The story of a dolls’ house

Back in the 1930s, a Midlands solicitor and his wife commissioned the making of an expensive dolls’ house as a birthday present for their elder daughter Ursula. On the day, her father sent the child on an errand to the room where it had been set up, and her mother hid in a corner to watch her reaction.

Already disliking manipulation, Ursula-my-mother insisted on doing the errand before commenting on the gift. Or this is the impression she gave me, years later. The dolls’ house, nonetheless, was and is magnificent.

This toy is I think between 80 and 90 years old. A desirable residence in urgent need of renovation, with kitchen, bathroom, two reception rooms, hall and landing, and two bedrooms with additional furnished and decorated attic, it was possibly a miniature copy of an actual house. It opens on three sides (and from above to reach the attic) and is fitted with stair carpet, glass windows with curtain rails, tiles on the bathroom floor and wallpaper in the other rooms, and electric light.

I hope my mother enjoyed it. During the 1960s, it became mine to play with (fortunately we had space. This thing is big.) In my memory there are many happy hours with that house, its furniture and the soft plastic dolls of the time. Thirty or so years later, with Granny downsizing, it was promised to my daughter, and was eventually transported from Scotland to Nottingham.

Houses as well as dolls’ houses may have shrunk, and for many years this des res has been sitting in our garage, in a rather dilapidated state, and frankly (sadly) in the way. A week or two ago, one of a group of workmen at the house caught sight of it and offered to buy it.

I said, “There’s a box of furniture that goes with it,” and amazingly managed to find this box in the loft.

I was surprised at the sweetness of the memories this box of stuff evoked, and the reluctance I felt at parting with the contents.

Three generations of dolls’ house furniture. First generation: upholstered leather armchair, picture of a Somerset landscape to hang on the wall, upholstered dressing table with matching chair and screen, sideboard, bearskin rug and wardrobe.  And curtains and carpets: who remembers when carpeted rooms had bare boards round the edges? Second generation: rather horrid yellow plastic bathroom suite (the fixed originals except the bath had been inexplicably broken), kitchen table and chairs, and another bedroom suite, all with rather dangerous looking sharp legs. Third generation: computer desk and computer, fridge and cot. There are even imitation Christmas cards made by my mother.

Part of me wants to keep all this, despite the fact that I have not thought of it or needed it for twenty years. I shall try to resist this temptation (the house hasn’t yet been collected!) and keep only one armchair beautifully homemade out of matchboxes, and a set of dolls for visiting children.

I shall declutter. But I shall cherish the memory.

  • Matthew Perry

    9th May 2022 at 6:27 pm Reply

    Lovely story

  • Stephen Hall

    10th May 2022 at 12:10 pm Reply

    I am sure you are doing the right thing. Decluttering is excellent policy. The new owner can bring it fully up-to-date, installing gym equipment, a home cinema room, and an air source heat pump.

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