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Hornby Homecoming

Hornby Homecoming

Welcome to this latest edition of Corgi Diecast Diaries and your regular look at all the news, updates and stories from the fascinating world of Corgi die-cast model collecting. There have been some significant developments in the history of Hornby Hobbies and its famous hobby brands over the past few months, which has seen both a relocation of our main offices to a rather familiar site and the production and release of a fascinating two part TV series following the company’s fortunes. In this latest edition of our Corgi blog, we will be taking a closer look at these interesting projects, bringing you a comprehensive overview of the relocation itself and a look at why a trip to the Hornby Visitors Centre is now an extremely attractive proposition for anyone finding themselves in this part of Kent. We will also be bringing you our usual selection of exclusive Corgi images, including the latest box artwork produced specifically in support of our D-Day 75th Anniversary collection and a detailed look at a forthcoming 2019 release which not only commemorates clandestine air operations during the Second World War, but also pays tribute to the inspiring exploits of some of the bravest people to take part in the conflict. We are also pleased to confirm that a team from Corgi will be present at this weekend’s Classic Car and Restoration Show, which is taking place at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre and we will let you have all the stand information you might need if you intend to drop by and say hello. Without further ado, let’s head down to sunny Margate and something of an emotional Hornby homecoming.

The beating heart of Hornby (and Corgi)

As regular readers of Diecast Diaries, we all no doubt share one common interest – the enjoyment of collecting diecast models. Whilst on the surface this appears to be a perfectly normal and rather innocent pastime for millions of people to enjoy, this does not reflect some of the significant structural and logistic developments which have taken place at Corgi (through its parent company Hornby Hobbies) over the past few years. Acquired by Hornby Hobbies in 2008, the brand’s new home immediately became the famous Hornby factory site at Margate, a site which is steeped in model and hobby history and one which was at that time, also home to the Airfix, Humbrol and Scalextric brands. Whilst this development certainly safeguarded the immediate future of the Corgi model brand and ensured continued production of our beloved models, this was still a time of great change, with new people and new ideas driving the future direction of this great diecast company.

Hornby Hobbies return home to their famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

Originally completed in 1953, the current Hornby factory site was built for Rovex Scale Models Ltd and the design and limited production of their successful Tri-ang model railway system

The impressive Hornby factory site at Margate has been in existence since it was constructed by Lines Brothers Limited in 1953 as a purpose built, state of the art model production facility for Rovex Scale Models Ltd and their world famous Tri-ang Railway system. The new factory housed the technical, experimental and development departments of the company, in addition to a limited manufacturing capacity for their brand of Tri-ang model railways, which were at that time, a popular and affordable way into the hobby. The opening of this magnificent facility was intended to keep the company and its products at the forefront of the industry and indeed the first twelve months at Margate proved so successful that the factory had to be doubled in size almost immediately. The company’s success saw a huge uptake in the model railways hobby, but was not good news for everyone. Their established competitor Hornby Dublo were finding times a little tough and Lines Brothers agreed to purchase their rival in 1964, taking their trading name and a large amount of stock in the deal. The combined model railway company was marketed as Tri-ang Hornby, with the equally famous Hornby name attaching itself to the Margate factory site from that date.

Hornby Hobbies return home to their famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

The current exterior of the building, once again proudly displaying the famous Hornby logo and announcing the company’s return to its home of many years standing

Hornby Hobbies return home to their famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

Our talented development teams are already settling in to their new home. Some will have fond memories of the Margate site, whilst this will be a new experience for others

Although the British model hobby industry has altered much over the past 55 years and indeed both the Corgi and Hornby brands have seen more than their fair share of change during this time, we are not going to be focussing on that in this article, as our intention is to concentrate on the important recent developments which have taken place at Hornby. Back in 2014, company officials decided they wanted to take Hornby in a slightly different direction, with perhaps the most visible impact of this decision being the intention for the business to leave their Margate factory home of many years standing. A new on-line office was opened in London and the warehouse facilities were re-located to Lakeside Business Park, near Canterbury. The main offices for all departments moved to rented space in the hugely impressive Discovery Park at Sandwich, a former pharmaceutical research centre built by Pfizer, which came under private ownership in 2012. This just left the Hornby Visitors Centre resident at the Margate site and this would only be until a purpose built alternative site could be established in Folkstone. Although this famous building may have been showing its age and was undoubtedly in need of some maintenance and renovation, its future was now very much in doubt and its rich history in very real danger of being lost forever.

