Frank Hornby, born in 1863, was 14 years older than W J Bassett-Lowke, his younger competitor. In the years following World War 1, there was much hostility in Britain to those toys not manufactured in Britain and only available from Germany. Frank Hornby saw an opportunity and developed his Hornby O-Gauge range, primarily aimed at indoor railways. However, as early as 1919 (and possibly even as early as 1914), Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke and his production engineer Henry Greenly had contemplated the introduction of an even smaller scale than 0-Gauge. The first ‘table top railway’ was a crude effort produced by Bing Brothers in Germany and sold in Great Britain as a “table top railway”. It was soon electric powered, and marketed ‘foreign made’ by Bassett-Lowke Ltd from 1936 as the Trix Twin Railway, using 3-rail track with two trains on the same track controlled independently. The new 00 gauge, a scale of 4mm to the foot on a track gauge of 16.5mm.  

Success was fleeting as clockwork motors small enough to fit in a small boiler space and similarly electric motors with sufficient power were not available. Other attempts were also made but these ran into the same problems. The issue of gauge (i.e. distance between the 

rails) was resolved at 16.5 mm (sort of). The next 12 or 15 years saw much correspondence about whether a table top scale should be 3.5 mm/ft (H0 – half 0) or 4.0 mm/ft (00 – not quite half 0), or even something else.

quarter of the price of Twix Twin (as Trix- Express had become). Britain’s first truly 00-scale models were here, just before war intervened again.

The first commercially successful venture was Trix-Express by Stephan Bing (who had resigned from Bing-Werke AG) who expanded into the UK market in 1935 under the name 'Bassett-Lowke Twin Train Table Railway'. The actual scale of these models is difficult to determine. However, this expansion (plus a competing one in Germany from Marklin) bit into Hornby’s 0-Gauge sales. Hornby replied with its small range of 00 locomotives and rolling stock to a scale of 4 mm/ft. These were infinitely better models than Hornby’s 0-Gauge and were released into the market at just over a

The outcome of World War II was unkind to many enterprises in Germany, including the Bing Brothers, whose tooling ended up with another German company, Bub. Still before the war, Meccano Ltd, the leading manufacturer of 0 gauge, noted the success of the smaller gauge and responded with their own 00 range named Hornby Dublo.  Pronounced as double-0, not Dewblo. 

Hornby-Dublo was launched in September 1938 with two locomotives (A4 Sir Nigel Gresley in Garter Blue and N2 LNER 0-6-2T but painted to represent all four Grouping locomotives) and a range of tin-printed coaches (D1 LNER 1st/3rd and LNER Brake/3rd, and an articulated pair with All 3rd and Brake/3rd coaches, designated D2) and goods wagons in all four liveries. Somewhere along the line the All 3rd coach was issued separately. The locomotives were available as either clockwork or 12V DC electric versions (with pickup ‘spoons’ running on a third central track). All rolling stock had Dublo’s own flat loop couplings.

Tin-printed track with either two or three rails was produced to match the locomotive purchased. Manual and electric points were available for 3-rail track but only manual points for the clockwork track. Metal manual and electric signals (with switches) were introduced, while buildings were primarily wooden.

There has been copious correspondence about the issue of the Duchess of Atholl and matching LMS coaches being sold before the war but, despite all the rhetoric, no-one has been able to come up with the goods.

Originally the artwork on the Hornby Dublo box sets was not dissimilar to the 0 gauge box apart from size. It was not until the late 30’s that Dublo got its new branding. This is considered the 2nd generation Box lid and artwork
This EDP11 box set shows the typical layout of the sets contents. You will notice the position of the spanner and oil in their little compartments (bottom section of rail, right and left). This positioning moved over time as sets become more common. The two items ended up sitting together in a middle compartment until final production ceased. The Dublo production changed considerably over its life time creating very rare and collectable items which appeal so much to the enthusiast.
Hornby Dublo SR No. 2594 Malachite Green EDL7 Tank loco

Hornby’s chief electrical engineer, Ronald Wyborn, pioneered an efficient permanent magnet mechanism, enabling the trains to change direction easily without the need to change the motor polarity and without any mechanical switching.

 Prewar Dublo can be identified by pale blue boxes with date codes, horizontal hook and eye couplings made of blued steel, and sets only available in boxes of landscape or horizontal format.  The most popular period for collectors of Dublo is from 1945 to 1953, as prewar trains are of very limited production.

Despite the cessation of hostilities, the post-war period was one of chaos. Rationing of all descriptions was still in place (food rationing in Britain continued into the middle-50s). Hornby-Dublo was not re-introduced until 1947 and production was aimed at export markets, not the local one. Metal was in short supply and just as things began to return to normal the Korean Peninsula war threw supply into turmoil. Hornby 0-Gauge soldiered on, but the emphasis was definitely changing.

