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Wells Brimtoy – personal recollections

September 2nd, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Earlier this year I was contacted through this site by a lovely lady, a Ms. Rose King. Her father Jim it would seem had worked for A. Wells back in the fifties and had made certain notes of his time there and he also had some blueprints along with other items connected with Wells-Brimtoy. Was I interested ? – Was I not !!

In due course the correspondence arrived and I have decided after reading through them that rather than edit the notes her father made that in respect to both Rose and her father I would include them here in their entirety.

A.V. KING – 4 Years with A. Wells (1951 – 1954)

In 1951 I decided to have a change in employment and went to A. Wells & Co as a draughtsman. I had been working as a draughtsman since I left the British Army in 1946.

At that time wells was engaged in, amongst other things, the manufacture of mechanical – mainly tinplate – toys, including some toy train items. The design work covered the design of the product and of course the tooling necessary to produce them. The firm had a very comprehensive factory with an automatic machine section, a plastic moulding shop, press shop, assembly department and a well-equipped toolroom.

As our drawing office was responsible for the design of the product and the tooling, you can see that we had an overall picture of all aspects of production, as distinct from the commercial side, with which we had very little contact.

The individual draughtsman-cum-designer was left very much to himself and would be responsible to the Chief Draughtsman for the whole project. This was conducive to pleasant and happy working conditions. Although the Chief was a strict disciplinarian, he was very helpful and I can say that in my whole career I learnt more from him than from anyone else.

Here is an example of the complete freedom of design. One day I was approached by the Chief and told the firm wanted to produce a new line of toy lorry. They wanted short wheelbase, long wheelbase and articulated vehicles. I asked what size was required and was told ‘just to fit one of their standard carboard boxes’ !

With this information it was left to me. I started with research which meant visits and requests for information about dimensions and so forth from various vehicle manufacturers and dealers. I decided on the bedford lorry as a basis. I chose this type because although I was not, and never have been, au fait with the motor vehicle world, I got acquainted with various Army vehicles while an Armourer Sergeant during World War II, and the Bedford three-tonner had impressed me.

The next move was to make provisional sketches – to scale – of what I had in mind. This large sheet of nine sketches showed three of each type – low sided open, high sided open and covered, milk lorry, petrol lorry etc., all suitably coloured in.

The sheet was taken to a production meeting by the Chief, who then asked for a more detailed drawing of one of each of the three types. These detailed drawings were given to the Model Shop who produced 3D-prototypes. The Model Shop would solder the parts together (in production they would be ‘tabbed’) and make the plastic parts – the upper part of the cab – out of Perspex or similar material.

These models were examined and discussed at the next production meeting. After the meeting I was asked to ‘go into production’. I had to make tooling drawings, press tools for blanking, piercing, forming and deep drawing, plastic moulds for the cab tops, all necessary tooling for the turned parts plus hand assembly tools.

Of course many existing parts – pressed gears, springs and standard turned parts would be integrated into the whole. You can imagine that to cover the scheme from start to production made the job very satisfying as well as making it possible for the designer to make minor changes without upsetting other people or departments.

Two points arise when I think of tinplate work. One is the fact that when forming a tinprinted part it must not, in any way, be scratched or marked by the passage of the ‘forces’ – the top and bottom punch and die faces. Proper clearances must be maintained between the faces and all faces must be well polished, keeping the radii as large as possible.

The second point is the accuracy of the printed detail relative to the blank shape, so that the formed shape is correct. The artist produces the print shape but the correct information must be given to him. A straightforward example is a circular metal lid which may have lettering around the formed part.

The Bedford lorry cab base needed some thought as the deep form of this part was not constant. I worked on this by squaring off the area of the blank and calculating the change of shape die to forming. Sometimes the first try is not accurate and corrections have to be made. In this case the two headlights had to come out circular when the metal was formed. i was horrified to see that on my first try the headlights were not circular but slanting so my lorry looked as if it had Chinese eyes !

Now about the toy railway work – I started at Wells when a new train set was in its final stages of production. I didn’t have a hand in this but it was quite interesting. It had tinplate points and a variety of goods and passenger coaches. Critically I thought that the design of these vehicles ould have been better – more like Bing. The loco was reversing. This was not accomplished in the normal manner but by increasing the wheelbase (it was four-wheeled) so that the reversing idler pinion was engaged between a pinion on the axle and the next gear as the running wheels moved apart. Ingenious, but no improvement on the usual method.

I never saw this set in the shops. Maybe they all went for exort.

Of course one of the first things I did at Wells was to see their museum of existing manufactured items, but I was disappointed to find that there were none of the original Brimtoy range there, even in 1951, though I might have missed them.

