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Rovex Tri-ang Hornby - A Brief History

Rovex Tri-ang Hornby - A Brief History by Pat Hammond

This article includes the model railway range started by Rovex in 1950,renamed Tri-ang Railways in 1952, again renamed in 1965 as Tri-angHornby, becoming Hornby Railways in 1972 and finally just Hornby around 1997. While the name changed several times, it remained one continuous
system being made first at Richmond, then at Margate and now in China.It does not include Hornby Trains (0 gauge) or Hornby Dublo both of which were made in Liverpool by Meccano Ltd until train production there ceased in 1964.

Rovex Plastics Ltd was founded in 1946 by Alexander Venetzian who made toys for Marks & Spencer's. Venetzian was asked to produce an electric train set based on the LMS express locomotive 'Princess Elizabeth'. Needing more space for this project the Company was moved from Chelsea to a disused brewery in Richmond. The train set was delivered in time for Christmas 1950 but financial limitations prevented further development.

Meanwhile, the giant toy manufacturer Lines Bros. Ltd, who traded under the name 'Tri-ang', was wanting to get into the post war model railway market. In 1951, Rovex Plastics Ltd. became a wholly owned member of the Lines Bros. Group. The trains would now be called Tri-ang Railways and the Company renamed Rovex Scale Models Ltd. To aid development of the system, a brand new factory was built at Margate, in Kent, and production moved there in the Summer of 1954.

Demand from the public for new models was so great that in 1951 Rovex bought the tools of a goods train set made by Pyramid Toys Ltd. which they were selling under the name Trackmaster. This gave them an 0-6-2 tank engine and two wagons.

By farming out work to outside designers and tool makers progress was made. The Jinty 0-6-0T and a range of station buildings came in 1952 and a guards van and other wagons in 1953.

Almost immediately there was pressure on the young firm to produce for the export market and a range of Transcontinental models, primarily for North America, was released in 1954.

Under constant pressure, the system expanded fast. 1955 saw the first real Tri-ang Railways retail catalogue - soon to be the best in the market place. By 1956 there were 10 locomotives available and a good range of rolling stock and lineside buildings etc. As if the existing pressure was not enough, in 1957 Rovex were pressed by Lines Bros. to start a TT gauge model railway system. A completely new 00 track system called Series 3 also arrived that year.

At around this time, in order to overcome trade tariffs, Lines Bros. Ltd. were expanding toy production overseas and Tri-ang Railways was soon being made in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand; in each case for local markets but creating interesting variations for future

1962 was a high water mark in the development of Tri-ang Railways. That
year another new track system called Super 4 was introduced and along
with it an extensive new series of station buildings.

There were now 25 locomotives to choose from (including two historical subjects), an extensive range of British and Transcontinental rolling stock, new scale length coaches had just been added, there was a catenary system, locos had Magnadhesion and smoke and the famous railway artist, Terence Cuneo, had been engaged to show how you could 'weather' your Tri-ang models.

Much of this growth was at the expense of other manufacturers and the two main rival systems, Trix and Hornby-Dublo, were feeling the draught. The former had already changed hands twice and in 1964, Meccano Ltd, the manufacturers of Hornby-Dublo invited Lines Bros. Ltd to buy them out. Meccano Ltd. joined the Lines Bros. Group.

By this time, production of Hornby-Dublo had already ceased but there were large stocks to clear. Under public pressure it was agreed to retain the Hornby name by renaming Tri-ang Railways, 'Tri-ang Hornby'.
This was presented at the time as an amalgamation of the two systems but the only additions this brought to the Tri-ang system were the E3000 (after extensive modification) and, for a brief period, the terminus
station kit.

It is interesting to note that Lines Bros. were also invited to buy both Trix and Lone Star Treble-0-Lectric! On both occasions they declined.

Another subsidiary of Lines Bros., G&R Wrenn Ltd., put in a bid for the Hornby-Dublo tools and these were used to launch Tri-ang Wrenn in 1967. They also took over remaining stocks of Hornby-Dublo and Tri-ang Railways TT. Lines Bros. Ltd were under pressure to get into N gauge but chose instead to import the Lima system which they marketed through G&R Wrenn Ltd.

The Tri-ang Hornby period will be best remembered for the change to blue liveries for modern stock, the introduction of pre-Nationalisation liveries for steam locomotives, the disappearance of the
Transcontinental range, the appearance of Battle Space and the introduction of exhaust noise. Memorable locomotives of this period include E3000, Hymek, Class 37, M7, Hall, 'Flying Scotsman', Coronation and, of course, 'Evening Star'. Around 1970 Tri-ang Hornby went 'finescale' with a new track system and re-profiled wheels.

In 1967, Rovex Scale Models Ltd. had become the core of Rovex Industries Ltd. which was called the 'model division' and included Minic Ltd., Minimodels Ltd., Spot-On Ltd., Pedigree Dolls Ltd. and IMA Ltd. (Frog). It also had under its wing G&R Wrenn Ltd which was not a fully owned company. The division was renamed Rovex Tri-ang Ltd. in 1969.

Amongst other things, losses overseas saw the giant Lines Bros. Group in trouble. At their peak they had 40 companies world-wide. In 1971 the crash came when Lines Bros. Ltd called in the Receiver. The Group was broken up and sold off. The profitable Rovex Tri-ang Ltd was for a brief period called Pocket Money Toys Ltd and then sold as Rovex Ltd, with its factories at Margate and Canterbury, to Dunbee Combex Marx Ltd. (DCM). At this point it parted company with G&R Wrenn which had bought
itself free and renamed its system Wrenn Railways. The name Tri-ang had been sold with one of the other companies and so a new name was required for the Tri-ang Hornby system. Hornby Railways was chosen and this took effect from January 1972.