The period 1947 to 1956 finally saw the introduction of the much-awaited Duchess of Atholl and its matching coaches – still tin-printed, but with transparent windows. Numerous important changes were also taking place:

  • The clockwork range was discontinued

  • In 1947 Dublo introduced the PECO registered coupling, together with the manual uncoupling rail (the electric uncoupling rail with switch arrived in 1955)

  • In 1949 Alnico magnets replaced the horseshoe magnets (although the latter continued to be used until stocks were exhausted)

  • In 1950 suppressors began to be fitted to locomotive motors to overcome interference issues, particularly with television

  • Also in 1950, the introduction of metal buildings (including the footbridge) commenced

  • 1950 saw the launch of Rovex (Triang) into the market, with 2-rail track the only option offered

  • In 1953 Dublo changed its liveries to the new British Railways ones. This also heralded the introduction of some new models (but not necessarily new castings, except that the A4 lost its pre-war valances over the driving wheels) including the first metal injection moulded goods wagon – the bogie bolster – which had been first planned before the war

  • 1954 saw the introduction of the first truly new model – the BR 2-6-4T. This was to be matched with the D13 suburban coaches (still with printed windows)

  • 1956 saw BR change its logo from the cycling-lion to the ferret-and-dartboard with Dublo not far behind. It also saw the demise of the D13 suburban coaches to be replaced with D14 coaches with transparent windows.

Although Britain nationalised the railways in 1948, Hornby did not produce trains in BR livery until 1953.  Some pre-1952 locomotives in the liveries of the four major British railway companies are very collectable today, particularly when in original boxes.  Dublo production continued until 1964.   The most valued of the big four liveries, LMS, LNER, GWR and SR is the latter, Southern Railway.     

1957 was a year of consolidation, with Meccano finally acknowledging that ‘cheap and nasty plastic’ was winning the hearts and minds of modellers and that 2-rail operation was the way of the future.

The virtually indestructible metal track had become very expensive to produce. Despite this, the long-touted turntable finally made it to market.

The first salvo fired was the introduction of the model of Bristol Castle, a model which

received high acclaim from the entire model press. But it was still 3-rail.

The Bristol Castle was matched with brown and cream D21 coaches. Equivalent MR coaches in Crimson Lake were also available as D22 coaches. But, many of these coaches now came fitted with nylon wheels!

1958 onwards was a massive period of expansion for parts of Meccano. The Dublo 2-rail system which had been so long in coming had arrived, and Meccano started making trade-in offers to owners of 0-Gauge to encourage them to switch gauges.

1960 saw the introduction of the Ringfield motor and a flurry of new Castle and 8F locomotive running numbers/names. All new models from this point forwards were motored with Ringfield magnets.

Model after model, locomotive and coach and wagon alike, was produced. In the case of locomotives, 2-rail and 3-rail versions with different running numbers/names mostly (but not always) appeared within a short time of each other. The A4 locomotives appeared in numerous guises but the Duchess Pacific series were not copied to 2-rail. Instead a new casting was made and City Pacific locomotives appeared in both forms. The obvious exception was the pair of diminutive 0-6-0 tank locomotives which were never produced as 3-rail models. Another one is the 2-rail E3002 electric pantograph locomotive which was to have had a 3-rail stable mate but did not eventuate. Plastic accessories replaced metal accessories. Colour light signals (with switches) appeared. The list goes on.

The cost of maintaining two parallel systems (2-rail and 3-rail) and the sunk costs of all of the tooling required for this massive expansion were formidable. The anticipated costing of all of this expansion was planned to be covered by increased domestic sales and a massive export drive. Neither did eventuate and by 1963 the writing was on the wall. Meccano was overwhelmed by its own superior attention to detail

which lead to overkill in preparation of drawings, little standardisation of components (except for underframes and couplings), proliferation of models, and all of this into a market which had become saturated.

Rapid introduction of cheaper plastic ‘starter’ sets to appeal to the younger enthusiasts was too little, too late. Massive clearance sales of 3-rail locomotives which were to be immediately discontinued did not stem the haemorrhaging. To top it all off, much of the junior market had moved to such other pursuits as slot cars.

Competition had re-emerged in 1952 when Rovex Scale Models was acquired by Lines Bros, and launched as Tri-ang Railways.  Tri-ang offered 2-rail track, with engines and rolling stock using plastic mouldings rather than tinplate. The system was cheap and reliable, and quick expansion saw a good range. Hornby built a new factory at Margate, however within a few years Tri-ang had become market leader.  In 1957 Hornby Dublo upgraded their trains to a 2-rail system and redesigned all their locomotives and stock.  They continued to use diecast metal for most of the bodies, but changed over to a high-quality plastic for freight stock, using both plastic and tinplate for passenger stock. Quality was high but so were prices.  With competition against Hornby Dublo trains from Tri-ang Railways, along with Dinky Toys competing with Corgi and Matchbox, and the Meccano construction system losing sales to Lego, Meccano Ltd was in trouble on three fronts.  

By 1964 it was all over. Lines Brothers, the owners of Triang, had acquired all of the share capital of Meccano.

Lines Brothers promptly ended all Dublo production. Where feasible, stock was rolled into the Triang range which was re-badged Triang-Hornby. The rest was sold off as-is or was sent to the dump.

By a circuitous route, Lines Brothers bought a controlling interest in G & R Wrenn. George Wrenn became aware that much of the Dublo tooling was still in Lines Brothers hands and negotiated to buy some of that tooling. Thus under a different brand, many Dublo models lived on. But that is a story for another day.

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Author,  Peter Spraggon. Contributor, Robert  Gorrell

References and credits go to:

Miller’s Guide, Toys and Games Antiques Checklist with Hugo Marsh as Consultant and contributions from Olivia Bristol, Nigel Mynheer and Norman Joplin. General Editors are Judith and Martin Miller.


Foster, Michael (1980); Hornby Dublo Trains, New Cavendish Books, London, W1M 3AH