Walthamstow used to be the home of manufacturing industries as disparate as buses and bedroom furniture. Large companies like Ercol Furniture, Hawker Siddeley Transformers, AEC Vehicles were all based in Walthamstow at one time or another. Among these nationally famous companies were a number of smaller, but to children no less important, toy factories.
The most famous is probably Lesneys, makers of Matchbox Toys, who had a small factory in Higham Station Avenue, Chingford. Their main Works was sited just across the Waltham Forest boundary in Hackney and very little is known of what was made in the Chingford factory.
Two companies that had their factories in Walthamstow, were Wells Brimtoy and Britains.
Wells Brimtoy was an amalgam of two companies which took over the Progress Works in Stirling Road around 1938. They made tin plate trains, cars and lorries often with clockwork parts.
It would appear that the works of Wells-Brimtoy came together under one roof at the ‘Progress Works’, Stirling Road, Walthamstow, E17, sometime after 1938 and continued in its by now established production of tin plate toys, in particular its ‘O’ gauge railway models. By 1949 it was employing around 700 workers. Later on in the century there were takeovers and mergers with other firms and Well Brimtoy moved to Anglesey around 1964. They closed a few years later.
What was to become Britains moved to Sutherland Road in 1958. They had been making lead soldiers but the new factory switched to polythene models which was becoming available due to the wartime rBritains Ltd 1991 smadar system being dismantled. They went on to produce among other things a farmyard range of plastic animals and people with die cast metal tractors and farm machinery. In 1968 they moved to Blackhorse Lane. They were taken over in 1984 and a lot of production was switched to China; the headquarters moved to Nottingham in 1992 when the Walthamstow site was closed down.
It is worth noting that there were other toy manufacturing sites within Walthamstow. The National Plastics factory on the North Circular made basic Lego bricks in the 1960s. There was a short lived attempt under the banner of Euromouldings by former Britains staff to carry on toy production at a unit at Brunner Road. We would be interested in any other examples of toy making in Walthamstow or elsewhere in Waltham Forest.
We are interviewing people associated with toy making in any of the above factories – as a manager, production worker or packing staff, and as a homeworker. Please contact us if you have anything to contribute.
We have produced some sound clips from our extensive archive for the Toys exhibition at Vestry House Museum.
- Bill Regan – Drawing was the first stage
- Bill Regan – Producing a model soldier
- Eileen Witham moulded toys at Britains
- Ethel Atkins – Working conditions
- Gary Heals’ mother worked at Wells
- Jean Ralston was a homeworker at Britains
- Peter Cole recalls the development process for new models
- Rose Diver worked at Lesney, makers of Matchbox toys
- Sue Russell painted models for Britains
- Sue Russell speaks of her enthusiasm for the products
- Tom Atkins worked at Wells