Saturday, 19 November 2016

Demolishing Aquarium Station and Volk's Car Yard

There are many things going on in Brighton at the moment. A lot of regeneration and renewal, which is all a welcome sight.

The i360 proved contentious, a lot of people think it’s great, many others are disappointed by it and would have loved to see something different for a modernised seafront. But love it or hate it, you can’t argue that it is indeed iconic and has been a welcome boost for business in the area. You just have to walk along the prom to see the restaurants are all bustling at all hours.

Another programme of renewal which hasn’t received so much attention is the demolishing and rebuilding of many of the structures used by Volk’s Electric Railway.

Volk’s Electric Railway, as I’m sure you’re aware, is the oldest electric railway in the world, running from the Palace Pier to Peter Pan and Black Rock every summer since 1883. Over those years the buildings at the stops have come and gone and workshops have been built where the trains can be repaired and maintained to keep them in perfect running order for holiday makers and residents of Kemptown to commute along the seafront.

So, just as the rolling stock needs attention, so do the infrastructure that supports them, and that is why most of the buildings on Volk’s Railway property have been pulled down over recent weeks.
The first building that was brought to our attention as having been pulled down was the workshop next to Peter Pan. It’s true that the building was far past its prime and the options were clearly to overhaul it completely or rip it up and start again. It had been patched up so many times that a new start on the site really was the best option. Then we also noticed that the ticket booth at the Aquarium Station had gone too.

It’s unlikely that anyone will be sad upon seeing the buildings removal. And the contractors are already at work creating a substructure that will support a new Aquarium Station and visitor centre at the pier end of the line telling of the history Volk, the current electric railway, the seashore electric railway that today we call the ‘Daddy Longlegs’ and the other contributions and influence that Volk made toward electric powered railways, tramways, streetcars and vehicles throughout the rest of the world.

Construction on these projects to build a new station, visitor centre and yard/workshop will be quick, it's scheduled to be completed by spring 2017. That means that there should be plenty to see and do when the railway reopens for the summer season.

Our Last Running Day Of The Year!

We love our Running Days here at Brighton Toy and Model Museum. It’s unfortunate that we can’t put more on, but in order to preserve these valuable model trains, we’re only able to put Running Days on every so often, and when we do, it’s always a special occasion.

If you haven’t been to one of our Running Days before, it’s a chance to see many of our precious, rare model trains running around our purpose built diorama in the company of other rail fans and model train aficionados. The central area of the museum is normally kept behind Perspex in order to protect the exhibits, however, during the Running Day we take the barriers down so you can get a super view of the trains as they pull into and out of stations, and speed around the track, just as the makers, including Hornby, Marklin and many others intended.

Taking the acrylic screens down also means that you can get some great photography, without reflections, distortions or flare. If you’re a lover of old train sets, or vintage toys generally, this really is a pre-Christmas treat that’s perfect for you.

Admission is ten pounds for adults, five for children, but the price is halved for friends and patrons. Why not become a patron on the day and start enjoying the benefits of half price entry right away? As well as seeing our unique collection of trains, you’ll also, naturally, have full access to the museum so you can see all of our exhibits, from soft toys, Corgi and Matchbox cars, Meccano and their competitor construction kits as well as many other rare and fascinating toys from the past.

The trains will be running 11am to 1pm and from 2:30pm to 4:30pm on Saturday December 3rd, so put the date in your diary!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Due For Arrival; The Jenny Lind Locomotive

Jenny Lind
There’s a gap one of the display cases in the Brighton Toy and Model Museum’s foyer at the moment. What used to be a shelf dedicated to the glory days of the Brighton Belle is currently standing empty. But not for long.

Jenny Lind was a famous singer of the  1840s. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, and known popularly as ‘The Swedish Nightingale,’ Jenny Lind found fame throughout Europe and North America, reaching the peak of her success in the 1840s. Her first performance in London was in the opera Robert le Diable in 1847, with Queen Victoria in attendance. It was only two years later that she would announce her retirement from the operatic stage, and still nobody knows the real reason why.

