The Way We Were by Colin Ella

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I ALWAYS enjoy TV programmes featuring the many sorts of toys we enjoyed as youngsters decades ago.

Do you recall all those lead soldiers? I actually owned just a few poor specimens - wounded warriors indeed - but I treasured them. They went into battle minus an arm or a leg before a shot had even been fired. Some of my mates had wonderful collections of colourful troops with often the added bonus of a handsome fort as well.

These little lead delights appeared in late Victorian times and as time went by they improved both in style and realism. They were skilfully painted in bright colours and their markings were often remarkably accurate. The Royal Artillery had their horse-drawn gun teams; there were cavalry and infantry in many forms; numerous regimental bands were paraded in all their distinctive splendour. And then there were examples of jeeps, tanks, lorries, guns and gun carriages and ambulances.

After the First World War civilian lead figures started to be popular and through the 1920s onwards those delightful sets of farm animals became common. Also along came many lead wild animals, zoos, circuses and gardens, and all gave hours of fascinating play.

Lots of the well known County Regiments were made in beautifully intricate detail and presented in their variously coloured boxes and such products carry a fair price these days. Amongst these Army groups were the Lincolnshire Regiment, the KOYLI, the Loyal North Lancashire, the Green Howards, and many, many more.

In came our Health and Safety scouts in the 1960s and lead was banned for health reasons. Plastic figures took over and are still with us now. In the 1970s a metal alloy was used to make toy soldiers but they were slightly larger than the earlier lead ones and were made for more of a specialist market. In this later form the famous regiments marched again and the Huzzars and Lancers rode out.

Just last week I wrote about how many of those once so common, everyday objects, have today become valuable antiques. Without a doubt those old lead soldiers have also come back into their own and an original lead figure made by the principal Victorian manufacturer, William Brittain, might well fetch over £300. Goodness me - I must have (maybe like you too) thrown a fair bit of cash away! Yes - and just what did we do with all those railway sets, car collections, cigarette cards, old postcards, stamp collections, dolls and dolls’ houses? Well perhaps you have stuffed them away in the attic!

Next week in Part 47 - Our Western Heroes.