'What do you observe when you go out? Scenery? Shops? People? One nineteenth century man marveled at engineering of the time. In fact he had every opportunity to do so. Living in Liverpool he had all the marvels of engineering, the dock with its dockside cranes, ships from small tug boats to massive ocean going Liners setting off across the Atlantic to New York City. There was also the railways, locomotives, wagons, coaches, goods cranes, breakdown cranes, signals. The city also contained lots of warehouses and factories with there own machinery, whilst nearby was the Lancashire coal field with its pit head gear operating the lifts, large diggers to lift the coal. Whilst towards the end of the century the first motor vehicles appeared on the road.

dockside crane

This man had a fascination with Invertors and Invention. During free periods at home he would go into his workshop - his garden shed to tinker with various ideas he had come up with, first of all to solve the problem of perpetual motion, later turning his attention to an automated ticket machine for trams.


This man was Frank Hornby, born on May 15th 1863 to parents John and Martha Hornby in Copperas Hill, Liverpool. It is likely that the name Hornby can be traced back to a Lancashire village about 70 miles north of Liverpool that of Hornby in Lonsdale the village in the Lune Valley about 10 miles east of Lancaster today is a small village dominated by its castle who's occupants may well have been distant relatives of Frank Hornby. However Frank's family where in much more humble circumstances. John Hornby was a porter or provisions dealer (wholesaler) working as many did in the docks or nearby local businesses.


Frank started work sometime after leaving school as a clerk in a meat importers, employed by David Hugh Elliot in James Street Liverpool. He had musical interest and became a member of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society where he met Clara Walker Godefroy who as to become his wife. Later they became parents to 2 sons Roland and Douglas. It was with these 2 growing boys that Frank first turned his attention to making mechanical models. By the last few years of the nineteenth century Frank was making toys for his sons made from sheet metal cut by hand. The boys where excited by what there father made. Would it be possible to make the same sort of toys for other children? What about being able to make a toy and take it too pieces. Was there a market for such a toy. At the close of the nineteenth century these questions must have gone through Frank Hornby's mind.

liverpool docksCopperas Hill

Liverpool Docks 1887 and Copperas Hill


  • 1863 Frank Hornby born in Liverpool
  • 1887 Frank Hornby marries Clara Walker Godefroy
  • 1887 Frank Hornby starts working for Hugh Elliot
  • 1889 Roland Hornby Born
  • 1890 Douglas Hornby Born