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By Ellen Tait on

What’s your favourite toy train?

We've been going through all the toys in the National Railway Museum’s collection. It might seem a bit odd that we collect toys, but as every parent knows, kids love trains.

For lots of us our first introduction to railways would have been through books, toys, TV, clothing and furniture. Our nurseries are full of railway characters and adventure. So it’s an important part of how we experience ‘trains’ and there are lots of things in the Museum’s stores which are familiar from childhood.

Train toy from the 1940's
Building Blocks from the 1940’s

In spite of that many parents find themselves surprised by their child suddenly going through a ‘train phase’. Walking through the Museum it is striking how many toddlers and small children race through our halls. Since I started working here 5 years ago I’ve bumped into an open-mouthed small person amazed by our Great Hall on an almost daily basis. There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing them exclaim ‘wow!’ as they walk through the doors. For some this becomes a life long enthusiasm, the subject of our Trainspotting show this Autumn, but for many it passes as they grow up and they move on to dinosaurs, pirates or doctors.

Kids in our Great Hall
Kids in our Great Hall

This ‘train phase’ felt like a great starting point for an exhibition, full of toys, adventures and family fun. Something that we hope kids and parents will love, and which will encourage more of those heart-warming wows. We’re looking to create just that for Spring 2015. Which is why we’ve been looking in the collection for inspiration.

This is my favourite toy so far. It’s a Fisher Price Circus train from the 1990s. This is the best railway toy because of all the amazing adventures you can imagine the people and animals on this train having:

This is the best railway toy because of all the amazing adventures you can imagine the people and animals on this train having
Ellen and her train

Our Curator of Museums Collections John McGoldrick has found a more serious take on railways and play.

These toy trains were used to assess Children's psychological states in Lowenfield Projective Play Therapy.
These toy trains were used to assess children’s psychological states in Lowenfield Projective Play Therapy.

John said: “These are my favourite toy trains because they look like very simple toys, but actually they were used in assessing childrens’ psychological states in a psychotherapy technique called Lowenfield Projective Play Therapy. The technique used sand boxes, water and toys to allow children to create their own imaginary worlds which helped psychotherapists to gauge their mental well-being.”

But the exhibition isn’t about what the curators here love. It’s about what kids love and have loved over the last 100 years. That’s where you come in. We want you to send us pictures of your child and their favourite railway (not that we want to discriminate on the basis of age – if you’re out of short trousers but still remember a particular toy you adored when you were tiny, then we’d love a picture of that too).  Send us your stories through our website.

If your child (or you) can’t wait til the exhibition opens next Spring then come along between 24 May and 1 June for our half term Big Fun with Little Trains event. We’ll be running lots of hands on activities, including the chance for you to tell us face to face about your favourite toy.

Ellen Tait is Interpretation Developer at the NRM

5 comments on “What’s your favourite toy train?

  1. I was very lucky – in the 1950s my parents bought me Hornby Dublo (rather than the 0 gauge Hornby Trains) but my abiding memory is of what have otherwise been a sad day – the day my grandfather got cremated. As I was deemed to be too young to attend this, I was sent to a friend of my grandmother’s, whose son had lots of Hornby Trains, which we played with in the garden. We built a long, rambling layout on the lawn, with a station called Little Slithering-in-the-Mud and played happily all day.

    Perhaps this is why I now model in 16mm scale and run on garden railways!

  2. I have a steam powered toy train (approximately 9 inches long) Steam is generated in a barrel heated by 2 alcohol wicks. This was my father’s toy when he migrated from China to Malaya about 1920. Photos can be sent to you for view. I intend to sell this heirloom. My e-mail to nrm was not delivered (too many calls). I have also e-mailed British Council Malaysia about 10 days ago , awaiting response.Thank you

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