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* This section was revised most recently in February 2024 *

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 M.L.Harrison 2020 © All rights reserved. 




Illustration H1.

The front cover of a folded advertising leaflet/brochure (with 8 panels). This version is probably rather rare, and has a very ‘period’ look.  

This site has two main purposes.

The first is to provide an introduction to model railway products sold under the Milbro trademark by the UK Sheffield-based firm of Mills Bros., both before and after World War Two.

The second is to complement and supplement this account by adding to the information available via the internet about railway models, mechanisms and motors made by several other UK firms between the 1920s and 1970s. At time of writing, some material is included on Bassett-Lowke, Beeson, Bond's, Dettmar, Douglass Models, Exley, Gresham Models, Leeds, Miller Swan, Vulcan of Kendal, Windsor Models, Walker & Holtzappfel, and others.

The UK Mills Brothers company was referred to initially in its catalogues simply as Mills Bros., and described as a Model Railway and Commercial Model Builders. Then, from 1935-36 until the late 1940s, it was referred to formally as Mills Bros. (Model Engineers) Ltd. Finally, following ownership changes and what seems to have been a division of functions between model railway work and model aero-engine production, the model railway activities were continued through the 1950s under the name of Mills Bros. (Sheffield) Ltd. (For more about the firm after the war see our Milbro Locomotives section.) The company operated primarily from Sheffield premises, their most well-known address being in St. Mary's Road (where they were based from February 1930 onwards). The telephone number from that address was used as one of the numbers offered in the Milbro range of wagon transfers, and is often seen on their factory-built vehicles (25742). 

The general aim for this website is to discuss and illustrate a range of items in a way that may interest model railway enthusiasts and collectors, especially those involved with vintage 0 Gauge toys and models. The site is maintained and developed by Malcolm Harrison, with advice on some of the content from other enthusiasts with knowledge of vintage trains, and with technical/computing support from Gill Harrison.  Illustrative materials and text have been added gradually to the site (a process which began in November 2013). This is a not-for-profit enterprise, initially begun to help fill a gap in what was currently available about Milbro trains, but increasingly also trying to provide material that might be helpful for people investigating other firms from the vintage era.







 Illustration H2a. A Milbro LMS Princess and tender. Many thanks to the owner of this model for letting me show it on this website. The firm catalogued a loco of this class in the 1930s, and the example in our photograph was most likely made at the end of that decade. There are more pictures of this engine in our page on Mills locomotives.



Illustration H2b.  Milbro LMS 4F loco and tender. This is probably one of a batch made in the 1930s. Although very plain in terms of detailing, the model is well proportioned and neatly put together.  There are more pictures of this loco in our Mills Locos page (as well as another later 4F to which Milbro may have contributed).



Illustration H2c.  Milbro 0 gauge NE atlantic loco, probably from the early 1930s or late 1920s.



Illustration H3a.  Milbro 0 gauge gunpowder van. An example from the large range of wooden rolling stock produced by the company. This particular model is probably from the late 1920s or early 1930s. 



Illustration H3b.  A rare example of a Milbro GN brake van. This is in good condition, with its trade mark intact. I do not know of any catalogue picture of this vehicle.



Illustration H4.  This Milbro compound has been through a number of changes since it was made in the earliest period of the firm's loco production. The high-quality paintwork is apparently from the 1960s-1980s, and at some date the model was converted very carelessly to two-rail running. The loco was later restored to 3-rail, and some other issues were dealt with. Correct Leeds-style wheels were fitted, and at time of writing (February 2024) I have at last put on a Mills pickup!  I think parts for the tender body were probably supplied by Beeson.

This model is not true to prototype, and thus matches the one catalogued by Milbro, albeit with a changed number. The firm seems to have been less concerned with accurate representation when making some of its earliest models. I have never seen another compound model that is the same as the Milbro catalogue picture in terms of body details. Indeed, this one may be the actual model used for the catalogue image, albeit that it was subsequently given a new number.

