A brief history of Bassett-Lowke - the middle years

20 November 2008
imports_CCGB_440lmsdukeofyorkma_72990.gif 4-4-0 LMS Duke of York made in 1927 and associated with the BDV cigarettes token scheme
Known as Hornby's great rival, Bassett-Lowke, the two famous names are coming together through the recent purchase of Corgi Classics, owners of the Bassett-Lowke brand, by the current Hornby company. ...

Bassett-Lowke produced model railways in gauges 0, 1, 2 and 3 but this was only part of their business. They made model ships, stationary engines and were leaders in this country in the development of outdoor miniature railways. An important man on the development side was Henry Greenly. For many years he was a close associate of Bassett-Lowke but in later years they fell out. Greenly was responsible for the design of some of their engines as well as the British liveries used on German models made for the British market. E.W. Twining was another close associate of Bassett-Lowke, as too was J.N. Maskelyne, editor of Model Railway News, which was used by Bassett-Lowke to promote his products, by writing articles about them. Twining, on the other hand, was a model maker who illustrated catalogues for them and later joined the company.

The Bassett-Lowke catalogue grew year by year and was split into different interest sections. In addition to a large range of railway locomotives, rolling stock, sets accessories and track available, there were engineering drawings and parts listed, in a number of scales, for those who wanted to build their own models. There was also a choice when it came to the method of propulsion between steam, clockwork and electric.

There was a considerable range of locomotives available before and immediately after the Great War and some remained in the catalogue for many years. Favourites included the LNWR ‘George the Fifth’, the Precursor tank, ‘Sydney’, Deeley Compound, GNR Atlantic and the GCR ‘Sir Sam Fay’.

Bassett-Lowke and Henry Greenly were instrumental in introducing 00 scale to Britain in the form of the Bing Table Top Railway in the early 1920s. This was originally a clockwork system but was soon available with electric motors. They also assisted Trix to establish a company in Britain in the mid 1930s and this became closely associated with Winteringhams where Bassett-Lowke models were also produced.

In 1927, Godfrey Phillips, through their BDV brand of cigarettes, operated a token scheme whereby tokens saved from packets of their cigarettes could be exchanged for products from a special catalogue. This included model trains by Bing and Bassett-Lowke. One particular model associated with the scheme was the 4-4-0 ‘Duke of York’ and Bassett-Lowke made 30,000 locomotives for this promotion. In October 1927, Bassett-Lowke opened a shop at 28 Corporation Street, Manchester. One they had opened earlier in Fredrick Street, Edinburgh, closed in 1930.

As the years passed, the demand for the larger gauges fell away and 0 gauge became the mainstay of Bassett-Lowke Ltd, especially after WWI. Likewise, interest in electric traction grew and that in steam and clockwork lessened especially after WWII - but more of that later.

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