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Bassett-Lowke title 1937.jpg
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W.J. Bassett-Lowke started a model engineering company in 1899, his company (often abbreviated to B-L by enthusiasts) became a Northampton-based manufacturing company in 1910. His first name is sometimes listed in articles as "Whynne", and sometimes as "Wenman", but on his books the part of his name before the surname is simply "W.J." .


Abraham Bassett founded a small engineering and boiler repairs company in Northampton in 1859, and after his first wife died, he married the widow Mrs Tom Lowke. Her son, Joseph Tom, worked with his stepfather and eventually took over the business, which became J.T Lowke & Sons. His son Wenman Joseph was not all that keen to join the family business, and experimented with the idea of being an architect before realising that most of an architect's work was fairly mundane, and that most architects didn't get to build world-changing buildings.

Model engineering seemed to combine the opportunity to explore ambitious architectural and engineering projects in miniature while also letting him draw on the experience he'd gained from the family business, and there didn't seem to be much competition, so with the help of his father (who was probably quite pleased that WJ had found something to do that didn't stray too far from his own interests), W.J. set up Bassett-Lowke.

The early years

Much of Bassett-Lowke's early model train manufacturing production was bought-in, in partially or wholly completed from Bing and Georges Carette on the Continent, and from Winteringham Ltd. in the UK, before the final assembly or finishing was applied in the UK. Bing had vast ranges of toys and parts in their catalogues, so the range of items produced by Bassett-Lowke, including variations and custom orders, defies any attempt at a complete listing. Toys and models based on German stock designs were often "Britishised" with UK locomotive numbers and railway liveries or modified in other ways, and with a workforce of craftsmen "finishers" who could essentially build bespoke toys and models to order by adapting stock mechanisms and parts, it's not unusual to find "B-L"-manufactured items that don't seem to appear in any published listing or catalogue.

Where the influence of an outside primary manufacturer is recognisable, models may sometimes be referred to by collectors as being "Bing for B-L", or "Carette for B-L", .


As the B-L business grew, the influence of UK buyers moved back along the supply chain, with B-L's emphasis shifting from adapting existing continental designs towards commissioning UK-specific designs, and helping Bing to design new pieces primarily aimed at the UK market. Early B-L locomotives and rolling stock that were supposed to represent British trains were often fairly generic stock models whose supposed "originals" could only be identified due to their paintwork, naming and numbering, and early B-L advertising often made a great play on the models being "in correct colours". However, as B-L's influence and resources expanded, their models became increasingly faithful reproductions of specific locomotives, and more production was moved to the UK (usually Winteringham), which increased B-L's self-sufficiency and protected their supply chain from the vagaries of international politics. Clockwork mechanisms and motors were still often "bought in", but the distinct character of the stock became increasingly British.

Ramsay's Guide lists the most popular models of the period as the "Precursor" tank locomotive, George the Fifth, Sydney, Deeley Compound, GNR "Atlantic" and Sir Sam Fay.

Table Railway and 00-gauge

Bassett-Lowke helped to launch 00-gauge in the UK in the shape of the Bing Tabletop Railway, which came first in clockwork and then in electric versions (both on display in the Museum), with W.J. Bassett-Lowke being in close contact with Stefan Bing during the product's design. When Bing became a casualty of the 1920 Stock Market crash, Stefan Bing designed 00-gauge trains for Trix in Germany, and when the National Socialist Party came to power and Stefan needed to leave the country, B-L "took in" Trix and helped shift manufacturing to Britain.

Although the new smaller gauge opened up new and much larger markets for less expensive model railways, B-L were not the only company to see the potential. Hornby, with major manufacturing already in place for Meccano, and with a tradition of designing for mass-production (rather than the expensive small-batch customised bespoke models that made up part of B-L's output), were better able to capitalise on the new type of toy, with Hornby's "Dublo" becoming the dominant brand.


Bassett-Lowke ceased trading in 1965, although the name resurfaced on some products in the late 1960s and mid-1990s. Corgi bought the company's assets and launched a new "gauge 0" Bassett-Lowke range under the umbrella name "Corgi Classics". Corgi was then bought by Hornby in 2008. The "Bassett-Lowke" brand is currently used by Hornby for a range of 0-gauge locomotives and rolling stock built using traditional sheet-metal techniques.

78 Derngate

In 1916 Bassett-Lowke commissioned the acclaimed designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh to redesign his house, 78 Derngate, Northampton. This turned out to be Mackintosh's last interior design project of this type. 78 Derngate is now preserved and open to the public as a gallery.

Some furniture from the house is also on display at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, about ten minute's walk from the Toy Museum. Part of Mackintosh's design brief was to incorporate some of the new plastics that Bassett-Lowke was interested in though his work, so the furniture is historically notable for its innovative use of plastic as an inlay material for its blue panels. Unfortunately, the colour of the plastic panels hasn't aged very well.

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