Company Histories

Three companies were involved with the attempts to make inroads into the British model railway market in the early 1960's

Jouef SA of France

Mettoy Ltd of Northampton and Swansea

Playcraft Toys Ltd of London and Swansea

 

This is the logo from the 1970's

 

JOUEF

JOUEF were a long established toy firm in France. They were founded in 1944 by Georges Huard, who previously made plastic kitchen utensils. The company first made tinplate toys like boats and cars but the first train they made was a railcar "Alger - Tombouctou" (Algiers to Timbuktu) in 1949. It was an African liveried railcar with lithographed sides but was a very toy-like object, with an elastic band drive. This was replaced by a clockwork version after about 18 months. The scale was believed to be 7mm / foot i.e. 'O' gauge.

In the early 1950`s HO scale production started and later included the ubiquitous 0-4-0 tank in both clockwork and electric, a small diesel loco and various primitive wagon and short coaches in HO. From 1955 the famous 'Sud-Express' set was introduced.

Following the introduction of Playcraft into the UK Jouef's range of trains expanded rapidly and towards the end of the 1970's they marketed a considerable range of models including examples of most of the European railways. Their models improved dramatically during this period and they produced some exquisite models. However they were never considered in the same light as, say Märklin or Fleischmann.

Jouef bought the Egger-Bahn range in 1967 to add to their own Decauville 009 models but this finished in 1973/4 although it was revived much later.

The main French factory, which closed in September 2001, was in Champagnole in the Jura region of South East France (about 50 miles from Geneva) but after the takeover production moved to Italy.   They were owned for a time by the Lima group, which also included Rivarossi and Arnold with a factory in Brescia, Italy. although very little was produced under the Jouef name when with this Group.

In January 2004 they too had gone into liquidation and in March it was announced that Hornby Hobbies had made a 5.4M bid for the Group. In December 2004 it was announced that Hornby Hobbies' bid for the Lima group (including Jouef) had been successful so we might yet see some of their models being marketed again.

See my Jouef site for more information about Jouef and the trains they made

METTOY

In 1933, Phillip Ullman came from Nazi Germany to England to set up his Mettoy business in Northampton, with the help of Arthur Katz and Bassett-Lowke.  Ullman left his German factory, Tipp & Co, to avoid the Nazi anti-Jewish activities, and to produce very similar tinplate toys in the UK.  Mettoy (Metal Toys) became popular and sold well enough before and after the 1939 war and included a large range of tinplate railway items in the 1950's, mostly 'O' gauge.

The factory in Northampton was known as Wintringhams Precision Models and was used by Mettoy, Trix Twin and Basset-Lowke.

Although their headquarters was in Northampton, due to the heavy workload experienced during the war they also operated a factory at Felin Fach, near Swansea.

In the late 1950s they began to market the Playtown range of building construction kits for model railways. These seem to have been licensed from Kleeware, which was the trademark of the London-based plastics company O. M. Kleeman. The clip-together buildings were nearer to O gauge rather than HO and were made in England though from leased US moulds. (There were government restrictions on toy imports in the 1950s, which is why it was necessary to bring the tooling over from the States). They were packed in red and black boxes and featured an oval Playtown logo; both characteristics would re-emerge with the Playcraft Railways range.

In addition, Mettoy had secured the exclusive UK distribution rights for New York-designed Aurora plastic construction kits, which featured a small range of HO.

Although the early Playcraft catalogues appear to feature these buildings on their photographs, they should not be confused with the later full colour Playcraft Railways building kits, which were made by Pola in West Germany.

In the end, Mettoy was to quit the tinplate market and successfully enter the diecast metal business under the now very familiar trade name of 'Corgi'

PLAYCRAFT TOYS LIMITED

I have been unable so far to find out very much about Playcraft Toys Ltd. other than they were a sister company to Mettoy. In the mid-1950's they were involved at the birth of Corgi Toys, the popular diecast toys, which they launched on 9th July 1956. The name came from the Welsh breed of dog as both Mettoy and Playcraft were based in Forest Fach, near Swansea at the time.

The address on the back of the 2nd edition catalogue of 1962 was 14, Harlestone Road, Northampton and the products advertised included Corgi Toys, Electric Highways Model Motoring, Mettoy Playthings, Wembley Playballs, Sunshine Vinyl Toys, Child Guidance Toys and Aurora Playcraft Hobby Kits.

The address on a the trade lists from 1961 - 1968 was Queensway, Swansea Industrial Estate, Swansea, Glamorgan but by 1969 was in Northampton.

More will be added as I find information and time permits. If you have any more to add please let me know!

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