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Frank Hornby 150 Launch Event

Chris Warrell enjoys some cheese and wine under the railway arches in Brighton!

The Brighton Toy and Model Museum has just been awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund to help it to celebrate 2013 as Frank Hornby Year, this being the 150th anniversary of his birth in May 1863. On 23rd February an evening drinks and nibbles reception was held to launch their celebration project. Tim Surtell had received an invitation to the do (as 'co-ordinator' of the London Meccano Club initiative) but just five tickets were allocated to the six clubs in the affiliation!

In the end it appeared that very few tickets for the Meccano fraternity had been taken up so there were plenty of spares. Les Chatfield, who'd been in Brighton all weekend for the three-day Modelworld show (see his report) and I attended, most of the other guests being from the Hornby Trains or Dinky Toys world.

Inside the Brighton Toy and Model Museum
Inside the Brighton Toy and Model Museum

The evening kicked off with an introduction from Museum Director Chris Littledale, who insisted that Meccano should be pronounced Meccanno, not Meccarno! (I put him right later that evening — here's the proof). The layout of the museum, in a couple of arches under Brighton Station, doesn't really lend itself to speeches to a large group — there were about 40 people present — and, at first, Les and I were out of sight of the steps where the speeches were being given and could barely hear anything. We managed to shuffle forwards a bit to hear him give a run down of some of Meccano's products before introducing the guest speaker Sir William McAlpine (a former director of Sir Robert McAlpine and currently Chairman of the Railway Heritage Trust). Sir William spoke fairly briefly about Meccano, but I'm afraid I can't recall exactly what he said! I collared him afterwards and learned that he once had a Meccano model of a block setting crane, similar to one in a glass case in the museum, but he had to dismantle it to make another model.

Sir William McAlpine (right) gives his talk as Chris Littledale looks on
Sir William McAlpine (right) gives his talk as Chris Littledale looks on

We were then treated to some very realistic steam train impressions (sound only — we didn't get the steam!) from Chris Littledale using just his voice and a microphone. Luckily, he didn't subject us to it for very long!

After that, there was a short talk by Eric Baird, the museum's Project Officer, about how they're going to spend the grant: In a nutshell, he is going to rewrite and expand their online resources for Meccano, Dinky Toys and Hornby Trains, and to set up a project website which will hold a directory of clubs and organisations, and a calendar of their 2013 events. There'll be events focussing on Frank Hornby Week (13th–19th May 2013). As well as the Meccano, they have what they believe to be the best collection of early Hornby Trains on public display anywhere in the world. A new information system will be installed that can do justice to the collection. They also hope to bring in some new guest exhibits for 2013 to mark the anniversary.

Part of the Meccano collection
Part of the Meccano collection

This should have been followed by a toast to Frank Hornby. We had the Champagne but no one actually proposed the toast, so we just drank the stuff anyway!

There was plenty of time to look around the museum, before and after the formal proceedings. A large impressive O gauge railway, with a mixture of track types, rolling stock and buildings etc. from various toy makers, was running for a while with Chris Littledale at the controls. Two large Perspex screens that normally keep inquisitive fingers out had been removed for the evening so that guests could get a bit closer to the models.

Playing trains!
Playing trains!

A view of the O gauge layout
A view of the O gauge layout

It was a very enjoyable evening rounding off, for me, a good afternoon at Modelworld.

The museum is well worth a look — hopefully I'll pay them another visit during the anniversary week in May.

Visit www.brightontoymuseum.co.uk or www.frankhornby150.org for details of the Frank Hornby 150 events.


» This article appeared in the March 2013 issue of SELMEC News.

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