Dear Members

Hope you’re keeping well and enjoying the warmer weather. This week lockdown rules on outdoor meeting and exercise have begun to be relaxed as part of the latest easing of restrictions, and I am sure many of you have all enjoyed being out and about. Some of you will by now have been given your second vaccine jab the rest of us should not have to wait much longer.
With the clocks changing last week and Easter this weekend we have longer days to enjoy. So time to sit back and relax with a drink or two and enjoy reading our latest newsletter still packed with some interesting articles and regular features.


Keep safe

Phil and Nigel



Please email all submissions to  or



The City of London’s First Terminus


Part 2


The City of London Corporation Objects

The Commercial Railway secured its Act in 1838 but it contained a number of restrictions by Parliament, much of it at the behest of the City of London Corporation which was opposed to railways in its square mile. This attitude was to deny London a truly central railway terminus and resulted in the later development of an underground network to connect the outer London mainline terminuses.

The Corporation’s objections were various and most were well founded. The square mile was the centre of the empire’s financial services and the buildings that housed these fine institutions were not to be demolished to make way for railways. Moreover, business interests held much sway with the City of London Corporation and being exiled outside its’ jurisdiction by railway development would probably reduce their individual influence.

Looking at Route Map (West)
, the Tower of London marked the south eastern corner of the Corporation area. At the time the Tower was considered to be part of the square mile but being a royal palace was not subject to the jurisdiction of the Corporation. The Minories road continued the Corporation’s boundary northwards and it is clear that any railway terminus near Leadenhall or Fenchurch Street would be inside the square mile and subject to planning consent by the Corporation, which was refused.

Congestion was a great problem in the city. Early photographs and film of the Bank area show a completely disorganised scrum of traffic with little order, even down to the question of which side of the road to drive one’s horse and cart. There was little concept of traffic flow patterns and this created horrendous congestion at major road junctions. Most vehicles were driven by horse (although there were plenty of handcarts pushed by porters and dog carts as well) and one horse taking fright could reduce traffic to a complete standstill.

Much has been written about railway engines potentially frightening farm animals and foxhounds in the countryside but the Corporation feared that the sight of a clanking, noisy, smoking railway engine throwing hot embers into the air would create sheer panic with horses stampeding in the congested city streets. Even later, after the Corporation finally allowed steam locomotives into the city, it imposed strict regulations regarding the specification of primitive spark arresters which it insisted were fitted to the top of railway engine chimneys.

The mention of hot embers brings one to the matter of London’s fear of fire. The heart of the city was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 but what is less well known is that the second greatest loss of London property occurred in 1794 at a fire originating at Ratcliff, near the Thames, east of Shadwell. A fire spread to a moored barge loaded with saltpetre, the explosion of which caused a roaring fire which consumed twenty dockside warehouses and over 400 domestic properties. An estimated one thousand people were, in consequence, made homeless. It was only in 1940, during the London Blitz, that the Ratcliff fire’s loss of property was exceeded.

The crowded London docks were very vulnerable to fire with wooden vessels and poorly built warehouses storing large quantities of flammable materials. Canvas was also vulnerable to flying embers and most vessels carried canvas sails whilst canvas was often used to provide cover for cargo and ships’ holds. Thames barges carried large quantities of flammable dry hay for London’s prime mover, the horse. 

With paddle steamers installing furnaces to turn water into steam they created new primary sources of conflagration. The nearness of the developing new docks to the over-crowded slums of the East End was of particular concern to the neighbouring London Corporation. Steam locomotives were seen as a distinct fire threat but it was left largely to the insurance industry to promote safe practices.

It is not therefore surprising that London’s insurance industry found fire insurance a quickly growing market. Historically fire insurance provided by City of London offices dates back to 1681 and an office located behind the Royal Exchange established by Nicholas Barbon and called the ‘Insurance Offices for Houses Co.’ Consequently, 18th Century institutions active in marine insurance and life assurance such as the Royal Exchange, the London and the Sun expanded their efforts into property insurance in the 1820’s, particularly on commercial properties seeking fire cover. This in turn saw the growth of cooperation between insurers to fight fires with their own fire brigades, improve fire fighting equipment and offer premium reductions for safer practices. This reached an insurance industry wide level of cooperation with the creation of the Fire Offices’ Committee (the FOC) in 1868 which eventually developed material testing facilities and promoted fire safety regulations.