Proceeding with the sale of the site in early 2017, perhaps the best thing to come out of this entire situation was the identity of new owner and his pressing need to find a home for his expending railway collection. Fascinatingly, for anyone with even the slightest interest in Hornby and model railways, the new owner’s collection consisted of real locomotives and rolling stock, meaning that the factory which had once been used to store highly desirable scale model trains was now going to be a home for the real thing. Locomotive Storage is a company dedicated to preserving and operating historic steam locomotives on the main line and heritage railways of Britain, but with around 14 classic steam locomotives, 10 classic diesels and a collection of heritage rolling stock under their care, their main depot at Crewe was beginning to feel the strain. The purchase of the former Hornby Margate factory allowed them valuable room for expansion, with the new owners graciously allowing Hornby to rent the space which was still occupied by the Visitors Centre, allowing this popular attraction to continue operating. This is now an important leisure destination in the area and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year to this historic corner of Kent - we will look a little more closely at some of the centre’s many hobby delights a little later in this feature.

Famous steam locomotive Bittern arrives at the former Hornby Hobbies Margate factory on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

The arrival of a rail icon. A4 Pacific steam locomotive ‘Bittern’ arrived at the new Locomotive Storage Limited facility in the summer of 2018, the first of many illustrious new residents

Since the acquisition of the former Hornby factory site by Locomotive Storage Limited in 2017, the warehouse has undergone a period of significant renovation, in preparation for the arrival of some rather illustrious new railway residents. The old Hornby warehouse is now much changed and can now boast no fewer than seven railway tracks and access to loading docks, all of which will allow for the future loading and unloading of historic locomotives and rolling stock, with the site now surely destined to become an important location for the preservation and storage of a significant collection of Britain’s railway heritage. Serving to highlight the exciting future now ahead of the old Hornby factory, June 2018 saw the arrival of an extremely illustrious railway icon at the site, in the distinctive shape of ‘Bittern’, the famous classic A4 Pacific steam locomotive (No 4464) and one of only six of these record breaking engines still in existence. This classic Sir Nigel Gresley designed Class A4 ‘Pacific’ locomotive is famous for being the sister locomotive to the record-breaking ‘Mallard’, which is the holder of the world speed record for a steam locomotive, set at 126 mph back in July 1938. Built in 1937, Bittern can also claim several significant speed records of her own, ones which could be viewed as being even more impressive than those attributed to Mallard, as they were set long after the locomotive was withdrawn from service. Bittern was the first steam locomotive since the 1960s to be allowed to run at speeds greater than 75mph, having been granted special dispensation to do so on a UK main line section. As a result of this decision, she went on to set a new speed record of 92.8mph, which was a significant first for a steam locomotive in preservation. Bittern and her tenders arrived at her new Margate home on the back of three low-loader HGVs, having made the journey by road from the main Locomotive Storage Limited depot at Crewe in early June 2018, meaning that this historic locomotive now resides in one of the most important locations in the history of British model railways, the former purpose built Hornby Hobbies warehouse.

Famous steam locomotive Bittern arrives at the former Hornby Hobbies Margate factory on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

In a fascinating development for railway enthusiasts, Bittern now resides in storage space which was used for many years to house millions of pounds worth of highly detailed model locomotives

Even though this in itself was a significant development in the history of the former Hornby Margate site and a fascinating scale versus real juxtaposition for model railway enthusiasts to ponder, more news began to circulate, just weeks after the triumphant arrival of Bittern – Hornby Hobbies were coming home! The decision to leave the Margate site may have been made for what had seemed at that time to be the right reasons, however, the unexpected consequences of the move were that the very heart and soul of the company left with it. Hornby and its famous hobby brands are all about heritage, nostalgia and history and even though paint may have been peeling off the walls in places and the warehouse roof tended to let water through during heavy rain showers, it was our peeling paint and they were our damp patches on the warehouse floor. This factory, which had been purpose built in 1953, was steeped in model railway history and every inch of it had interesting stories to tell. Thankfully, its immediate future had been assured with its sale to Locomotive Storage Limited, but if at all possible, Hornby Hobbies had to try and get back home.

