Hornby is a household name and is famous as the UK brand
leader in the model railway hobby. The company's founder was
Frank Hornby (1863 - 1936) who applied for a patent in 1901
to protect an invention he called 'Improvements in Toy or
Educational Devices for Children and Young People'. Nobody
then could have imagined how this product would influence
the model railway hobby that we know today.
Beginning of Hornby
Frank Hornby was granted his patent and soon put the
invention into production under the name 'Mechanics Made
Easy'. This led to the establishment of Meccano Ltd in 1907.
Such was the success of the Company, Frank Hornby had to
regularly move his factory to new and larger premises.
Meccano was to become one of the classic toys of all time.
Meccano production continued during the First World War and
Hornby took the opportunity to introduce toy trains in 1920.
Hornby Trains were powered by a high quality clockwork
motor, made of metal pressings held together by Meccano nuts
and bolts, and '0' gauge in size. Hornby Trains were an
instant success and the company was quick to introduce more
engines and accessories. In 1925 the first Hornby electric
train was produced, operating from a mains supply of 100-250
volts. By 1929, Hornby had evolved a much safer system
and electric models worked from a six volt DC source.
Hornby Dublo and Tri-ang Hornby
In 1938, Hornby Dublo ('00') was launched. This was
approximately half the size of the '0' gauge system. The new
locomotives had cast metal bodies rather than pressed metal,
and the buildings were made of wood. Both clockwork and
electric sets were available before the Second World War,
although these were limited to Sir Nigel Gresley, an LNER A4
Class Pacific, and an LNER Class N2 tank locomotive in the
liveries of the 'big four' companies of the time (GWR, LMS,
LNER and SR). Production stopped during the Second World War
(1939 - 1945) but Hornby Dublo soon reappeared once the war
was over, although without a clockwork range.
the late 1950s, it was clear that Hornby Dublo was losing
ground to its competitors and changed from a three-rail
system to the established two-rail track system in 1959.
Hornby came under increasing pressure from rival company
Tri-ang Railways, who had developed plastic bodied trains
and carried out its manufacturing at a purpose-built factory
in Margate, Kent. Hornby Dublo and Tri-ang Railways rivalled
each other during the early 1950s and following the
acquisition in 1964 of Meccano Ltd was taken over by Lines
Bros (the parent company of Rovex Scale Models Ltd,
manufactures of Tri-ang Railways), in 1965 and became
of Hornby Dublo ceased in 1964 and some of the tooling was
purchased by G&R Wrenn Ltd (another subsidiary of Lines
Bros.) to launch Tri-ang Wrenn in 1967.
Tri-ang Hornby period is best remembered by many for the
change to British Rail blue liveries on diesel locomotives,
the introduction of pre-Nationalisation liveries for steam
locomotives and the launch of Battle Space and Battle Zone.
Some of the locomotives produced during this time included
the E3000, Hymek, Class 37, M7, Hall Class, Coronation
Class, Flying Scotsman and Evening Star.
Tri-ang Group was disbanded and sold in 1971 and the model
railway system which had in 1972 been known as Tri-ang
Hornby was renamed Hornby Railways in January. Even
though the name changed, production continued at the Margate
factory. The specification of a large part of the range was
also upgraded to make it more attractive to adult
enthusiasts and improvements were carried out to provide
finer scale wheels, wire handrails on locomotives, better
paint finish on plastic bodies and high definition printing
From Hornby Railways to Hornby Group Plc
There was a steady flow of new locomotives during the 1970s
including the A4, 'Footballer', King, Patriot and Duchess
Classes. New diesels included the High Speed Train
(HST) which became a popular model instantly. At the same
time a new range of regional and BR Mk3 coaches were
introduced, which would serve the system for many years.
Other products included a 3 1/2" gauge steam powered
model of Stephenson's Rocket, Zero 1 (the forerunner to DCC)
and a model of the ill-fated tilting Advanced Passenger
In 1980 the company, now known as Hornby Hobbies Ltd, became
an independent company and on 29 October 1986 was floated on
the Unlisted Securities Market, becoming a public company.
Changes taking place on British Railways and privatisation
of the railways at this time brought several new eye
catching liveries that were eagerly modelled by Hornby. The
demand for these liveries and higher standards of modelling
led to a number of models being retooled. New products
also included a Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends range,
based on the television series.
The Thomas series was launched in 1985 at the same time as
other new models were added to the Hornby range, including
BR's electric Class 90 and 91 locomotives and Mk4 InterCity
Today, more privatised companies using the railway system
have brought a further choice of new and diverse liveries to
model. All Hornby manufacturing was moved to China in
1995 and the first totally new 'Far East' model was a
Rebuilt Merchant Navy Class locomotive, which was to become
a benchmark of quality for future locomotives and rolling
stock. Hornby launched the first commercially produced '00'
gauge live steam locomotive in September 2003, paving the
way for another product line to the Company's already
expanding range, consisting of more than 650 current items.
simply called "Hornby", the company justifiably
retains the position it has held for more than 50 years as
Britain's leading model railway manufacturer.
- Making Models Real