Why a Museum, Chris Littledale (transcript)

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index

Transcript of a discussion with Chris Littledale, apparently from the late 1980s, from the museum archives. The talk concerns the basic idea and founding principles of a possible Toy Museum. It's impressive to note how much of Chris' original 1980s vision became reality.

WHY A MUSEUM ? (transcript, circa 1988)

  • Having spent most of my life in the pursuit of collecting old toys and model trains, the signals, bridges and stations, different sizes and gauges, small to very large, steam powered, electric and clockwork.
  • The hours, days and years spent completing special sets, or runs, finding an extremely elusive coach to match a rare Locomotive. Plus your cars, buses, farm animals, grand clockwork ships and lead figures.
  • The knowledge I have gained, the people I have met and above all the ability I have attained in restoration of these old treasures.

The result is now a truly grand and unique collection of toys and models. I feel that all this should be used to give endless pleasure to boys and girls of all ages, that the collection should be kept together, and even added to.

It seems quite wrong that only I and a small circle of friends can enjoy these beautiful objects, that in time it would all be divided up and auctioned to all corners of the world. Far better that it should go to a specialized museum in an appropriate setting and be left in a secure form to posterity and the future generations.

Collecting - How it all started

It was my Father, a Surgeon Commander in the Royal Navy, who in the early post-war years brought lovely German toys back from Greece for us boys - "The Fortunes of War".

In 1951, I had my first electric train set for Christmas. It was however at boarding school, when one of those school walks took us past a second hand model shop and there, resplendent in the window, was a large red L.M.S. clockwork locomotive and tender, with, I think, a few coaches. I instantly fell in love with this grand toy, which was a pre war Hornby set from the top end of their range. Three pounds would have purchased the above and I tried hard to borrow or raise the money - alas to no avail. From then onwards, I was determined to get a pre war Hornby train, and it was not until the mid 1950s that my luck started.

My performance at school left much to be desired, and almost every day after school I would peruse the Portsmouth second hand, antique and junk shops, and indeed they all got to know me and would save probable spoils for me to examine. Quite a good Railway Engine would be typically one pound ten shillings - three pounds bought something quite exotic.

It is probably no coincidence that my Father is a very skilled model maker, and that my Mother is an avid collector of antiques with a trained eye to what is good.

Therefore, not only did I collect (and what bargains I found!), but I also learned to repair, restore and even make, the missing parts. And so it was that my room at Portsmouth took on the appearance of a Model Warehouse and later in Hove, an even larger Model Warehouse.

Unfortunately, by now anything good in this field has become extremely hard to find and has priced itself well beyond the average pocket, which is a great shame.

Funding, Marketing, and Future

The Museum’s success in financial terms will depend largely on its location and assistance in funding the site.

A building in the town centre, whilst far more costly, would however attract far more ticket-paying visitors than a similar but cheaper venue set on the outskirts of the town.

In both cases an extensive advertising programme would ensue. In the town centre location that would encourage a snowballing effect, partly by word of mouth but also by inter-reaction from other sources - entertainments, conferences, hotels, etc. It is in these areas that the out of town venue would lose out.

Museum sales – special post cards, toy cut outs etc. – would be similarly affected.

In brief, the whole project will need some form or forms of grant aid, until functioning with, if necessary, a rate reduction in respect of the projects involvement and benefit to the town's amenities. Once a fully functional Museum, it will generate income in the following ways:-

  1. . Ticket sales, based on the usual scale of pricings for the various categories of visitors, groups, etc.
  2. . Membership subscriptions of approximately £12.50 per year to be paid by the above mentioned "Friends of the Toys", much thought will go into making this a large and active body of interested people.
  3. . Sales of books, postcards, small toys and related ephemera to be sold in the shop or ticket area.
  4. . Funds to be derived from special restoration work carried out in the workshop.
  5. . Fees payable by those attending special courses, lectures, seminars, etc.
  6. . Sponsorship in any form or forms will be most avidly sought

A trust arrangement would need to be agreed for an assured future.

An Important Educational Aspect

To the joy, now add the history, artwork and technology...

  • Napoleon's "Old Guard", beautifully modelled in great detail and set in the Ardennes, would inspire the young mind so much more than the book or blackboard.
  • The inspiration of beautifully made dolls clothes, a challenge for the creative with a needle.
  • Those great rail-way companies of pre-nationalization days, in an age of privatization one might well reflect on the Great Western Railway or the London Midland and Scottish Railway. It is all here, from superb models to naive toys.

From school age learning, let us now turn to the age of leisure interests:

We must hand on the skills of Conservation, Restoration and Fabrication at all levels. With workshop and paintshop facilities, a superb library, special courses and seminars would be held. Experts from other toy and model related museums would be invited to lecture. Subjects as diverse as the care of wax figures to radio controlled boats and aeroplanes would be part of the museum’s educational benefit. At a less specialized level, parties from local schools, language centres and other organisations would be encouraged and made most welcome.

A Benefit to the Town

It would indeed be hard to find many folk who did not have or play with some form of toy or another. One only has to see people's elation when faced many years later with those once familiar youthful playthings of perhaps twenty years ago, or even to the memories of those pre-war toy shops, those veritable "Aladdin’s Caves", and all the longing and joys that went with them.

From the young come the looks of total disbelief that such grand, if very expensive, toys were once as normal as going to school.

Whether holiday maker, tourist or attending a most important conference, what lovelier subject to lose yourself in than the world of toys. Gleaming electric and steam train sets, beautifully and artistically dressed international dolls, regiments of Napoleon’s Army set in period dioramas, to the hordes of lead farm animals, tractors, figures and farm workers, the scarecrow and even the haywain. Dolls prams, teddy bears, ships, cars, toy theatres and puppets, and on and on and on. Indeed an excellent and most worthy addition to the amenities of a most worthy town.

The Concept and Phases of the Museum


The Concept:

A centre of town building adequate to display the existing collection and additional exhibits covering other relevant aspects of the toy and model world. This should take the form of:-

(a) Toy and model museum with working exhibits.
(b) Comprehensive Fabrication and Restoration Workshops.
(c) Model/Toy and related library and reference facility.
(d) Educational, lectures, possible apprentice courses, etc.
(e) Small accommodation area for partner/caretaker.

The Phases:

  • Finding the venue and funding through whatever sources available and to setting up a Charitable status, for beneficial purposes.
  • Forming a working partnership and or Trust and to finding an appropriate secretarial and sales person for employment.
  • Establishing a society, or body of Friends, to be known as "The Friends of the Toys".
  • Planning and designing the Museum's displays, exhibits and facilities, in co-operation with Planning and Fire Regulations.
  • Working on and establishing the fabric of the displays (large toy and model collection all to hand).
  • Facilitating a ticket and museum sales area, possible use of M.S.C. or whatever appropriate.
  • Advertising and opening the Toy Museum and Sales area.
  • Setting up and fitting out a Restoration and Fabrication Workshop, (plant and machinery to hand).
  • Establishing a Library and Reference facility (books and material all to hand).