The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences acknowledges Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and gives respect to the Elders – past and present – and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that the MAAS website contains a range of Indigenous Cultural Material. This includes artworks, artifacts, images and recordings of people who may have passed away, and other objects which may be culturally sensitive.
85/2585-257 Toy railway van, Hornby BR refrigerator van No 1, 'Vent Insul Meat 8T E165542 XP 9-16', 0-gauge, metal, Meccano Ltd, Liverpool, England, 1954-1957. Click to enlarge.

Hornby BR refrigerator van No 1

This Hornby British Rail toy railway refrigerator van, made between 1954 and 1957, is one of the items of goods rolling stock built by Meccano Ltd for their 0-gauge range of Hornby toy trains. The Hornby toy trains and accessories are a microcosm of railway social and technological history in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century.

Trains were the first form of modern transport to be reproduced as toys. Wooden pull-along trains were available in Britain from the 1840s, not long after the commercial introduction of full-size railways. By the 1870s the wooden toy train was replaced with tin-plate locomotives, hauling carriages, which were often powered by clockwork or steam. The German toy manufacturers dominated the world market at this time. The First World War broke this monopoly and the rise of patriotism in Britain saw an emphasis on local toy production there.

The scene was set for the English inventor of Meccano, Frank Hornby, to market his 0-gauge trains in 1920. Hornby trains became the most comprehensive ever produced. The series developed into finely-detailed locomotives, as well as commercial vans, wagons and tankers together with a range of accessories including stations, goods sheds, signals, crossings, water tanks and signal boxes. They were exported from the Liverpool factory to many countries including Australia, Canada, Egypt, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa. In Australia, Hornby trains of the four major British railway companies became as familiar to boys as Australian rolling stock.

Two years after Frank Hornby's death in 1936 Meccano Ltd introduced the smaller Hornby Dublo (00-gauge) table top trains which were more affordable and convenient than the 0-gauge. This gauge became the most popular type of toy trains for the next 50 years. From the late 1950s no further effort was devoted to 0-gauge trains and by the 1960s their popularity had diminished. Today model railway production is aimed at adult collectors and is increasingly removed from the traditional children's toy trains. Many of the original collectors have kept and added to their interwar childhood 0-gauge toy train layouts with stations, tunnels, landscapes and rolling stock forming a historical diorama of twentieth century land transport.

Marsh, Hugo, "Miller's Toys & Games Antiques Checklist", Reed International Books Limited, London, 1995

Margaret Simpson, Curator, 19 October, 2007


Object No.


Object Statement

Toy railway van, Hornby BR refrigerator van No 1, 'Vent Insul Meat 8T E165542 XP 9-16', 0-gauge, metal, Meccano Ltd, Liverpool, England, 1954-1957

Physical Description

The Hornby refrigerator van is a four-wheel vehicle with a central sliding door on each side. The body is finished in white, the base is black and roof grey. Small black letters indicate the weight, truck number and other details.



85 mm


60 mm


175 mm



The first No.1 refrigerator vans were advertised by Meccano in 1923 but apparently went on sale before that, in a white livery with large 'MR' (Midland Railway) enamel black clip-on letters. A short time later a transfer with the wording 'Refrigerator Van' was added in black to the hinged doors. The early refrigerator vans were made of the Meccano nut-and-bolt construction but in 1927 they were changed to the tab construction. The hinged doors were altered to sliding ones in 1931 together with automatic couplings. In most cases the refrigerator vans were white with the various company letters in black transfers (LMS, GW, and NE). However a pink version of the SR van appeared from 1928. After the Second World War the No.1 refrigerator vans continued to be made from 1948 but in the LMS and NE liveries only. In 1954 they were both replaced by a new British Rail livery which continued until 1957.

This refrigerator van is finished in a British Rail livery which Hornby introduced to their toy railway rolling stock between 1954 and 1957. The four private British railway companies were nationalised in January 1948 to become British Rail but it took until 1954 for Hornby to catch up with what was happening in the full-size British railways.

Graebe, Chris and Julie, "The Hornby Gauge 0 System", New Cavendish Books, London, 2002



This toy railway van is part of a large collection purchased by the Museum in 1985 from the tin toy collector, Ken Finlayson. As a boy, Finlayson admired steam trains but never owned a train set. As an adult he began collecting Hornby model trains, and his interest spread to other toy trains and tin toys. He increased his collection at auctions, swap meets and market stalls, and through his connections with toy dealers and other serious collectors. Some toys were simply found sitting neglected on the shelves of remote country newsagencies, brand new and never opened.

Finlayson's knowledge and love of toys brought him a collection of nearly 2000 items, including highly collectable tin-plate toys manufactured by respected names such as Carette, Bing, Marklin and Lehmann, as well as a variety of other German, English and Japanese makers. The Finlayson collection contains every type of transport toy - cars, trucks, tractors, fire engines, buses, motorcycles, aeroplanes, ships and trains, as well as novelty toys, robots, kitchen toys and Meccano sets. It represents the type of toys that were available in Australia throughout most of the twentieth century, including ones made here by Boomaroo, Wyn-toy, Cyclops, Ferris and Robilt. These Australian toys were usually built from heavy-gauge pressed steel rather than thin tin plate, making them sturdy enough for rough treatment in Australian backyards and sandpits.

Cite this Object


Hornby BR refrigerator van No 1 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 September 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Hornby BR refrigerator van No 1 |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=25 September 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}