Saturday, 14 December 2013

Our second Childrens day of 2013

David Lucas reading us his story
It's round two of our special Children's Play Day event. Another fun day of art activities, stories and trainsets. We had three major events: Arts and crafts where visitors could make their own jumping Jacks, a drawing/story area where children's author David Lucas gave us advice on making characters and then read us one of his fabulous books, the train sets which eventually grew to take over a good quarter of the museum and a second story area in the Puppet Corner.

There was some serious business going on at the trainsets; how many bridges could be built? Could we get a track and road system intermingling? Most importantly though; How many crashes could we make? The answer; Lots! Not a single train managed to stay on its rails for the whole day. Altogether we are very proud of our visitors ingenuity for destruction.

Our French Interns really enjoyed the train set

We admire this young man's Thomas the Tank engine footwear
With destruction comes construction and at the crafts table many a Jumping Jack came into being. Child and Parent worked as one to make their new toys to fantastic success. Coming in a range of designs, the table was very popular and a great opportunity for parent and child to work together.

Dad and Daughter working together

Mum and Daughter are not to be out done and also work together
The main event though was the drawing and story sessions with David Lucas. He read us one of his wonderful stories and gave us a wide range of advice on writing stories and making characters for them. Our visitors (and not a few of our volunteers) created plenty of amazing pictures.

David Lucas tells us some of his secrets!

An All mixed up Unicorn, Cheesy flower and firey mouse!

King of the Clouds

A Skeleton Pirate hangs 10

A man turning into a rainbow and a clown/duck/alligator? I love it!

As an added bonus and to keep us all energized for the day cake, fruit and drinks were available. I can happily attest to their deliciousness!

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Mystery of the Missing Medieval Building Blocks Manufacturer

Sander's Tudor Stone Building Bricks, box lid
This is an odd one. We have in our collection a Box No.2 of Sander's Tudor Building Bricks. This is a charming (and slightly wobbly) set of building blocks designed to recreate mediaeval European and "Tudor-style" buildings.

However, nobody seems to know who this company "Sander's" are, and the box and literature doesn't seem to be any help. After some detective work, our current best guess is that these sets may have been made specially as promotional items for an Alf Sanders, who built real-life Tudor-style buildings in Hampton Hills, Dallas, Texas.

However, we don't yet have any confirmation that this is really where these sets originated - the combination of Tudor buildings and the Sanders/Sander's branding might be a coincidence.

If anyone out there has more information on these Sander's sets and their origins, we'd love to know more about them - please do get in touch!.

Meanwhile, we've built the model that's on the box lid and front page of the manual, and put it on display.

An assembled Sander's mediaeval building set

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The charm of dolls’ houses.

The charm of owning a world in miniature is something appears to be universal. From children to adults and Victorian aristocrats many people have been drawn in by the dolls house’s allure.

What is it that makes them so special?

I clearly remember my first doll's house, it was a small, chipboard creation, with four rooms and furniture that didn’t quite fit; I loved it. I played with that doll's house until it fell apart. Yet from that moment, I was hooked. As time went on, I got given another, "collectors" doll's house, and became exposed to the world of doll’s house miniatures.
It’s fascinating what you can find, everything from beds and sofas to rolls of loo roll and slices of cheese, have been recreated in miniature. The attention to detail can mean that they even look like the real thing. It is also possible to get scaled down wall paper that is designed to look realistic in a miniature room.

Don’t you just want to eat this cheese?
My doll’s house is a modern one called "Willow Cottage". It has six rooms, two staircases and lots of interesting features to it. I set it out as you would expect a house to be set out, with the children's bedroom and the bathroom upstairs in the attic. However, doll's houses have the downside of not being exactly the same as real houses, and I remember constantly being frustrated by the fact that the stairs ran through the parent'’s bedroom and the bathroom, try as I might, no amount of shifting the rooms around would solve the problem and my dolls just had to put up with people running through the bathroom to get to the playroom.