The Commercial Railway may lay claim to be the first railway to be entirely constructed in a built up area but this arises primarily from its short length. Some other railways in the built up London area were constructed earlier but they headed out into the countryside. Concern and objections were raised against the proposed Commercial Railway even outside the immediate confines of the City of London.

The railway’s engineer, William Cubitt, had to face the company’s shareholders in 1837 and admit that approval for a terminus in the City of London had been refused but he hoped to continue to push for a reversal of this decision in the coming years.

He also admitted that they would have to look for an alternative to railway locomotives as the Act made any plans for the adoption of steam locomotives subject to the approval of the “1810, Commissioners of Woods and Forests”. These commissioners had a responsibility for assessing the risk of fire in plans submitted to them. They were influenced against steam by Robert Stephenson’s speech to the 1836 Parliamentary Committee which was considering the application for the Commercial Railway’s Act. Under cross examination Robert Stephenson had spoken against the use of railway locomotives because of the danger of causing fire in the East End. This ultimately led to the shareholders opting to use stationary steam engines to power a cable railway.

One benefit of its short length was that it was relatively easy to be the first in having the electric telegraph installed upon its entire length, something of a necessity as cable operation had to be co-ordinated from both ends of the line.

Cubitt made one other interesting observation. As a cable railway it would be less likely that they would at a later date be connecting their railway to any other and therefore they were free to choose any gauge that they wished. In the end the decision was to build a five foot gauge railway, perhaps because their nearest railway neighbour, the Eastern Counties Railway, had chosen this gauge.

It was also agreed to proceed to build most of the railway on arches, as described earlier, with the proviso that the line would have to descend at the eastern end to result in a ground level terminus at Blackwall. Construction commenced at the Minories with the building of the eventual 285 arches.

At this stage Cubitt appears to have decided to withdraw from his position as engineer, possibly because of his growing commitments when the South Eastern Railway commenced construction in 1838. Robert Stephenson became engineer of the Commercial Railway instead, of what had once been a rival undertaking.

It is not clear whether the stipulated gauge of five feet was the nominal or actual gauge. If it was the actual intended gauge then one early decision appears to have been the widening of the gauge by ½ an inch. This was not unusual at this time as railway engineers learnt to modify their tracks in the light of experience as speeds rose. A rigid, firm track with relatively tight clearances between flange and rail was originally thought to be best but higher speeds on such track gave a rough ride and increased wheel wear. Some vertical movement in the sleepers gave a less rough ride.  Widening of the gauge to allow for some lateral play of the wheels on the rail reduce wear and more smoothly enabled the transition from straight to curved track. Whilst there were fewer and gentler curves planned for the Commercial Railway than on most railways, the space available at Blackwall was limited and curved platform roads were found necessary.

Another reason which would have necessitated this gauge widening was to do with the fact that the carriages for the line were all built with three equally spaced axles. (See Carriage Design) The centre axle was not compensated in any way so that on any curve flange and wheel face wear on the centre axle set would probably have been severe.

At each terminus the final length of track bed was sloped upwards at 1/150. This was intended to slow trains as they approached the terminus and to ease the initial snatch on the cable when departing. Five intermediate stations were proposed. Heading west to east they were Shadwell, Stepney, Limehouse, West India Docks and Popular.

Power was to be supplied by stationary boilers providing steam which the stationary engines converted into rotary action to wind the two independent cables on and off large drums. As each cable was wound in by the engine pulling the cable towards itself the drum at the other end had to play the cable out. With two independent cables this meant that there were two drums at each terminus station. Engines were installed under the railway lines at the Minories and beside the lines at Blackwall.  Shunting of individual carriages was usually undertaken manually by porters.

According to Wikepedia four marine steam engines had to be installed (one at each end of each cable) with a further four in reserve whilst Connor (“Stepney’s Own Railway – A History of The London & Blackwall System”) points out that there were actually nine boilers rather than the eight implied in Wikepedia. It may be that there were nine boilers but only four engines. The spare boilers could have tubes cleaned and repairs effected at relative leisure but if there were only four engines they would have to be serviced at night when the cable railway did not operate a train service. Anything more serious would require one of the two cables to be taken out of service halving the frequency of trains.

