couldn't see. I was sure of it. Three generations of women were within a...Read more

Buffalo mansion has presidential pedigree
Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin, January 31st

Once informed McKinley was dying, Roosevelt rushed to his side as fast as he could by wagon and train, but McKinley passed before he arrived. Wilcox, a friend of Roosevelt's, offered his home for the cabinet to meet and it was there that the oath of...Read more

Toys galore at collectors' fair at Bath and West Showground
Wells Journal, January 31st

SHEPTON Mallet Toy and Train Collectors' Fair was established in 1988 and started in the Cheese Pavilion, as it was known then, at the Bath and West Showground. Over the years it has grown in size from ... models that they have always wanted. The list...Read more

10 films kids will love – and so will you
The Guardian, January 30th

Despite the antique effects – some of the train scenes appear to be made with Hornby models – it's brilliant fun for all ages. A group of English passengers are aboard a train travelling across central Europe, when kindly spinster Miss Froy (Dame May...Read more

London Mayor Boris Johnson: Extremists 'porn-driven'
BBC News, January 30th

Boris Johnson has described men who join religious extremist groups such as Islamic State as "losers" who are likely to be users of pornography. The Mayor of London told The Sun those turning to violence had low self-esteem and were unsuccessful with ...Read more

Spare Times for Jan. 30-Feb. 5
New York Times, January 29th

22) This free annual treat for model train enthusiasts, featuring vintage Lionel trains, is on display in Grand Central Terminal. Weekdays from 8 .... Joining Mr. Hornby in this free conversation will be Bill Tipper, an editor of the Barnes & Noble...Read more

Toy trains from the past 200 years
BBC News, January 16th

The Hornby train set below dates from the 1920s. At the time ... With its rich history - the NRM has about 10,000 model trains and toys in its collections - the museum hopes to tap into the essence of why children continue to be excited by railways...Read more

Police appeal for information following overnight raid on High Legh Garden Centre
Knutsford Guardian, 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