Hornby Railways

Hornby Railways

During the 1930s a number of economic and social changes contributed to the changes in toy train sizes. Houses and flats became increasingly smaller, which meant that space was no longer available for the larger 0 gauge model railways. A smaller toy train was introduced.

The popular 0 gauge to)- and model trains of the period were not cheap. A Hornby electric set would cost £3/12/6 and a Bassett-Lowke electric model of the LNER 'Flying Scotsman' would have set you back £4/10/-.

This may not sound expensive today, but at a time when £3 was The publicity department of the Meccanno Company, makers of the Hornby-Dublo range were masters of their art in the dull days just after WWII. They produced wonderful posters to advertise their products, such as this one. ©Barry Potter Auctions the average weekly wage it was considerably costly.

It was the German firm of Bing that first produced what they termed as a 'Table Top Railway'. This was followed in Britain with the introduction of the 'Trix-Twin Train Table Railway', made by Bassett- Lowke in 1936. Both of these systems were based on a gauge which was half the size of the older 0 gauge, (i.e. 0 gauge measures 32mm between the rails of the track, 00 gauge measured 16mm).

The Trix-Twin system was a huge success with many of the model shops selling-out within weeks of their deliveries.

Hornby Railways

The recent developments had not gone unnoticed by the Meccano Company, makers of the Hornby Railway 0 gauge system. In 1937 they decided they would join the trend and produce a range of 00 gauge model railways. It was during one of the company's planning meetings that the name 'Dublo' was given to the system, by the Commercial Director, George Jones. One of the most famous names in toy railways 'Hornby- Dublo' was born.

In 1938 the first models appeared, the LNER passenger engine 'Sir Nigel Gresley' with a set of coaches and a small goods engine, together with 12 or so goods wagons. Both engines were available either electrically driven or clockwork. Sadly all of this happened after the death of the founder of the Meccano Company, Mr Frank Hornby, who died in September 1936.

Hornby Railways


Hornby-Dublo trains were so popular that the press reported of queues forming at toy shops when news of deliveries was known. This high demand was mainly due to the large price differential between the new Hornhy-Dublo trains and the Trix-Twin models.

The 'Sir Nigel Greslev' electric version sold for £1/9/6, whereas the similar Trix-Twin locomotive sold for £4/7/-. Meccano's experience of producing diecast models as Dink)' Toys greatly assisted in keeping production costs to a minimum. With plans to produce more locomotives and rolling stock during 1939, they issued catalogues presenting new additions to the range. They included wooden stations and the most famous locomotive, the 'Duchess of Atholl".

Hornby Railways

Sadly the momentum was to be lost with the outbreak of World War II. The government banned all production of toys, and the Binns Road factory in Liverpool was used for essential war work.

It was in December 1947 that the models began to reappear, although without the clockwork versions and in very limited numbers. Even by late 1948 some items were only available to order if you were lucky.

When supply did steadily start increasing it was hit by a material shortage caused by the outbreak of the Korean war in 1951.
No new products were introduced during that year and it wasn't until 1953 that production became near normal. In the same year two new versions of the express locomotives appeared, the 'Duchess of Montrose' and 'Silver King', to be followed a year later by a new express locomotive, the 'Bristol Castle'.


Hornby Railways

During it'he following years various improvements and items were added to the range but it jn 1959 (hat the major alteration to the Hornby-Dublo system was made. Up until then, the trains were driven by the 12v current supply from an insulated centre third rail.

With I he advancement of technology it was possible to do away with the centre third rail, giving the model layouts a much more realistic look. It also heralded a release of new locomotives, and rolling stock produced to the new 2-rail system. Meanwhile the company continued to produce the old 3-rail models.

Many commentators have attributed this decision as one of the main factors in the downfall of the Hornby-Dublo range, which ended w hen it was taken • over by the Tri-ang company in 1964.

Also in 1959 a number of models were given new names and liveries. The British Rail locomotive 'Silver King', which was a 3-rail model became 'Golden Fleece (2-rail) and the "Bristol Castle' (3-rail) became 'Denbigh Castle', (2-rail). In almost all cases the 3-rail versions of the locomotive command a higher price.

Hornby Railways

As the years progressed boys interests changed. Space and science fiction programmes became increasingly popular with the related toys Hooding the market. In 1963 the Meccano company announced losses of more than £400,000, and finally in 1964 Tri-ang's parent company; Lines Brothers, purchased the Meccano company for £781,000.

It is hardly surprising that after all these years almost every item which was produced under the name of 'Hornby-Dublo' attracts a great deal of interest, and is eagerly collected.

Hornby Railways
Price Guide

The value of items are dependent on their condition. All prices provided are an average, at auction they may be higher or lower.
  • Small Tank engine British Rail, 3-rail Version,
No 69567 - £30-125.
2-rail version, No 69550 - £25-80.
  • Sir Nigel Gresley, No 4498, pre-war clockwork - £400-850 pre-war electric - £600-900.
  • Sir Nigel Gresley, No 7, post-war electric - £100-175.
  • Silver King, No 60016 - £50-110.
  • Mallard, No 60022 - £85-150.
  • Golden Fleece - £75-125.
  • Duchess of Atholl, No 6231 - £50-100. (If it has a yellow name plate it can sell for much more.)
  • Duchess of Montrose, No 46232 -£55-95.
  • City of Liverpool, No 46245, 3-rail - £250-320.
 The value of coaches and wagons vary a great deal, from as little as £5 to £350.

Hornby Railways
Useful Information

For further information on Hornby-Dublo contact the Hornby Railway Collectors Association. Formed more than 40 years ago, it now has over 8,000 members world-wide. The Membership secretary, Bob Field, can be contacted on: 0115 962 5693.

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