It has to be remembered that whilst most railway locomotives have a single boiler and machinery and are usually referred to as railway engines, this is not normally so with stationary engines. The early mine beam pumping engines usually had separate boiler houses and separate engine houses. The boiler house would contain the furnace and water boiler, the former generating heat to produce the steam in the latter. The engine house would contain the pistons, valves and mechanical linkages, sometimes with a large flywheel, which used the steam to produce movement to work pumps up and down or produce rotary motion to turn wheels or factory machinery. Several boilers might be used to produce sufficient steam for a single engine. Alternatively the opposite may be the case such as at Kew Bridge Pumping Museum where one gas boiler generates sufficient steam to operate several of its stationary steam engines at once.

What appears to have been the case on the Commercial Railway is that an engine and boiler were needed for each cable at each end, hence four engines and four boilers would be needed. However, as the boilers would need regular servicing it was felt desirable to have four boilers in reserve but it was also recognised that as the railway would slope upwards from Blackwall to the Minories (most of the slope was from Blackwall to Popular) the Minories would need extra boiler power. The final decision was to have an extra boiler for each cable at the Minories but that one set of three could be replaced by one pair of higher pressure with the power output of the other three. Thus at Blackwell one pair of boilers would normally be out of commission being serviced. At the Minories sometimes two higher pressure boilers would be out of commission being serviced and sometimes three lower pressure boilers were out of commission being serviced.

This use of spare boilers is remarkable in that it appears to anticipate some of the problems Brunel was to experience in 1847 on the South Devon Railway with his atmospheric railway. Here the power needed to generate sufficient suction sometimes failed by boilers being taxed by sudden but intermittent demand.

The problem of intermittent working was further compounded on the Commercial Railway with the tight schedule proposed. Every 15 minutes cable trains were to depart from either end of the line and take about nine minutes to reach the other end of the line. Some loss of vacuum was anticipated in the condensers when standing idle and this would cause delay. Consequently the railway installed small 12 HP engines to maintain this vacuum.



The winding drums visible at the Minories. At extreme left is the telegraph instrument and at right the brake handle for the drum. Courtesy Wikepedia.


The carriages built for the line were of two types, first class seated and second class standing only. All were painted dark blue with gold lining. First class carriages were 20 feet long and had four compartments holding in total 40 seated persons sitting 5 per side. Second class carriages were 18 feet long and were very crowded being intended to hold 70 standing passengers.

Carriage Design


J. E. Connor, “Stepney’s Own Railway, A History of The London & Blackwall System”.       Drawing of a first class carriage showing how the cable was carried on runners and gripped by the guard’s lever. The carriage is at the end of a train moving to the right. To stop at an intermediate station the guard on the right hand platform will lean over the end of the platform and lift the pin on the extreme right to release the coupling from the nearest carriage (not shown). He would then have to move a lever on the plinth to drop the cable and coast into the station and gently brake using the wheel on the plinth. 


According to ‘Bradshaw’s Railway manual, Shareholders’ Guide and Directory, 1869’ the line between the Minories and Blakwall cost £266,000 per mile. This presumably includes the infrastructure, boilers, stationery engines and rolling stock but excludes the costs of later extensions.
To be continued...





Part 1


Saturday 27th May

After last years exploration of Northern Germany Phil and I looked for a suitable follow up and decided on the Harz Mountains; somewhere that I had long wanted to visit.

So it was that we once again found ourselves at St Pancras International at 9.30 on Saturday 27th May where we met our tour guide and fellow participants. Having checked in a t 10.00 we joined the Eurostar for a 10.58 departure to Brussels. From here it was an ICE to Cologne and a change here for a local service to Wuppertal arriving at the Inter City Hotel just after 5pm.

As per the previous year the hotel provided a free pass for local train and bus services and this of course included the Schwebebahn perhaps better known as the Dingle-Dangle railway, which I am sure that most of you have heard of. We took the opportunity to ride on this before dinner covering the western half.