Wells were however producing some of the more common items which are fairly well known, but the Brimtoy range must have been very wide. When I was quite young (in the 1920’s) I had a small number of Brimtoy items such as the little four-wheeled coach in the white and blue colours of the Furness Railway, a North BR covered van and a gas cylinder wagon, all of the same size as the LNWR motor car van which I managed to obtain at a very inflated price about 1989.

Some of the toy locos being produced in 1951 were unique in as much as the boiler/firebox/cab blank was of a constant width, the boiler having more curvature than the cab. the material was split to allow the different curvatures.

During this period I suggested that the toy locos and coaches could be printed in British Railways colours. Working with the tracer we sprayed a loco, tender and coach and repainted the loco in BR black with the totem. The coach was done in ‘Blood and Custard’. I believe the idea was adopted.

At that time Wells were producing the 6161 toy which had a very accurate representation of the Royal Scot 4-6-0 LMS locomotive. I remember it grieved me to see this altered – I was not asked to do this – to a garish tank loco printed in pale green with a very inaccurate design, including wheels that looked like rubber tyres ! The later BR tank, No.80025 – the same model – was an improvement.

Whilst at Wells I designed the plastic mould for the wheels which were used on later toys. These ran a lot better that the original tinplate ones, as Hornby’s O gauge ones did. The Hornby ones gave me a few ideas !

One interesting toy on which I worked was the Flying Saucer. This – unlike the imitations which followed – was completely metal. It consisted of an aluminium ring about 80mm in diameter with four ‘propeller’ blades. The ring had at its centre a boss with four teeth. The thumb power was delivered through a 0.4 tinplate box or frame in which ran a gear rack with a spring and a formed over thumb piece at the other end. Thumb pressure depressed the rack which engaged on a pinion attached to the driving teeth, rotated the blades which lifted vertically. The saucer rose to about room height, levelled out and flew level for a considerable distance. This toy was quite successful.

The tooling was very intesting. I managed to design the press tool for the frame so that 0.4 flat strip was fed in one end and the completed frame emerged at the rear. This frame had about six circular holes, four slots for tab assembly, plus ribbing etc, making six or seven stations in feeding.

A rather amusing incident occured while I was busy on the design of the forming tool for the propeller blades. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about some of the finer points so I made up a full sized model of what I had in mind in Harbutt’s Plasticine. Plasticine is a very useful medium in which to work as fine details can be produced by judicious use of a pen knife and I’ve used it many times in tool design.

 I finished the plasticine mock-up and put it to one side, intending to draw up the design the following day. Unfortunately I had to go out that day and didn’t return until a few days later. On my return I was amazed to find that my plasticine press tool had gone and in its place stood a beautifully carved plasticine rose. It was so well done that I hadn’t the heart to destroy it. I had to work the whole tool design again. Needless to say I had a few words to say about it, but I never found out who was responsible !

Another design project at Wells was the Atomic Spray Set-up. This was a coating process for giving a very fine chromium coating to the plastic model of the Morris Minor car. The model and the full sized car being very popular at the time. There was a big demand for the model – or toy – as Morris Minor owners would fit it to the bonnet as a mascot. When chromed it looked very good.

The chroming process was very complicated and included a final stoving oven. I remember that I had forgotten to include ventilation on this oven which was quite large. this omission was forcibly pointed out to me on the first trial run!

We did some large scale models of various cars – I recall the Vauxhall Velox and the Zephyr Zodiac. These involved drawing the form of the body in three planes accurately to scale. These drawings were used in the Tool Room where the body form was generated in 3-D using a pantograph.

The toy gears used at Wells were not milled or hobbed but the punch and die producing them were accurately cut, not to 20deg. involute form as is standard these days but to the clock gear form, the meshing of the smaller gears with pinions being 0.8mm. Thus the centres of any two gears would be the two outside diameters minus 0.8mm. A good crown wheel was made by pushing a spur gear through a die to form up the teeth.

Although I had studied gear design prior to my Wells period I increased my knowledge on this interesting and very important subject with the instruction given to me by the Chief Draughtsman at Wells. I had cause to thank him frequently in later years, especially when I worked for the South African Navy many years later.



I hope you will agree that the notes her father made of his time at Wells give an interesting and tantilising insight into just one aspect of what goes into producing a ‘simple’ toy.

After reading through these notes several times now there are a couple of things I am curious to know. Jim mentions the Chief Draughtsman and the influence he had yet doesn’t mention his name once .. what a pity .. I for one would love to know. And what about those coloured drawings of the Bedford lorries .. I’d love to have one or two of those !!

So many thanks once again Rose for getting in touch and providing a unique insight into the workings of the drawing office at Wells.

