Toy railway signal cabin, Hornby No.2 signal cabin, 0-gauge, metal, made by Meccano Ltd, Liverpool, England, 1949-1955
This No.2 signal cabin, made between 1949 and 1955, is one of the lineside accessories first made by Meccano Ltd from 1928 for their 0-gauge range of Hornby toy railways. The Hornby toy trains and accessories are a microcosm of railway social and technological history in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century.
Trains were the first form of modern transport to be reproduced as toys. Wooden pull-along trains were available in Britain from the 1840s, not long after the commercial introduction of full size railways. By the 1870s the wooden toy train was replaced with tin-plate locomotives, hauling carriages, which were often powered by clockwork or steam propulsion. The German toy manufacturers dominated the world market at this time. The First World War broke this monopoly and the rise of patriotism in Britain saw an emphasis on local toy production.
The scene was set for the English inventor of Meccano, Frank Hornby, to market his 0-gauge trains in 1920. Hornby trains became the most comprehensive ever produced in Britain. The series developed into finely-detailed locomotives, as well as commercial vans, wagons and tankers together with a range of accessories including stations, goods sheds, signals, crossings, water towers and signal boxes. They were exported from the Liverpool factory to all corners of the British Empire including Australia, Canada, Egypt, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa. In Australia Hornby trains of the four major British railway companies became as familiar to boys as Australian rolling stock.
Two years after Frank Hornby's death in 1936 Meccano Ltd introduced the smaller Hornby Dublo (00-gauge) table top trains which were more affordable and convenient than the 0-gauge. This gauge became the most popular type of toy trains for the next 50 years. From the late 1950s no further effort was devoted to 0-gauge trains and by the 1960s their popularity had diminished. Today model railway production is aimed at adult collectors and is increasingly distant from the traditional children's toy railways. Many of the original collectors have kept and added to their interwar childhood 0-gauge toy railway layouts with stations, tunnels, landscapes and rolling stock forming an historical diorama of twentieth century land transport.
Margaret Simpson, 14 August, 2007
In a real railway system the signal cabin was located next to the railway track and held signal levers for changing points, telegraph instruments and later telephones, and indicators to show whether track lamps were burning.
The first Hornby toy signal cabins went on sale in 1924 (No.2 style) and were designed for use with the Hornby Control System Lever Frame. The roof and upper part of the back wall were hinged for access to the frame. It is said that Hornby signal cabins were the most realist of the Hornby buildings as they were made in correct proportions and with detailed tin printing. The first signal cabins were named 'Windsor', matching the No.2 railway station, also called 'Windsor'. These early signal cabins featured a square-tiled roof and cream access steps.
The No. 1 signal cabin was released in 1928 and was a simpler version of the No.2 with tin-printed stairs and solid windows rather than cut out ones. This signal box was just ornamental and did not have any fittings for the lever frame.
From 1928 the No.2 signal cabin no longer featured the 'Windsor' name but had holes in the floor for resistance controllers to be fitted if required and the floor strengthened by embossed ridges. The roof pattern of the tiles changed from square to round and the walls were printed with white mortar between the bricks on the ground floor. In about 1931 the printing changed in both the No.1 and 2 signal cabins with the brick mortar altered from white to black and the printed rubbish bins disappearing from under the stairs. Another printing the next year saw the woodwork and window surrounds in brown and yellow and square tiles reinstated. The No.2E signal cabin was introduced in 1932 and featured an electric lamp inside the cabin connected to the transformer with a plug and socket. Another new printing in 1934 saw the signal boxes finished in bright yellow woodwork with green trim and the stairs changed from cream to yellow. In 1939 the yellow stairs on the No.2 signal box were replaced with brown ones.
After the Second World War neither the No.1 nor No.2E signal cabins were re-issued. A modified No.2 reappeared in 1949 with a fixed roof and back and without the cut outs for the Control System Lever Frame. It had a green tin-printed roof which was replaced in 1955 with an orange one and remained in the catalogue until 1957.
Graebe, Chris and Julie, "The Hornby Gauge 0 System", New Cavendish Books, London, 2002.
This toy railway signal cabin is part of a large collection purchased by the Museum in 1985 from the tin toy collector, Ken Finlayson. As a boy, Finlayson admired steam trains but never owned a train set. As an adult he began collecting Hornby model trains, and his interest spread to other toy trains and tin toys. He increased his collection at auctions, swap meets and market stalls, and through his connections with toy dealers and other serious collectors. Some toys were simply found sitting neglected on the shelves of remote country newsagencies, brand new and never opened.
Finlayson's knowledge and love of toys brought him a collection of nearly 2000 items, including highly collectable tin-plate toys manufactured by respected names such as Carette, Bing, Marklin and Lehmann, as well as a variety of other German, English and Japanese makers. The Finlayson collection contains every type of transport toy - cars, trucks, tractors, fire engines, buses, motorcycles, aeroplanes, ships and trains, as well as novelty toys, robots, kitchen toys and Meccano sets. It represents the type of toys that were available in Australia throughout most of the twentieth century, including ones made here by Boomaroo, Wyn-toy, Cyclops, Ferris and Robilt. These Australian toys were usually built from heavy-gauge pressed steel rather than thin tin plate, making them sturdy enough for rough treatment in Australian backyards and sandpits.