Factory of Dreams – A history of Meccano Ltd – by Kenneth D. Brown is a book which was published in 2007
As a Trustee of the Maghull based Frank Hornby Trust (Hornby lived in Maghull for much of his adult life) I had been meaning to read this book for some time and lockdown gave me the perfect opportunity. The book runs to 230 pages of quite detailed information about the highs and lows of the company from start (1901) to finish (1979) and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about Hornby Railways, Dinky Toys, Meccano and indeed other products of the vast former Binns Road toy factory in Liverpool.
Many of the photographs displayed in the book are from my good friend and fellow Frank Hornby Trust Trustee Jim Gamble who has penned his own book – Frank Hornby Notes & Pictures the cover of which is displayed below (held by me) with Jim in Meadows Leisure Centre, Maghull.
For those of you reading this who don’t know, we have a permanent exhibition in Maghull celebrating the life, works & products of Frank Hornby. It’s called the Frank Hornby Experience and it’s a bespoke part of Meadows Leisure Centre which is run by Sefton Borough Council who are valued partners of the Frank Hornby Trust. Of course access to the exhibition has been curtailed during the pandemic lockdown but we hope to be able to reopen it soon and will publicise how it can be accessed.
Returning to the book which is the subject of this posting, what I liked about it is the very obvious attention to detail by the author who clearly put great effort into understanding how Meccano Ltd was run and indeed run down.
I suppose the sad part of the story is in many ways the most relevant, how the company went into decline over a long period of time. I certainly get the impression that it’s last 20 years were, with the benefit of hindsight, leading to just one outcome – closure. Indeed, when I got my Meccano set around 1966 the end of it being a Hornby family-controlled company had already happened (in 1964) and it was being run by Lines Brothers prior to Airfix taking over in 1971 with the end coming just 8 years later.
Despite the end being so sad the book is in fact a very good read indeed.
Click on the photos to enlarge them
Michael Portillo with Frank Hornby Trust Chairman Les French as seen on BBC TV’s Great Railway Journeys.
Yesterday saw our trustees meet up at our Frank Hornby Experience exhibition space within Maghull’s Meadow’s Leisure Center for a day of work on our exhibits.*
We had a lot to do to sort through recent donations and start a cataloguing process for the charitable trust. We were also installing new exhibits, erecting some really nice new graphics and generally tidying things up.
It was great that Ray Clarkson came over from Bolton and Jim Gamble from Nottingham to assist us.
Last Monday we picked up all the items we had loaned to Knowsley Council for their Made on Merseyside exhibition at Kirkby Gallery, which we understand was a great success. The graphics we were erecting yesterday had been donated by Kirkby Gallery and had been created specifically for their exhibition. The Frank Hornby Trustees are very grateful to Kirkby Gallery for the donation of them at the end of their exhibition. This is how they look in Meadows Leisure Center:-
A few months ago, we were approached by Mark Ravenscroft whose Dad John had been a technical drawing expert at Hornby’s Binns Road factory in Liverpool. Mark donated to us a rather nice drawing his Dad had done in 1969 of a Range Rover car as part of the production process for a then new Dinky Toy’s new model of it. We’ve now had the drawing framed and mounted on the wall, together with a Dinky model of the car, within our exhibition area. Here’s a shot of it:-
As with any exhibition things are always changing due to new donations of Meccano, Dinky Toys and Hornby Railway items made to our Trust by local people and those further afield.
The exhibition is open for the same hours as those of Maghull Library.
* Frank Hornby lived most of his adult life in Maghull at two houses – The Hollies in Station Road and Quarry Brook in Hall Lane which is now the 6th Form building for Maricourt RC High School. Frank is buried in the graveyard of St. Andrew’s Church.
Many people living in retirement in Sefton, Liverpool, Knowsley etc. will have worked at this world famous toy factory. Indeed, many visitors to the Frank Hornby Experience displays within Maghull’s Meadows Leisure Center tell us that they or a relative worked there and it’s always great to hear stories about working lives there.