If anyone else has similar stories to tell of the life and times at Wells Brimtoy or any pictures of the people and factory etc. please get in touch, I’m sure we would all like to hear about it.

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  1. Jim Lindsay
    March 13th, 2012 at 20:18 | #1

    I’m currently writing a book about Wells Brimtoy and came across your page, which I found very interesting and very well illustrated.

    I agree that the Wells Brimtoy names and dates are confusing, but I think it’s possible to make sense of them, so here goes. In the absence of a surviving company archive, there are still plenty of puzzling points.

    The 1932 acquisition of Brimtoy was presented as a merger, presumably to placate the Brimtoy side, and the company thereafter used the title A Wells & Co and Brimtoy Ltd [the latter part usually on a lower line in smaller print!] right up to the end of its life. However Alf Wells was firmly in charge. The registered Brimtoy company was retained as no more than a title – no evidence of an active Board with executive powers – although it was not finally dissolved until 1991.

    The post-1932 company opted to use the Brimtoy brand to cover the range of train sets but more or less everything else went under the Wells o’ London trademark. When the Pocketoy range was launched in 1948 this too was added to the Brimtoy range, hence the “Brimtoy Pocketoy” description on the boxes.

    In 1949 Wells Brimtoy Distributors Ltd was created to cover a range through from manufacture to wholesale and retail distribution with the same Board as A Wells & Co. This was probably done to provide a seamless way of tying the company’s production to a broad range of distribution that ranged from annual contracts with the likes of Woolworths to wholesaling and direct sale to retail shops. Both A Wells & Co and Brimtoy Ltd now took a back seat for several years. In 1963 Wells Brimtoy Distributors Ltd changed its name to Wells-Brimtoy Ltd for reasons that are not very easy to explain.

    Meanwhile Wells had launched the Welsotoys trademark in 1955 and it seems to have been meant to be a postwar equivalent to Wells o’ London, but the distinction between the Welsotoy and Brimtoy ranges was not kept very clear.

    The company was unusual in having two major production sites about 250 miles apart. Alf Wells Senior lived in Anglesey and had overall control of the enterprise as well as managing the Holyhead plant established during the War. Alf Junior managed the Walthamstow side of the business. Like other companies with a major factory in Wales, post-war Wells Brimtoy products carry a “Made in Gt. Britain” stamp or print rather than “Made in England”.

    In 1965 Stirling Road was closed and work consolidated in Holyhead. Alf Senior had been ailing and died later that year and his son took over. Wells-Brimtoy Ltd was sidelined and the old rubric of “A Wells & Co and Brimtoy Ltd” reappeared. Sadly the company was not doing well but it limped along until 1970 when it was taken over by the Central Manufacturing and Trading Group (CMT), which teamed it with their Kelo toy company. The old Board members including Alf Junior (who died not long afterwards) were replaced. A Wells & Co and Kelo were eventually merged as CMT Wells Kelo, which kept the Holyhead plant going until the end of the 1980s.

    In summary, there was one company with executive power from 1932 until 1970, although it chose to assign products to different brand names (the Pocketoys were allocated to the Brimtoy range of products). Between 1949 and 1965 Wells Brimtoy Distributors Ltd was the official face of the company, but did not have directors independent of A Wells & Co.

  2. dave
    June 18th, 2012 at 18:52 | #2

    Many thanks for the input Jim, a very interesting read.

  3. P.Chattell
    September 14th, 2013 at 15:18 | #3

    I joined A.Wells about 1948 when there was still remnants of it’s war work still lying around, working in the maintenance we even built our own power presses, it also had a fairly large toolroom for making presstools and was later enlarged for making moulding tools. Considering the date it had a superb first aid centre

  4. dave
    September 16th, 2013 at 11:02 | #4

    Hi Peter, nice to hear from someone who worked there rather than just the dry facts one can look up on various sites (including this one) !
    Would you be willing to do me a favour and maybe put your memories of your time at Wells together and message me back with them all.
    I know its asking a lot but its the memories one doesn’t tend to find in books and once the memories have gone you can’t get them back. Don’t worry about not being 100% sure of all the facts its your perception of your time there that matters – even the other people you worked with. You never know some of your old work mates may even read it and message in as well.
    If you read through some earlier messages posted you will find one from a lady who’s father worked in the drawing office at Brimtoy and was good enough to include his thoughts on the time he spent there – priceless !
    Hope to hear back from you, David.