Many of the photos shown on this site are of Milbro rolling stock, locomotives, accessories and associated published material or art work, but (in line with the intentions outlined above)  models or components from other manufacturers and retailers will be included too. This may be to fill gaps in what is available elsewhere, to help provide context, to illustrate or explain, to show specific features, or to make comparisons. Feedback from some of the enthusiasts I know has indicated that the coverage given to items from other firms has been of interest, so the website sections on these have continued to grow in parallel with the Mills material. As far as locos in particular are concerned, I have been trying to identify and highlight some of the specific characteristics of models made by several makers.

At the moment there are a few illustrations of wagons from LMC and two other producers within the section on Milbro Wooden Wagons, and something more extensive on several wagon-making firms in the page on wagons by other makers. There is also some general illustrative material on locomotives and motors from various UK firms in the section on Vintage Locos and Motors, together with separate coverage of two small-scale post-war firms, Douglass Models and Vulcan of Kendal. An additional section illustrates locos from Windsor Models and Exley, and we have also developed separate coverage of Bond's engines too. The 3-rail (coarse-scale/standard scale) 0 gauge engines made by Beeson (including those sold through Milbro, Bassett-Lowke, Exley, Gresham Models and R.M.Evans) are discussed and illustrated in another section of the site. There is also a page about Bernard Miller/Miller Swan. These sections on Beeson and Miller are meant to help fill gaps in what is currently on the internet, where Miller in particular is under-represented, and where commentary on Beeson is scattered and brief. The section on Milbro coaches is complemented by outline coverage of some other coach makers in another part of the site, and that material has been expanding as things have come to hand. In some parts of the site focussed on other locomotive makers in 0 gauge, I refer to features that might help with identification. Often the analysis is tentative rather than conclusive !  

 ClaudFeb172ndattemptREV1 001

 Illustration H5.  Two LNER Claud Hamilton locos by Beeson, thought to be from batches made for Milbro. As with the locos in Illustrations H2b and H2c, these models are made in tinplate and were for gauge 0. The loco near to the camera was changed in a few relatively minor ways by a previous owner, and this included replacing the wires through the crank pins with something a little rough and ready, and replacing the pickups with a skate. When this picture was taken I was unaware that at some point the loco's nameplate had also been changed. The Claud Hamilton plate seen here is a later addition, glued on over the name 'John Herivel'. (See the Beeson section of this website for further comment.)


Illustration H6.  Milbro advertising placed on a practical item. Tape used by Milbro, carrying their name and address details. This piece was tied around one of their labelled boxes (see the section of our website that shows Artwork).


Milbro track was something for which the company seems to have been well known, and some selected catalogue illustrations of track and related products are included in the section of the site that covers 'Other' Milbro items. Actual sections of 0 gauge track included in some photos, however, have a variety of retail origins.


Renovations, added detail, rebuilt locomotives and rolling stock kits

Vintage trains have often been changed in various ways over the decades since they were made. A loco might have been fitted with a new motor, repainted, modified, enhanced, or converted from 3-rail to 2-rail running. There might even have been a complete rebuild from one loco type to another by an enthusiast or commercial firm. When kits were available, that gave further scope for items that differed from a standard factory product (and in a sub-section further down this page we show a vehicle that was probably kit-built). Many of today's collectors, however, want an item to be in its original condition or fairly close to it, especially as far as the exterior appearance is concerned. With vintage locos, it can also be helpful to have the initial factory-built mechanism, as this helps identification. Repairs and renovations, however, are generally seen as acceptable, both on rolling stock and engines, and sometimes adding small details or commissioning a full repaint is felt worthwhile. In fact, quite a few collectors enjoy doing restorations (see the next two images below).

We should also add that some loco rebuilds or major enhancements by professionals have firm places in the model railway history. In the Other Vintage Locos and Motors and the Douglass Models sections of this site we include some examples of 'rebuilds', as this is a part of the UK record which often gets forgotten. Professional rebuilding could fill significant gaps in the classes of locos available.  I understand from an informant that a firm in Australia employed this strategy too, to 'repurpose' Bassett-Lowke models into Victorian Railways locomotives (see our section on Other Vintage Locos and Motors).  



Illustration H7.  People come into the field of vintage trains in all kinds of ways and some get enjoyment from repairing or improving things as well as from operating layouts or collecting models. This picture was provided by a Netherlands correspondent who had been turning a wrecked Mills wagon into a revived item for his layout, and making a very good job of it (with the help of original transfers and gum arabic) !

