This page was copied from the V & A Museum of Childhood web-site ( and is only included here as part of the company history.

William Britain (1828-1906) founded Britains in 1860. He moved from Birmingham to London in the middle of the 19th century, where he converted his new home on Lambton Road, Hornsey, into a factory. There the family worked together to produce toys. He was a brilliant toy maker and many of his toy were original and modern for their time. He specialised in clockwork toys such as walking bears, Chinese coolies and men on penny-farthings. These toys catered for the top end of the market and would have been expensive.

In 1893 Britains invented a new method of hollow-casting models and started to produce lead soldiers in an attempt to expand their growing business. At the time the market was dominated by German toy manufactures. But the new technique used by the Britains meant that they were lighter and cheaper in comparison to the German solid lead models and gained a strong hold on the market. In opposition to foreign manufactures at first they only made British regiments and stressed that only British labour was employed. The models were also successful due to the fact that the central London department store, Gamage's in Holborn, took up these new figures and sold them at a discounted prices.

In 1896 Britains experimented with new ideas and figures and figure with movable arms appeared. William Britain Junior designed and cut all the models for toy soldiers. The first figures were quite crude and often anatomically incorrect, but they rapidly improved their standards with every new model released. New painting techniques were used and in the small details they were superior to their competitors. An emphasis was put on research to make sure every detail on each different figure was anatomically correct.

Britains started to develop new series based on contemporary events. In 1897 model troops of the Empire began to appear celebrating Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the 21st Lancers, a British force that fought under Sir Horatio Kitchener in Sudan, were produced after the Battle of Omdurman

Britains opened their new office in Paris in 1905. Models had to be slightly adapted for the French market to fit in with their tastes, but many of the new models also appeared in British catalogues. Britains produced a range of soldiers called the Zouaves, which was an infantry in the French army recognised for their distinctive dress.

Britains became a limited company on the 4 December 1907. The new board of directors included William Britain Junior, Alfred Britain, Fredrick Britain, Edward Britain and Frank Britain.

The new 'W Series' was released in 1912. This new series was made specifically for Woolworth's and was marketed and produced as a cheaper range for poorer families to afford.

Britains made munitions as part of the war effort from 1914 to 1918, though it is believed that they also continued to produce toy models which were still available throughout the period. The wartime models were not of good quality due to the lack of materials available. The period also saw the introduction of many new figures such as Belgian cavalry and infantry, Gurkhas, machine gunners and British and French infantry wearing steal helmets.

The 1920 saw a dramatic change in Britains product range. They introduced the US army and navy as well as South American soldiers and Canadian Mounties but sales plummeted, due to a general anti-war feeling which permeated the market. Britains managed to survive by introducing a new range of toy models such as farms and farm animals, zoos and circuses.

Production at Britains continued throughout World War Two until 1941 when again the factory was employed to contribute to munitions. After the war Britains saw a reduction in output due to a labour shortage.

Britains bought Herald Miniatures as a subsidiary in 1954. The company focused on production of unbreakable plastic toys.

Due to the concern about lead content and child safety Britains stopped production of their metal soldiers in 1966.

In 1984 Britains became the sales agents for the Petite range of toy typewriters, sewing machines, office equipment and tea sets produced by Byron International Ltd.

In 1997 Britains was bought by the American company Ertl based in Iowa and best known for its toy tractors. In 2000 Ertl was bought by Racing Champions Ltd. which is now known as RC2 Corporation. A range of toy soldiers is still produced by RC2 Corp. under the name of William Britains.


(C) M.T. Gibbs 2009