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East End Toy Manufacturers of 1917

February 4, 2023
by the gentle author

Seeking lost East End toy manufacturers by studying copies of GAMES & TOYS, a trade publication from 1917, in the Young V & A Archive in Bethnal Green, I was struck by the irony of the tragic contrasts in this magazine – where celebratory warlike advertisements selling toy guns and tanks to boys sit alongside features promoting ‘patriotic’ companies employing wounded soldiers in toy manufacture.

Images courtesy Young V & A Archive

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Matchbox Models by Lesney

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Kate Amis permalink
    February 4, 2023

    Who knew that folding scooters existed so long ago !!

  2. February 4, 2023

    All the boys “have to learn to shoot” and play with the “Toy Battlefield” and the “London Scottish” machine gun — thankfully there were also teddy bears, wind-up toys and puzzles. — But the folding scooter is super good!

    Love & Peace

  3. Paul Loften permalink
    February 4, 2023

    What a superb collection of toys . I would still like to play with the London Scottish Machine Gun . I’ve not seen one like it .,
    I never saw Lesney’s amongst them.They were very big toy manufactures in Hackney .

  4. Mary permalink
    February 4, 2023

    I agree with Kate, those folding scooters are so like the ones seen everywhere now. The ones in my childhood in the 1950s had larger wheels and therefore could do a good speed – if brave enough.
    The box of paints look interesting and as they were produced long before Health and Safety regulations, I wonder what noxious chemicals were in them. Even in my day children were discouraged from putting the paintbrush in our mouths. I remember my mother telling me this simple rhyme “Little boy, box of paints, licked the brush, joined the saints”.

  5. Cherub permalink
    February 4, 2023

    These are fascinating, especially the folding scooter and the engineering set that looks to pre date Meccano. As a child I had a John Bull printing set (my favourite toy in the 60s was an old shoebox of Lego passed down from my brother).

    I often visit the Toy Worlds museum in Basel, it houses over 2500 teddy bears plus many other dolls and toys. Some of the collection is British, by companies like Merrythought and Chad Valley, you can find out their history via the touch screens. The window displays change every few months and are so lovely I photograph them. A real must see for all toy fans if you ever visit Switzerland.

  6. Billy permalink
    February 4, 2023


  7. Christine Swan permalink
    February 5, 2023

    I had a John Bull printing outfit. It was an incredible faff to put together a meaningful message as the rubber letters were very small and manipulated into place with tweezers. The inked pad also dried up quickly. However, my Dad was a foreman with Thames Water so had his own office with proper ink bottles used for drawing and editing maps. My sister and I would create messages and then “tattoo” ourselves with them. Far more amusing than printing on paper! Stamping an unsuspecting victim with “YOU SMELL” on their hand with indelible ink was a good trick to little me.

  8. Cherub permalink
    February 5, 2023

    Christine’s comment on John Bull printing sets made me laugh – she’s right about all the faffing around with tweezers and tiny letters. I gave up in the end as I couldn’t be bothered with it lol

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