Brighton Toy and Model Museum

WorthPoint spoke to Chris Littledale, founder and director of the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, about the collection, the memories and the restoration of children’s most valuable items.

Toys from your childhood

Brighton Toy and Model Museum. Source: Brighton Toy and Model Museum

Brighton Toy and Model Museum

People come to Brighton to get out of the city, to relax on the beach, and sip beer while looking out over the water at the West Pier, which was once at the forefront of seaside architectural innovation. However, under the train station, as people hurry to arrive and depart from this beach town, lies the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. Here, a collection of teddies, dolls, trains and any toy you had in your youth can be seen. Things that have been forgotten from your childhood trigger crystal clear memories, and thoughts of old toy boxes brimming with treasure come to mind.

At the museum, a group of individuals volunteer and keep the museum, which is a registered charity, and is sponsored by a number of local businesses. The museum was established when Chris Littledale, the museum director, wanted to find a place for his toy train collection. “The collection as we see it now is actually several collections. However, some 20 years ago my toy and model train collection and other things needed a home and to be seen. Having instated this collection, other like-minded collectors in other fields put their treasures on long-term loan. Needles to say the collections including mine have grown to what we see now, which is really impressive.”

Toy restoration

Steiff 'Peter Rabbit' and friends. Source: Brighton Toy and Model Museum

Steiff 'Peter Rabbit' and friends

The collection now includes all kinds of toys, from Disney puppets, to toy kitchens, to Japanese dolls. ”It is by any count an extremely large, varied, and interesting international collection dating from late Victorian to the present day.” The long-term loans and donations have made the museum what it is today. “Surprisingly very few objects have been donated. However, we have had some extremely good donations left via people’s wills.” This, of course, requires restoration and conservation, which Littledale undertakes himself.

“Restoration is rather better thought of in terms of conservation,” he says. Littledale is well known in this area for the work he has done with the toys. His ability to restore toys to their former glory is something that came from the running of the museum. He uses the most authentic restoration methods to ensure that the toys look and feel how they were intended to at the time. Littledale explained to WorthPoint that “many damaged, broken and corroded items have been brought back to life, always ensuring the conservation of as much as humanly possible of the original.”

Going hand in hand with conservation is the how the pieces are kept in the museum. They are very particular about the conditions that they are kept in, particularly because a lot of the pieces are on long-term loan. This means that the humiditiy, temperature and light must be monitored and kept at the optimum levels to keep the toys and their materials in the best condition. The items that are not on display are carefully stored and only a few people can handle them.

Rare and collectible items

Trains in Brighton. Source: Brighton Toy and Model Museum

Trains in the Brighton Toy and Model Museum

Items like the train collection from the 1930’s and earlier, need to be delicately handled. The impressive train set, part of which belongs to Littledale, incorporates all the accessories including stations, sheds, signals even down to the passengers, luggage, road vehicles and runs around part of one of the displays. This is rare because it was expensive to buy at the time and items would have been broken and lost over time. The toy railway is the centrepiece of the collection and is based in a showcase in the middle of the museum. However, the most collectible items depend on personal taste. “The most collectable items in this museum are almost too many to mention,” Littledale explains, “and may be it depends on one’s preference, so it could be a Steiff teddy bear or a Marklin locomotive and so on.”

These old toys are so precious and museum-worthy because they were made as part of a craft, from classic manufacturers such as Bing, Dinky, Hornby, Marklin, Meccano, Pelham Puppets, and Steiff. Today’s toys are mass produced and are probably going to be a lot less collectible. “Any of the good quality toys and models made today could well become tomorrow’s collectable treasures,” he explained, “but most of the colourful plastic things will be unlikely to become collectable as too many have been made.”

This is the beauty of toys from the past. They are also different from other antiques due to the memories they evoke and the meanings connected to them, all of which are connected to childhood. However, this is just one places to see antiques in Brighton. The streets around “The Laines” are lined with antique shops, vintage clothing stores, and unusual windows with unique items. For anyone interested in antiques, a visit to Brighton, as well as to the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, is an essential trip down memory lane.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum

52-55 Trafalgar Street,

Brighton, Sussex, BN1 4EB, UK
0044 1273 749494