Some people prefer not to change the appearance of old models, so the usual advice is to keep (or 'touch in')  original paintwork and transfers unless deterioration has gone too far (as it certainly had for the wagon above). The judgement is inevitably a matter of personal choice (although removing adequate original paintwork on a very scarce item may affect its financial value).



Illustration H8.  Another example of excellent renovation work on a Milbro item. This vehicle had been badly damaged, and a new section has been created. It can be seen from the coach end on the left that this factory-built item is a rare example of a Mills clerestory vehicle. The coach is for Gauge One, and more illustrations of it can be seen in our page on Milbro coaches. Many thanks to the owner for letting me have some pictures.


I have rarely commissioned a full loco repaint, but this can be desirable even on a high quality item. With the example below it was necessary in order to restore this 1932 Beeson model to the livery it would have had when made. For more photos and discussion of this example see our section about Beeson's 3-rail models.


Illustration H9. The master painter Warren Haywood has beautifully restored this 1930s Beeson Fowler tank to its original livery. When it came up on Ebay some years ago it was black, having been repainted unsatisfactorily.  


Unfortunately, in contrast to this kind of restoration, some 'improvements' to update vintage models have been less satisfactory. The illustration below shows two separate parts that join together to make up a chassis. They are from a Beeson pre-war Royal Scot class model that I believe was most likely supplied to a customer via Exley (or perhaps Milbro). A short front section including parts of the original frames has been retained with the cylinders on it. The rear parts of the old frames have been cut off and removed. A replacement section of chassis designed for 2-rail operation - and containing new wheels with a Bond's motor - was then bolted on. The replacement frame sections are relatively thin, and fit rather crudely onto the front part.  Sadly, there is now no way of telling exactly what the original mechanism, frames and gear train were like.  Although the front end 'remnant' seen here might be suggestive of a connection to Exley or Mills, that cannot be verified with certainty. In addition, the original connecting rods and allied fittings were replaced (probably by the same owner) with modern ones which were not very attractive, but may have appeared more realistic. The coupling rods he used may have been the original ones, but were more like Exley or Bassett-Lowke products than Beeson's.  This model (Sherwood Forester) is mentioned again in our page about Beeson, and is awaiting renovations. It is sometimes assumed that Beeson engines were cherished so much that almost all were handed down over the years in very good condition. Unfortunately that is not really the case, especially with 1930s models, although the situation is probably much worse for items built by some of the other makers.



Illustration H10.  The front item here includes all that remains of the original frames of a Royal Scot class loco believed to be a model made by Beeson for another firm (possibly Exley or Mills). The rest of the chassis has been replaced by the 6-wheel unit standing behind, which is set up with a Bond's motor and for two-rail running, but has been fitted onto the front section rather crudely. It could be argued that this is an example of what not to do when updating a distinctive old model of good quality. One result is that it is impossible to know what the original mechanism was like, or whether the model was sold via Exley (which seems the most likely origin in this specific case).

Collaborations and similarities amongst firms

One problem facing anyone trying to identify vintage models is the issue that firms collaborated in a variety of ways. Not only did retailers commission work from manufacturers, but makers might also use sub-contractors or work together. It is widely understood that J.S. Beeson built some locos for Milbro, Exley and Bassett-Lowke, as well as for other companies, and he could also supply commercial customers with parts and fittings when needed.

An additional complication is that the production approaches of makers could overlap with each other. One specific instance concerns the construction of loco tenders, where in some cases Exley's pre-war approach parallelled Milbro's. The frames of the tender on the Exley freight loco below are secured by cross-pieces bolted onto the base, enabling them to be removed. This matches one of Milbro's practices (see our page about Mills locos), although this tender is clearly one of Exley's.

Looking further, this particular 2-8-0 has additional things in common with Milbro engines, although its loco frames have been cut to accommodate a large Exley motor unit, and its wheels have been pressed on (unlike the wheels normally found on Mills engines). Perhaps before the war these two firms drew on each other from time-to-time when turning out a specific model or small batch. Regarding the LNER engine below, it is worth noting that Milbro built and displayed a GCR R.O.D. 2-8-0 in 1937, and supplied a similar LNER engine for an enthusiast in the same period (see our page on Mills locos for the Model Railway News sources). So it seems likely Milbro could readily have supplied Exley with an unfinished LNER 2-8-0 body and frames, if asked! In any event, this loco would sit very comfortably alongside Milbro's engines.



