EXHIBITION GALLERIES

HISTORICAL
OVERVIEW
Tri-ang Gottschalk Legotojs Givjoy
TOY FORTS IN BRITAIN

Introduction

Originally a toy fort was a vital accessory to somebody’s game of toy soldiers - after all, every toy army needed something to attack or defend - and somewhere to live!  Now, if it survives, it may be seen very differently - according to whom is doing the seeing.  

To one person it could be an essential display structure for a prized toy soldier collection.  To another it may be no more than a large bit of dusty, worm-eaten old junk cluttering up the attic - in which case one can only hope that a dedicated collector, rather than the local waste tip, will be the recipient of such an unloved treasure.  
This is about commercially manufactured toy forts on which toy soldiers came to life in a three-dimensional context.  It does not include the early lead ‘flat’ type that can only be used as scenery or for target practice.  Nor does it include the build-it-yourself (eg: Lego, Exin) and DIY home-made types.  
Early History
Toy soldiers began to be manufactured towards the end of the 18th century.  They became a commercial proposition  in the early 19th century, and toy forts must have come along not long after - probably about 1850.  But there is little concrete evidence for it.  There is one , illustrated in the French version of “The Golden Age of Toys”, apparently dating from about 1865 but there is no clear statement to that effect.  Another, with a label in three languages, proclaims it to be “The Siege of Sebastopol” which almost certainly dates it at about 1855.  
A Moritz Gottschalk catalogue from about 1885 illustrates a number of “fortresses” but the author has never seen one.  Of the reasonably well authenticated forts only two others can be placed confidently before the turn of the century, both now in a private collection.  One is a Gottschalk which was found in Switzerland.  The other is an Austrian-made candlelit beauty, with verbal provenance from the original owner’s grand-daughter who knew it to be in existence in 1895.
Apart from this it would appear that the trade began to develop, in a modern commercial sense, about 1900.  There is evidence for this in Gamage’s 1902 catalogue which carried seven significantly different models, each in a range of sizes providing a total of eighteen different forts to choose from.  
Nonetheless, surviving examples from this period are surprisingly few and far between, with only a small number of these being made in Britain.  Indeed, in the decade prior to World War 1, it is known that they came almost exclusively from Germany.  Of course this should be no surprise considering that the long-established Anglo-German trade in toy soldiers would have provided a ready-made basis for the emerging toy fort market.  
Little is known about the manufacturers of this period.  This is probably because production in the early days was a relatively unsophisticated process - bearing all the hallmarks of a cottage industry.  However one at least has been identified.  This is the prolific German company of Moritz Gottschalk in Marienberg, which was founded in 1865 and was producing toy forts in 1885 if not before.  They manufactured much, if not all, of the range carried by Gamage’s from 1910 to 1930.  
The only British manufacturer, who is known to have been active before the first World War, was C E Turnbull & Co producing under the trade mark of “Charterhouse” - maybe better known for their various very large boxed sets which usually included some of Britain’s soldiers.  
Between the Wars
After the Great War the two ‘giants’ of toy fort manufacturing in Europe came onto the scene and remained there for more than 50 years - with a hiatus for the Second World War, of course.  Their names were Lines Bros, trading under the name Tri-ang and sometimes Triangtois; and Gebruder Hausser, trading under the name Elastolin.  
The first to appear was the Elastolin range.  Hausser had been producing small military figures since about 1912, but the earliest reference to the production of toy forts appeared some time between 1925 and 1929.  Tri-ang was established in 1923, although they may not have produced a fort until the early 1930s - at least they were not listed under ‘FORTS’ in the Games and Toys Trade Directory and Diary for 1929, but they were in 1935.  
Other manufacturers were involved to some extent, although they hardly compare with Lines and Hausser.  Names such as Dansk LegetØjsfabrik, Lord Roberts’ Memorial Workshops, Burleytoys, Chad Valley, Burnett Ltd (with its UBILDA range) and Bournemouth Novelty Works (and even Moritz Gottschalk until the early 1930s) are some of them.  
One notable absentee from this role-call of manufacturers is William Britain & Sons.  Apart from one or two minor attempts at producing cardboard forts - mostly incorporated somehow into their packaging design (this is not to say that they are not collector’s items - on the contrary, they are so rare and valuable that one sold for £6,600 at Auction in 1988).  One wonders why they did not persuade the firm of Huger, who made so many agricultural and village buildings on their behalf, to have a go at making forts for them as well.  
Post World War II 
The production of toy forts immediately after World War ll took up more or less where it left off in 1940.  Composition (Hausser), wood (Tri-ang and Tudor Toys) and metal (UBILDA now owned by Chad Valley) were used, and exactly the same production processes came back into action.  
Changes appeared in the early fifties.  Notably Crescent came into the market with two small-scale metal forts, while Chad Valley dropped out.
This continued until the mid 1960s when plastic began to provide a commercially viable alternative material.  Various new manufacturers emerged such as Cherilea, Kleeware, Marx and remarkably Britains finally got involved in the market for the first time.  
The Elastolin range seemed to lend itself to this new technology and Hausser quite quickly changed over to it, making some of the moulds directly from the old composition pieces. On the other hand, Lines Brothers’ Tri-ang range did not adapt so very well, and they continued with wood and hardboard , making more elaborate forts based on real castles.  In any case, Lines Bros failed in 1972 and Hausser ceased production in December 1983.