British Toy Making project

Bauhaus Bauspiel construction set, Switzerland 1988 Museum no. MISC.529-1988

Between 2008 and 2013 the V&A Museum of Childhood undertook a major project to document the history of British toy making. The British Toy Making project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, focused on the archives of four major twentieth century British toy manufacturers Lines Bros. Ltd, Mettoy, Palitoy and Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd.

Toy making is an international industry and Britain was at the forefront of toy design and production for much of the twentieth century. The British Toy Making project has opened access to archive material at the Museum and collected new oral histories from individuals who worked in the industry.

Archives and oral history

The Museum holds a range of archive material relating to a wide variety of toy manufacturers and distributors. During the project, these were catalogued, conserved and digitised and, together with the Museum's object collection, provide a fascinating record of British toy making.

Paper archives can only reveal part of the history of British toy making. To supplement the archive collections, Museum staff collected oral history interviews from a wide range of individuals involved behind the scenes in the industry. These interviews have been transcribed and are available to read.
Read the transcripts


As the project developed and further contacts were found, smaller archive collections relating to the British toy making industry were also donated and catalogued. These are now available to search online and, like other archival material at the museum, can be accessed by appointment.
Read more

The British Toy Making Timeline

The British Toy Making timeline is a resource to help map the history of four major toy making companies of the twentieth century, held in the museum's archive.

The timeline provides a visual history that shows how these significant British companies grew over time and tell the stories of how some of the iconic toys of the twentieth century were developed.

The four company timelines showcase just some of the archival material that has been digitised as a part of the British toy making project and are shown alongside toys from the museum's extensive object collection.

View the timelines

Toy manufacturers

You can also read about the history of the toy companies whose archives the museum holds.
Read more about specific toy manufacturers

Exhibitions, community and learning

The archive material is being used in the permanent galleries and in temporary exhibitions, as well as contributing to community and learning programmes in a variety of ways.
Read more

A learning resource has been developed for use from KS3 to KS5. Designing the Message is a flexible resource which is particularly appropriate for students of design, media studies, history or english. It looks into the design and presentation of advertisements, considering the various influences on design choices such as the target market and societal trends.
Download the teachers' notes .pdf

Download the presentation .pdf

Makers' Day and Study Day

The project led to the Museum being involved in a range of exciting events to promote access to the archive material.
Read more

British Toy Making blog

Throughout the project, staff recorded their experiences in a blog.
Read the blog

Heritage Lottery Fund

Esmee Fairbairn Foundation




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Tel: +44 (0)20 8983 5200 | V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA