Toys Through Time


This week, we’re looking at our Toys Through Time display at Prescot Museum – the toys range in date from the 1890s through to the 1990s. They help demonstrate how childhood, consumerism and technology has changed over the years, but most of all they are fun!

The toys in the image above date from the 1890s to 1920s and go from older to newer, top to bottom. The metal ice skates on the top left would be strapped on over your shoes or boots. They would most likely have been used on frozen lakes and ponds rather than ice skating rinks – they only came to Britain in the 1870s. Don’t try this at home!

There are lots of wooden “penny toys” in the display (so called because they were cheap) including a whip and top, skipping rope, cup and ball. Working class children would have played with toys like these, or even made their own, and would have played with them outside. Many working class families didn’t have much room in their houses, especially those living in terraces, so playing outside in the street was the only option.

There are lead soldiers dating from the late 1910s/early 1920s modelled on those from World War I – some are molded to look like they’re wearing early gas masks and there even some which are carrying an injured soldier on a stretcher. They are also painted with lead paint – very toxic and dangerous. Hopefully their original owner didn’t put them in their mouth, but even so, the poisonous lead can be absorbed through the skin when you play with them. We only ever handle these whilst wearing gloves.

The train and British Insulated Cables drum on a freighter were made by Hornby Meccano on Binns Road (close to Edge Lane) around 1926. The train is clockwork, and winds with a key. They were very accurate, recreating the world in miniature. Lots of different models of carriages and cargo on freighters was available, showing the different types of goods that were being transported around Britain by rail at that time.

The lovely colourful jigsaw cubes were given as a Christmas present in 1929. Each of the six faces on each cube has a different section of a picture on it, so it makes six puzzles altogether. There are pictures of each jigsaw puzzle in the box too, to help you work it out.

The toys in the image above are from the 1940s to 1960s. The board game on the left, Horsie Horsie, was invented by Prisoners of War in World War II who played the game to pass the time. When they returned home, they had the game professionally made; due to limited materials available, the board and pieces are made of cardboard.

Fuzzy Felt (just to the right of Horsie Horsie) also came about during World War II – Lois Allan ran a workshop at her home making felt gaskets for tank parts (it’s a special type of seal that goes between two sections of a component to prevent leaks – gaskets are usually very odd shapes with lots of holes cut in them). She gave her children some of the offcuts to play with and she found that they stuck gently onto the back of her placemats – her children had lots of fun making pictures with the shapes, so after the war she marketed the idea using coloured felt in a range of simple shapes.

Rubber and plastic starts to be introduced in toys and everything starts to get more colourful – rubber wheels on Dinky cars, vinyl dolls with blinking eyes with nylon eyelashes, and of course – Action Man came along in 1966! (His Eagle Eyes and hands that really grip were introduced in the 70s)

The toys in this section of Prescot Museum’s Toys Through Time display dates from the 1970s to 1990s. Technology has moved on again, so there is even more plastic and vinyl, and battery-powered toys are becoming common. The increasing influence of television is obvious, with lots of books, toys and games released to tie in with tv programmes – some tv programmes are even created to create stories for toys! The biggest shift in the 80s is the boom in home computers and the introduction of computer games and consoles.

The Viewmaster became a popular toy in the 70s and 80s, a hand-held steroscope that used flat round cardboard reels inset with tiny duplicated slides to create 3D images. The one in the photo is beige, but they came in different colours. They were originally intended more for adults to view scenes of foreign lands but became popular with children and a wide range of reels became available, often abridged versions of cartoons or films.

The ZX Spectrum home computer (the black box with a built-in keyboard) was introduced in 1982 could be plugged into the television. The basic model had a whopping 16 Kilobytes of RAM – a 16GB smartphone has 1 million times more RAM (Random Access Memory). We’ve come a long way! it could also be used to play games which were loaded onto cassette tapes, like Daley Thompson’s Supertest. The Nintendo Gameboy came out in Britain in 1990.

Sindy had been introduced as a British alternative to Barbie in 1963, but her popularity grew through the 70s and 80s. As well as buying licensed Sindy outfits and accessories, many parents and grandparents sewed and knitted clothes for the dolls, with many patterns available.
So many memories, so much fun!