Not so long ago, with the help of Keith Page, I purchased a Dinky Toy model of a green and white toy bus which was made at the Meccano Factory. Here’s the bus:-
Then my fellow Frank Hornby Trust trustee Les French pointed out that there’s a photo in Jim Gamble’s book ‘Frank Hornby Notes & Pictures’ of a lady spray painting the very type of bus I had purchased. I made contcat with Jim Gamble, who lives in Nottingham and is pretty much the greatest living expert on Meccano, and asked him if he had the original photo – he did! Here it is:-
The photo is from the 1950’s I might add and as Jim Gamble says in his book ‘Note the minimal amount of protection from paint or fume contamination’
The toy bus and the 1950’s photo are now displayed together in the Frank Hornby Heritage Center, which is located within Meadows Leisure Centre, Hall Lane, Maghull. The displays are open for the public to look at during the normal opening hours of Maghull Library.
Click on the photos to enlarge them
Note:- To my knowledge there were red and white toy buses made too but because the 1950’s shot is in black and white it could clearly be of buses being sprayed in other than green and white.
I have not mentioned the Frank Hornby Trust for a while but last Tuesday the Trustees got together for their AGM and a big clean up of our display cases in the Frank Hornby Room in Maghull’s Meadows Leisure Centre.
Cleaning the large display case
It was great to see Jim Gamble (probably the worlds greatest expert on Meccano) again – he had travelled up for the day from his Nottingham home.
There are a lot of Meccano, Hornby Trains and other items on display and every one had to be carefully cleaned!
If you have an interest in helping to support the work of the Frank Hornby Trust please get in touch, we would love to hear from you.
Note:- Frank Hornby lived virtually all of his adult life in Maghull and his world famous toy empire of Meccano, Hornby Trains and Dinky Toys makes him Maghull’s most famous former resident. There is an English Heritage Blue Plaque on his first house in Station Road near Maghull Station. It was the first one erected outside of London.
You can contact the Frank Hornby Trust via its Chairman Les French:-
or you can get in touch with me at:-
Maghull was of course the home of Frank Hornby for many years of his life as he developed Meccano into the iconic engineering toy that it still is.
This is me donating my old maccano set to the Trust. I am pictured with Trust Chairman Les French, former Trustee John Keogh and Cllr. Geoff Howe – then Mayor of Maghull
Here the BBC – see link above – has a story from Belfast which all Meccano fans will appreciate.
The Frank Hornby Trust is a Maghull based charitable trust dedicated to the life, works and products of the world famous Liverpool toy maker.
Not so long ago I bought a second hand book called ‘The Products of Binns Road’ from the Hornby Companion Series by Peter Randall.
A fascinating book in itself but then what fell out of it? Well a letter dated February 1980 from a chap in New Jersey together with an undated British press cutting headed ‘Sit-In goes on at Meccano’ and a page from the Los Angeles Times dated 7th November 1978.
British newspaper article – Daily Telegraph?
The Los Angeles Times article is all about ‘Erector’, the US equivalent to Meccano – indeed the Erector brand is now owned by Meccano. Here it is:-
Los Angeles Times 7th November 1978
Click on the article to enlarge it.
This got me thinking about what the differences/similarities were/are between Meccano and Erector and I found this web site:-
All in all a insight into Erector/Meccano and indeed the history of the book because the letter, mentioned above, was returning it to ‘Al’ who had clearly loaned it to a chap living in Park Ridge New Jersey.
All this connects to Liverpool and of course Maghull as the Meccano factory was in Liverpool’s Binns Road and Frank Hornby, the inventor of Meccano, was and still is Maghull’s most famous resident and the reason the Frank Hornby Trust was set up.
The Frank Hornby Room at Meadows Leisure Centre in Maghull has an exhibition of items associated with Frank Hornby and his products that have been brought together by the Trust. Check with the Leisure Centre before making a trip to see them though as the room is multi-use so is not always available to view the display cases.