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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, 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 being 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 are being added gradually to the site (a process which began in November 2013). This is a not-for-profit enterprise, primarily to help fill a gap in what is currently available about Milbro trains, but increasingly also to try to provide some 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 seems to have contributed).




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



Illustration H3.  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 H4.  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.

The majority of the photos shown will be of Milbro rolling stock, locomotives, accessories and associated published material or art work, but increasingly (in line with the intentions outlined above)  models or components from other manufacturers and retailers will be included too. This may be 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 so far given to items from other firms has been of interest, so the website sections on these will continue to grow in parallel with the Mills material.

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 hope to develop separate coverage of Bond's engines too fairly soon. The 3-rail (coarse-scale/standard scale) 0 gauge engines made by Beeson (including those sold through Milbro, Bassett-Lowke, 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. The section on Milbro coaches is complemented by brief outline coverage of some other coach makers in another part of the site, and that material is expanding as things 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. 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 image 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).

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 H8. 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 Royal Scot class loco thought to be a model from Beeson's pre-war cheaper range (or perhaps made by Beeson for Mills). A short front section including what probably were 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 (and the limited detailing on the loco body) might be suggestive of a connection to Mills, that cannot be verified. The owner also replaced original coupling and connecting rods and allied fittings by modern ones which were rather crude. I would guess that the original ones were probably plainer but nonetheless hand-made (either by Beeson or by Mills). 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, although the situation is probably much worse for models built by some of the other makers.



Illustration H9.  The front item here includes all that remains of the original frames of a Royal Scot class loco believed to be from Beeson's pre-war cheaper range, or a model made by him for another firm (possibly 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, when the model was made, or whether it was supplied via Milbro.


Milbro Kits

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 H10. This is probably a kit-built model using Mills parts, but is very much in the Milbro construction style. Its 1930s 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 generally 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 the present 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 Bob Burgess, Mick Bayliss, Roger Ball, Richard Barton, David Bower, William Brown, Roger Burton, George Coop, Martin Ford, Malcolm Holliday, Jonathan Lewis, John Lockwood, Peter Bishop, Mike Williams, Peter Davis, Peter Wray, Hugh Hazelton, Cyril Kennett, John Lumb, Adrian Tester, William Whitehead, and Stuart Rose. 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 recent 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 have 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. 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