Given a Famous Name

Awaiting The Arrival Of The Jenny Lind
As she was already famous throughout Europe, and she made her British debut in 1847, boilermakers E. B. Wilson and Company of Leeds built a steam locomotive for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, and it was named ‘Jenny Lind’ in her honour.

The loco’s design proved to be extremely successful and was used as a blueprint for successive steam engines throughout the 1840s 50s and 60s. Indeed the design was so useful that form of the Jenny Lind became a specific ‘type’ of engine. With more than seventy individual locomotives being built for a number of different railway companies, it became the first mass produced consistent type of railway locomotive in the world. In fact, the type became so consistent that the manufacturers chose to charge a premium from railway companies that ordered an engine that deviated from the type in any way.

The Perfect Location

Now obviously we don’t have one of the original Jenny Lind type locomotives, but we do have the next best thing: a 1-16 scale 3.5” steam powered model of the original engine as engineered by Bill Hinchley of the Milton Keynes Model Engineering Society. The engine has been donated to Brighton Toy and Model Museum due to the strong links between the original Jenny Lind engine and Brighton, indeed, where better for it to find a home than Brighton’s famous model museum?
The final exhibit is currently being prepared, the brightwork polished and the paintwork buffed. The model of the Jenny Lind will see its own debut on the 14th of October and will sit alongside paintings of the Brighton coachworks which used to be next door to Brighton railway station, a model of The Leader, an experimental steam engine of the 1940s built in the Brighton Coachworks and several other pieces of memorabilia of Brighton’s steam past including original lamps from the historic Brighton Belle.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

When an Old Box Becomes a Treasure Trove

Isn’t it amazing, what you find when you’re not looking for it? Especially when that thing is a treasure you’ve forgotten you ever had!

While we were undergoing a grand reorganisation and clear-out in one of our workshops we discovered under a bench an old box that hadn’t been opened in 20 years. Well, that old box proved itself to be something of a treasure chest when we took a look inside because in it we found an historic and enchanting collection of beautiful and incredibly rare collection of miniature furniture, ornaments, and kitchenware, including plates, cutlery, even the fruit and various other foods that were to be served on them. A fine setting for a luscious Lilliputian dinner! The collection also includes any number of other household objects including tools, framed pictures, lamps and vacuum cleaners. In fact, anything you would expect to see around the home, but in miniature.

A Display Built By Craftsmen

We thought this find was so extraordinary that the museum’s craftsman carpenter created a wonderfully atmospheric display that shows off the collection to its best; a unique doll’s house inspired display stand where all the tiny fixtures and chattels can be seen as they would have been in situ in a real doll’s house.

Once this display had been built and decorated to look every bit as if it were a turn of the century doll’s house then the museum’s director spent the next week carefully selecting and displaying the best parts of the collection as you see it today.

Together with the display stands, there is an original dolls’ house from the beginning of the twentieth century and numerous other pieces such as bathroom and bedroom sets. The collection is open now as part of our collection of over 10,000 individual items on exhibition.

If you're planning on coming to see the doll's furniture exhibit, we're open 10-5 Tuesday to Friday, 11-5 on Saturday. For admission fees and all other details, please see the Brighton Toy and Model Museum website 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

So What’s Up With Those Dogs All Round Brighton?

If you’ve walked anywhere in Brighton and Hove recently, you can’t have helped but notice the decorated dogs that are dotted all around town. But what’s the story?

So, if you’re like me you’ll have seen The Snowman, and had a little sob at the end. Well, the story didn’t actually stop there. Oh no. There was a snow dog, and that’s what these little fellas are all about.

More than 40 Snowdog and 20 pup sculptures were produced, all blank, and sent out to artists and schools to be decorated. So each one is unique and painted to represent a different theme.
The event is in aid of Martlets, a charity that cares for people living through terminal illnesses in the Brighton and Hove area. As well as a Snowdog trail (you can pick up a map from Brighton Toy and Model Museum) there are any number of other fundraising events based on the dogs and pups including a fun run, a Snowdogs trail open top bus tour and, at the event, each one of the Snowdogs will be auctioned off to raise money for the Martlets charity work.

