John Niblett
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John Niblett of Sidcup started making 54mm and 65mm model soldiers in 1948. He began working in the 20mm (or "1 inch" as it was sometimes styled) scale some eight years later. These early small figures were mounted on socles (small plinths) and included some English Civil War subjects, Romans, Normans and 12th and 14th Century knights as well as some modern figures including household cavalry, beefeaters and the like. The range was sold, painted, exclusively through Hummel’s House of Miniatures in Burlington Arcade, London. In the early 1960s foot figures sold for 9/6d (roughly 48p) and mounted for 17/6 (about 88p).

At the other end of the scale, quite, literally, Niblett produced 150mm and 175mm military figures in white metal.

Garratt states that the smaller figures were discontinued in 1963. However, "Model Soldiers" by William Y Carman (1973) shows a photo of some 20mm Niblett ECW figures which he says, "May still be purchased in the West End of London". This was probably left over stock.

Niblett also designed larger figures for Malleable Mouldings and The Sentry Box. In 1956 he joined Airfix. He was the original designer of the HO/OO range of figures that appeared for the first time with an issue of guardsmen in 1958 - the basic figure for which seems to have come from Niblett’s original Hummel range.

Niblett worked for Airfix until 1974 producing many of the company’s ranges including the 1/32nd scale figures, and the 54mm Napoleonic and historical character kits. He also produced a number of large special commissions for the Ministry of Public Buildings and seems also to have worked at Mettoy where he met and became friends with Les Higgins.

In 1975 Niblett set up his own design studio in Herne Bay, Kent where he completed designs for Britains and Lesney amongst others along with a range of painted 54mm knights that were sold exclusively through the shop at the Tower of London.

Two years later he decided to re-issue his original range of 20mm figures. First releases were 14th Century knights and men-at-arms shortly followed by 11th and 12th Century knights and men-at-arms.

In early 1979 Niblett released figures from a new English Civil War range and the following review appeared in the Atten-Shun column of the March 1979 issue of Military Modelling:-

"John Niblett of 50 The Broadway, Herne Bay, Kent has added some attractive
English Civil War subjects to his 20mm scale wargames figure series this
month. The new figure comprise an assortment of six foot figures and three
cavalry types, and on all of them the degree of detail is remarkable and the
casting superb.
The mounted figures include an Ironside trooper and his Royalist counterpart
and there's a beautiful little mounted cuirassier in three-quarter armour on
a rearing horse discharging his pistol. The horses are moulded in two halves
for epoxy assembly and on all the figures the diminutive weapons (and in
some cases, an arm) are moulded separately for the purchaser to stick
together thus making possible a fair degree of personal animation.
Among the foot types are pike and musket men from both sides, one of the
latter firing his musket on its rest, and there's a choice of positions for
the pikemen as well; an attractive little drummer rounds off the collection.
Niblett tell us that, depending upon popularity, they'll be expanding the
range, so if wargamers want more of these nice little 20mms then it's up to
them to give these new ones the reception they deserve. They sell as a set
of 6 foot figures, price 72p, or a set of 3 mounted figures, price £1.60
(plus 12p post and packing in both cases)".

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As far as we are aware no new figures were ever added.

Like John Greenwood’s early commercial 20mm figures Niblett’s models are at the smaller end of the 20mm scale, much littler than those of Hinton Hunt and Jacklex. In many ways they conform more to what US manufacturers such as Jack Scruby thought of as 20mm than to that of other British designers of the period. Garratt notes "These lovely little figures were the first to be made in England in such tiny size, and they remain the finest".

In 1979 the figures were being sold from an address in Thetford, Norfolk. John Niblett died on 7th November 1980.

Sometime after that Rosedale Figurines of Lancaster acquired the rights to Niblett’s figures and issued the Tribute 20mm Range. These were sold in packs of six mounted figures and ten infantry and included all the above-mentioned figures plus some WW2 German infantry and some cowboys and Indians. The latter two appear to have been metal versions of figures originally designed by Niblett for Airfix.

Rosedale also acquired the Les Higgins 20mm ranges around the same time "John Niblett’s figures were a lot like Les’s" Brian Marlow recalls, "In fact, we all knew John pretty well and were planning to help him out with some of his larger figures when he suddenly had a heart attack".

Rosedale has since re-located to the west of Scotland. Enquiries about the figures produced a positive response from Paul Dennison, but when we viewed the masters we were disappointed to find that a lot of the range was missing. The rest it seems had been lost in the move. A beautiful set of figures created more than fifty years ago has therefore, to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.

  Niblett's 11th and 12th Century knights and men-at-arms.  
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