Perhaps a bit of a long shot, but we are asking for help. Considering many Winstanley residents originated or have relatives who hailed from Liverpool, can you assist? Do you know anybody who worked for or had dealings with Meccano around 1979 to 1980? Even if not, we hope this article brings back some pleasant memories about toys that were once far more popular than games consoles. Not just Meccano, but also their other toys including Hornby Trains, Dinky Cars. So as for the help? A Liverpool oral historian is looking for ex workers and witnesses to the sad events at the Meccano factory in 1979-80. The research will help build a digital exhibition called: Occupy Meccano!: an oral history of the Binns Rd. factory sit-in. Read on to find out what it is all about. So calling any Meccano workers please.
What Happened at Meccano’s Factory of Dreams in 1979 / 80?
It all centres around the original factory of Meccano in Old Swan Liverpool. Having been a tremendously successful worldwide toy manufacturer, by the 70’s prospects had drastically deteriorated. A more detailed history is provided below. It culminated in a sad and selfless act of of industrial action with a workers sit in lasting several months over a very bleak winter. Bleak in the sense of a very cold winter as well as prospective welfare of the workers.
The worker’s takeover of the Old Swan facility began On 30 November 1979. It followed local factory management, carrying out instructions from the parent company Airfix in London. Formal redundancy notices with only 15 minutes warning were issued to stunned employees.
Senior members of the plant’s Joint Shop Stewards Committee with the support of the entire shop-floor, refused to vacate the so-called ‘factory of dreams’.
Over the next 14 weeks, an enterprising workforce engaged in a sophisticated process of community outreach, enlisting the support of the regional labour movement and the people of Liverpool.
This culminated in a solidarity march in Liverpool city centre that attracted thousands. The women of Meccano, meanwhile, recruited an influential political lobby to petition Whitehall Officials. The sit-in came to an end in March 1980 when police officers and bailiffs forcibly entered the Meccano factory.
The Request for Help, Why and What it Is For
Dr. Greig Campbell is a Dingle-based oral historian and freelance heritage consultant. He specialises in documenting rank-and-file worker responses to plant closures and mass redundancies.
In this instance he is focusing on a predominately female based workforce. One that history appears to have neglected in favour of the more male dominated industries of the city including the Docks, Triumph, Fords and many more. This quest is an aim to redress that balance. Above all, it focuses on the worker. Arguably it is a timely reminder of where many are now in these trying times. Greig states,
“Despite signalling a remarkable chapter in Liverpool’s illustrious labour history, the occupation of Airfix’s Meccano plant has been disregarded by academics who have, instead cast their scholarly gaze towards the region’s traditional, male-dominated industries. Mirroring this literary marginalisation, the fight for jobs has failed to penetrate Liverpudlians’ collective memory, with subsequent generations seemingly unaware of the events of 1979 and 1980.
The Occupy Meccano projects seeks to remedy this. By celebrating the extra-ordinary actions of ordinary people facing intolerable injustices, I hope to inspire the workers of today to fight for their rights.
To achieve this, I need interviews from witnesses of the occupation. I am specifically looking for ex-employees, trade unionists, political activists and, crucially, members of Meccano’s 650 strong female workforce”.
The Project so Far
A small grant from the Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust will enable Dr Campbell to share the story to the wider community. It will be in an assortment of accessible outputs including a digital exhibition, audio documentary and educational booklet.
So, in order to pique the interest of younger generations, they will include a set of graphic novel style illustrations. The inspiration will be derived from interviews with former employees and archival images donated by the Scottie Press. Plans for a public talk are to be scheduled later in the year.
Once the exhibition is available, we will run a further article with all details.
A Brief History of Meccano
Born in 1863 at Copperas Hill, Frank Hornby invented Meccano. He also founded the model railway company Hornby and Dinky Toys. Hornby began his illustrious career by making toys for his own children from his garden shed. He went on to become a millionaire. Despite having no formal engineering training his creations became some of the most popular toys of the 20th century.
Referred to as the UK’s Factory of Dreams, during the 1920s and 1930s Meccano Ltd was the biggest toy manufacturer in Britain. Hornby bought up five acres of land in the Old Swan area of Liverpool. It was here the Binns Road factory opened in 1914. This became the company headquarters for more than 60 years. In its heyday Meccano also had factories in Speke and Aintree. It also had manufacturing bases in Argentina, France, Germany, the USA and Spain. In 1963 there were 2,000 employees at the factory – of which 80% were women.
Over time, a decline in profits led to a takeover by Lines Brothers (Tri-ang – remember them?) in 1964. A further change of owners happened with Airfix in the 1970s. Finally the Binns Road factory finally closed in 1979. Meccano is still around today, but sadly no longer manufactured locally.
2013 would have been Frank Hornby’s 150th birthday. Google celebrated that date with a commemorative Google Doodle of a Meccano traction engine and trains. Frank Hornby became MP for Everton in 1931.
In 2014 Frank Hornby was named in the top 10 ever modern day toymakers. The survey of 2,000 inventors was carried out by The Inventors Workshop. Hornby came second on the list of inventors and was one of only two British designers along with Jenga creator Leslie Scott to make the rundown.
For anybody wanting to a more detailed history, including the Meccano magazine, have a look here.
Calling Any Meccano Workers – Contact Information.
Work number: 07585 669833
Please mention Winstanley What’s On to Greig, should you get in touch.