If you love the Snowdogs but you can’t wait to buy your own, or don’t have space for one in your home (come on, they are massive!) then get down to one of the Martlets charity shops where they will be selling Snowdog merchandise, souvenirs and gifts.
You can read more about Martlets and Snowdogs by liking their Facebook page, following on Twitter or visiting the Snowdog website.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Is It A Bird? Is It A 'Plane? No! It's A Playday!

Will you be coming to the next Brighton Toy and Model Museum playday? The theme is "In The Sky". Could mean anything, couldn't it?
It could mean Aeroplanes, the Flying Trapeze at the circus, birds, tightrope walkers, balloons, the birds, even the stars and astronauts!
Make up your own mind and then come along to see if you were right (nothing is ever wrong when you make it up yourself!). We'll be having the usual mix of stories, facepainting, arts and crafts and an assortment of toys to play with too.
Looking forward to seeing you and having a brilliant playday.

The Trains And Railways Of India: A Lecture From Lawrence Marshall

We're proud, and yes, a little bit excited to be welcoming Lawrence Marshall to Brighton Toy and Model Museum as he will be here to deliver a speech on the memories he has of his experience working and travelling on the trains and railways of India.

The railways play a huge part in the history of India which is often overlooked. They made the movement of goods, people and information much easier and faster which in turn enabled agricultural, economic and political growth. Before the railways people would shun travelling long distances because of the heat and discomfort involved in traversing the roads, goods made in one region would remain in that area as moving them was difficult, expensive and often dangerous while it could be said that Gandhi would have had far less impact in political and social reform had he had to travel the subcontinent by road instead of rail. Indeed, his first act of civil disobedience was to be thrown from the First Class compartment of a train when he was in South Africa. This was first of many non-violent acts that he brought to India which eventually led to Indian independence.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Moon! Mooon! Mooooooooon!

The latest addition to the Museum lobby is a slightly gobsmacking specialist scientific two-foot-diameter contoured globe of The Moon.

Specially created as one of a set of four after the NASA lunar missions, the globe is an authentic dark grey (the Moon only looks white when its airless surface is fiercely illuminated by the Sun), and is marked out with landing sites for the Apollo missions.

Too big for our usual shelved storage, we put The Moon straight out into the museum while we decide what to do with it long-term. It's currently presiding over the front corner of the Glamour of Brighton display – this is a purely temporary display position, but who knows ... the counter volunteers are getting kinda used to it being there ...  

Saturday, 13 August 2016

We’ll have stories, facepainting, arts and crafts, toys and games and all the good stuff you’d normally expect from one of our monthly PlayDay events. Tickets are less than the regular price of an adult ticket and allow one child and accompanying adult into the museum venue as well as all of the activities.
Things start at 2 and finish at 4.30 but feel free to arrive anytime in between. And as always, if your cubs feel like dressing up in a jungley style they should! We always encourage a bit of dress-up.
Tickets are £5.50, or half price for members and patrons and are available in the foyer on the day.
We’re looking forward to seeing you all here, under the train station!

Like our Facebook page to keep up to date with all the special events that we put on throughout the year. You’ll be glad you did!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

What’s Happening at Brighton Toy and Model Museum?

The school holidays are upon us and for many parents that means hot and bothered kids lolling around the house complaining about being bored. Well, we think we have a solution! 

All through the summer, Brighton Toy and Model Museum will be opening on Mondays, meaning that we’ll now be open six days a week. On weekdays we open at ten, eleven on Saturdays. You can see our admission prices and a few details about our exhibits on our website. As well as a vast array of toys, models, puppets and games, we have air con and plenty of seats, just so you know!

