Thursday, 26 January 2012

John Hill, Islington

John Hill & Co was founded between 1898 and 1900 (both dates have been suggested) by F. H. Wood, a former employee of William Britain, the country's largest toy manufacturer at the time. John Hill's hollow cast metal figures were originally manufactured in Islington, at 2-22 Britannia Row. However most of the factory was damaged beyond repairs during the Second World War and in 1946 the company relocated from London to Burnley in Lancashire. The building close to Essex Road survived though, and with it the ghost sign that once promoted the company.
John Hill's figures became rapidly popular, largely because they were sold individually rather than in more expensive box sets of ten or eight like Britain's (Britain remained the market leader though). They were also cheaper than Britain's but the sculpture was less detailed and the painting less meticulous. Thus John Hill's figures were often found in more modest households while better-off families offered their offsprings Britain boxes. On a plus side, their postures were often deemed to be more realistic than the martial ones of Britain's toy soldiers. If Indians and cowboys sold well, by far the most demanded figures were those of soldiers and John Hill, who at some stage began marketing its toys under the more fashionable name Johillco, offered a wide range of regiments, both British and foreign. The demand for military toys increased with the Boer War but the heydays were between the First World War and the 1950s, when they were superseded by space toys.
In 1956 Johillco released its first plastic figures under the name Hilco. Yet with a catalogue that didn't adapt rapidly enough to kids' changing tastes, the company's share of the toy market began to decline. Coronation memorabilia and some movie tie-in figures didn't compensate for the diminishing sales of toy soldiers and their equipment. As a result John Hill & Co closed in the early 1960s.
Nowadays some of their figures are sought by collectors and can be seen in toy museums around the country.

John Hill
& Co
Metal Toys

Location: Britannia Row / Picture taken in April 2008

1 comment:

helen said...

Nice shot and great to have all that history.