Bassett-Lowke was 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.
Bassett-Lowke was a sales organisation, contracting manufacturers such as Twining Models and Winteringham Ltd, also of Northampton. While the company is known for model trains, it had a long history of contracting manufacture of model ships. Before and during World War One, the company contracted with a firm referred to in Bassett-Lowke catalogues as "B M C". There is confusion as to what the initials stood for: internet sellers have identified it as "Birmingham Metal Company" or "Brighton Model Company".
The collaboration between Bassett-Lowke and B M C produced a model fleet of every class in the British navy from 1885 through 1916 including tugs, troop ships and the royal yacht. The models were formed using hollowcast lead with the wire masts cast into the hulls. The models were painted and issued in numbered sets, paper flags with each set to be cut out and applied. The scale was described in the catalogue as "one inch equals eighteen hundred inches". While the models were rudimentary by later standards, every class of vessel was easily recognisable by the funnels and guns and masts. The series may have been discontinued during World War One since the last vessels were of ships commissioned about 1916. Possibly the series was abandoned due to rationing of metal.
Later copies appear for sale on the internet. These can be distinguished from the originals, which were hollowcast. Two copies are common, the first cast in solid lead with no wire masts and large numbers inscribed on the bottom. The second are in potmetal and represent three ship classes from the original sets: the King Edward VII, Lord Nelson and Swiftsure. During World War II, wood and wire ship models in the 1:1200 scale were issued under Bassett-Lowke sponsorship for military contracts. Unlike the earlier rudimentary B M C lead models, these models are detailed and command a high price .
The first 15-inch steam locomotive, test run on the Eaton Hall Railway, in 1905 was Little Giant. Unlike other engines on the line it was a replica of main-line locos, built for a public miniature railway at Blackpool. It was a quarter scale 4-4-2 Atlantic tender engine, though not an exact copy of any particular prototype. This engine still exists in private ownership.
In 1914, Bassett-Lowke produced the second Pacific 4-6-2 of any size built in Britain (the first was GWR 111 The Great Bear). This was John Anthony, built for a miniature railway at Staughton Manor. It was never delivered, but after storage at Eaton Hall during World War I was sold to the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway and renamed Colossus. It was scrapped in 1927. Ravenglass and Eskdale had purchased another Bassett Lowke Atlantic, the Sans Pareil.
Bassett-Lowke's decline starting in the late 1950s can be blamed on at least two factors: sometimes people would browse the firm's free catalogue and buy similar or nearly identical items elsewhere at lower price; and interest in technical toys declined in the late 1950s and even more in the 1960s. Bassett-Lowke's fall was mirrored by its U.S. counterparts, the A. C. Gilbert Company and Lionel Corporation. 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, a Northampton businessman, 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.
Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd
In 1912 W. J. Bassett-Lowke, Robert Proctor-Mitchell and John Wills set up Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd (NGR) to promote and run 15-inch (380 mm) railways. An earlier company, Miniature Railways of Great Britain Ltd, went into voluntary liquidation in 1912. NGR's first railway opened in 1912 at Luna Park in the Parc des Eaux-Vives, Geneva, Switzerland. In Britain, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway was taken over, converted to 15-inch (380 mm) gauge and re-opened in 1915. The Fairbourne Railway followed in 1916.
Bassett-Lowke locomotives were often renamed when moved to different railways, sometimes creating uncertainty about whether a locomotive is new or an old one with a new name. The list (probably incomplete) is not definitive. Most of Bassett-Lowke's locomotives were designed by Henry Greenly who was a contributor to Model Engineer magazine.
Class 10 Atlantic
- Little Giant for Blackpool
- Mighty Atom for Sutton Coldfield
- Entente Cordiale for the 1909 Exposition Internationale de l'Est de France at Nancy
- Red Dragon for the Imperial International Exhibition of 1909 at White City, London
- Green Dragon same as Red Dragon
- King Edward for the 1910 International and Universal Exhibition at Brussels, Belgium
- King Albert same as King Edward
- King Leopold same as King Edward
- George the Fifth for Southport
Class 20 Atlantic
- Prince of Wales for Southport
Class 30 Atlantic
- Synolda for Sand Hutton Miniature Railway, then to Belle Vue, Manchester, later Southend-on-Sea, currently Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
- Sans Pareil for Luna Park, Geneva, Switzerland, then to Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
- Count Louis for Count Louis Zborowski, then to Fairbourne Railway. Now (2011) at Evesham Vale Light Railway.
Class 60 Pacific
- John Anthony for J.E.P. Howey, then (renamed Colossus) to Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
The Class 10 and Class 20 had narrow fireboxes. The Class 30 and Class 60 had wide fireboxes.
- Newman 1956, p. 21.
- These gentleman wrote the introduction to a limited edition album called "Bassett-Lowke: A Commemorative Edition" (1969). (The volume commemorated the Flying Scotsman's tour of the US that year, a tour in which Bassett-Lowke participated.) In the introduction they state that the industrial model making business and the railway model making have been split with the former continuing as Bassett-Lowke Limited in Northampton and the latter as Bassett-Lowke (Rlys) Limited at 59 Cadogan Street, London sharing space with Steam Age. The book shows the products they intend to bring to market.
- Model Engineer magazine 3810 (1987)
- Fuller, Roland; Levy Allen "The Bassett-Lowke Story", New Cavendish, ISBN 0-904568-34-2 / 9780904568349
- Mosley, D. and van Zeller, P. (1986) Fifteen inch gauge railways : their history, equipment and operation, Newton Abbot : David & Charles, ISBN 0-7153-8694-8
- Newman, Bernard (17 March 1956). "Churchill's Forgotten Monster". Picture Post (Hulton) 70 (11): 21–23, 52.