Our next Playday takes place on August 21 and the theme is “The Jungle”. How cool is that? There will be jungly themed activities including arts and crafts, games, facepainting, and a story too. Activities take place from 2pm to 4.30pm and if your kids want to dress up as lions or tigers or bears (oh my!) then we certainly encourage that.

Our guided tours are still available on Thursday afternoons too. If you’re a particularly big fan of any of the toys or models that we have on display then come along for a free tour. They take in many of the aspects of the toys that we have on display, giving you details that it wasn’t possible to fit on the cards. The tours are particularly good if you have a special interest in something and you’d like a chat. You can ask somebody to show you around any time, but the scheduled tours take place on Thursday afternoons at three. (regular admission fees apply)

Monday, 25 April 2016

Donation: In memory of Michael Gilkes

On display: the Great Central 
Today we put out a new display exhibit, a brown, cream and gold Great Central Railway clerestory-windowed Corridor Coach, made by Bing for Bassett-Lowke in gauge 1 in around ~1904.

It's an early, rare and imposing piece produced as part of a promotional arrangement between Bassett-Lowke Ltd. and the Great Central Railway, and it's displayed behind our Bing/B-L GCR 1014 Sir Alexander locomotive, which was part of the same GC-BL production deal. As a historical aside, the high "spine" of the carriage has clerestory windows painted along the sides – the early Pullman carriages used this arrangement, with the overhead space allowing in extra daylight during the day, and also housing gas lamps for lighting during darker hours. This combination of wood, gas and flame was highly dangerous in a crash, and the shape of carriage roofs changed with the later introduction of electric lighting.

The purchase of the coach was funded by Audrey Gilkes in memory of her husband Michael Gilkes (1923-2014), one of the original founding trustees of the museum, who is much missed.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Donation: Britains Farmyard set

Today we received a donation of a Britains Farmyard set, together with a range of Britains Ltd hollowcast lead animals.
The Hugar for Britains Ltd Farmyard
We already have a nice display of farm buildings and hollowcast farm animals on display, but we were missing the "Hugar Models for Britains Ltd" buildings, so we were very pleased to be offered this one by Mary Wyatt, and we'll find some way to cram it into an adjacent display before too long, probably into the area below the main farm section in Arch Two.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Dollhouse Furniture display - My Dolly's Home

My Dolly's Home, front cover
The new dollhouse furniture display areas have now been fitted out with backgrounds adapted from Doris Davey's ~1920/1921 "My Dolly's Home".

Davey's book is a charming book that lets readers explore a flattened-out dollhouse - they can move between rooms by hinged doors, look inside cupboards, and peek over garden fences – it's essentially the equivalent of a modern interactive children's "tablet" app, but executed in paper in the early 1920s.

Changing the backgrounds to fit the proportions of the display space required a certain amount of digital trickery, with items of furniture being moved, new areas of wall being "cloned" or invented, new graduated stipplework being produced to allow pairs of pages to merge seamlessly together (which they sometimes didn't in the original artwork), and the recreation of occasional furniture legs and corners that were no longer obscured by other objects once we'd "stretched" a room.

The justification for all this work was our determination to produce a set of backgrounds that were stylistically absolutely in-period for the early C20th, to create an appropriate context for the actual exhibits. Most people admiring the dollhouse furniture will never stop to look at the backgrounds, and if they do, never notice all the digital reworking that we carried out, but that's exactly as it should be.

Thursday, 7 April 2016


Mobaco manual, front cover
Mobaco was a building construction set popular in the Netherlands between the wars. Consisting of baseboards, slotted wooden rods and panel pieces that drop down between them, it's reminiscent of a giant-sized Bayko set, and it's generally reckoned to have been the inspiration behind the smaller-sized Bakelite-based system designed by Charles Plimpton.

Since we have a significant quantity of Mobaco, we felt that it was high time that we built something from it, as although our construction set cabinets are pretty full, Mobaco buildings are large enough that we could display something made with the system on top of a cabinet.

