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HISTORY: Walthamstow's toy heritage
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.
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