Hornby Hobbies return home to their famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

An emotional occasion. The official ribbon cutting ceremony at the entrance to the new Hornby offices marked the company’s homecoming and an exciting future in a building which means so much to so many people

Hornby Hobbies return home to their famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

The new Corgi showroom will be used to display many of the latest models in the range and will make an attractive backdrop for future new tooling announcements

James May inspects a Hornby train at their famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

Motoring and hobby celebrity James May inspects one of the new diorama displays in the Hornby showrooms

Tuesday 19th February will go down as another historic day in the annuls of Hornby Hobbies, as company officials, specially invited guests and even one or two celebrities gathered at this famous Margate factory site for a very special occasion. Following negotiations with the new owners and a period of renovation and preparation, Hornby’s main offices were moving back to their traditional home and with it, a reclamation of the heritage the company and its employees are so proud of. In what turned out to be a rather emotional occasion, senior officials welcomed those in attendance back to our new (old) home and the beginning of an exciting future for Hornby Hobbies. The ceremonial cutting of the ribbon which was draped across the main entrance of what will now be Hornby’s main office complex signified that we were back – well almost. Even though guests were allowed inside and given access to the refurbished showrooms on the day, work was still ongoing in the main office areas and most of the staff had still to make the move from Sandwich. As this latest blog goes live, however, we are pleased to confirm that everyone is now based back at Hornby Margate, which we are once again proud to call home. With our substantial hobby foundations back firmly under our feet and the passion and commitment of a talented workforce to call upon, we are all ready to take on new challenges and to achieve great things in the future, continuing to enhance the legacy of Hornby Hobbies and keeping our famous brands up where they belong.

A Visitors Centre well worth a visit

The Hornby Visitors Centre at the company's famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

A nostalgic trip back down hobby memory lane, when toys such as these were the most important things in our lives and there wasn’t a computer in sight

The move back to Margate has once again reunited the main Hornby offices with the Hornby Visitors Centre, which had been operating at the site alone, following the move to Discovery Park in 2014. Opened in 2010, the HVC has become a major attraction in Kent and transports visitors on a nostalgic journey through the history of some of Britain’s best loved toys. Attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year, the HVC boasts spectacular diorama layouts and impressive displays featuring models and products which all come under the Hornby Hobbies umbrella of brands, including Hornby model railways, Scalextric, Airfix, Corgi and Humbrol. These displays also help to tell the story of how these highly desirable products have been developed and manufactured over the years. Aiming to provide a complete visitor hobby experience, the centre also benefits from a fully stocked shop and the ‘Just the Ticket’ café, for those who might be needing a well earned break during their fascinating trip down memory lane.

The Hornby Visitors Centre at the company's famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

The magnificent new Corgi displays include some of the earliest models produced by Corgi and some real diecast classics from our archives

The Hornby Visitors Centre at the company's famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

Into the 2000s and the classic Corgi model just keep coming. James Bond Aston Martins, Harry Potter, Aviation Archive Spitfires and some 50th Anniversary models are all represented here