Left: Kluse Station – one of the old trains         
Right: Kluse Station – and one of the new ones


After dinner we returned to complete the eastern half which included the main depot as in the photo’s. The line was in the process of updating the somewhat ageing stock with new trains and the photo’s show the new and old types although they look very similar.


Left: Kluse Station                                            
Right: Vohwinkel depot showing how the trains are turned and ‘points’ work


As I expect you know the line runs for the most part suspended above the river Wupper although at one end it turns away from the river and follows a main road.


Left: Train turning Vohwinkel Station                                
Right: Vohwinkel Station


At each end of the line there is a depot but the main one is at Vohwinkel. The trains only have doors on one side and therefore turn round a loop at the depot at each end. The ‘point work’ is somewhat complicated as you can imagine as it is with any sort of monorail. To switch tracks a complete section of the rail moves taking the line from a straight section to curved section. The works for this and size is quite large and is of course all suspended above the trains. It would make an interesting model if anyone would like to give it a try!


The following is a brief description and history:-


The Wuppertaler Schwebebahn (Wuppertal Suspension Railway) is a  suspension railway in Wuppertal, Germany.

Its original name is Einschienige Hangebahn System Eugen Langen (Monorail overhead conveyor system Eugen Langen). It is the oldest electric elevated railway with hanging cars in the world and is a unique system in Germany.

Designed by Eugan Langan and offered first to the cities of Berlin, Munich and Breslau who all turned it down, the installation with elevated stations was built in Barmen, Elberfeld and Vohwinkel between 1897 and 1903; the first track opened in 1901. The railway line is credited with growth of the original cities and their eventual merger into Wuppertal. The Schwebebahn is still in use as a normal means of local public transport, moving 25 million passengers annually, per the 2008 annual report. New rail cars were ordered in 2015, called Generation 15, and the first new car went into service in December 2016.

The Schwebebahn runs along a route of 13.3 kilometres (8.3 mi), at a height of about 12 metres (39 ft) above the River Wupper between Oberbarmen and Sonnborner Straße (10 kilometres or 6.2 miles) and about 8 metres (26ft) above the valley road between Sonnborner Straße and Vohwinkel (3.3 kilometres or 2.1 miles). At one point the railway crosses the A46 motorway. The entire trip takes about 30 minutes. The Schwebebahn operates within the VRR transport association and accepts tickets issued by the VRR companies.


The Wuppertaler Schwebebahn had a forerunner: in 1824, Henry Robinson Palmer of Britain presented a railway system which differed from all previous constructions. It was a low single-rail suspension railway on which the carriages were drawn by horses. Friedrich Harkort, a Prussian industrial entrepreneur and politician, loved the idea. He saw big advantages for the transportation of coal to the early industrialised region in and around the Wupper valley. Harkort had his own steel mill in Elberfeld; he built a demonstration segment of the Palmer system and set it up in 1826 on the grounds of what is today the Wuppertal tax office. He tried to attract public attention to his railway plans.

On 9 September 1826, the town councillors of Elberfeld met to discuss the use of a "Palmer's Railway" from the Ruhr region, Hinsbeck or Langenberg, to the Wupper valley, Elberfeld, connecting Harkort's factories. Friedrich Harkort inspected the projected route with a surveyor and a member of the town council. The plans never went ahead because of protests from the transport branch and owners of mills that were not on the routes.

In 1887 the cities of Elberfeld and Barmen formed a commission for the construction of an elevated railway or Hochbahn. In 1894 they chose the system of the engineer Eugen Langen of Cologne, and in 1896 the order was licensed by the City of Düsseldorf. In 2003, the Rhine Heritage Office (Rheinisches Amt für Denkmalpflege des Landschaftsverbandes Rheinland or LVR) announced the discovery of an original section of the test route of the Schwebebahn.

Construction on the actual Schwebebahn began in 1898, overseen by the government's master builder, Wilhelm Feldmann. On 24 October 1900, Emperor Wilhelm II participated in a monorail trial run.

In 1901 the railway came into operation. It opened in sections: the line from Kluse to Zoo/Stadion opened on 1 March, the line to the western terminus at Vohwinkel opened on 24 May, while the line to the eastern terminus at Oberbarmen did not open until 27 June 1903. Around 19,200 tonnes (18,900 long tons; 21,200 short tons) of steel were used to produce the supporting frame and the stations. The construction cost 16 million gold marks. The railway was closed owing to severe damage during World War II, but reopened as early as 1946.



