Dolls' Houses Past & Present

A website and ezine about dolls' houses: antique, vintage and modern. Plus furniture and accessories.

Dolls Houses in War-time Tasmania, Australia by Rebecca Green

 Toys, especially large toys like dolls houses, often have a precarious existence during times of war. Commercial manufacturers may have to switch to producing items necessary for the war, and those made pre-war might be destroyed by bombing, left behind when fleeing or evacuating, or traded for food. At the same time, toys are valued for bringing children joy in times of deprivation and fear, and provide disabled soldiers with a form of occupational therapy, or even a new occupation.

In Australia, during World War II, quite a few dolls houses were raffled to raise money to support the troops and prisoners of war. In Tasmania alone, the Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury reported on over 12 dolls houses donated for raffles. Some were made especially for the raffle, some were old childhood or family dolls houses.

 This dolls house was made by the employees of Nettlefold's Bodyworks, Hobart, in their spare time. Mr Bernard Walker (an architect who was involved in the development of the Cadbury Estate in the 1920s) designed the dolls house, and Miss L. M. (Maud) Poynter (a potter and painter) and Miss E. (Spring) Reid made the furniture and fittings. It was described as a very modern dolls house, "modelled on the lines of a modern home, and fitted throughout with snappy miniature furniture."

The lounge, bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, and dining-room are all completely furnished down to the tiniest detail. Real carpets are laid down and the rooms are fitted with electric light. A special feature is a roof garden, complete with swing seat and a large sun umbrella. Special pottery equipment and dolls were made by Miss Poynter. The house is painted in cream and has a brown roof.

The house was donated to the Red Cross Prisoner-of-War Fund in January 1942, and drawn in March. The Mercury published the amount raised in 8 weekly instalments, totalling over £120. Here's the winner, Margaret Neave of Battery Point, Hobart, with the house, showing just how big it is:

 (Nettlefold's had another dolls house on display two years later, in 1944, when they posted the following public notice in The Mercury:

Would the boy who took Toy Motor-Car from the Doll's House at Nettlefold's Showroom return same to save further trouble.)

 Two months later, in May 1942, another dolls house, fully furnished and with running hot and cold water, was donated in aid of the Air Training Corps equipment fund. This raffle also realised £100; the winner was Miss Diana Rex, c/o Mr. G. Rex, Morrison St., Hobart. Sadly, there are no photos of this house with its running water. Although the maker is not named, F. X. de Bavay was responsible for placing the announcement of the winner in The Mercury; he is named as the maker of another dolls house in 1945, so perhaps he made this one too.

Then in October 1942, members of the Apex Club of Hobart designed and built the "Dolls' Dream House", which they donated to the Red Cross "Young Bill" prisoners of war appeal.

This house measured 4' 6" by 2' by 2' 6". It had a sun roof and a garage, and the furnishings included tiny carpets, bedsteads, blankets, pillows and pictures. Most of the furnishings were made and donated by Peter Eldershaw, then a patient at Wingfield House for crippled children (he later became principal archivist, State Archives of Tasmania). A Mrs Basil Crisp donated a Parisian teaset to the house in the second week of the raffle.

 

 The dolls house was exhibited in Hobart, Launceston, Burnie and Devonport, and regularly reported on in The Mercury. The manufacturers of the materials used to make the dolls house took advantage of the massive publicity to advertise their products. Here, we are informed that "The Feltex floor covering for the "Dream House" was donated by Felt and Textiles of Australia Ltd."

Another version of this ad informs us that

"MASONITE, "the wonder Board with a Thousand Uses," was used in the construction of the Dolls' Dream House.
This Advertisement is inserted by the manufacturers, THE COLONIAL SUGAR REFINING CO. LTD. (Building Materials Division), to assist in the war effort."
(Who would have thought masonite was made by the CSR sugar company?)

and a third tells us that
"The painting of the Dolls' Dream House was carried out entirely in "Dulux."
This advertisement is inserted by the makers, British Australian Lead Manufacturers Pty. Ltd., to assist the war effort."
All three companies had further information at the bottom of the advertisement about how they were contributing to the war effort:

 

 A dinghy was raffled at the same time as this dolls house - between them, they raised £516. The winner of the dolls house, drawn at an Apex Ball on December 19th 1942, was Elsa Young of 35 Tennyson Street, East Malvern, Victoria. Did she take her dolls house home to Victoria, I wonder?


In May 1944, two Hobart children made a dolls house for the Red Cross. They called it Austerity House, because it was made from "boxes and "bits and pieces" at the cost of 1/."

 The children were Brian Kemp, aged 8, and Ann Kemp, aged 10; their father, LAC Wilfred Kemp, was in the Royal Australian Air Force. Brian had already made models of a man-o'-war and a hospital ship, which he had donated to the Prisoners of War shop. Ann was "an accomplished knitter, making her own jumpers and cardigans, and now knitting her first pair of gloves." She made "vases and pot plants [for the dolls house] from coloured bottle tops, and match boxes and cotton reels were used in the construction of the furniture."

 
This dolls house was won by Betty Groombridge, of Lower Longley.

 

Catherine Macleod of Richmond was one of the people who donated her childhood dolls house in aid of the war effort - it was "most attractively refurnished by Mrs J. Eldershaw and her son, Peter" (who furnished the Apex dolls house, above) before being raffled for the Red Cross in May 1944.

Another old dolls house had been donated to the Battery Point Red Cross at the end of 1943. This wasn't just a childhood dolls house - it was nearly 100 years old!

 

The Mercury gave the history of this dolls house (I've added some details from online research). It was sent from England to Mr William Knight in Van Diemen's Land, for his baby daughter, Emily Lang Knight, who was born in 1850. She grew up and married Henry Thomas Maning in 1876, and gave the dolls house to her daughter, Frances Maning, born 1878, to play with. Frances Maning became Mrs Cecil Baldwin, and donated the house to the Red Cross in 1943. The Mercury reported that

It ... is in an excellent state of preservation. Only a comparatively small amount of renovation was necessary, and this was undertaken by Miss Poynter, who is well known in the world of art, and is a keen worker for the Red Cross.
Most of the furniture is the original, and a feature is a fascinating little writing desk complete with candlesticks. The remainder is more than 50 years old, and is in perfect order.

(Miss Poynter had also furnished the Nettlefolds' dolls house raffled in early 1942.)

What an amazing piece of Tasmanian history. It would be one of the oldest dolls houses in Australia, if it still exists. Strangely, this raffle was to be drawn after only one week - I wonder how much it made, compared with the raffles that went on for weeks with huge publicity. The winner was J.S. Ramsay of Launceston. I hope I can trace this house!

"Housing problem solved - for this little lady at any rate! She was purchasing a ticket in the doll's house raffle in connection with the Allies' Day Appeal yesterday."


The Allies' Day Appeal was held in July 1944, and this dolls house was raffled on the Free French Stall. The reports don't give any information about who made or donated the dolls house, and it's hard to see the details in this photo. It seems to be a fairly traditional two-storey house with a simple pitched roof. Lorna Ahearne of Mt. Nelson won this house (so perhaps this little girl's housing problems weren't solved!)

 

 Finally, in February 1945, F.X. de Bavay, master brewer and general manager of the Cascade Brewery, made a dolls house which he called the Victory Doll's House. He donated this house to the Tasmanian Society for the Care of Crippled Children and the Tasmanian Sanatorium, so it wasn't strictly speaking in aid of the war effort - but the name certainly referred to the war! The winner of the Victory Doll's House was Miss Sallie Hall, of 10 Tasma Street, Launceston.

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