All hail the mighty Hornby Hobbies or as they’re still known around here, that’s the Isle of Thanet, the ever wonderful Rovex. There was a time, called the seventies, when an enormous number of Thanetians used to work here and they used to finish early on a Friday afternoon and bring the traffic on the main road outside to a halt as they flocked to the many buses waiting for them and a few cars for the wealthier workers.
Sadly there’s no production on site any more, it’s all made in China now so the only workers on site are marketing, research and design, and the visitor centre. It’s the latter I dragged the boys to just after Christmas.
Sadly you don’t get to enter through the main hall, but rather celebrate solidarity with the ghosts of the workers of the past in wandering in through this side gate…
…and in through this humble door.
This is where you’ll be greeted by the friendly and welcoming staff, and given what they must have to put up with it’s close to a miracle they can still smile if you ask me.
Now the first part of your experience is the humble but perfectly formed shop, it carries all the brands now owned by Hornby, their trains, and the much adored ranges of Airfix, Corgi, Scalextric, Humbrol and the less well known Bassett Lowke range.
One corner of the shop, above, is for the reduced priced items and it’s hard not to find a suitable bargain here, and I know because I’ve tried.
The shops open for the same hours as the visitor centre, however there’s no fee to come and shop and if you’re after a specific item then it’s incredibly likely they’ve got it in stock.
You do have to pay for the visitor centre though (£4 for adults, £2 for OAPs or Sprogs) and to start with I wasn’t too sure about it because the entrance to, and the exit from, are within six foot of each over. To me this suggested a very short experience but happily I was wrong as there’s a lenghty maze beyond worthy of Theseus.
The mystical journey starts immediately by plunging you into a dim environ with brightly light display of youthful totems.
There’s a tiny cinema showing fascinating documentary shorts.
More items of desire display tauntingly out of reach.
A lovely racing circuit, typically bigger than anything you ever got to set up as a child. Now if like me you take children you may have to prepare them for the wait involved to get a go on this mainly because there’s likely to be a pair of adults old enough to be your parents on this for ages.
Then onto the railway layouts, again typically so much better than your personal juvenile actuality, like a gold standard for aspiration.
There’s some limited interaction with these, pressing the odd button here or there but mainly it’s all about going oooooh.
There’s also a fair amount of temptation, given how you can buy all these pieces in the shop and then go home and make these massive layouts.
Here’s one piece which really grabbed me by the wallet. It’s their Jubilee clock tower which to you very likely just looks like… well a clock tower, but around here it’s a very special local building. And for under a tenner too… expect to see it on a VBCW table near me soon.
Amongst all this are the shrine like displays like this one featuring a mould for a model which will have you waffling away to your children about “technical processes”, “injection moulding” and “scale drawings” until they fall over with fascination.
Others are pure nostalgia, and will have you wondering aloud about what exactly might have happened to your diecast JPS special racing car.
Predictably some will have you considering thievery to release the jewels beyond… for me it was this lot 1:50th-ish traction engines which I’m after for VBCW and can’t be found for love but can be for lots of money.
Overall the visitor centre is a crackingly brill experience, and for specialist anoraks should provide at least a solid hour and a half to two hours of unbridled joy. The only thing which surprised me was just how many times James May, aka Johnny Come Lately, featured in displays although I can understand why as he must be a solid fave with the shareholders.
I’ve deliberately not shown everything in the centre in the hope that a few surprises might remain but I highly recommend it as a great place to visit for a bargain price. Full details are here.