Bassett-Lowke began as a toy company in Northampton, England, founded by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke in 1898 or 1899, that specialized in model railways, boats and ships and construction sets. Bassett-Lowke started as a mail-order business, although it designed and manufactured some items. The firm contracted manufacturers such as Twining Models and Winteringham Ltd, also of Northampton. Until the Kaiser’s War, the company also carried models made by Bing and Marklin.
In the 1920s, Bassett-Lowke introduced 00 gauge products. The company provided custom-built railways; one such gauge 1 layout survives in modified format at Bekonscot Model Village in England.
Bassett-Lowke’s decline starting in the late 1950s can be blamed on at least two factors: sometimes people would browse the firm’s catalogue and buy similar or nearly identical items elsewhere at lower price; and interest in technical toys declined in the late 1950s, even more in the 1960s. In 1964 the company ceased retail sales and sold its shops, including one at High Holborn in London, to Beatties. Bassett-Lowke went out of business in 1965.
In 1966 the company was acquired by Messrs Riley and Derry. An effort was apparently made to revive the model railway business around 1969 by Ivan Rutherford Scott, Allen L. Levy and Roland H. Fuller. In the late 1980s Nigel Turner, bought the business and the company was based next to his business of Turner’s Musical Merry-Go-Round, near Wootton, Northampton. In 1993 the name was revived with short-run white-metal models. These included a Burrell-type traction engine, Clayton Undertype steam wagon, Burrell-type steam roller, and a London B-type bus. The name was acquired in 1996 by Corgi, which linked it with live steam 0-gauge locomotives.
Hornby acquired Corgi in 2008 so consequently now manufacture Bassett-Lowke models.
The handbook is heavily biased in favour of larger gauges “0”, “1”, “2” and “3” with much emphasis being placed on prototypical signalling using miniature locking frames, so that signals and pointwork were fully interlocked. B-L regarded 3.5” gauge as the smallest practicable for passenger carrying, using track supported on trestles.
He was a friend of the Scots architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who designed the frontage of B-L shops, the rebuilding of the family’s home in Northampton and various artwork for the Company, including the cover of Model Railway Handbook. Mackintosh died in 1928, but his cover design for that year’s Handbook was reused in this edition, with a change of colour.
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