The recent office move back to the Margate site has also benefited the existing Hornby Visitors Centre, which has undergone a further period of renovation, in anticipation of increased visitor numbers in future years. This has included the installation of additional product displays, including bespoke dioramas and models taken from our extensive archives. From a Corgi perspective, the centre is now home to a series of display cases which house a fascinating collection of Corgi models which have been specifically arranged in the decades in which they were originally released, from our first diecast model releases through to the very latest model innovations. Depending on how old the viewer is and when you started your own model collection, one or two of these displays will contain models which are extremely familiar to you and may confirm that some of your own models are amongst the most desirable in the hobby. The way this impressive display has been constructed also helps to illustrate the development of Corgi diecast models over the years, from the first vehicle models released back in 1956, through to the highly detailed 1/48th scale McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1, one of the latest models to join the Corgi range. These displays are further enhanced by the inclusion of rare pre-production samples, first tooling shots and prototype models, which help to tell the story of how these beautiful models are developed and progress through the various stages of manufacture, to their eventual release. If you have ever collected, or played with a Corgi diecast model, you will find a trip to the Hornby Visitors Centre both interesting and enjoyable, with the added bonus of all our other iconic hobby brands thrown in for good measure. We hope to bring you a full review of the upgraded HVC in a future edition of Diecast Diaries, so please keep an eye out for this. For anyone wishing to plan their own visit to the HVC in the near future, it is open every day and a quick visit to the HVC webpage will give you all the relevant information you might need.

Hornby makes for good TV

James May inspects a Hornby train at their famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

As many of our readers will already be aware, the recent developments at Hornby Hobbies have been the subject of an extremely enjoyable two part documentary programme, shown over the past few weeks on BBC 4, hosted and narrated by long-time Hornby supporter James May. The programme provided a fascinating insight into the hobby industry, as producers were granted unprecedented access to the company over a twelve month period, filming developments in what have been described as the most important in the company’s history. From an employee perspective, it was so nice to see some of our work colleagues on the telly, people who work extremely hard in representing our company and without whom our various blogs would just not be the same. Significantly though, it also allowed viewers to hear the thoughts of two important figures in the current company structure, both of whom are determined to guide the company back to better times, CEO Lyndon Davies and Marketing & Development Director Simon Kohler.

James May inspects a Hornby train at their famous Margate site on Corgi die-cast diaries blog

With some members of staff featuring heavily in the recent BBC 4 documentary airing, you might even bump into the odd company celebrity during your visit to the Hornby Visitors Centre

The documentary provided an interesting overview of the current state of the hobby industry and reported on the company’s historic relocation back to our spiritual home at the former Hornby Margate factory. It also highlighted the drive and determination both Lyndon and Simon have in returning Hornby Hobbies to former glories, calling on all their unrivalled industry experience and business acumen to put us back on the main line once more – the future fortunes of the business are in good hands. If you missed this interesting two part documentary ‘James May’s Big trouble in model Britain’, it is currently available on the BBC iPlayer and is probably still available on catch-up tv (assuming you have a current tv licence of course) – it is an interesting and enjoyable watch for everyone, not only those with an interest in models and the history of model collecting. Indeed, the programme has proved so popular that there may even be talk of a follow up documentary. Obviously, should this prove to be the case, we will inform Diecast Diaries readers as soon as we are allowed to do so.

There is no doubt that Hornby and all its famous hobby brands have been through a period of change over the past few years, but the recent move back to our traditional Margate factory home is a significant and extremely positive development - we are definitely back where we belong and everything just feels right. With much work to do, everyone at the company is ready to play their part in writing the next chapter in Hornby’s history, continuing to bring the right products to the world of models and hobbies.

Special wartime duties for ‘Lizzie’

Westland Lysander Mk.IIIA Special Duties AA36807 flying by moonlight on Corgi Diecast Diaries Blog

Although certainly one of the most distinctive British aircraft of the Second World War, the Westland Lysander does not usually command the same historic attention as types such as the Spitfire and Lancaster, however, in its own way, it possesses an equally impressive aviation pedigree. Entering RAF service in 1938 as an Army co-operation and liaison aircraft, the Lysander would go on to earn an unrivalled reputation as a clandestine nocturnal light transport aircraft, serving the vital agent supply channel between Britain and enemy occupied France, whilst also supporting the French Resistance movement.

