Railway Toys at Earl’s Court

From an article by Alfred Wynne that appeared in the 1901 Volume of

‘The Railway Magazine’

submitted by Terry Walden


            “In those days there were giants.” The phrase is a familiar one in the mouths of persons who sigh for “the good old days.” But the twentieth century has gone one better, if the phrase be allowed, than those same good old times; and though we cannot boast of giants, we may proudly point to a dragon. Visitors to the Military Exhibition at Earl's Court in 1901 will be familiar with the aspect of this new and strange addition to their fauna of London. As it wriggles, grim and glaring, along its sinuous path round, the Queen's Court, a row of passengers perched upon either of its scaly flanks, the curious onlooker is irresistibly reminded of the—

young lady of Niger,

Who went out for a ride on a tiger;

But returned from that ride

Seated snugly inside,

“While a smile decked the face of the tiger.

            But in this case the smile is on the face of the passenger, whose safe arrival at the end of his trip, still on the outside of his uncouth beast of burden, perhaps accounts for the fierce look of discontent and malice which, sits so grimly on the latters visage.

            Our dragon, be it noted, is of Chinese nationality, and fully justifies the vivid imagination with which native artists have for ages past portrayed the members of his tribe. If we are to believe the veracious narrative of the captive's eloquent custodian at Earl's Court, the poor creature has fallen from very high estate; having in salad days been a familiar pet of the Dowager Empress of China, at the foot of whose bed he used nightly to sleep the sleep of the faithful; from which it is easy to realise the difficulties which confronted the Allies in the late operations at Pekin. Furthermore, it throws some interesting light upon the domestic habits of the Imperial Chinese family. Our dragon being 90 ft. long, it is obvious that Her Imperial Majesty does not stint herself in the extent of her private apartments.



The Chinese Dragon, which was so popular, as a beast of Burden, at the Military Exhibition

at Earl’s Court in 1901. photo by A. E. Johnson.


            Naturalists will be interested to hear that this same “keeper” of the Royal dragon, in reply to a query as to whether his charge was oviparous or viviparous, stated that “ he wasn't quite sure which but, anyway, he was waterproof!

            Paradoxically, this Chinese Dragon was “ born” in the Jardin d’AccIimatation of Paris. To be precise, it owes its origin to Mr. Walter Stenning. In one-respect it is certainly unlike any others. of its family—it is a patent dragon! Mr. Stenning has wisely protected his invention, both at home and abroad. A vivisection of the fantastic beast reveal the fact that its interior consists of an electrically-propelled train carried on bogies, of which, the segments, or joints, of the dragon's long body form the carriages. Within these same segments, which externally carry the passengers' seats, are placed the accumulators that furnish the current for the dynamo providing the locomotive power.

            The dragon, of course, travels over a tram line, but the wheels and every other part of its mechanism are most ingeniously concealed beneath the glittering carapace. This latter is in itself a work of art, consisting of painted canvas covered from snout to tail with countless scales of beaten copper, nickel, and brass. It was made by M. Tachaux, the celebrated Parisian armurier, and has been pronounced by experts one of the finest pieces of its kind in existence. The mechanism is controlled and the whole contrivance animated by an engineer concealed from view within the hideous head, which thus is furnished with brains, for all its ugliness. In completing the circuit of the Queen's Court at the Exhibition, the track is perforce a sinuous one; and the snake-like ease with which the dragon threads his way in and out and round about, his nostrils snorting and his eyeballs gleaming, is realistic to the point of uncanniness.

            And so successful has this novel toy proved, that the “Chinese Dragons” are to be turned into a limited liability company. Let us hope the tramway companies will not be drawn by an alluring prospectus into an alteration of their existing systems. Motor-cars are bad enough; but a Chinese Dragon in the streets of London would be the last straw to break the poor bus-horse’s back.



The Toy Train and Railway at Earl’s Court 1901. photo by A. E. Johnson.


            Another novelty at Earl's Court in 1901 was the miniature railway. Visitors to the exhibition will have seen it for themselves, and to those who have not our pictures will convey the best idea of its outward semblance. It is not surprising to learn that these toys—though they are really more than that—come from America, where they have attained great popularity. The manufacturers are Messrs. Cagney Bros., of New York, who turn out two classes of “ miniature railway.” That at Earl's Court is a specimen of the smaller, Class C, 12 in. gauge. It should be noted that, despite our use of the word “toy,” the locomotives are the genuine thing; and it is a known fact that a -12 in. gauge locomotive is just as hard to build as a standard, the only difficulty being the cost of the material. A detailed description will, perhaps, interest those of our readers possessed, of intimate “ railway knowledge.”

            Coal is the fuel used on the miniature railways, and the drawing capacity of the locomotive is 5,0001bs. in Class C (to which the Earl's Court engine belongs), and 10,0001bs. in Class D, an example of which, may be seen at the Glasgow Exhibition. The track may be either straight or circular, and may extend from 1,000ft. to 100 miles. The average speed is about 10 miles an hour, from which it will be seen that on country estates a miniature railway may be used for many purposes besides that of amusement.



            This is of the standard eight-wheeled American type, with a leading truck and four-coupled drivers. Its length is 5 ft. 4 in., width 18 in., and height 28 in. from the rails to the top of the smoke-stack. The driving-wheels are 10in. and the truck wheels 5 in. in diameter. The 2 in. diameter cylinders have a stroke of 4 in., and the weight of the engine is 6001bs. The boiler is steel, and tested to 4001bs. to the square inch. Its diameter is 10 in., and is wagon-top shape, equipped with Korting injector; and it holds 10 gallons of water. The fittings of the locomotive are all complete, and include sand-box, bell, whistle, and head-light.



            This is of two-truck type, 3 ft 5 in. long, 18 in. wide, and made of iron. The wheels are 5 in. in diameter, and its capacity is 15 gallons of water. The tender is utilised by the engineer as a seat from which to operate the throttle, reverse the lever, etc. The total length of locomotive and tender is 8 ft. 9 in.



The Locomotive of the Earl’s Court Toy Railway. photo by A. E. Johnson.




            The nature of these is best seen from our illustrations. Each is capable of seating two passengers, and is fitted with the necessary springs to ensure comfort. The complete train includes ten cars, capable of carrying a score of passengers. The gauge of the track is 12 5/8 in., and the permanent way used is the regular 81bs. to the yard L rail. The net weight of the complete outfit is l1,5001bs.

            At Callao, in Peru, a Class D 15 in.-gauge train was established some time ago for regular passenger traffic between a local park, and the city. The line was capitalised for £5,800, and pays a dividend of 25 per cent. And at the Elk's Fair, Louisville, two years ago, a similar attraction took over £300 in nine days, the working expenses for that period being £6 15s.

            At Earl's Court the track is, of necessity, a limited one; but it amply demonstrates the astonishing- capabilities of the little locomotive, trundling its train of absurdly gigantic passengers. Its popularity is undeniable, and “railwayacs” in particular, will find it a source of much pleasure and instruction.


© Exhibition Study Group 2011