The 1970s saw new challenges come from Airfix and Palitoy who both launched model railway systems that offered finer scale models. This and pressure from Lima forced Rovex Ltd to raise its standards. There was steady development of new locomotives (over 20 in all) including the A4, Footballer, King, Patriot and Duchess. New diesels included the HST which was to become a major money spinner. There was also a new range of regional coaches as well as BR Mk3s and these would serve the system
for many years.

In 1980 DCM were in trouble and the ball was in the air once again. Hornby Hobbies Ltd., as it was now called, became an independent company through a management buyout, with the help of venture capital. On 29 October 1986, Hornby Group plc was floated on the Unlisted Securities Market and became a public company. By now both the GMR (Airfix) and Mainline (Palitoy) systems had ceased to be produced and this led to a new player, Dapol, entering the field and Lima getting a stronger toehold.

Changes taking place on British Railways brought new liveries thus offering more subjects to model. The demand for higher standards of modelling lead to a number of models being retooled and a search for
ways to improve printing on models. In 1996, Hornby Hobbies purchased a number of tools from Dapol including several formerly used for the Airfix GMR system.

Today, the privatised railways have brought a further rash of new liveries. Hornby Hobbies now has its models made by Sanda Kan in China and is gradually upgrading its range. Competition comes from Bachmann, using upgraded Mainline tools as well as new quality tooling, and from Lima who have concentrated on the lucrative modern image market. Hornby Hobbies recognises the important collectors' market and have established the Hornby Collectors Club and a chain of Collectors Centres. Now
called just 'Hornby', it justifiably retains the position it has held for the last 40 years as Britain's leading model railway system.


1946 Venetzian founds Rovex Plastics Ltd.
1949 Pyramid Toys launch Trackmaster set.
1950 First Rovex train set in an M&S store.
1951 Lines Bros. buy Rovex Plastics Ltd.
1951 Trackmaster tools purchased by Lines.
1952 Tri-ang Railways launched in May.
1953 Company renamed Rovex Scale Models Ltd.
1954 Move to purpose-built factory in Margate.
1954 Launch of Transcontinental Series.
1955 Production starts up in South Africa.
1956 First New Zealand made models in shops.
1956 Polystyrene replaces cellulose acetate.
1957 Australian production starts at Moldex Ltd.
1957 Launch of Tri-ang TT.
1959 Tension-lock couplings introduced.
1961 Tri-ang factory opens in Calais.
1961 Walter Lines retires.
1962 Major expansion of range inc. Super 4 track.
1963 Rovex absorb Real Estate kits and re-launch as Model-Land.
1964 Lines Bros. take-over Meccano Ltd.
1964 Lines turn down LoneStar buyout invite.
1965 Tri-ang Railways becomes Tri-ang Hornby.
1966 Lines Bros. turn down Trix buyout invite.
1966 Tri-ang Big Big 0 gauge trains launched.
1966 Rovex absorb Frog kit production.
1967 First train models made for ATT in USA.
1967 Internal mergers form Rovex Industries Ltd.
1967 Minic motorway absorbed by Rovex.
1969 Name changes again to Rovex Tri-ang Ltd.
1970 Finer scale adopted for track and wheels.
1971 Lines Bros. in receivership.
1972 Rovex bought by Dunbee-Combex-Marx.
1972 Tri-ang Hornby becomes Hornby Railways
1972 Death of Walter Lines.
1974 Tampo printing started at Margate.
1976 Rovex International formed.
1976 First use of Hornby Hobbies name.
1976 Hornby face Airfix/Mainline challenge.
1977 Frog and Big Big tools sent to Russia.
1979 H&M purchased and absorbed.
1979 Hornby live-steam 'Rocket' in shops.
1980 DCM liquidate. Rovex in receivership.
1980 Paint finish adopted throughout range.
1980 Company renamed Hornby Hobbies Ltd.
1981 Management buyout by Wiltminster Ltd.
1986 Hornby Group plc floatation.
1990 Competition from Bachmann starts.
1995 Arrival of first model made by Sanda Kan in China.
1996 Hornby buy tools from Dapol Ltd.
1997 First former Aifix/Dapol model in shops.
1997 Hornby Collectors Club formed.
1998 Hornby Collectors Centres established.
1999 Last model made in the Margate factory.
2000 Hornby plc. invite take-over; later withdrawn.
2000 Rebuilt Merchant Navy released.
2001 Hogwarts Express released.
2003 Hornby announce record profits.
2004 Special 50th Edition Catalogue.

Further Reading

If you are interested in further study of this model railway system, we recommend that you read 'The Rovex Story' by Pat Hammond. So far, two volumes have been published by New Cavendish Books. These are 'Volume 1 - Tri-ang Railways' (ISBN 0 904568 57 1), which covers the story from
1950 to 1965, and 'Volume 2 - Tri-ang Hornby' (ISBN 1 872727 58 1) which covers the period 1965 to 1971. 'Volume 3 - Hornby Railways' is currently in preparation and will take the story from 1972 until 1996.

Collectors Clubs

We would also like to recommend the Tri-ang Society which caters for collectors of a wide range of Tri-ang toy products. The Society has a quarterly newsletter, called Tri-ang Telegraph, which contains a number of original articles by well known collectors. Details of the Tri-ang Society may be obtained from the Miles Rowland on Tel: +44(0)161 9765059. Tri-ang Railways and Tri-ang Hornby are also usually well covered in the magazine of the Train Collectors Society (details at the front of the book).

Hornby Hobbies sponsor their own Collectors Club which publishes a full colour bimonthly magazine, called The Hornby Collector, which includes news of latest releases and regular profiles of models from the past. Further information about this organisation may be obtained from Fiona Baulard-Cato on Tel: +44(0)1223 208308 or from the Hornby Web site at http//

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