The Schwebebahn now carries approximately 80,000 passengers through the city per weekday. Since 1997, the supporting frame has been largely modernized, and many stations have been reconstructed and brought up to date technically. Kluse station, at the theatre in Elberfeld, was destroyed during the Second World War and was reconstructed during the modernization phase. Work was planned to be completed in 2001; however a serious accident took place in 1999 which left five people dead and 47 injured. This, along with delivery problems, delayed completion. By 2004, the cost of the reconstruction work had increased from €380 million to €480 million.

On 15 December 2009, the Schwebebahn suspended its operations for safety concerns; several of the older support structures needed to be renewed, a process that was completed on 19 April 2010.

In 2012, the Schwebebahn was closed for significant periods to upgrade the line. The closing times were 7 to 21 July, 6 August to 22 October and weekends in September (15/16) and November (10/11).The modernization was completed and the line fully reopened on 19 August 2013.

Post 2015 trains replacement

On 10 November 2011, Wuppertaler Stadtwerke signed a contract with Vossloh Kiepe to supply a new fleet of Generation 15 or GTW 15 trains to gradually replace the ageing GTW 72 fleet. The 31 new articulated cars were assembled by Vossloh Espana in Valencia, Spain, featuring a light blue livery and having cushioned seating, air conditioning, information displays, LED lights,  improved disabled access and induction motors with energy recovery during braking. The first new train was commissioned by WSW in 2015 and entered regular passenger service on 18 December 2016, at which point the line's power supply voltage was raised from 600 to 750 V.

The GTW 72 stock was gradually withdrawn from service as the new trains were introduced, the last of which operated immediately prior to the line's shutdown in November 2018. WSW announced it would not scrap any of the GTW 72 stock, but instead offer 21 of the vehicles for sale and three for free, as long as they remained in the city of Wuppertal.

In November 2018 a bus bar detached and fell to the ground but nobody was injured. Following this accident, the Schwebebahn was closed down for nearly nine months. It re-opened on 1 August 2019.



Detail of suspender, wheel and motor of a GTW 72 train


The cars are suspended from a single rail built underneath a supporting steel frame. The cars hang on wheels which are driven by multiple electric motors operating at 750 volts DC, fed from a live rail below the running rail.


A vehicle leaving the Wagenhalle Oberbarmen depot


Until August 2019, the Schwebebahn used block signalling like other light- and heavy rail systems. Signals with red, green and yellow lights, present at every station, signalled the driver if the next block, usually continuing until the next station, was free or not. The yellow aspect was mostly used to warn about construction work ahead, while a blinking red light warned about more severe problems.

Today, the Schwebebahn uses the European Train Control System, allowing for shorter distances between trains.

The supporting frame and tracks are made out of 486 pillars and bridgework sections. When the line was originally built, Anton Rieppek, head of MAN-Werk Gustavsburg, designed the structural system, which he patented. At each end of the line is a servicing depot, including a loop of track to allow the trains to be turned around.

The current fleet consists of 31 articulated cars. The cars are 24 metres long and have 4 doors. One carriage can seat 48 with approximately 130 standing passengers. The top speed is 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph) and the average speed is 27 km/h (17 mph).

The Kaiserwagen (Emperor's car), the original train used by Emperor Willhelm II during a test ride on 24 October 1900, is still operated on scheduled excursion services, special occasions and for charter events.






And now for something completely different!



Over the last year we have had more time to spend bird watching - No!  the feathered kind. Now that spring has arrived, for the first time a pair of Great tits have made a nest in our large tin frog and some blue tits are nesting in our post box. I usually try and take a photo of any different birds that arrive from time to time and while transferring photos from camera to computer I found this small collection I thought I would share with you.





For the second time, a Sparrow Hawk has caught a pigeon and proceeded to devour it in our garden. The first time this happened nothing was left apart from a few small fluffy feathers. This time it left the carcass and many white feathers which I cleared up the same night. The following morning and again in the evening the bird returned hunting in vain for its breakfast and supper.