 Illustration H11. Exley LNER 2-8-0, currently undergoing some tidying-up and minor repairs. This pre-war model has some similarities with Milbro locos. It contains the massively heavy lead weighting sometimes found in Exley models, and a very modest but handsome backhead that might well have been supplied by Beeson. For more pictures of this item see our Exley locos coverage.

Mentioning the overlap and similarities between firms has given me a justification for including this substantial pre-war 0 gauge freight loco model on our home page! I think large goods engine models by top makers from that period can be especially attractive, but they are by no means common. This one would have been an expensive commission for its purchaser.

Sometimes, arrangements for producing an engine might have involved more than two partners. Occasionally the complications make it hard to identify with certainty which maker produced a specific model. I describe one example in our section about Beeson, where it looks as if Mills and Beeson could both have contributed to an 0 gauge GWR tank engine sold as a special order through Gresham Models. This pannier tank was recently given a very smart overhaul and repaint by Warren Haywood, and we show it now as a nice example of a late-1930s special order.


Illustration H12. Gresham Models 'special order' condensing pannier tank from the late 1930s, believed to have been supplied by Beeson with Milbro. Recently overhauled and expertly repainted by Warren Haywood. Couplings had not yet been added when this picture was taken.


Milbro Kits; an example

In the pre-war decades one option for Mills enthusiasts was to use Milbro wooden wagon and coach kits or parts to make their own models. Sometimes these turned out very well, and the example of a six-wheeler below seems to prove that point. This item may have been professionally made by another firm using Milbro components, or might conceivably be a Mills factory special order, but it seems more likely to have been built by an enthusiast (and it has what looks like a date written in pencil underneath). I like this model partly because I had often thought it would be interesting to assemble a similar LNER vehicle from Mills spares but never got around to it (and probably wouldn't have done it so effectively). The model captures Milbro coach style very well, and what I guess is probably a considerable simplification of a full-sized 4- or 6-wheeler seems very much in tune with commercial railway modelling in the 1930s (cf pictures in P. Tatlow, 'Historic Carriage Drawings: Volume 3, Non-passenger coaching stock', Pendragon, York, 2000, pages 22, 23, etc.). There is another photo of this model in our Mills coaches section.



Illustration H13. This is probably a kit-built model using Mills parts, but is very much in the Milbro construction style. Its 1930s construction date is written underneath in pencil. For another picture of this vehicle see our section on Mills coaches.



Coverage in the comments and illustrations across the website mostly relates to Gauge 0 rather than to larger scales, but some examples of Gauge 1 (and even bigger) wooden rolling stock are included (see particularly the Gallery section).

Enthusiasts often refer simply to 'Mills' locomotives or wagons, as an alternative to saying Milbro or Mills Brothers. Discussion on this site sometimes follows that practice.

Please note that permission should be sought from Malcolm Harrison before reproducing anything (text or illustrations) from this website, other than for personal private use. Copyright is retained by the author (or in particular instances by those who have supplied specific photographs). 

I have included some photos I have taken of printed items (catalogues, documents, etc.), and also some scanned illustrations. I hope this does not transgress any copyrights held by anyone else, but if so please let me know and accept my apologies. In most cases these items are from firms that no longer exist, or of products advertised many years ago.


Acknowledgements, cautions and links

The ongoing preparation of material and illustrations for a site of this kind includes contacting experts and enthusiasts who possess particular locomotives or other items, and have specific experience and insights. Collaboration and consultation are absolutely essential in the case of Milbro, as there are many topics where one’s knowledge is limited, or where discussion helps towards making a better judgement. The same applies to other firms I comment on.

