Learn about the Fascinating History of Stevens Model Dockyard

The Stevens Model Dockyard was a company that produced mechanical and scientific novelties, founded by William Stevens located in Aldgate, London in 1843. The company issued its final catalog in 1927/28 and the business closed after more than 80 years in production.

Although the Stevens Model Dockyard is probably best known for their live steam ‘Birmingham Dribbler Floor Locomotives,’ they offer a variety of products for the modeling community. Other products they made were clockwork motors, electric motors, optical instruments, machine tools, marine engines, boat fittings, sailboat models, steamship and steamboat models, along complete stationary steam-driven power plants. Aside from their product, they also sold educational toys from Meccano, Klipit, and other branded items.

Most of the products they sold appear to have been made in the company’s workshops, but there may have been some items brought in and rebranded. Some models of steam engines were offered as well as a variety of rail cars and track to run them on.

The name of the company

The name of the company suggests that it may initially have supplied nautical models to the Admiralty, a British government department responsible for the command of the Royal Navy until 1964. After William Stevens in December 1899, his sons carried on the business. In its 80 years in the model toy industry, the name of the company appeared to have changed several times. 

Other names which the company used were:

W. Stevens the Model Dockyard

Stevens’ Model Dockyard

Steven’s Model Dockyard

Stevens’s Model

Controversy in the model collecting world

The Stevens model Dockyard is not the only toy company to have supplied ship models Admiralty. Other earlier providers were Clyde Model Dockyard and the original Model Dockyard.

Clyde Model Dockyard

Clyde Model Dockyard Catalog January 1914 edition

The company was a famous toy and model shop in Glasgow, Scotland. It was established in 1789 and initially made only nautical models for the Admiralty, but by the late 19th century had expanded its business to commercial toy steam engines and railway locomotives.

The firm manufactured a range of boats and sailing yachts but was probably best known for its 0-scale model railway stock and accessories. However, there is no evidence of the company building any of its railway products.

During the early years of the 20th century, the company was one of the most famous retailers of mechanical metal toys, particularly shipping and rail-related, and it issued a substantial range of seasonal catalogs. Sadly, in the 1960s the taste in retail patterns change and it closed in the early 1970s.

Model Dockyard

The Model Dockyard was a company known to make and sell models, toys, and parts for modelers. It was established in 1774 in Fleet Street, London.

Model Dockyard’s products included model sailing boats and hulls, steamboats, boat fittings, marine engines, stationary steam engines, steam cranes, steam fire engines, traction engines, railway locomotives, railway rolling stock, tracks, boilers, steam engine parts, lineside accessories, and similar items.

Since Stevens’s Model Dockyard made and sold items like the items offered by Clyde Model Dockyard and the original Model Dockyard, a controversy emerged in the collecting world as to which models now in existence were made by Stevens’s Model Dockyard or by the other companies making similar products.

It is, however, important to note that items produced by Stevens Model Dockyard are easily identifiable by the word ‘Stevens’ stamped in an arch shape on the underside and the year it was manufactured.

Spirit-fired live-steam locomotives

Model steam locomotive built with Meccano

Stevens Model Dockyard spirit-fired live steam locomotives were made of brass and the gauge is either 2¾”, 3¼” or 4½”. During the Victorian era, the most common scale used was 2¾” gauge. 

Models included:

2-2-0 Venus

2-4-0 #293 Tank Loco

2-4-0 #294 Invicta tank loco

4-4-0 #296 The Prince tender loco

4-4-0 Britania Tank

4-2-2 Boadicea

Early engines were kept simple, Stevens Dribbler live-steam brass locomotive from the 1890’susually made of cast, machined and sheet formed brass, with a pair of oscillating cylinders driving the main wheels. Wheel axles, shafts, and pins were made of steel. These engines were boiler mounted on wheels, although simple decoration (usual bands of lacquer) was sometimes applied. They featured a wooden front buffer block. The later engines created were more advanced and included slide valve cylinders and more details.

The Birmingham Dribbler is also known as the carpet railway. It is an early type of model railway with no track it simply runs across the floor. Some models have steerable front wheels so the trains could run in a circle without a track. These steam engines first appeared in the 1840s. The early spirit-fired models manufactured by Stevens Model Dockyard were usually called ‘Birmingham Dribbler’ types, or as ‘Piddlers’. This was due to the tendency of these toys to spray and leak water and drip steam residue across the floor when running. The later model steam trains produced by Stevens Model Dockyard came with a 20′ radius circles track mounted on a wood base and made of iron. Rolling stock included guard’s vans, a brake van, polished mahogany wood carriages, and trucks.

Stevens Model Dockyard 2-2-2

Released in 1890, the Stevens Model Dockyard was initially designed as a coal-fired loco, but its later versions were changed to spirit-fired. 

Size: 20 inches long by 7 inches wide

Gauge: 4½ inch

Features:

Lever-type safety valve

Water level gauge

Whistle

Fire door

Water gauge tapes

Forward/reversing gear

It has a smokebox door that opens to reveal the water tube boiler, steam line, and exhaust pipes. A fully working regulator was also fitted. The twin cylinders were made from cast metal and fitted with working crossheads. The buffers were spring-loaded. It could also be purchased with a tender that extended the loco’s length to over 30 inches. Just like all dribbler models, the Stevens 2-2-2 could be run on the floor without a track.

Centuries after it was established; the Stevens Model Dockyard steam engines and other products are still popular collector’s pieces for the old enthusiasts and a good educational tool for the younger generation.