The Meccano Magazine. Like many boys who grew up in the nineteen-forties and fifties, I owe a lot to the genius of Frank Hornby who around 1900 invented the toy that came to be known as Meccano.
The company he set up in Liverpool also produced Hornby trains and, from the 1930s,
Dinky Toys. The company started to produce the "Meccano Magazine" in 1916. At first
this consisted essentially of promotional literature for the company's products but other
material was gradually added, consisting mainly of articles on technical subjects such
as railways, shipping, aviation, and bridge-building.
I took the Meccano Magazine each month from 1946 to 1955, and my Meccano models
gradually became more elaborate during that time. My interest received a boost in about
1950 when I was given a large quantity of pre-war Meccano parts by a friend of the
family. The same person also gave me a number of pre-war copies of the Meccano
Magazine. These were quite a revelation: the copies I was used to consisted of 50 or 60
pages measuring about 8in by 6in but the pre-war issues typically had about 80 pages
which were twice the size of those in the postwar version (and all for 6d per copy).
The February 1935 issue is a typical example of the "golden age" of the magazine. It
included articles on silk screen colour printing, hydro-electric plant, table-top
photography, monoplanes, exploring in Africa, locomotive turntables, and the Belah
viaduct. Regular features included engineering news, air news, railway news, books to
read, competitions, a page of jokes, and stamp collecting. There were also, of course,
articles on Meccano model construction and Hornby trains. The magazine also served
to record the activities of the Meccano Guild and the Hornby Railway Company, each of
which had branches all around the British Isles and a number overseas. Some of these
branches were quite large, with dozens of members - all of whom were naturally regular
purchasers of the company's products. In the postwar period the branches were less
active than they had been before the war and although some of my friends were
Meccano enthusiasts there was no branch in West Hartlepool where I lived.
The Meccano company went into decline in the 1960s and the Liverpool factory closed
in 1979. The Meccano Magazine inevitably ceased publication. Products bearing the
Meccano name are still made in other countries but bear little relationship to those
developed by Frank Hornby.
I suppose that my own career as a mechanical engineer must owe something to
Meccano products and the Meccano Magazine, but it is difficult to gauge how much I
was influenced by them. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the forces which
later led me to take up engineering were the same forces which had drawn me to
Meccano as a boy.