A contract for around 40 Lysander Mk.III/IIIA aircraft to be converted for ‘Special Duties’ was issued in 1941, with the work being carried out by Fairfield Aviation, a sub-contractor working for Westland Aircraft. Modifications included removing the aircraft’s armament and exchanging the variable pitch propeller for a constant speed unit. An additional 150 gallon fuel tank was installed under the fuselage, between the fixed landing gear spats of the Lysander, increasing its range from 600 miles to almost 1,000 miles, with this greater range also requiring the installation of a larger internal oil tank for the Bristol Mercury engine. The rear gunner’s position was heavily modified and included replacing the old canopy with a large single-piece unit which could easily be opened by sliding it backwards on a rail system, allowing for much easier access and egress to the aircraft. This rear fuselage section was both lengthened and strengthened and a fixed metal ladder was attached to the port side of the fuselage underneath this compartment, once again designed to make the aircraft more accessible in quick turnaround situations. A rear facing bench was installed in the fuselage to allow two passengers to be seated, with stowage space available below their position and a shelf at the rear of the former gunners position could also be used as a makeshift seat should a third passenger need to be carried. Clearly, this was not intended to be the most comfortable conditions in which to travel, nevertheless, these nocturnal ferry missions would prove crucial in the months leading up to the D-Day landings and the future Allied liberation of France.

The latest Aviation Archive range includes a magnificent 1/72nd scale model example of one of these clandestine Lysanders, which flew such vital, yet extremely dangerous missions during the latter stages of WWII, with catalogue and certificate descriptions which read as follows:

Westland Lysander Mk.IIIA Special Duties AA36807 flying by moonlight on Corgi Diecast Diaries Blog

This hand decorated sample model was used to illustrate our latest RAF Westland Lysander release in both the 2019 catalogue and on the Corgi website

Westland Lysander Mk.IIIA Special Duties AA36807 flying by moonlight on Corgi Diecast Diaries Blog

Another Diecast Diaries exclusive, this is a first look at how the original image above was adapted for pack artwork by one of our talented graphic designers

With its famed short field landing and take-off performance, the distinctive Westland Lysander was in widespread service at the beginning of the Second World War, performing such duties as Army cooperation, artillery spotting, reconnaissance and light bombing missions. The Battle of France was disastrous for Lysander units, proving the vulnerability of the aircraft and its inability to defend itself against fighter attack, however, despite this, large numbers of Lysanders would have been sent against landing German forces, had their planned invasion of Britain took place the following year. Significantly, the performance of the Lysander made it the ideal aircraft to undertake clandestine nocturnal operations into enemy occupied France and a number of aircraft were specially modified to transport and recover agents and people of interest, working with the Special Operations Executive and the French Resistance. Unarmed and using nothing more than maps, compass and the moonlight for navigation, these dangerous missions were flown at low level to avoid detection and landing in fields which were marked by the French Resistance. Knowing that the Germans would show them no mercy if they were captured during one of these missions, they helped to provide essential intelligence to Allied military planners in advance of the D-Day landings and required levels of flying skill, bravery and tenacity which were only found in a small number of special airmen.

Born in Niagara Falls, USA, the son of a British engineer, James Atterby McCairns joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in early 1939 and on the completion of his flying training, was posted to fly Spitfires with No.616 at Tangmere. Flying under the command of famous RAF ace Douglas Bader, McCairns was shot down over France in July 1941 and, unable to open his canopy, had to be rescued by German troops. He was extremely fortunate that his Spitfire did not catch fire. Although sent to a prisoner of war camp, McCairns managed to escape and following a long and arduous journey across Germany and into Belgium, he was helped by members of the Belgian resistance and eventually repatriated to Britain – he would never forget the selfless bravery of these heroic people. Following debrief by the British Intelligence services, ‘Mac’ was introduced to the work of the RAF Special Duties Service, delivering and extracting agents, resistance fighters and escaped POWs from enemy occupied France, in a clandestine war which would prove crucial in the battles to come. Later joining RAF No.161 Squadron at the secret airfield at Tempsford in Bedfordshire, McCairns proved to be exceptionally proficient in this work and in a thirteen month period between November 1942 and December 1943, he flew no fewer that 34 Special Duties missions, with 25 of them being successful ‘pick-ups’, more than any other pilot on the squadron. Most of these dangerous, but crucially important missions were flown in Westland Lysander V9822, an aircraft ‘Mac’ learned to trust and one which helped to earn him no fewer than three Distinguished Flying Cross awards.