Last summer I am sure many of you will have seen the green parakeets flying around Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City, below is a picture of some that arrived in the garden.



Here is a picture of Woodie who arrives daily to feast on peanuts.



A more unusual site was this lost canary, who was found safe and well by its owner the next day.



The final picture is of a bird that arrived one day, can anyone let me know what it is?




The term twitcher, sometimes misapplied as a synonym for birder, is reserved for those who travel long distances to see a rare bird that would then be ticked, or counted on a list. The term originated in the 1950s, when it was used for the nervous behaviour of Howard Medhurst, a British birdwatcher.
Carry on Twitching





Like lots of people I’ve actually got around to one of those odd projects from the draw of bits and pieces. In this case the bell part of a block instrument.
All it is half the chassis of an old BT phone with one bell and surplus bits removed. Then one coil wired to 18v dc with a push to make button to do the code. At present I’m using a rubber band to pull the clapper off, but will eventually find a very loose spring.
So now my layout room sounds more like an old signal box and I can tell the next section what train  I’m sending them. Only problem is they don’t reply! But that’s going to be a bit more tricky.
All the best Julian 





A reply has been received for Julian's request regarding Ballasting


Hi Julian
I have used the traditional method of ballasting track on my layout and have found it quite possible to remove sections of track and points without damaging them.  My track is laid on a cork base which provides a natural shoulder for the ballast.  I have found that chipping away the ballast shoulder with an old chisel or something similar and then easing  the blade of a Swan Morton craft knife between the sleepers and the cork base you can ease the track up and the ballast crumbles away.  Any ballast remaining between the sleepers can be cleared out quite easily.  Also the ballast remaining in place on the cork base can be scraped away fairly easily and a final clean up with a sandpaper block leaves the cork base smooth again.
I see that you have laid your track directly on the baseboard but see no reason why sections should not be removable if you wanted to alter a section of the layout.  For a major alteration you will no doubt use replacement track.  If its just a question of re-aligning an existing section this can be done but if the rail sides have been painted these will not slide easily through the chairs on the sleepers.
I wouldn’t recommend just laying ballast and leaving it loose, for the reasons you have stated, also you could only move the layout by keeping it horizontal.
When I am laying ballast once I have positioned the ballast carefully between the sleepers etc. I then make sure that it is thoroughly wet, before applying the 50/50 PVA water mix with a dash of washing up liquid added, from a pipette.  This no doubt has the effect of diluting the PVA mix still further and whilst this secures it adequately, maybe this is why I have been able to remove previously ballasted track with reasonable success.  To make the ballast wet it is necessary to use a very fine spray bottle (as used by florists) and just mist it over the ballast.  If the spray is too fierce it just washes the carefully laid ballast all out of place.    
If you wished to use an alternative method of ballasting a whole layout I suppose you could use the foam track underlay, I assume it is still available.  Personally I don’t think this is particularly realistic but perhaps better than nothing.  I would not recommend this on a long term basis as the foam tends to deteriorate and turns all crumbly, and sticky.  I once bought some second hand track that had been laid in foam and it had gone all sticky and I could not clean it off the track.
I hope the above may be of some help,  happy modelling.



Following on from Julian's review of the Morley Controller


If any member wants to see/operate one of these controllers they should visit the Stevenage club in Datchworth as this is what is used to operate the OO layout.
Mike Hillman 





Frank Hornby



Frank Hornby (15 May 1863 – 21 September 1936) was an English inventor, businessman and politician. He was a visionary in toy development and manufacture, and although he had no formal engineering training, he was responsible for the invention and production of three of the most popular lines of toys based on engineering principles in the 20th century: Meccano, Hornby Model Railways and Dinky Toys. He also founded the British toy company Meccano Ltd in 1908, and launched a monthly publication, Meccano Magazine in 1916.

Hornby's inventions and initiatives made him a millionaire in the 1930s, and he entered politics in 1931 when he was elected as a Conservative MP for the Everton constituency. Hornby's legacy has persisted long after his death with enthusiasts all over the world still building Meccano models and collecting his toys. The 150th anniversary of Hornby's birth was celebrated in Liverpool and Brighton on 15 May 2013.