  5. P.Chattell
    September 16th, 2013 at 16:07 | #5

    I started at Wells straight from school at the age of fifteen and worked initially in the engineers stores, this was an ideal place to start by giving you an insight into the aspects of toolmaking i.e all the various drill and tapping sizes and also the many types of metals that went into the making of a presstool and putting up with toolmakers going through a whole box of drills looking for that odd tenth of a thou. In those days toolmakers who reguarded themselves as the crem de la crem in the engineering world could be a bit starchy with their white stiff collars and well polished shoes, not quite my cup of tea so i opted for maintenance which was a lot more down to earth.
    The foreman of the maintenance shop was a chap called Mr Buckmaster everybodies impression of a 1920,s engineer with a big walrus mustache and a very laid back attitude, little home jobs were tolerated sometimes with his assistance he even supplied me with drawings to build a Ram Jet engine (as used in Doodle Bugs) but i never ever fired it up as the fuel tank surrounded the jet mechanism scared the life out of me.
    Have you ever had a job where Mondays were not a problem, that was Wells in the maintenance shop.
    The shop was equiped with lathes, milling machine a shaper also gas and arc welding equipment so a very well rounded learning curve was available. This was extremely useful in subsequent jobs.

  6. P.Chattell
    September 17th, 2013 at 15:44 | #6

    Hi Dave just a quick note to say that i restrict myself to two or three hours a day surfing but more memories from Wells later.

  7. dave
    September 18th, 2013 at 19:00 | #7

    Hi again Peter and thanks for sharing those memories with us … hope that’s just part 1 of many. Reading through those lines reminds me of my early days after leaving Grammar School when I joined a large engineering company. Although earmarked for their drawing office I still went through the company’s induction course which meant the first couple of years working on the ‘shop floor’. This meant I too worked in the ‘Maintenance Dept.’ and ‘Tool Room’ etc. – I could fill a book with stories from those days ! although some would require an X certificate !! HAPPY DAYS.
    Keep it up Peter, all the best, David.

  8. dave
    September 18th, 2013 at 19:01 | #8

    Excellent Pete .. looking forward to it.

  9. P.Chattell
    September 22nd, 2013 at 18:25 | #9

    A.Wells-Brimtoy Continued … more memories from Peter

    A.Wells at Stirling Rd covered quite an extensive site with a fair range of plant and equipment maintained mechanically by just four fitter turners and a mate (more about him later), we also needed to be competent with gas and arc welding plus milling and shaping machines all made for a great C.V. Our brief basically was the maintenance and efficient running the factory.
    I would expect anybody buying a toy would have no conception of what it takes to make even a single item. Starting with the toolroom with it’s skilled workers and the many machines and machinists, not forgetting the hardening shop and then on to the production side of things. For the uninitiated this was the age the balata belt era from assembly lines to the motive power for the presses etc, in cold weather resin was in great demand to stop belts slipping (affectionally known as belt jam)
    So this was our domain, the assembly lines, power presses of various tonnages, the auto shop with turret and capstan lathes, even small swiss autos for the more tiny components then onto the guillotines both for card and metal, the printed sheets of the different toys needed to be cut in order to be fed into the presses. Next there was the paint shop, no spraying but conveyors carrying piece parts into the tanks of paint or parts being “rumbled with paint in what looked like cement mixers. All this to make a kids plaything or today a “collectable”

  10. John Seymour
    March 17th, 2016 at 08:12 | #10

    I have been reading your interesting bits about Wells Brimtoy.
    I joined the company in April 1963 as an apprentice toolmaker, in the Holyhead factory, I worked in every department of the factory until I was 16 (in the August)then into the toolroom for the 5 year apprenticeship.
    If you are interested I can in due course give some details about life there in the sixties.
    However I am looking for the link between Wells Brimtoy and The Anglesey Instrument and Clock co.
    Do you have any records that connect the two together please.
    best regards

  11. dave
    March 23rd, 2016 at 15:11 | #11

    Hi there John, your comments bring back many happy memories of my time spent as a trainee draughtsman within a large engineering company at about the same time. Like yourself I too worked in every department within the organisation before being allowed to set foot in the drawing office. The only difference was it took a lot longer before I was officially classed as ‘qualified’. I can well remember every time I went down on the shop floor being shouted over and shown a wage slip by one of the lads I joined the company with – albeit a fitter, a turner and yes even the lad who had been allocated to the toolroom, all more than happy to show me how much more they were earning than myself !!! but then more than happy to make a brew for me … tea that’s never been betted to this day !!!!
    So as and when you’re ready get scribbling mate and share your memories of life at WB.
    As for The Anglesey Instrument and Clock Company and its link with the Wells Brimtoy factory ? to be honest John I cannot put much flesh on the bones apart from the fact that it was a subsidiary Company of Wells Brimtoy producing various timepieces and mechanisms, some of which must have been the clockwork motors which were then fitted to many of the toys produced by Wells Brimtoy. It would be nice if someone could confirm that or add more info.
    Look forward to hearing more from you, David.

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