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Celebrating 100 Years of Hornby Trains

In 2020 we celebrated 100 years since the first Hornby Trains were made by the Meccano factory. The photograph below shows the first sets available using the 'Hornby' name. These are Gauge O and contain an 0-4-0 locomotive with clockwork mechanism, tender, a single wagon and were supplied with a small oval of track. The locos, tenders and wagons were made of constructional parts like a pre-built Meccano kit. 

Other than the track, the items were all well made of constructional parts like a pre-built Meccano kit, with the locomotive boiler, cab and tender nicely enamelled in either green, red or black. The wagons had railway company initials clipped on and were available initially with GN, LNWR or MR lettering.

Hornby Trains from 1920

Before the Railways Act of 1921 there were over 100 separate railway companies in Britain. Three of the largest and also most local to the Meccano factory in Liverpool were the London North Western Railway (LNWR), Midland Railway (MR) and the Great Northern Railway (GN), so their choice for the first Hornby trains was not surprising.

The Hornby trains were an instant success. In the November 1920 Meccano Magazine the editor wrote:

"Hornby Clockwork Trains. I am sorry that so many of my readers have had to be kept waiting for these trains. We knew the demand would be very large, but we did not anticipate that it would be quite so big as has proved to be the case."

As the accompanying photographs show, the first clockwork mechanisms had a very short wheelbase and small wheels, with pistons and connecting rods, but no coupling rods. The following year an improved clockwork mechanism with a longer wheelbase and larger wheels was introduced and the rails were also improved to a larger 1 foot radius with 5 rather than 3 sleepers for each piece of curved track. The first couplings were wire loops as shown in the photographs, but in 1921 these were also changed to the drop-link style of coupling that lasted (with modifications) for the following decade.

The name Hornby lives on today through Hornby Hobbies, who have created a new range of products to celebrate the centenary of Hornby Trains. They have also released a video to celebrate 100 years of Hornby.

By November 1920 newspapers were advertising the new Hornby Trains. For example, the Bedfordshire Times and Independent carried an advertisement from Hebblethwaite & Co. Ltd. Bedford on the 26th November 1920 saying, "Ask to see the Hornby Clockwork Train. Engine, Tender and Trucks are put together on the Meccano principle. The whole system is built up of standard units, and if one of the parts is lost or damaged a new part may be purchased and fitted by the user. The Engine is fitted with reversing gear, brakes, and regulators. Complete Set in strong attractive box. 27/6. Engine. 17/6; Tender. 4/6; Trucks, 4/6; Rails. 6/- per doz."

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