Flicking through our copy of the No.4 set manual, there was only one real contender: the monster-sized five-storey Town Hall or School featured as a decorative and inspirational line-drawing on the last page of the manual, making it (apparently) the biggest official Mobaco building design.
No sense in starting small, eh?
Matters were somewhat complicated by our never having actually made anything with Mobaco before, and the fact that the picture didn't come with any sort of plans or instructions.
The second floor completed
Mobaco is a little bit more tricky than it looks, at least, for very ambitious models – the floor-pieces hold everything together, and have to be laid as double overlapping layers, a process that becomes progressively more difficult as a large building progresses and one starts to run out of key pieces. Another complication is the careful stacking of vertical pillars to achieve the required height, given the bizarre combinations of pillar-heights and piece heights. Although 90% of the building went up the same day, it took over a week of additional intermittent fiddling to get the complete building finished, with the process of carefully pulling out rods and replacing them with combinations of smaller rods making the process feel something like a cross between assembling a 3D jigsaw puzzle and playing Jenga.
M.C Escher must have had nightmares that looked like this
The final completed masterpiece(!) will be appearing in the museum for the 25th anniversary celebrations, starting on the 7th May 2016.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Meccano display, reborn

One of the major 2016 exhibit improvements that we've been working on for the 25th anniversary is a complete overhaul and upgrade of our main Meccano display area, which we've now finally finished (save the occasional last-minute tweak) in time for the visitors who will be coming to Brighton for ModelWorld 2016.

This is a refit that we've been itching to do for the last seven or so years, as we've been progressively collecting more and more Meccano Ltd.-related rarities that couldn't be fitted into the existing display.  

Some Meccano rarities

The "original" version of the display with its crane centrepiece was was one of the museum's core attractions, and was originally assembled in a bit of a hurry, after which the difficulty of moving the monster crane meant that it was difficult to revise the display without essentially ripping everything out and starting again – a rather intimidating prospect. The new glass shelves mean that the space now holds a much larger number of items than it used to, and while the huge "Outfit No. 10" Meccano Giant Block-Setting Crane is still the centrepiece, the display now holds a far wider range of Meccano and Meccano-related pieces, including some extremely rare and desirable items that we've had in storage for a while, such as the Meccano Ltd Sawbench and Butter Churn
Meccano Ltd. made things other than Meccano

As well as standard Meccano and the Meccano Aeroplane Constructor sets and aircraft, the right-hand side of the revamped display now also includes a No.1 Meccano Motor Car Constructor set and the company's clockwork model Two-Seater Sports Car, more construction sets including examples of the short-lived British Model Builder / X Series sets, and some of the very rarest and hard-to-find parts. The left-hand part now has space to include examples of auxiliary Meccano Ltd. product ranges such as the Kemex chemistry sets, Dinky Builder, and Elektrikit and Elektron electrical outfits.

While there's no longer much that the company made that isn't represented in the display or elsewhere in the museum (we even have a solitary vanishingly-rare pre-Meccano ~1902 Frank Hornby Mechanics Made Easy pulleywheel), if anything else exceptional and Meccano-related does come our way, we probably now have the space to show it.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Dollhouse Furniture display stands

Preparation work for our new dollhouse furniture display for Arch 2 continues...

We now have the two side-stands completed and in position in the alcove. Work still to be done includes kitting out the individual rooms with flooring and backdrops, completing renovation work on the Gottschalk dollhouse that will be standing between them, deciding on the auxiliary exhibit material for the display, and then ... finally ... getting our C19th/C20th dollhouse furniture out of storage, sorting it, and then deciding which pieces are going to get to go on display.

Since the rooms and their backdrops are modular and interchangeable, the tentative plan is that if it turns out that we still have too much important material to display at once, we may be able to rotate individual rooms on and off display. We'll see how it goes.  

Saturday, 30 January 2016

New exhibition-grade Bassett-Lowke traction engine model

Burrell-type traction engine, 1:16 scale exhibition-grade model
We've just put a new acquisition on display, a rather lovely 1:16 scale exhibition-grade model traction engine based on the Bassett-Lowke castings set. We believe it to have been engineered in around 1962, which is supported by the numberplate, GK 1962.

