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Bayko, Hornby, Dads Army - 13 toys in our kids' Christmas stockings in years gone by




It's a fair bet that those children in Suffolk lucky enough to receive presents this Covid Christmas will find a good scattering of electronic games among them.

But of course it wasn't always the case that you needed a computer or a screen to play.

We look back to some of the toys of yesteryear - when even a battery was unnecessary and kids just needed to use their imagination.

A Solitaire game from the 1960s
A Solitaire game from the 1960s

Solitaire is as old as the hills. It was certainly played in some form by both the ancient Greeks and Chinese.

In this game of peg Solitaire from the early 1960s, you start with a board where every hole is filled by a marble, except the centre hole.

Marbles are removed when they are jumped over with another marble and the object is to have only one marble left and for that to be in the centre hole.

Whoops! A crazy Waddingtons board game
Whoops! A crazy Waddingtons board game

It's annoyingly difficult. The box shows two children playing together, but the small print helpfully confirms "Solitaire is a game for one player."

Whoops! was a crazy board game for younger children made by Waddingtons in the mid-1960s.

Each player had control of a taxi and of a mother and pram.

The idea was to use the taxi to travel from the airport to the station, by rolling the die and paying a 10s fare.

Whoops! A crazy Waddingtons board game
Whoops! A crazy Waddingtons board game

But the roads ran through a park and the opposing player could stop your progress by moving a mother and pram into the taxi's path!

(Don't try this at home, kids!)

What childhood would be complete without a train set?

This Hornby train set was manufactured some time between 1954 and 1960
This Hornby train set was manufactured some time between 1954 and 1960

The most famous marque for much of the last century was Hornby Railways, founded by Frank Hornby in 1903. This clockwork Hornby No 40 tank engine was manufactured by Meccano in Liverpool some time between 1954 and 1960.

The set includes several goods wagons, a points-controlled siding and a level crossing.

The great thing creatively about the Hornby sets was that the track came in segments, curved or straight, each just over a foot long, which the child had to slot together himself.

That meant that a different layout could be made every time, and the more track sections you had the more elaborate the layout. Oh, the agony of waiting for the next birthday in the hope of getting a 10 shilling note from Auntie Marge.

Pit was a commodity trading game from 1964, made by Parker, that was supposed to imitate the American Corn Exchange (known colloquially as The Wheatpit).

Each player was dealt a random selection of cards representing holdings of agricultural commodities such as wheat, hay, barley etc.

The Pit trading game from 1964
The Pit trading game from 1964

There was no rolling of dice or waiting your turn.

From the moment the bell rang to start the game you had to furiously call out your offers to trade cards with other players, in imitation of the exchange trading floor.

The idea was to collect all nine cards in any one commodity and so "corner" the market.

In the days when John Wayne, Randolph Scott and James Stewart filled the cinemas with their western movies, it was inevitable that boys at least would want to play Cowboys and Indians.

These toy figures were made by a company called Britains Ltd in 1971, though despite the patriotic name, they were made in China.

Collecting was always harmless fun, and perfect training for today's consumer-driven society. This All Nations stamp album published by J and R Darracott Ltd of London in 1960 contains sections for countries that no longer exist - or at least not by the same name.

The USSR and Rhodsesia pages
The USSR and Rhodsesia pages

Here we have pages for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The album was full of interesting educational facts, such as the area of the countries and their capitals and the exchange rate: one rouble was apparently worth 1s9d (that's about 8 pence in decimal money.)

Lyons and other tea companies also tried to sell more products by issuing sets of tea cards - one to be collected with each packet of tea (loose-leaf tea then, not tea-bags). This set of 50 cards from Brooke Bond was called the History of Aviation and started with the Montgolfier Brothers balloon of 1782 and ended with the Northrop HL10, the precursor to the Space Shuttle, which dates the set at around 1966.

Mamod has been making model steam engines since 1934 and the company is still going strong. Steam locomotives and steam rollers are the most popular models, but is is also possible to buy a stationary engine like this one from the early 1960s.

You filled the green can with methylated spirits, set fire to the wick and shoved it under the engine's tank to boil the water.

A Mamod steam engine and saw
A Mamod steam engine and saw

Once a sufficient pressure of steam was achieved the engine would turn the saw, which unfortunately was not really sharp enough to cut anything other than balsa wood and tiny fingers.

Completely child friendly....

Even today, there can be few people who are not familiar with TV comedy show Dad's Army. It ran from 1968 to 1977, but also sparked a radio series, a movie and a stage show.

A Dad's Army board game
A Dad's Army board game

One of the spin-offs was this board game made by the Yorkshire-based company Denys Fisher.

Each player started the game with a secret destination on the board, which they had to reach before the other players reached theirs.

Along the way they had to avoid German bombing raids and the antics of the other Dads Army characters who could send them off course.

A Dad's Army board game
A Dad's Army board game

The manufacturers described the game as "Crazy capers out on patrol as our redoubtable heroes prepare to hold off the Hun."

Airfix model kits were always popular, and with some plastic cement, some Humbrol paints and a whole lot of patience most kids could make a half-decent Spitfire or Scharnhorst battleship.

Airfix soldiers
Airfix soldiers

But the company also made boxes of tiny soldiers.

These too were intended to be hand-painted, but that was too small and fiddly a job to interest most children.

However you did get nearly 50 figures in a box, so with the expenditure of relatively little pocket money it was possible to have quite mammoth battles.

Airfix toy soldiers, a multitude of units and nationalities were available
Airfix toy soldiers, a multitude of units and nationalities were available

These figures were made in 1987.

Bayko was one of the first toys to be made in plastic. It took its name from Bakelite, an early type of plastic.

The construction sets were made between 1934 and 1967. The one shown is from the early 1960s.

You could design and build almost anything: houses, factories, clock towers, railway stations. Like many toys of the period you started with the basic kit and then kept adding to it.

The fun was in the construction rather than playing with the finished product.

It required some patience and nimble fingers and eventually lost ground to the much easier Lego.

When children left school at 14 or 15 and went straight into work, there had been no need for the concept of "teenager."

But by the affluent 1950s and thanks largely to James Dean's 1955 film Rebel Without A Cause, the teenager had arrived.

Pretty soon as British youngsters became familiar with the likes of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley, it became essential for them to listen to music.

One way was the tape-player. This reel-to reel Avon Elizabethan two-track tape recorder was given to its current owner on her 14th birthday - in 1959. It still works.

It looks simple, with only two controls, but was surprisingly versatile. You could buy pre-recorded tapes, but more usual was to record onto a blank tape from a record player or direct off the radio. It came with a microphone that allowed you to sing along with the track like an early karaoke machine or alternatively make and record your own music. Every now and then the tape would break, and then good splicing skills were necessary.

Today, most youngsters listen to music on their mobiles through Spotify, iTunes or YouTube Music.

In the 60s, the craze was for the record-player, which was the new name for what their parents had called the gramophone.

Teenagers today are still at least familiar with the concept of a single, but perhaps less so with an EP.

An EP (extended play) such as this Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas record from 1963 had two tracks on each side.

Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas was one of the Liverpool beat boom bands that took the world by storm in the early Sixties along with The Beatles, The Swinging Blue Jeans, The Searchers and Gerry and the Pacemakers.

All four Kramer hits on this EP were actually written by Lennon and McCartney.

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