How many of us would have fond memories of our first Hornby trains? Trains have always held a peculiar fascination, and still do, despite the demise of the original steam monsters that once graced our tracks.

The fact that there are so many preserved railways operating with lovingly rebuilt and restored steam locomotives, and now also including many of the first generation diesel locomotives, shows how great the interest is for anything to do with railways.


Model Railways History.

As early as the 1840’s very basic model railways began to appear. These were known as ‘carpet models’ and were intended for children, rather than for serious modeling enthusiasts. However, by the early part of the next century, electric trains began to be produced.

These were constructed out of tin plate, and were not particularly realistic, but they served to meet a need, and as time went on, greater realism and better running became the norm.

As many serious modelers are purists,  it is most important that every detail is correct.

Most of these models were powered by either clockwork or electricity. The first World War put a halt to any further development, but they were quickly back in production again after the War, and from then on, improvements in manufacture and detail have continued right up until today, with greater realism and digital controls completely transforming the whole model railway scene.

Model railways have never been the preserve of the railway mad schoolboy, but many rich and famous people have had extensive layouts. Joseph Goebbels, the German Reich Minister during the Nazi regime, for example, had a large layout in the attic of his Bavarian Manor house.



Frank Hornby (1863-1936) was a pioneer in the design and production of model railways in the UK. Although untrained as an engineer, his first venture was the development of the famous Meccano construction toy which quickly became a success, and in 1920, he started the manufacture of Hornby Trains, clockwork ‘0’ gauge models, which also quickly became very popular.

Around this time he was also responsible for the introduction of the Dinky Toy range, a selection of die cast model cars and Lorries.

In 1925, he experimented with electric train models using a voltage of 100/240v household voltage. Health and safety would have had a nightmare! However, after a few years, he found a way of reducing the voltage to 6volt using DC transformers.

This was followed in 1938 by the introduction of the Hornby Dublo range, to a gauge of 00, which was approximately half that of the earlier 0 gauge.

The Second World War again caused a lull in production, but by the early 1950’s was back up and running again. Soon, however, the competition was affecting sales, and Triang, a subsidiary of Lines Bros were eating into Hornby’s sales, and eventually finished up by taking the company over.

The next 20 years were fairly traumatic, with the Company changing hands several times. Finally, the company became a PLC and is now known as ‘Hornby Group PLC’. New technology was invested in, and is now very much to the fore, with digital controls giving much more control over the running of the trains, including the operating of several trains on one track. Also, to further add to the overall effect, realistic sound effects began to be built into the locomotives, and lighting fitted into locomotives and coaches.



Hornby today are an international Company owning companies in several Countries on the continent. Several well-known names, such as Joeff, Riarossi, Lima and Arnold, are now all included in the Hornby Group. Their products are sold internationally, and the name Hornby is now synonymous with model railways worldwide.

Included in the group are other well-known brands including Scalectrix model slot car racing systems, Airfix plastic model kits, and a range of die cast model road vehicles marketed under the name of Corgi.

All Hornby trains are now manufactured in China, enabling the company to supply models with a very high quality of detail at an affordable price.

The standard of realism now available both on the locomotives and the rolling stock is improving all the time, and an exceptional amount of time and care goes into the design of every new product.

With a market that is very much nostalgia driven, and is very particular about detail, this is very important. Changes to liveries and rolling stock on Britain’s Railways are taking place all the time, and this means that many models over the years have been produced in a considerable range of colours, with differing names and numbers, the permutations become endless.

Rolling stock also comes in a range of liveries and styles making it possible to make up trains of the correct appearance to reflect the changing history of our railways, from the grouping into the four main Companies of 1923, through to nationalization, to the British Rail era, and now to privatization.

As many serious modelers are purists,  it is most important that every detail is correct.



Hornby caters for all tastes and all ages in the models they produce. In great demand with the younger generation is the ever popular Thomas the Tank Engine range. These models together with rolling stock and scenery to match can give hours of pleasure to budding train enthusiasts, with all the popular engine names and rolling stock available.

Various sets complete with track and controller make ideal gifts at any time.

For the more serious junior modeler, come starter sets which give a base layout and smaller train, which can be added to and increased as the interest grows.

These can always be incorporated into larger sets, and all track accessories and additional rolling stock can be purchased at any time. Many large and magnificent layouts started out as a basic starter set.

If a junior modeler shows interest, the building of a larger layout can be very educational, and instructive, and helps to develop many skills including the building of their own scenery, and in developing wiring and general electrical skills.



In the days of clockwork models, it was simply a case of winding up the clockwork motor, and then just letting it go! In those days would either be a circle, or an oval, and the train would fly around the track until the spring unwound.

