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Hornby Model Trains



Meccano Factory 1916,


Frank Hornby  was born on 15 May 1863 in Liverpool, Hornby was the son of John Oswald Hornby, a provision merchant and his wife Martha Hornby (née Thomlinson). He is mentioned elsewhere on this site in the 'Meccano' story. He was an English inventor, businessman and politician. He was a visionary in toy development and manufacture and produced three of the most popular lines of toys in the twentieth century: Meccano, Hornby Model Railways and Dinky Toys. He also founded the British toy company Meccano Ltd in 1908. This article takes a closer look at the development of ‘Hornby Train sets’





Let’s just remind ourselves of Frank Hornby’s history.



In September 1907, Hornby registered his famous "Meccano" trade mark and used this name on all new sets. In order to raise more capital to invest in a larger factory and plant, a company had to be created. This lead to the formation of Meccano Ltd on 30 May 1908. His former employer David HughElliot, lent him the five ponds he needed to start the company but decided not to join the new company, leaving Hornby as the sole proprietor. The Meccano factory was located in West Derby Road in Liverpool, and in 1910 the famous "MECCANO" logo was commissioned.  Meccano Ltd's turnover for the 1910 financial year was 12,000 pounds.


Meccano was exported to many countries and in 1912, Hornby and his son, Roland, formed Meccano (France) Ltd in Paris to manufacture Meccano. An office was also opened in Berlin, Germany and Märklin began to manufacture Meccano under licence. Hornby also started importing clockwork motors from Märklin.





In order to keep pace with demand, a new factory was built in Binns Road, Liverpool. By September 1914 the Binns Road Factory was in full production and became the company headquarters for over 60 years.

By the 1930s, Hornby had become a millionaire. He owned a mansion and was chauffeured to Binns Road every day by limousine. Hornby died of a chronic heart condition complicated by diabetes in Liverpool on 21 September 1936. His elder son Roland took over as Chairman of Meccano Ltd.






Early history: 1920–1938

Hornby was at first a tradename for the railway productions of Meccano Ltd , Liverpool, which released its first train, a clockwork 0 gauge (1:48) model, in 1920. An electric train soon followed but was under-designed and the few that were made were sold out in France. In 1925, a much more successful electric model was introduced, operating on the high voltage of 110 volts AC power. Safety concerns saw low voltage 4V and then 6V motors introduced, followed by a reliable 20V AC system, which was developed in the early 1930s. However, clockwork remained the mainstay of the Hornby 0 gauge trains until 1937 and became the only power available in Liverpool-made 0 gauge trains from 1949. Competitors in the UK were Leeds Model Company and Bassett-Lowke


Clockwork 0 gauge model


Hornby Dublo era: 1938–1963


Meccano introduced its 00 scale trains in 1938 under the name 'Hornby Dublo'. The locomotives were diecast, and the carriages and wagons were generally made of tinplate. The range expanded quickly, but was curtailed from 1940 due to World War II, production being completely suspended in 1942. Production resumed after the war but did not reach full capacity until 1948. Clockwork models were not produced in 00 scale after the war. Like its counterparts Bassett-Lowke and Exley in the UK and Lionel and American Flyer in the US, Hornby thrived in the first half of the decade but struggled in the late 1950s. The company was slow to recognise the threat posed by rival manufacturers (particularly Triang-Rovex) and to realise the potential of plastic. In 1959, far too late, Hornby introduced two-rail track and moulded plastic rolling stock (the Super Detail series), but even then the system was complicated and difficult to use in comparison to its rivals. Meanwhile the company plugged on producing a range of very old-fashioned 0 gauge models, in 1957 completely retooling much of the range instead of taking the opportunity to discontinue it, indicative of major failings at management level.
Hornby Dublo 80054 locomotive 00 gauge


Tri-ang Hornby: 1964–1972


In 1964, Lines Bros Ltd., the parent company of rival Tri-ang Railways, purchased Meccano Ltd., and merged Hornby and Tri-ang into Tri-ang Hornby. The former Hornby line was discontinued in favour of Tri-ang's less costly plastic designs. The Hornby Dublo tooling was sold to G & R Wrenn, which continued to make most of the loco range and 'superdetail' rolling stock. Remaining stocks of 0 gauge were either scrapped or sold to the local retailer Norman Hatton.


Triang Hornby freightmaster set
Hornby Railways: 1972–1980

The Tri-ang group was disbanded in 1971 when Meccano Ltd's owner Lines Bros. filed for bankruptcy. The former Tri-ang Hornby was sold to Dunbee-Combex-Marx, becoming Hornby Railways in 1972. By 1976 Hornby was facing challenges from Palitoy and Airfix, both of which were producing high quality detailed models. Detail on the models was upgraded to make the product line more attractive to adult hobbyists. By 1980 the market was extremely tough and Dunbee-Combex-Marx was liquidated, placing Hornby in receivership.



Hornby Hobbies: 1980–2008


In 1980 Hornby became Hornby Hobbies and in 1981 a management buyout saw the company back on a sound footing. It went public in 1986.




By the early 1990s Hornby again faced competition from newcomers like Dapol and established foreign manufacturers, including Lima and Bachmann Industries. Manufacturing was moved to Guangdong province in China in 1995, completed by 1999, cutting costs and improving quality. As part of the process Hornby also bought in some of Dapol's products and also some of the old Airfix moulds (by then owned by Dapol). Train sets based on Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and Harry Potter (the "Hogwarts Express") have been particularly profitable ventures. In September 2003 Hornby released its first steam-powered 00 gauge locomotive, a model of the record-breaking Mallard. Several other "Live Steam" locomotives have since been produced. In May 2008, Hornby announced the acquisition of Corgi Classics Limited, one of the world's oldest makers of collectable die-cast models of trucks, buses, cars and aeroplanes, from Corgi International Limited for £7.5million. In 2009, the Hornby Shop and Visitor Centre was in development. Christmas 2009 saw the launch of the new Hornby Shop at Margate in Kent, with the visitor centre still in production. July 2010 saw the opening of the Hornby Shop And Visitor Centre, which has proved increasingly popular since the opening day.


Frank Hornby`s grave in St Andrew`s church, Maghull

Hornby's legacy lives on today with thousands of enthusiasts all over the world still building Meccano models and running Hornby Train sets.




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