The House of Marbles is worth a visit purely for the huge marble run. My two year old boy can stare at this transfixed for what seems like hours. It’s a very simple pleasure: watching marbles being scooped up by brassy claws, lifted up by chains, then dropped through spinners and rat runs, to eventually return for the process to repeat all over again. Even the shop is charming with its old fashioned wooden toys. Parents are transported back to a time of bagatelles, spinning hoops, kaleidoscopes, Jacob’s-ladders and yo-yo’s. The shop also has a very extensive collection of board games. My children were very hands-on in the shop but the staff didn’t seem to mind. At one point my middle child knocked over a stand of parrots but a shop assistant was quick to reassure us that it didn’t matter. Two things which really appealed to us were the free entry and the large free car park.
To get into the House of Marbles we did have to negotiate an assault course of fragile looking statuettes, china and breakables. There is even a glass cabinet of extremely fragile looking crystal-ware that stands a few feet from the entrance. I do wish they’d move this collection to a part of the building which is not used as a general thoroughfare. It’s just so stressful guiding and man-handling three children under seven past all the carefully balanced breakables. But once we’d navigated this the House of Marbles was an interesting and quirky collection of marbles and old fashioned toys. There were a few times when the House of Marbles felt like one of those museums where any random object was included. There were a few plastic pinball machines which didn’t look old enough to warrant any shelf space and there were also a few incongruous stuffed animals, but most of the time it stuck to a recognisable theme. Our favourite part was the outdoor playground with large wooden jenga blocks, outdoor chess, a climbing frame, slide and marble activities, including the largest marble in Britain which was spinning continually on its watery base.
As well as the marble museum, shop and outside playground there was a small pottery museum and a glass works. My youngest child’s favourite thing was the large marble run while my two older children spent longest in the outside area rolling marbles round a large steel bowl.