As well as being quite beautifully painted and lined the model has a wealth of additional fine detailing that wasn't standard for builds of the B-L kit, including wooden duckboards and accessories.

The model was in Chris' workshop for around a month before it went on display, eliciting oohs and ahhs from all who saw it. Apart from the exceptional build quality of the model, the model fills a "gap" in our collection, as the model was one of the longest-running products in Bassett-Lowke's catalogue, and featured regularly in their post-war advertising and catalogue covers, and until now we didn't have one.

We are now very happy.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Toys in the Community Launch Event, 27th January

Today we held the official launch party for our two-year Toys in the Community project.

One of the project "theme" posters
The event was a "thank you" for the volunteers and interviewees, and a chance for them to meet and see the finished work, and share their experiences.

The project's outputs are available online on the project website and on the dedicated Toys in the Community YouTube channel, and the project will also be holding an exhibition on the 28-29 May, a Study Day on 11th April, and the main exhibition on 12th May, during the museum's week of 25th Anniversary celebrations.

Monday, 11 January 2016

New aeroplane in foyer!

Scary for those who don't like heights...

This is why we don't open on Mondays
As part of our emphasis on new exhibits for 2016, we've set up another radio-controlled model aircraft built by Denis Hefford in the museum lobby.

The plane is a three-engined Junkers Ju52, marked out with the livery of Adolf Hitler's personal plane in 1932 (number D-AHIT), and it's suspended overhead just inside the doorway, where it's being attacked by our two large overhead model Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft.

Due to its size, this model aircraft has been in storage for a long time, waiting for us to have a way to actually display it in the Museum. The lobby may not look especially huge, but its ceiling is actually three stories high, so we weren't able to put up the aircraft until after we'd invested in our own three-storey scaffolding tower in late 2015.

The first item is now crossed off our 2016 to-do list!
Some reassembly required ...
Stringing up the plane with steel cord

Friday, 1 January 2016

2016 - The Museum's 25th Anniversary

Brighton Toy and Model Museum opened at its current location under Brighton Railway Station way back in 1991, making 2016 our 25th anniversary.

The museum has come a long way since a band of friends first got together to gut a series of derelict arches under the station and create a time capsule to hold and display the cream of late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century toy and modelmaking.
From a Dream to a Gem, Chris Littledale

To commemorate the year, we've been planning a series of new exhibits and display updates which will be appearing during 2016, including a number of new exhibits and display improvements, some of which that have been planned almost since the museum's inception. To prepare, we spent most of 2015 improving the museum's general background infrastructure, so that this year could be all about New Things to Look At.

Major 2016 upgrades will include:

  • An overhaul and upgrading of the large Meccano Ltd. display's contents, to include some desperately rare pieces that we've had in storage (or under restoration) for years. 
  • The completion of a brand new display of Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century dollhouse furniture (currently being constructed).
  • The overhaul, reorganisation and expansion of the toy theatres section, to include some additional rare pieces.
Provisional schedule of events for the year
As well as these new displays, we'll also be holding a series of anniversary year events and adding a number of new individual exhibits to some of the other displays, including the hanging of an additional large Denis Hefford model airplane in the Museum foyer and the display of a beautiful exhibition-grade 3/4-inch scale Bassett-Lowke model traction engine in the Toyshop Steam cabinet. The anniversary year also marks the culmination of our Toys in the Community project, and we'll be having a special celebration week in May with guided tours and talks.

Our big restoration project for 2016 is the exacting restoration and display of a prototype 1930s gauge 0 model of the Brighton Belle Pullman Electric train.  This is an important piece in its own right, but its restoration and public showing is especially appropriate given that the completed restoration and public running of the real Brighton Belle is expected to take place this year. 
Outside the museum, 2016 is also the 175th anniversary of Brighton Station (built 1841), and should see the inauguration of the i360 observation tower at the site of the old West Pier