So imagine my fascination when I came across the "Queen Mary's Doll’s House" which even had entrance halls. Every last inch of the giant doll’s house was decorated with minute attention to detail, looking at the pictures, there is even a whole library stocked with books, some of which have titles written on their spines. On the ceiling of the king's bathroom is a beautifully painted mural, and the fittings make it look almost as if it could be a real bathroom.

How would you like to have this bathroom it your own home?
In this particular Doll's House there was even a wine cellar stocked with miniature bottles of wine and spirits with real alcohol inside of them and labels to tell you what they are. (Why the bottles were actually full I don’t know, I'm assuming it's so that the dolls could get drunk...)

It’s difficult to determine exactly when the first Doll's houses were created though some historians have dated them as far back at the 16th century. The earliest Doll's houses where not meant to be children’s play things, instead they were meant to be used to show wealth and prestige. These early houses did not have to same uniform scale of furniture, for instance some of the furniture might have been tiny whilst other pieces might have been larger. It was only when they started to become play things as well that scaling became more of an issue and even then different dolls houses were built on all kinds of scales.

After the Second World War the uniform scale of doll's house models became 1:12 and most mass-produced dolls house furniture and items were produced to this scale.

Having a doll's house as a toy used to be a privilege reserved for children from the upper classes, for instance, rich fathers would have them built to teach their daughters how to be good housewives. These houses often had a lot more attention to detail than their later mass-produced counterparts.

The Toy Museum itself has a wonderful collection of dolls house miniatures spanning the years, from the 1800’s through to the 1930’s. One of the most beautiful pieces being a German fireplace, made out of metal and complete with an intricately painted tile design (1930)

Other pieces include two highly detailed metal chairs dating from the Eighteen Hundreds that were designed by the British company Evans and Cartwright.

Metal used the be the favoured material with which to make dolls house furniture, because of the fact that it was easier to work with and manufacturers could create much more detailed pieces than they could with wood. I only got a chance to look at a few examples of what the museum has tucked away in its store room, but I have been told that there is a lot more hidden in its collections.

Keep an eye out for some of the collection being exhibited in the near future!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Dinky Toy main display cabinet update

This odd coach (a Maudslay "deck-and-a-half" observation coach)
is a visitors' favourite
We're putting the finishing touches to a reworking of our main Dinky Toys display, as part of our Frank Hornby 150th Anniversary project.

Everything in the cabinet has been re-researched and re-checked, and there's now an informative label by each piece, so that now you can find out what your favourite car actually is ... we're just waiting for some nice colour period colour advertising to be added behind the shelves.

Dinky's range captured a range of classic British automotive designs
The research was carried out by volunteers Nick Gibson and Francisco Dominguez, with Nick doing the labelling.

The re-lit and relabelled cabinet, just waiting for some new background inserts

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Hornby Children's Play Day - 19th of May

As part of the Frank Hornby 150 project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, we hosted a Children's Play Day event featuring a host interactive activities.

The museum was divided into four themed activity areas: Art, Craft, Meccano and Trains. In each section, volunteers led a gaggle of very excited children through activities involving toys inspired by the legendary British toymaker, Frank Hornby. Activities included making paper crafted airplanes and helicopters, colouring sheets (designed by the museum's founder Chris Littledale and project coordinator Eric Baird), sponge painting etc. The most popular activity, with the kids, parents and grandparents alike, involved running the wooden toy train sets laid out on tracks across the floor of the museum. Not only were the activities fun, but also educational, good for developing children's imagination, focus and co-ordination.

As a special treat, the children were allowed  to take home all their work, including paint-your-own ceramic money boxes. A lot of them said that they were looked forward to using them for storing their treasures at home.

To finish it all, there was a delicious Frank's Birthday cake for all to enjoy and regain energy after hours of playing.

It was a joy to see museum's arches filled with excitement and activity this Sunday!

The event was run almost entirely by museum volunteers. Thank you all for participating!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Meccano Mechanisms

The museum has recently built two more new cabinets to help commemorate Frank Hornby's 150th anniversary.