Born on 15 May 1863 at 77 Copperas Hill, Liverpool, Lancashire, Hornby was the son of John Oswald Hornby, a provision merchant and his wife Martha Hornby (née Thomlinson), though this date has been questioned. It is the date on his birth certificate, but the entry in the family bible in his mother's handwriting gives the date as 2 May. At the age of sixteen, Hornby left school and started working as a cashier in his father's business. On 15 January 1887 he married a schoolteacher Clara Walker Godefroy, the daughter of a customs officer and they had two sons, Roland and Douglas, and a daughter, Patricia. When his father died in 1899, his father's business was closed and Hornby became a bookkeeper for David Hugh Elliot who ran a meat importing business in Liverpool.

After experimenting with new ideas in his home workshop, Hornby began making toys for his sons in 1899 with pieces he cut from sheet metal. He built models of bridges, trucks and cranes, although the pieces they were made from were not interchangeable. The breakthrough came when Hornby realised that if he could make separate, interchangeable parts that could be bolted together, any model could be built from the same components. The key inventive step was the realisation that regular perforations in the structural pieces could be used, not only to join them together with nuts and bolts, but also to journal – act as a bearing for – axles and shafts. This made the construction of complex mechanisms relatively simple. He started making metal strips by hand from copper sheets. The strips were half an inch wide with holes for bolts spaced at half-inch intervals. Initially he made the nuts and bolts himself, but he soon found an alternate source of supply.


Frank Hornby's 1901 patent number GB190100587A for what later became known as Meccano


By the end of 1900 Hornby had built a set of parts he considered worth marketing. On advice, he patented his invention in January 1901 as "Improvements in Toy or Educational Devices for Children and Young People", but not without first having to borrow £5 from his employer, David Elliot, to cover the costs.

During 1901 Hornby began looking for companies to manufacture his product, but it was poorly finished and did not attract much attention. Still having to support his family on the small wage he earned, Hornby did not have much time to market his invention. Fortunately, his employer saw potential in what Hornby was doing and offered him some vacant premises next to the office where he worked to pursue his ideas. With this move, Elliot and Hornby became partners.

Mechanics Made Easy
Hornby now called his construction toy "Mechanics Made Easy" and after receiving a positive endorsement from professor Henry Selby Hele-Shaw, then Head of the Engineering Department at Liverpool University, Hornby managed to secure contracts with outside manufacturers to supply the parts for his construction sets. With the financial assistance of his partner, "Mechanics Made Easy" sets went on sale in 1902.

Each set had only 16 different parts with a leaflet detailing the construction of 12 models. In 1903, 1,500 sets were sold, although no profit was made. New parts were continually being introduced and in 1904, six sets, packed in tin boxes with instruction manuals in French and English, became available. In 1905 two new sets were introduced and in 1906, for the first time, a small profit was made.

By 1907 Hornby's part suppliers could not meet the demand. This prompted Hornby to quit his job with Elliot and find suitable premises to begin manufacturing his own parts. He secured a three-year lease on a workshop in Duke Street, by Dukes Terrace in the Rope Walks area of Liverpool, and with the help of a loan granted to Hornby and Elliot for machinery and wages, they were manufacturing their own parts by June 1907.

In September 1907, Hornby registered his famous "Meccano" trade mark and used this name on all new sets. To raise more capital to invest in a larger factory and plant, a company had to be created. This led to the formation of Meccano Ltd on 30 May 1908. Elliot had decided not to join the new company, leaving Hornby as the sole proprietor. The Meccano factory was relocated to West Derby Road in Liverpool, and in 1910 the famous "MECCANO" logo was commissioned. Meccano Ltd's turnover for the 1910 financial year was £12,000.

Meccano was exported to many countries and in 1912, Hornby and his son, Roland, formed Meccano (France) Ltd in Paris to manufacture Meccano. An office was also opened in Berlin, (Germany) and Märklin began to manufacture Meccano under licence. Hornby also started importing clockwork motors from Märklin.

To keep pace with demand, a new factory was built in Binns Road, Liverpool. By September 1914 the Binns Road Factory was in full production and became the company headquarters for over 60 years.