General thanks are due to the people from whom I have learned a great deal about vintage railway models in recent years, and who have a wealth of knowledge on specific company products, the building practices involved, and what makes models by various firms distinctive, intriguing or impressive. Amongst these helpful and informative people have been Malcolm Clayton, Simon Goodyear, David and Marcus Peacock, Brian Cain, the late Alan Cliff, Hans van Dissel, John Robinson, Bill Truin, Mike Delaney, and Alan Crompton. Some of these enthusiasts have provided illustrations of specific items for this ongoing project. I am very grateful to Pieter Penhall for providing pictures and insights that have informed and underpinned my accounts of Read Maxwell and Rocket Precision motors. Simon Greenwood has also been a valued expert to consult, especially on matters of construction and finish, while Lee Marsh is a perceptive analyst on historically-interesting models by the top makers. I also want to thank those other enthusiasts, collectors and experts who have come forward with help on rolling stock, engines and other items which have proved invaluable for enlarging my set of illustrations, or to provide information and source materials. Amongst these contributors and correspondents are Nico Atkins, Peter Bishop, Bob Burgess, Mick Bayliss, Roger Ball, Richard Barton, David Bower, William Brown, Roger Burton, Simon Cook, George Coop, Peter Davis, Martin Ford, Hugh Hazelton, Malcolm Holliday, Cyril Kennett, Jonathan Lewis, John Lockwood, John Lumb, John Mawson, Stuart Rose, Alan O'Rourke, Adrian Tester, Mike Williams, Peter Wray, and William Whitehead. As far as literature is concerned I would like to thank Tony Manktelow and Robert Jagger for providing and alerting me to some specific and very informative written material relating to Bernard Miller and W.S.Norris, and Graham Thomas for helping me access a particular important publication in this same territory. Finally, thanks are due for the help of the Gauge 0 Guild's officers (all volunteers) who ran the Slides (DVD and Video Hire) service and the Executor and Trustee service in its later years. The historical material the Guild holds on specific model railway layouts and modellers is a valuable and unique source of information, and considerable gratitude is due for the hard work that was done to preserve and update things so that members could draw on them. I am very grateful to Chris Simpson for his support when I had been looking for material that would help me understand elements of the 0 gauge model railway past.

Some qualifications or cautions are necessary about what appears on this site. There may be errors of fact, interpretation or presentation, and if I become aware of these I will try to correct them when text is updated. Identification of items often needs to be tentative, as data or evidence are frequently incomplete. It can sometimes be particularly difficult to determine which company or model-maker built a specific locomotive, and some claims about model locomotives having been made by or for Milbro (or other makers) can turn out to have been misplaced or over-optimistic. As we indicated earlier, there also seem to have been potentially numerous links amongst personnel and between companies making models, with possibilities for work being contracted out for a variety of reasons to another producer or expert model-maker, or commissioned by retailers who then named items as their own. Bassett-Lowke, for instance, sold rolling stock made by other manufacturers, and Milbro catalogues included some accessories and even locomotives not made by themselves. In Milbro’s early years there seems to have been a strong link with the Leeds Model Company. Furthermore, parts and kits could be purchased, and in the case of Milbro wagons and coaches this means that some were assembled by purchasers themselves (see above). What constitutes a Milbro item is therefore not completely straightforward.

I hope to increase the links from parts of my text to relevant websites. Some direct links will be made within specific sections of this site (for example a connection is made in the Miller section to a site offering first-rate illustrations of some fine 7mm model locos). As I have often consulted the very useful and well-known Binns Road site (see below), I have similarly inserted links to that site when commenting on Jubb wagons, Bond's, and Windsor Models. The Binns Road site seems to have got more and more useful as material has been added. There also seems to be growing interest in other countries in providing information and advice about vintage model railways on the internet, along with specific contributions from particular experts, makers and enthusiasts. Some of the sites are first rate, and new ones are under development. A very nicely-designed vintage trains example I have seen is from Australia (Hornby), while the Fitzroy Locoworks site offers an intriguing view into some impressive ongoing developments (these two links are below).  In the UK, most readers will probably already know of the excellent information and images available on the Leeds Model Company, from The Leeds Stedman Trust and the Dutch HRCA. 

binns road site

Hornby Railways (Australian site):

Fitzroy Locoworks

For links to two sites that contain valuable material on Leeds Model Company items see:

 Dutch HRCA
 Leeds Stedman Trust

For some excellent sources referring to Milbro's connections with the history of model aero-engines, see the Locomotives section, and especially this link:

 adrians model aeroengines