Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,151 pages of information and 233,681 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.


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of Lambton Road, London, N19. T.A: "Britains, Hornsey 725, London". Telephone: Hornsey 725. (1922)

Ditto Address. Telephone: Mountview 0725. Cables: "Britains, Mountview 0725, London". (1929)

Ditto Address: Telephone: Archway 4191. Cables: "Britains, Archway, 4191". (1947)

See Britain Toys

Between 1861 and 1871 William Britain Senior changed his work from master brass finisher[1] (making brass cocks), his original trade, to toy maker[2].

1893 Having previously produced a number of mechanical toys with varied success, William Britain Junior mastered the hollowcast toy soldier process and patented its use. Until then, German toy makers had dominated the toy soldier world. Hollowcasting was the process by which molten lead was poured into a figure-mould. Before the entire figure set, some of the molten metal was poured back out again. Theis resulted in the lead forming a skin on the inside of the mould, but pouring out the molten lead from the centre, the mould was therefore hollow.

German hollow figures pre-dating 1893 do exist, but it was W. Britain who really took advantage of the process. Because the figures contained less metal, the most expensive component, W. Britain achieved a lower, and thus more competitive, price than the German counterparts.

From 1893 onwards, W. Britain expanded and evolved as the hollowcast toy soldier gained in popularity, with the only production hold-ups occurring during the First and Second World Wars.

In 1907 the family proprietorship, William Britain & Sons, incorporated as Britains, Ltd.

1922 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Metal Soldiers, Guns (Machine, Artillery, Naval 4.7, Howitzers), Railway Station Staff, Boy Scout Sets, Kitchen Sets and Tea Sets. (Stand No. F27) [3]

1929 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Metal Toy Soldiers and Model Farms. Guns (Machine), Artillery (Naval 4-7 and Howitzers). Railway Station Staffs. Boy Scout Sets. Kitchen Sets and Toy Sets. etc. (Stand No. D.2)[4]

By 1931 the firm employed 450 at its London factory. The catalogue had expanded to 435 sets and twenty million models a year were being produced.

1947 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Cast Metal Toys in great variety. Toy Soldiers, Searchlights, Lorries, Tanks, Guns, etc.,Farm Animals, Carts, Ploughs, Rakes, etc., Zoo Animals, Hunting Series, Chessman, etc. 1,500 lines. (Olympia, 2rd Floor, Stand No. K.2445) [5]

Little changed with the style of the figures (apart from the introduction of the farm series in 1921) until the late 1950s when the introduction of plastic figures from companies such as Herald made Britains sit up and take notice (Britains eventually bought out Herald in 1959).

1955 Britains bought a controlling interest in Herald Industries Ltd, the large manufacturer of top quality toy plastic soldiers and figures.

1950s Britains acquired Herald Miniatures, plastic figures designed by Roy Selwyn-Smith.

By 1966 safety regulations in the United Kingdom combined with rising costs halted the production of lead toy soldiers. Britains shifted most production of Herald plastic to Hong Kong from 1966.

1966 Plastic figures then became the mainstay of Britains business with the metal hollowcast figures finally ceasing.

1968 Britains moved to Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow where all departments could be located on the same site.

Since the 1970s many new models have been introduced following the trends of full size tractors.

1976 Britains started Deetail plastic figures with metal bases that were initially manufactured in England but later were manufactured in China.

In 1976 the Herald range of farm figures and animals was fully absorbed into the Britains Farm

1978 The model of the Massey Ferguson 760 Combine received "Toy of the Year" Award at the London Toy Fair.

1984 The Britain family controlled the firm until 1984 when it was sold to a British conglomerate, Dobson Park Industries. They combined the operations with an existing line of toys.

1986 changed the name to Britains Petite Ltd.

1992 All work was transferred to the Petite Factory in Nottingham.

When production stopped, the range of catalogued lead sets exceeded 2200. In 1973 Britains introduced New Metal models, which are die cast in a durable alloy. Initially these sets were aimed at the British souvenir market. In 1983 Britains responded to a growing collectors market by introducing additional models and limited edition sets. This range was greatly expanded over the next 20 years and included die-cast versions of their old toy soldiers, some made from original moulds. These, as well as their lines of Deetail plastic figures and accessories, and their older sets have become highly collectable.

They are also known for their American Revolutionary War soldiers.

1997 Britains Petite, Ltd was bought by the ERTL Company of Iowa, a maker of die-cast toys. ERTL was subsequently bought by Racing Champions, another American die cast model maker. At this time production of toy soldiers was moved to China.

1999 ERTL was bought by Racing Champions International Ltd whose business was making die cast models from the American Nascar series

2005 the W. Britains brand was acquired by First Gear, an American maker of die cast collectables. This firm produces and sells mostly contemporary matte-style figures to the collectors market under the W. Britain brand. Kenneth A. Osen is the Master Sculptor for W. Britain. All figures are sculpted by hand, to scale before duplicating.

See Also

  • [1] Britain's website

Sources of Information

  • [2] William Britain - Toy Soldiers and Military Miniatures