Other initiatives
In addition to Meccano, Hornby developed and manufactured a number of other model kits and toys, including:

  • 1909 – "Hornby System of Mechanical Demonstration", an educational set.
  • 1915 – Clockwork lithographed tinplate O gauge trains.
  • 1920 – The Hornby Clockwork Train (0 gauge), enameled tinplate – later Hornby Series – later Hornby Trains.
  • 1934 – Dinky Toys, die-cast miniature model cars and trucks (first introduced under the Hornby name in 1931) .
  • 1938 – Hornby Dublo model railway system (00 gauge. Introduced after Hornby's death).

In 1916, Hornby launched a monthly publication, Meccano Magazine, which remained in circulation for over sixty years, and in 1930 he formed the Meccano Guild, an amalgamation of Meccano clubs from all over the world.

Member of Parliament and final years
By the 1930s, Hornby had become a millionaire. He owned a mansion Quarry Brook in Maghull (his first house in Maghull was the Hollies in Station Road), and was chauffeured to Binns Road every day by limousine. In 1931 he entered politics when he was elected as a Conservative MP for the Everton constituency. He left the running of the company to his co-Directors and staff. But he did not stay in politics long, standing down at the 1935 General Election.

Hornby died of a chronic heart condition complicated by diabetes in Maghull, near Liverpool, Lancashire, on 21 September 1936. He is buried in the grounds of St Andrew's Church, Maghull. His elder son Roland took over as chairman of Meccano Ltd.

Hornby's legacy lives on today with thousands of enthusiasts all over the world still building Meccano models, running Hornby Train sets and collecting Dinky Toys. In his homeplace of Maghull there is a local Wetherspoons pub named after him, The Frank Hornby.

150th anniversary


Poster for the 2013 Heritage Lottery Fund-supported anniversary project


The 150th anniversary of Frank Hornby's birth fell on 15 May 2013, and festivities were held by the National Museums Liverpool and the Frank Hornby Charitable Trust, Maghull, and by the Brighton Toy and Model Museum.






I am selling my Iawata Neo TRN2 airbrush and Mini Air Compressor. Used only once by my son for a university project.
The large cleaning bottle is missing, otherwise all good. Price £100 or vno.
Might appeal to a club member. I'll deliver it if necessary.

If anyone is interested, please contact Barry direct.







Hi Phil and Nigel,
So, we reach the first stage of freedom tomorrow. Let's hope it lasts this time. 
I answer to your question in the last newsletter re the first thing to do I think this depends in which stage we are at. So, from this week the first priority must be to catch up with family and then friends. 
From then on all being well the EHMR will re-open in April which will be great and then the EOR hopefully in May. I had two training days this week in preparation for the reopening. Whether we will be able to go on holidays from May remains to be seen but I won't be booking anything abroad this year especially with Europe in such a mess with a failure to vaccinate and the third wave, so it will be somewhere in the UK. What and where we will have to see.



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Answers in the next issue.


  1. In which year did the Piccadilly line open?

B: 1906
C: 1910

  1. Which station is named after a former pub that hosted artists such as Fleetwood Mac and the Jimi Hendrix Experience?

A: Oakwood
B: Manor House
C: Turnham Green

  1. How many stations does the line serve?

A: 33
B: 43
C: 53

  1. Which football club lends its name to a Piccadilly line station?

A: West Ham
B: Fulham
C: Arsenal

  1. Which abandoned station was used as a private air-raid shelter by Sir Winston Churchill during the Blitz?

A: Aldwych
B: Brompton Road
C: Down Street

  1. The shortest distance between any two London Underground stations is from Leicester Square to Covent Garden, but how far is it?

A: 0.26km
B: 1.3km
C: 2.5km

  1. The first escalator on the network was opened at Earl’s Court station, but in which year?

A: 1911
B: 1921
C: 1941

  1. How long is the Piccadilly line?

A: 71km
B: 77km
C: 79km

  1. Which station was originally named Gillespie Road?

A: Arnos Grove
B: Arsenal
C: Russell Square

  1. Which station lies between Boston Manor and Hounslow East?

A: Acton Town
B: Barons Court
C: Osterley





1) Almonds
2) Corona
3) Cuba
4) Rice
5) Vitamin C
6) NaC1
7) Indian Pale Ale
8) None, they are made from cheese
9) Spinach
10) Anchovy