Dinky Cars & Modern Architecture

Playing with Dinky and Corgi Cars, 1963

Playing with Dinky and Corgi Cars, 1963

The photo above shows me (on the left), at about the age of 3, playing with model cars in my grandparents’ living room. My mother’s parents lived with us in the same house, so this kind of scene was an everyday occurrence.

The others in the photo are my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and my younger brother.

If you look very closely in the photo, you can see some small grey and blue cars lined up, as shown in the rather fuzzy close-up below.

A lineup of Ancient Dinkys

A lineup of Ancient Dinkys

Those cars are in fact Dinky Toys (the Dinky 35a “Saloon Car”), although they’re much smaller than the models that most people think of as being typical Dinkys. That model, produced in the British “OO” railway scale, was produced from 1936-40, and then again from 1946-48. The models I’m playing with were produced post-war. Examples of this model, in good condition, typically sell on eBay now for $50 or more each!

The reason that I came to be playing with Dinky toys that were much older than me was because they actually belonged to my grandfather, who literally had a bag full of them.

Draughting Years

In a post on my professional blog, I mentioned that my grandfather, Allen E Martin, worked for most of his career as a draughtsman for the City of Leeds. The October 1960 photo below shows him (on the right) in our back garden, with my grandmother holding me.

My Grandparents with me, October 1960

My Grandparents with me, October 1960

As part of his work, he produced technical drawings for architectural projects, and the department sometimes created models of proposed new buildings. They used toy cars to decorate these models, and my grandfather apparently took his “bag of Dinkys” home with him when he retired in the 1950s.

Perhaps the most prominent architectural project in Leeds during the 1930s was the Quarry Hill development. This was so famous, and so well-regarded, that it featured on the cover of the 1938 Penguin book Design, as shown in a scan from my copy below.

Design, by Anthony Bertram, Penguin 1938

Design, by Anthony Bertram, Penguin 1938

My grandfather died in 1967, so I never got to ask him exactly what role he played in the Quarry Hill project, but it would certainly have been a major part of his department’s work at that time.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of its builders, and despite being a vast improvement on the slum dwellings that it replaced, Quarry Hill was not a success in the long term, and was eventually demolished in 1978. Some of its problems stemmed from the fact that the development was a very advanced design by the standards of the time. Had the complex survived for a few more decades, it may well have undergone a major refurbishment similar to that at St Pancras Station, and would still be with us as a major landmark.

[Update 9/21/17: see this article for details of the latest redevelopment plans for the Quarry Hill area of Leeds.]

The City of Leeds Arms

Incidentally, the arms of the City of Leeds feature rather unusual supporters, as shown below.

Leeds City Arms

Leeds City Arms

In a future post I’ll discuss the significance of those owls, and how, even though I never lived in Leeds, they seem to have become a recurring theme in my life.

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