Mainline Railways

Tony Stratford tells the story of the company that took the model railway industry in the mid-1970s to a whole new level.

The Palitoy company was originally established by Alfred Pallet as Cascelloid Ltd in Britannia Street, Leicester in 1919. He was just 18 when he set up the company, which began by manufacturing soap boxes for FW Woolworth. In the 1920s the company produced a growing range of products for Woolworth including baby rattles, egg timers and hairslides.

N2 Class locomotive originally designed by Airfix but not released until after the Mainline takeover.

In 1925 it entered the toy market, initially producing a celluloid windmill of the type still found in toy and seaside gift shops today. At that time the company employed 60 people and had also started the production of the first of a series of dolls for the wider toy market.

In 1927 the company lost its premises, stock and equipment in a fire, which also resulted in the death of one employee. As a result the company moved to a new site in Cobden Street, Leicester, becoming the Britannia Works.

British Xylonite Company Ltd took over the company in 1931, Cascelloid now being a subsidiary company with 250 employees.

It was not until 1935 that the name Palitoy was used and two years later the company moved to Coalville in Leicestershire. Pallet retired in 1943 but lived for another 40 years, much of his retirement being spent as a director of Leicester City Football Club.

Illustration from a 1979 catalogue featuring one of the Royal Scot Class rebuilt locos.

During the Second World War the company produced a wide range of products to support the war effort before returning to normal work in 1946.

The company was at the forefront of plastic design and moulding innovation. In 1947 Bill Pugh joined the company as chief plastics designer and he went on to develop, among other things, the Jif lemon squeezer, the Domestos bottle and the tomato-shaped ketchup dispenser.

Merl Evans (right) and Stuart Jesson (left) on the Palitoy stand at the 1979 Toy Fair. The Warship diesel on the stand was a pre-production model. Photo by Bachmann Europe Plc

By 1965, Coalville was involved purely in toy production and became the Palitoy division of British Xylonite. A year later Palitoy announced the development of its doll range. It had acquired the rights to the Hasbro GI Joe soldier figure for the British market and produced its own version; Action Man.

It was highly controversial at the time as boys were not traditionally seen as part of the target audience for dolls. Other popular brands at the time were Tiny Tears and Tressy, which took on the American Sindy in the shops.

For the full article, see October’s edition of Modelling – available now!

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