HISTORY: Walthamstow's toy heritage

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Mrs Olive Heales at work at Wells Brimtoy Factory in 1947 Mrs Olive Heales at work at Wells Brimtoy Factory in 1947

An exhibition at Vestry House Museum highlights the history of toy manufacturing in Waltham Forest.

The area has long been associated with the toy industry. In the early 1900s, many of the UK’s most-loved children’s toys were made in Walthamstow factories.  

Two of the most celebrated toy manufacturers in the borough were Wells Brimtoy, a company famous for its tinplate toys, and Britains, which made diecast lead soldiers.

The history of Wells Brimtoy started a year after the end of the First World War in Islington in 1919. Alfred Wells, a skilled toolmaker began manufacturing tinplate toys and expanded in 1924 to a factory in Somers Road, Walthamstow. 

In 1932 Wells bought Brimtoy, one of the six largest toy firms in the country. The new company, Wells Brimtoy, moved to a factory in Stirling Road,  Walthamstow.

Many Wells Brimtoy products are now collectibles, particularly the ‘O’ gauge railway models and the tinplate buses, trolleybuses and coaches.

The factory lasted until 1965, when it was closed and production was moved to Wales.

In 1907 Britains was founded by William Britain Jr, inventor of the process of hollow casting in lead, and his family. Britains Ltd owned a factory in Sutherland Road in Walthamstow, and by 1931, employed 450 workers. 

By the mid 1960s, safety regulations in the UK and rising costs were to have an ever-lasting effect on the British toy manufacturing industry.

Britains’ production of lead top soldiers was halted and Herald plastic was shifted to Hong Kong.
The Britain family controlled the firm until 1984, when it was sold.

The company finally left Walthamstow in 1991.

Olive Heales worked at both Wells Brimtoy and Britains. Her son Gary Heales, 60, is the curator of the toy exhibition.

He said: “My mother has fond memories of the factories. There was a good social life inside and outside of the workplace.

“The toy industry was extremely important for the borough, it provided employment and kept Walthamstow on the map.

“Unfortunately, there are no toy manufacturers left in the borough, Britains Ltd was the last to leave in 1991.”

Toys: A Serious Business runs at the Vestry House Museum until February 23 next year.

Comments (3)

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1:11am Thu 28 Nov 13

Billy Yerache says...

All the kids loved Arnold's toy shop on the bridge opposite the Central which is now the horrible Council Tax Office and Housing Benefit shop where the queue for taking money out free is always longer than the one with usually an elderly couple waiting in line to pay in.

The other great Toy Shops were Ditchfields in Chingford and Leyton which is now a halal butchers. The last Ditchfield's senior owner looked like Hank Marvin.
All the kids loved Arnold's toy shop on the bridge opposite the Central which is now the horrible Council Tax Office and Housing Benefit shop where the queue for taking money out free is always longer than the one with usually an elderly couple waiting in line to pay in. The other great Toy Shops were Ditchfields in Chingford and Leyton which is now a halal butchers. The last Ditchfield's senior owner looked like Hank Marvin. Billy Yerache

7:36am Thu 28 Nov 13

OngarRS says...

Billy Yerache wrote:
All the kids loved Arnold's toy shop on the bridge opposite the Central which is now the horrible Council Tax Office and Housing Benefit shop where the queue for taking money out free is always longer than the one with usually an elderly couple waiting in line to pay in.

The other great Toy Shops were Ditchfields in Chingford and Leyton which is now a halal butchers. The last Ditchfield's senior owner looked like Hank Marvin.
Ditchfields - there's a blast form the past, opposite the old wood yard and the swimming pool, which was one of WF's better f**k-ups.

It is just nice to see pictures of;

a) a factory making things
b) people working

Both are in very short supply in WF at the moment.
[quote][p][bold]Billy Yerache[/bold] wrote: All the kids loved Arnold's toy shop on the bridge opposite the Central which is now the horrible Council Tax Office and Housing Benefit shop where the queue for taking money out free is always longer than the one with usually an elderly couple waiting in line to pay in. The other great Toy Shops were Ditchfields in Chingford and Leyton which is now a halal butchers. The last Ditchfield's senior owner looked like Hank Marvin.[/p][/quote]Ditchfields - there's a blast form the past, opposite the old wood yard and the swimming pool, which was one of WF's better f**k-ups. It is just nice to see pictures of; a) a factory making things b) people working Both are in very short supply in WF at the moment. OngarRS

8:36am Thu 28 Nov 13

Robert19 says...

It's nice to see pictures of toys. But you see my auntie has terrible arthritis and the hospital isn't treating it. I think the doctors just don't care. Then there are all these Romanians... then Cllr Loach what is he doing now... Ah yes Stella well she did something wrong in 1956.... Aarrggh
It's nice to see pictures of toys. But you see my auntie has terrible arthritis and the hospital isn't treating it. I think the doctors just don't care. Then there are all these Romanians... then Cllr Loach what is he doing now... Ah yes Stella well she did something wrong in 1956.... Aarrggh Robert19

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