By Carole Barclay
Once the playground for the Prince Regent and his jaded aristocratic mates in the 18th century Brighton has continued to re-invent itself over the decades to retain its position as the paramount resort of the south coast. Entertainments range from the traditional seaside attractions of the pier and amusement arcades to the bohemian world that revolves around the art festivals, the gay scene and the student world. Brighton’s race-course, dog-track and football club are there for the sporting fraternity while the conference centre has been the venue for all the major political parties and many of our unions for decades.
For many visitors their first impression of ‘London-by-the-sea’ is the concourse of Brighton station. But under the arches of that vast Victorian pile is a hidden gem – a toy museum that spans some 200 years of children’s entertainment.
The Brighton Toy and Model Museum is a treasure trove for the young and the young at heart. Founded in 1991, the museum has over 10,000 toys and models on display. Some go back to the Prince Regent’s day but most of the exhibits focus on the golden age of toy making during the first half of the 20th century.
There’s the inevitable Meccano sets and the construction toys that were the precursors of the Lego mania of today. But this was the era of the train set and they dominate the main gallery which also includes a wonderful working model railway along with the toy cars, planes and boats that were a constant feature of boys’ comics until computers came along. Girls are not completely ignored. And the collection of prams, dolls and doll’s houses as well as puppets and soft toys reflects the market that sadly reinforced the female stereotype that was perpetuated by the education system until well into the 1970s.
Though the evolution of toys tells a story in itself this museum is largely a mecca for model makers and collectors of all ages. Vintage toys, with prices ranging from a few pounds to those in three or four figures, are on sale by the in-house work-shop which restores many items that will later appear in one of the galleries.
The Brighton Toy & Model Museum is at 52-55 Trafalgar Street, Brighton, Sussex, BN1 4EB. It’s well-signed posted from the station and it is open from 10:00 to 17:00 from Tuesday to Friday and from 11:00 to 17:00 on Saturdays, It’s closed on Sundays and Mondays. The basic admission charge is £6.50 but there are concessions for students, disabled and senior citizens.