Walthamstow’s forgotten toy factories that made Britain’s favorite toys

Tiny red Routemaster buses, miniature racing cars, toy soldiers on horseback, dressed in yellow and black striped uniforms. These toys, made by the Wells Brimtoy toy company, date from 1938 to 1964. Today, they are for sale online as collectibles.

The buses, cars and tin soldiers, however, recall the days when Walthamstow was a center of toy manufacturing. Throughout the 20th century, many of Britain’s favorite toys were made here.

Alongside Wells Brimtoy were also Britains Toys and Tower Press, which made puzzles and games. Meanwhile, the National Plastics Factory, formerly located on Walthamstow Avenue, made Lego bricks. Wells Brimtoy and Britains Toys were two of the best known toy manufacturers based in Walthamstow.

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Brimtoy Well

Wells Brimtoy opened on Stirling Road in 1932, merging two existing toy companies: Wells, which had been around since 1919, and Brimtoy, which started in 1923.

Wells Brimtoy was known for its railway sets and train carriages, all painted and produced with elaborate detail. She made tin toys including buses, coaches and cars, many of which are now collectibles.

A woman at work in a Walthamstow toy factory in 1932

“I remember several times seeing huge lines of ladies standing at the bus stop, laden with bags full of plastic containers. It was homework, which they brought home in the evening. The next morning they were all getting off the bus to take it back to the company to get their money back,” Gary Heals recalled in a recording released by Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop.

In 1949, the company had about 700 workers in its employ. Wells Brimtoy remained in Walthamstow until 1965, before moving to Anglesey.

British Toys

Women often took toys home to finish decorating

William Britain began manufacturing toy soldiers in 1893, turning his efforts into a company, Britains Ltd., in 1907. Initially, 54mm high soldiers were the company’s specialty.

However, after World War I, the company turned to agricultural models, in an effort to celebrate the industry’s contribution to the country during the war effort. The British produced figurines and farm animals, as well as scale models of agricultural vehicles like tractors.

Britains had operated in Walthamstow from the North Light Building on Stirling Road since 1931, but moved to Sutherland Road in 1958. A decade later, in 1968, it moved to Blackhorse Lane.

“You were given a sample and then you worked by sample,” Sue Russell, a former Britains employee, told Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop. “If you had a cow, you had to paint stuff on the cows…you had to line them up and dry them. It was awesome, really – I enjoyed it.”

A photo of the factory posted on a local Facebook group prompted residents to share their memories. One wrote: “I miss those days at Britains too. It was such a family business. Everyone worked hard but it was fun and we used to laugh.”

The company was purchased by Dobson Park Industries Ltd and renamed Britain’s Petite Ltd. in 1984. Britains remained in Walthamstow until 1991, transferring work to Nottingham’s Little Factory in early 1992.

Although it has been bought and sold since, British still exists today, dubbing itself “Europe’s oldest specialist in agricultural toys and collectibles”.

Commenting on a photo of Britains factory, one local wrote: ‘I absolutely loved my time there – I had such a giggle’. Britains was the last toymaker to leave Walthamstow – but we like to think some of that playful aspect remains.

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