The Metal Toy Soldiers of Wm. Hocker, Proprietor



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My Roots in the Britains Factory

Barry Hards - 16Nov10 4:18PM


[A letter originally published in issue 150 of Toy Soldier Magazine]

I have been meaning to contact you for sometime, ever since my father uncovered family links to the old Britain's factory in North London. As you can see from my father's email below [a copy of a census page], whilst doing some family research he was looking at the 1901 census, which showed that his great aunts (my great, great aunts) were listed as 'toy makers' and their home address is actually the next road to the Britain's factory in North London. My dad and his brother remember getting some Briatin's toy soldiers and farm animals from their great aunts, no doubt 'liberated' from the factory whilst they were painting, as most of painters were women on low wages. My dad was particularly interested in an the article published a while back which were detailed the early days of Briatins, with some great old photographs of the staff in the painting floor.

I just love the idea that i have a toy soldier link going back over three centuries (19th, 20 and 21st). I first became hooked on toy soldiers after playing with my dad's old sets of Britains soldiers, cowboys and indians and when i was 7 (I am now 44!!), my dad bought me a box of Airfix OH/HO scale British Waterloo infantry, and i awoke the following morning to find them all painted in their scarlet jackets, awaiting an enemy and i was hooked. The following week he bought a suitable foe in the form of French Cuirassiers, which he duly painted and the battles began. There started many years of collecting airfix figures but I always loved the look and feel of the old Britains toy soldiers, even though on my pocket money i couldn't then afford these expensive sets.

Now that I am somewhat more senior in years, I an an avid fan and collector of Bill Hocker's superb figures. I guess the reason i am so attracted to Bill's figures is that they seem the natural successors to Britains old hollowcast figures, in weight, appearance and style of painting. I first discovered Bill's figures when visiting California, i was trying to find some toy soldier shops and cam across Bill Hocker's factory listed in Berkley. I phoned him and he invited me over to have look. When I got over to Berkley and after Bill showed me around his factory and the cabinets filled with old Briatins, he kindly took me down the road for lunch. Before leaving i ordered a couple of sets from Bill, the KOSB maxim gun detatchment (no.3) and the regimental signals squad (set.11) and here started my adult collecting. I now have 80 Hocker sets, the most recent acquisition being set.94, which is the huge set of entire zulu war range, which i have always wanted but Bill ceased production when the supply of the large boxes was exhausted.

My collection is currently all British colonial but I love Bill's wild west range, so I will probably expand to the Americas soon. If you are interested I can send some photos of both myself and my dad, together with some pictures of our respective armies. I owe a great deal of enjoyment, both a boy and man to my dad introducing me to the wonderful world of playing with toy soldiers. Toy soldiers is a great publication, keep on the excellent work!.

Best Wishes

Barry Hards


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Since 1983