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OO gauge model railways are the most popular standard-gauge model railways in the UK. First released by Bing in 1921, the gauge was then embraced by Hornby Dublo, and it has remained the country’s favourite ever since. The 16.5 mm gauge is the only 4mm scale standard served by manufacturers and it involves big names such as Hornby (originally part of Meccano), Peco and Bachmann. The OO gauge is especially popular for beginners, with its ready availability of ready to run stock, starter sets, and the excellent results that can be achieved with the modern equipment.
The OO gauge is the most flexible option in 4mm scale and, unlike the EM and P4 gauges (which are developments of finescale standards), it is modular and highly adaptable. Where the EM and P4 gauges require large radii curves throughout, the OO gauge can be easily accommodated to awkward or restricted spaces. They also do not require a complete package of techniques and restrictions - which can put off beginners.
One of the most important points is that in OO gauge the modeller doesn’t have to fit full compensation to all of their stock; in this gauge they can compensate only some, or none, of their stock if they wish. Similarly they don’t have to hand-build the track if they don’t wish to, and modelling standards can be upgraded incrementally - unlike other 4mm scale gauges, where more demanding techniques have to be used from the start. This makes it even more popular for anyone wanting to build a large layout.
The scale benefits most from this flexibility, and especially as most modellers working in EM or P4 need to scrtachbuild their track, design complex compensated chassis and advanced etched kits, which restrict them to building a small branch-line layout. In OO the ready built track and RTR chassis can be used for much quicker construction allowing more time can be spent on landscapes and other scenery.
Until 1920, gauge-O was the smallest recognised size of model railway and Bassett-Lowke was commissioning superb gauge-O and gauge-1 models from the Nuremberg toymakers, as there were no commercial manufacturers in the UK. After the First World War however, German products had fallen out of favour; this enabled Meccano Ltd to launch a new range of gauge O tin plate trains. The Hornby O gauge trains became extremely popular and the hobby grew and grew.
Bassett-Lowke’s answer was to approach Bing-Werke, whose Henry Greenly produced the carefully engineered ‘table top’ railway, that worked reliably in the hands of children and was designed to half the size of the O gauge. This was the first of the world’s most popular size of model railway - though it was only a limited success at first. However, even though there was much discussion over whether 16.5 mm gauge 4mm scale was accurate, it was a thoroughly practical solution and it eventually proved highly popular; especially after the designs of the Rev. Edward Beal. His imaginative work showed modellers of the post WWI generation just what could be achieved with OO gauge and it has remained the nation’s favourite, seeing off all-comers, to this day.