Meccano has been inspiring mechanics, engineers and inventors of all ages to construct imaginative creations ever since its invention in 1901, and our new displays showcase some of the mechanical marvels that can be achieved with this ingeniously simple toy. Inspired by characters in the 1925 story book, "Adventures in Meccanoland", these cabinets are populated with Meccano people known as "Meccanitians", who need help finishing their tasks. Come along and help Bill and Fred finish sawing their log, or see Andy's wonderful windmill!
A wood-sawing team, and a line of jumping chirping chickens

Andy needs to adjust the windmill's tower so that it points into the wind.
The pieces are interactive, and are operated by handles on the cabinet sides.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Brighton trams and trolleybuses

Put it there! Deciding how to arrange the display
We've just raised the Ted Bayley "Brighton Pavilion" model up a few inches to create a new display area for Brighton trolleybuses and trams.

The final version of the display now has a double-row of fourteen trams, trolleybuses and buses showing their evolution from horsedrawn trams, through steam, electric and diesel.

This is all part of the "Glamour of Brighton" display in the museum's foyer.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Frank Hornby Week at the Museum

The museum is celebrating the week surrounding 15th May (Frank Hornby's 150th anniversary) as Frank Hornby Week.

  • Kicking off the week, we have a Hornby-themed Train Running Day on Saturday 11th to get things moving. 
  • Wednesday 15th is Frank Hornby's birthday, and the evening will be a special invite-only party and cake-cutting ceremony. 
  • Friday 17th is a special "Museums at Night" evening with a talk and tour by the Museum Founder Chris Littledale, and, 
  • Sunday 19th will be a special Children's Play Day, where youngsters can indulge in supervised colouring-in and painting, and can also play with wooden train and road sets and with plastic Meccano.

On top of all of this, from Tuesday to Saturday we'll be running two guided tours of the museum's Hornby, Dinky and Meccano collections each day, in the context of the life of Frank Hornby.

You can download the programme of events , and get more information about the Frank Hornby 150th Anniversary project and associated events around the country on the project website.

The Museum's Frank Hornby Week celebrations are being made possible by the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Volunteers are a fundamental part of the museum's success and are involved in almost every aspect of its running, including dealing with visitors, administration, marketing, education and maintaining the collection's inventory.

We are constantly looking for new volunteers to join our friendly team. There are various roles available on a short-term and long-term basis.

To find out more, read the volunteer information pack. You can send your application back to us by post or email.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Magnus Volk and His Amazing Railways

On Saturday the 2nd of February we were lucky to host Ian Gledhill, who came to talk about the inventor and entrepreneur, Magnus Volk. Ian, being a wonderful story teller and a knowledge-bank on the life of Magnus Volk, dedicated almost 2 hours telling glorious stories of the engineer, keeping the audience mesmerised. Magnus Volk is most famous for the Volk’s Electric Railway, which runs to this day along Brighton seafront. The gifted engineer brought many innovations to Brighton and showed great determination to stand up against the opposition in his time to bring his vision to the people.

Brighton and Rottigdean Railway
 (Daddy Long Legs) Model

Volk was the first person in Brighton to have a telephone, the first to have electricity in his house and was even titled as an "electrician" on his marriage certificate, long before electricity even came to Brighton.

A few people were lucky to enjoy this experience. The Museum is keen for more people to hear the story about a man of such merit, whose contributions to science and history extend beyond just Brighton.

Ironically, most of Volk's struggle in his quest to innovate and expand came not from technical challenges, but barriers placed by the Brighton Council of the day! Eventually, his achievements were recognised and the Council took upon themselves to keep his work alive.

With the help of projector and his oratory, Ian not only told us the story of this prominent inventor but also entertained us with his sense of humor. At the end of the story, he unraveled a big surprise to the audience, a scale model of Daddy Long Legs made by Volk himself before he built the real railway, about 130 years ago. Everyone took out their cameras to capture this relic from the past.

Ian Gledhill giving the talk