Westland Lysander Mk.IIIA Special Duties AA36807 flying by moonlight on Corgi Diecast Diaries Blog

This is the first time this decoration guide for the forthcoming Special Operations Lysander has been published

Westland Lysander Mk.IIIA (SD) AA36807 is already proving to be a popular addition to the Aviation Archive range, with many collectors intending to add this clandestine ‘Lizzy’ to their collection following its scheduled release in July. Although currently  still available for pre-order on the Corgi website, this interesting model could prove difficult to locate in the weeks following its release and it may be wise to ensure your order is in place before it starts shipping.

Corgi team on display at the NEC Classic Car Show

There is nothing quite like getting out and about, meeting our collectors in person and allowing them to see our latest models in the flesh. We are pleased to announce that today marks the start of a busy few months of activity for the various Hornby events teams, as we have Corgi representation at the popular Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration Show at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre this weekend. Officially described as the UK’s fastest growing classic car show and self-proclaimed ‘friendliest of car shows’, the event will attract tens of thousands of motoring enthusiasts over the three days of the show, all keen to see a spectacular collection of beautiful classic cars, including the very latest ‘barn find’ restoration projects. The show will also undoubtedly mark some of the significant motoring anniversaries which are being celebrated this year, such as 60 years of the Mini, Triumph Herald and Jaguar Mk.II, as well as 50 years of the magnificent Ford Capri. We are very much looking forward to the show and bringing you a report in a future edition of our blog.

Corgi at the Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration Show on Corgi Diecast Diaries Blog

Motoring beauty and the beast. This magnificent Triumph TR4A is a classic design which will turn heads wherever it is seen – a real beauty!

Corgi at the Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration Show on Corgi Diecast Diaries Blog

A bit of a beast. This barn find features an extremely potent Ford Cortina Mk.II V6 Savage, however, it is in need of some serious attention to return it to its former glory

The Corgi stand will feature an impressive collection of vehicle models and include a comprehensive display of the latest Vanguards models. As a real treat for visitors to the stand, this display will feature a unique collection of hand decorated sample, pre-production sample and final release versions of several model releases, illustrating how a Vanguards model progresses through the development process, before taking its place in display cabinets all over the world. We can be found in Hall 4, stand 731 and if you fail to keep a note of these details, please don’t worry, as we have an advert in the official show programme, which includes all the location information you might need. If you are heading down to the show, please do drop by and say hello and don’t forget to pick up one of the new Vanguards model fliers we have produced specifically for the show – with our new found TV fame, you may want a member of the team to sign your copy (or maybe not). It should be a great event and we are very much looking forward to meeting as many Diecast Diaries readers as we can – if you did watch the recent BBC Hornby documentaries, you may recognise one or two of our team members if you do come and find us.

Corgi Vanguards at the Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration Show on Corgi Diecast Diaries Blog

Visitors to the Corgi stand will be able to pick up one of these attractive Vanguards product fliers, featuring a mix of current and future releases

That’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Corgi Diecast Diaries, however, we will be back as usual with more updates and exclusive Corgi content in four weeks’ time. In the meantime, we are always interested to hear from our readers, especially if you would like to suggest a subject for future inclusion in our blog. Better still, if you would like to send us pictures of your own model collection, or details of a Corgi model release which is special to you, you may even find yourself featuring in a future edition of Diecast Diaries. As always, we would be grateful if you could use this link for all correspondence. 

If you can’t wait for the next edition of our blog, there is always plenty of Corgi model related news, views and conversation taking place on our official Facebook  and Twitter  social media pages, which welcome your contributions. We look forward to reading about all the latest Corgi collecting discussions and pictures of your favourite models over the coming few weeks.

Finally, we would like to thank all our readers for their continued support. We look forward to bringing you much more Corgi related news, features and updates in future editions of our blog. The next edition of Die-cast Diaries is scheduled to be published on Friday 19th April.


The Corgi Die-cast Diaries Team


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