Tri-ang model railways had its early beginning in a small firm called Rovex Plastics Ltd. set up in 1946 just after World War II by Alexander Venetzian in the United Kingdom. This firm was making plastic model cars initially, but after conflict with Rover Cars over the use of the name Rovex, the company moved into the model railway field, making train sets for the department store chain Marks and Spencers.
Venetzian was first asked by Marks and Spencers to develop an electric toy train set in time for Christmas 1950. He delivered the product on time, but only after finding adequate manufacturing facilities in a former Brewery in Richmond. Initial train production was in 'O' gauge, producing an electric train set based on the LMS, Princess Elizabeth Loco. The set, called the Rovex Princess Set, was launched in time for christmas 1950, consisting of the loco, two coaches and some track. However, shortly thereafter, the company ran into some financial difficulties. In October 1951 the company was taken over by Lines Bros. Ltd, who manufactured Tri-ang baby prams and bicycles. Lines Bros had been looking to expand into toy train railway products. Their trains would be sold under the Tri-ang Railways name. With the resources of the Lines Bros group, great expansion was possible, and by 1953 the outline of the Tri-ang range was available in retail hobby shops. To make room for further product development, Lines Bros moved the Rovex Scale Models Ltd company to a brand new factory built at Margate, in Kent, in 1954.
The brothers George and Joseph Lines made wooden toys in the Victorian age, their company being G & J lines Ltd. Joseph was the active partner while George went into farming. Joseph (or Joe) had four sons. Three of these — William, Walter and Arthur Edwin Lines — formed Lines Bros Ltd soon after World War I. Three Lines make a triangle, hence the origination of the name Tri-ang. Arthur's son, Richard Lines, was largely responsible for the Tri-ang Railways system.
These model trains represented a great step forward in the production of model trains. The use of plastic injection molding meant lower cost, cheap mass production, less weight (less powerful motors required) and that greater detail could be reproduced. The Tri-ang range continued to grow throughout the fifties and early sixties. By 1964 Tri-ang dominated the model train markets in the United Kingdom, and many of the colonial countries.
During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s there was a large production of Tri-ang products in Australia and New Zealand.
This was to overcome trade barriers in place because of massive trading deficits. There was a small production in South Africa. Models designed for the Canadian
and American markets were made in England. At the end of 1960 Tri-ang acquired the French HO train manufacturer VB (Vallon et Brun). This was an attempt to
get a foothold for their TT scale products on the continent, and at the same time also filled the gap in their own product line for HO scale products. Lines Bros. built
a factory in Calais. Tri-ang catalogs touting the VB HO line were issued. This endeavor was short lived however, and by the summer of 1962 train production in France
was halted completely and the Calais factory was sold. By 1962 the Tri-ang range had expanded to 25 locos, as well as rolling stock and a new range of buildings
called Model Land was introduced in 1963.
The success of Tri-ang in England meant that British competitors Trix and Hornby-Dublo were affected. The year 1964 saw the demise of Meccano and the Hornby Dublo range, which along with a large amount of inventory was then acquired by Tri-ang. Tri-ang then changed to Tri-ang / Hornby which was to continue until 1969. The combined toy railways was marketed as Triang-Hornby although the vast majority of the models were all Tri-ang. The Hornby name being more established and recognized, the Tri-ang part was later dropped and it was sold as Hornby Railways.
Tri-ang had initially continued production of the acquired Hornby-Dublo range, but soon it was sold off to G & R Wrenn Limited, as it did not fit with the modern plastic injection molding techniques. The trading name of Tri-ang Hornby continued even though there was no trace of the original Hornby Dublo left. When the Lines Group of companies was split up and sold, the Tri-ang name went with the manufacture of prams (Tri-ang Pedigree). The new owners of the model train business changed the name to Hornby Railways, as they could not use the Tri-ang name.
From 1957 to 1964 Tri-ang made TT gauge models as well as OO/HO gauge trains. TT or 3mm
scale is smaller than OO/HO which is 4mm scale. The name 'TT' came from the phrase used to describe this smaller scale, 'Table Top'. TT track is two rail, with a distance of 12mm between the inside edges of each rail. There are two varieties of OO scale model railroad trains - American and British. The American models (referred to as American OO) are 1/76 scale, 3/4 inch (19mm) gauge, sized about half way between HO scale and 'S' scale. The British models are made at a track gauge of 16.5mm, so they're actually HO gauge but with bodies scaled to OO (sometimes referred to as HO/OO or OO/HO gauge).
Big Big Trains was a brand manufactured by Rovex in the UK and introduced in 1966
under the Tri-ang label. This was an 'O' gauge system that used battery power instead of track power, and was
designed to run outdoors as well as indoors. The Tri-ang/Rovex name appeared on the end flap of the distinctive yellow boxes, but the manufacturer and brand was not obvious. The range was produced until 1972 when it was discontinued. The concept was eventually sold to Lima in 1967, who converted the trains to run using track power.
Apart from a brief change to Hornby Models the Hornby name has remained to this day, even though the range of models owes far more to the Tri-ang legacy, than it ever did to Hornby Dublo. The legacy of Tri-ang can still be seen in the current Hornby range. The style of motors continues the Tri-ang basic design. (The Mark 7 motor is not far removed from the original Mark 1 model in 1950). Even some accessories are quite clearly the original Tri-ang designs, such as the over-bridges, viaducts, station buildings etc. Even the Tri-ang church survives. The current track style is still called Series 6, which was introduced by Tri-ang Hornby. Even the numbering of the catalogues follows the Tri-ang sequence, from the first in 1953.
Tri-ang is probably best known for its model railways, but also produced model ships and tin toys.