Category:Hornby Series

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Hornby Clockwork Trains BAG logo 1925.jpg
Hornby Series, turntable detail.jpg

Hornby Series

1920s - 1930s

The Hornby Series marque appeared as the default branding on most gauge 0 model railway locomotives, rolling stock and accessories manufactured by Meccano Ltd. between World War One and World War Two. Oddly, while the items themselves tended to be marked "Hornby Series", their associated advertising tended to use "Hornby Trains" instead.

Frank Hornby's company Meccano Ltd started making model railways shortly after the end of the First World War, with the "Hornby Series" markings appearing after a few other short-lived Hornby- and Meccano-related experiments with branding. It's difficult to tell exactly when the distinctive "Hornby Series" label design was dropped, but it seems to have started being phased out after Frank Hornby's death in 1936, suggesting that perhaps the founder may have considered it to be his own personal mark.

The marque didn't appear on the smaller 00-gauge Hornby Dublo products (1938-) or on the company's simplified range of post-war gauge 0 products.

For convenience, these museum pages use "Hornby Series" category to refer to any gauge 0 Meccano Ltd. model railway equipment produced before the Second World War, regardless of markings.

Birth: The Hornby Clockwork Train

The Hornby Clockwork Train appeared in 1920 as a richly stove-enamelled black loco and train, accompanied by its cheaper and more conventional litho-printed sibling, The Hornby Tin Printed Train. The more expensive-looking enamelled version was wildly popular, arriving at a time when the German brands who had previously dominated the market now found it difficult or impossible to sell to British consumers. Added to the difficulty that many customers simply didn't want to buy German, was the retailers' concerns that at any moment new duties might be put on imported German goods. The British train-buying market needed a new home-produced brand that was preferably cheaper than the very nice-but-expensive Bassett-Lowke products, and Frank Hornby was the man to give it to them, helped by Meccano Ltd.'s network of dealers and promotions in the Meccano Magazine, some of whose whose loyal readers were liable to buy the new trains, sight unseen, simply on Frank Hornby's recommendation.

Constructional element

The Hornby Clockwork Train was deliberately assembled with standard Meccano nuts and bolts, to emphasise that it was a Meccano product. The nuts-and-bolts approach was quickly dropped in favour of a more conventional "tabbed" construction, but the Meccano method also appeared on some early Hornby accessories, namely the famous "lattice bridge", and some of the early wagons.

Zulu Trains

Hornby's new enamelled train set had been released alongside a more traditional (and slightly cheaper) litho-printed set, The Hornby Tin Printed Train. However, the shiny enamelled version was much more popular, so Meccano Ltd produced a new range, Zulu Trains, which had the same high-gloss finish of the Hornby-branded trains but with a more conventional (and less expensive) tabbed and riveted construction.

Hornby Trains / Hornby Series

Since it was becoming clear that Meccano-style nuts and bolts construction idea wasn't that important to customers, and phasing it out meant losing one of the main distinguishing features between the Hornby and Zulu brands, Meccano Ltd decided to merge the contents of both ranges into a single range, Hornby Trains.

Confusingly, although the Hornby Trains name appeared in the company's printed material, the "Hornby Trains" marque didn't seem to appear anywhere on the actual products, which initially used an an "MLDL" sticker or embossed stamp for "Meccano Ltd, Liverpool" and later bore stickers or logos proudly announcing them to be "Hornby Series" trains, (again, made by Meccano). Over in France, the French Hornby gauge 0 products were typically stickered "Hornby" or "Serie Hornby". To make matters even more confusing, the gold or red-and-gold "Hornby Series" stickers also occasionally appeared on other isolated items that weren't at all train-related, such as the Meccano sawbench.


The merging of the Hornby and Zulu brands meant that Meccano Ltd now had versions of tender and tank locos at different price points, and decided to implement a tiered pricing system reminiscent of the numbered Meccano sets, whereby the default version of an item was the No.1, the more expensive "aspirational version was the No.2, and a cut-down version would be the No.0

The No.1 locos were standard four-wheeled "0-4-0" engines based on the original Hornby Clockwork Train, the No.2 locos were bigger with more wheels, and more numbers were added to the system as the the sophistication (and cost) increased, along with enhanced "special" variants. As the No.1 and No.0 locos continued to be developed and improved, it sometimes became quite difficult to tell them apart.

The numbering also applied to accessories - the No.1 Signal Cabin had solid tin windows and a printed staircase, but the No.2 had punched-through "open" windows, physical stairs on one side, and a hinged back to allow it to be fitted with the Hornby Control System.

M Series

A further separate range of entry-level pieces and sets aimed at younger children was introduced as the M Series. The M Series locos were the descendants of the Tin Printed Train, were litho-printed rather than enamelled, and the locos and their coaches had different couplings to the "standard" range. The M Series then ended up spawning even more variations (like separate M0 and M1 locos), in an attempt to make sure that the Hornby range had products to meet as many potential buyers' budgets as possible.

Product proliferation

The Hornby Series model railway system continued to expand through the late 1920s and early 1930, and Hornby's customers continued to add new accessories to their expanding layouts. You could buy Hornby railway stations and signals, wire mechanical remote controls, trees, prefabricated scenery sections, and even painted lead passengers, luggage, and farmyard animals to populate any fields alongside your Hornby track. Meccano Ltd benefited from being late entrants to the model railway market, in that they only supported a single gauge and scale - gauge 0 - whereas more established model railway companies like Märklin, Bing and Bassett-Lowke also had to contend with gauge 1, gauge 2, and perhaps even larger legacy gauges. As a result, where a German company might have to produce a single accessory item in three different sizes, Meccano Ltd could put the same design energy and production space into instead producing three different products in a single size - and their customers would then have more choice, and the option of buying all three.

Hornby's first electric train set appeared in 1925, a potentially lethal 110-Volt version of the Metropolitan Railway's new electric underground train], and once the bugs had been sorted out, electric versions of other Hornby locos started to appear. As Hornby's larger locomotives became more sophisticated and began to evolve into more realistic models (as opposed to generic toys) they started to become increasingly modelled after real locomotives, with the breakthrough coming in 1929 when the company launched the No.2 Special range, where locos didn't just have different paintwork to signify different railway companies, they also had appreciably different superstructure.

The high point of Hornby's Gauge 0 output was arguably the 1937 No.4 "Eton" locomotive and the glorious 4-6-2 "Princess Elizabeth" locomotive (also 1937), Hornby's largest loco, and the first (and only) six-wheel-drive locomotive that the company ever produced in gauge 0.


With the new smaller Hornby Dublo system appearing in 1938, the company's focus switched to the new smaller format, and development then ceased almost completely during the War years. It took Meccano Ltd a little while to get back into the full swing of production after World War Two, and by this time, Dublo badly needed most of the company's attention, as the second wave of Dublo products announced in 1939 had been interrupted by the war. Initial production of gauge 0 after the war appeared to be indistinguishable from pre-war production, to the extent that it may well have been old stock, or built partly from pre-war components to the pre-war plans.

In the 1950s Meccano Ltd. overhauled the gauge 0 range (having by now presumably having used up most of the old stock and components). They stopped making most of the "fancy" pieces, simplified some of the remaining accessories, and reverted to only making the simpler "0-4-0" locos. This revamped, simpler range removed the pre-war numbering system with its various tiered numbers and "M" variants, and shrank to four basic levels of train set, numbered 20, 30, 40 and 50 for the goods sets, and 21, 31, 41 and 51 for the corresponding passenger sets, all now only available in clockwork.

The gauge 0 trains, now essentially a "legacy" range with no real further development, eventually petered out in the 1960s.


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