IN the 1950’s and 60’s, a favourite game at Country fetes, was to guess how many circuits the engine could do on a full wind!

Later, it became possible to halt or reverse the engine with the aid of stops between the rails which would catch small levers fitted under the engine.

With the introduction of electric trains however much more control became possible. Speed could be controlled by simple rheostat based controllers, which were able to reverse direction when required.

However, more recently, with the advent of digital technology sophistication in control is progressing in leaps and bounds.



Zero 1 was Hornby Trains first foray into Command Control Systems. It was introduced in 1979, and with 16 channel capability, marked a major improvement in the controlling of multiple running on the same tracks.

The system involved fitting modules to the locomotives but was not compatible with any other systems, or with unfitted locomotives. Proving all contacts and track were kept clean, however, it was a successful system, and is still in use on many layouts today.

However, by 1985, manufacture was discontinued, and Hornby Trains were working on their own new more comprehensive Direct Command Control system. Hornby trains has concentrated on making their system as simple as possible, and actually, each locomotive, fitted with the small micro -processor or decoder, is able to be controlled independently anywhere on the track.

Also possible with the system, and in conjunction with your PC, you can control the switching of your points, and signals, and can, in fact even set up routes through your layout for the Hornby trains in a very similar manner to the way the Signalling Centres operate on our main line railways today.

This marks a major step forward in the control, the operation and the enjoyment of model railways, and is clearly the way forward for all serious railway modelers.



For those with more serious ambitions, there is everything you need in the Hornby Trains range. You can choose a particular timeline or era, so you can either have all steam (yes, and Hornby  trains actually make a few models in 00 gauge scale that are actually steam propelled!), or you can have a modern themed layout that is diesel or electric.

If you wish, you could also introduce a special excursion train hauled by a model preserved steam locomotive on to your modern themed layout to bring your theme right up to date.

Hornby Trains also manufacture a large range of plastic and resin scenic buildings, together stations and bridges. However, there is always plenty of scope for building your own scenery, and there are plenty of books and tips online to help you achieve your object.

Scenery certainly makes a layout much more attractive and can give hours of relaxation and satisfaction in planning and constructing your own ideal layout. In fact, there are probably many people who get more satisfaction in designing and building the scenery, than they do in running the Hornby trains!

However, with the DCC control, and in the building up of more involved layouts, and in setting them up with attractive scenery, it becomes so much more than a children’s table top layout. In fact it becomes a serious hobby.

Most large towns or cities have their own model railway societies, which often build quite amazing layouts. If you are thinking of getting involved, these are often a good starting point. Here you will see what can be done, some of these clubs have very successful layouts, and can get ideas, hints, and tips on how to get started yourself. It is often possible to take your own rolling stock to these club layouts and let them have an outing on their layout.



Whilst there are other Companies manufacturing and supplying British Outline model Railways, no one company has the same vast range of equipment that can be found in the Hornby collection. Whilst the gauge and operating modes available in the UK are compatible with each other, Hornby trains are able to supply virtually all you require to build and run a very substantial layout.

As a good starting point, there are a large number of sets, giving a range of different Hornby trains, a basic layout of the track, together with a standard controller.

From this basic start, you can expand as far as you wish. A full range of track, including points, is available to be added on to that supplied with the kit. From then on, there is an enormous and constantly changing array of locomotives, steam, diesel or electric, and rolling stock, including coaches and freight wagons, all beautifully detailed, and buildings, stations, bridge, level crossings, and so on.

Then you can add the digital control system, which can be built up bit by bit, so you can eventually develop your control over the whole layout.

The only limiting factor becomes your Bank balance!



Many items of Hornby trains are now becoming collectors’ items. All types of locos and rolling stock are in demand, going right back to the early O gauge trains and the three rail Hornby Dublo items can fetch good prices.

Even the catalogues, which have always been very colourful productions are now keenly sought after by collectors.

Hornby themselves also are now producing special edition train packs and locomotives, these are always listed on their website.

They all come complete with an individually numbered certificate and are sure to appreciate in value in time. Hornby themselves promote their own Collectors Club, details of which are given on their website, www.hornby.com

Also worth a visit is the Hornby Visitor Centre, at Westwood, Margate, Kent CT9 4JX, Tel.01843 233524. Here you can see their very own large working model layout, and Scalectrix, and a very interesting collection of old Hornby products, going right back to some of Frank Hornby’s early homebuilt trains.

There is also a very comprehensive shop and the ‘Just the Ticket’ Café.

Another interesting collection can be found at The Brighton Toy Museum. This is situated at 52-55 Trafalgar Street, Brighton, BN1 4EB Tel. 01273 749494.  www.brightontoymuseum.co.uk. They also have a collectors market in the foyer of the museum.

See our range of Hornby trains here.

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