Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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

A Second World War Cooperative Shop by Linda Holmes

When I began to make the 2nd World War Co-operative, my mother was my inspiration, she worked there before and then again after the war, so I was lucky because she could advise me on certain aspects.  Of course I couldn’t do everything correctly due to space restraints but I tried to do what I could such as making the bags of sugar, fruit and flour in the correct colours.  I contacted the Hull Museums service who have a reconstruction of a co-operative shop and was amazed when they sent me all their research including period photographs – they went above and beyond my expectations and I would urge anyone planning a similar project to contact anyone who they think may be able to help, it’s heartening how kind and interested people can be. 


To start with I taped the windows of the living quarters to prevent glass shattering in the event of a bomb blast.  The walls are a textured fibreglass type of brick paper and the roof is just cardboard rectangles painted to look like slate – I ‘slipped and chipped’ one or two to try to make it look more realistic. 


On the side wall is an advertisement for a local Hull drapers, this is still just visible when you enter Hull by train and I wanted to capture it before it disappeared completely.  As I now live in Dorset I wrote to the local civic society and a lovely lady kindly drove out and photographed it for me so that I could reproduce it correctly because all the pictures I found on the internet were too blurred.  People are so kind.


As to the internal views, I had to restrain myself from making delicious “fimo” cakes to go in the bread cabinet on the left hand side because of the rationing shortages, but I made a few pasties, bread and such which at least means it isn’t empty.  I bought a lot of the packaging from Platts Mini Packages, Liza Platt is a treasure with a huge selection of goods from all eras. Instead of buying lots of packs I bought one or two and then made dummys to put behind them giving the impression of a full row of packaging and saving money into the bargain.  90% of the packs are correct for the period but some were too nice not to use and as they looked authentic I cheated just a little by using them. 


The prices and varieties of coal on the blackboard are taken from pictures in the Hull Museum collection.  The people in the shop are mainly Del Prado make-overs.  The lady standing is meant to look like my mum, I tried to re-wig her with a wartime hairstyle and it’s not too far from the style she wore in those days.  The soldier is dad (just on leave from overseas – hence the tan); actually he was originally a rather swarthy Del Prado butler but I think he works quite well as he is.  The little girl was only £1 from a cheapo shop and I redressed her and gave her a little cardigan made from an old sock and a tam o’shanter just like the ones I used to wear.  She is taking a remembrance poppy from the soldier, I did check with the British Legion who told me that they were still sold during the war years.  There is a box of them on the counter (courtesy of Mary Stokes Miniatures).  The shopkeeper was bought just as he is which is unusual for me but I thought I’d leave him alone as he was just perfect. The lady behind the counter is another DP reject redressed with a white Co-op overall and cap, she has also inherited a pair of spectacles from my stash of bits and pieces.  The old lady in the corner has on a turban, her slippers and a pinny because she has only nipped out to buy some cleaning things hence the duster in her pinafore pocket. 


I made the bacon slicer from a lovely Warwick Miniatures kit and added some fimo bacon.  The ham and egg pie was made by a dear friend Val Baker and although she is no longer with us I feel she will always be part of my miniature life as she had so much enthusiasm for the hobby that she inspired me everytime we met.  In the windows of the shop are reproductions of real Co-op advertisements which I found somewhere on the internet – probably through google images if memory serves me correct.   



In the living room upstairs I made some changes from when I first “dressed” the room.  Little things to add more 1940’s flavour like light switches, although they are only a small thing they make such a difference.  

Above: Living room as I originally "dressed" it;

below: living room mark 2

 As I was having trouble with the ceiling light and had to remove it to repair my original botched installation I added a ceiling rose cut from some anaglypta paper.  When I was a child I remember a large brass platter with the image of a sailing ship on our living room wall alongside a fancy brass framed picture of the Laughing Cavalier, and I managed to find an exact white metal replica of the platter which I painted with brass paint, I then copied a picture of the Laughing Cavalier off the internet and framed him in the centre of another large platter. 


I have a store of bits and pieces acquired over the years and I remembered a companion set I painted years ago that was waiting in my ‘miniatures treasure trunk’ for a home, so I dug it out and put it on the fireplace, moving the magazine rack to beside the piano where the little girl can keep her music sheets along with magazines of the period.  Incidentally the fireplace was made using cut down squares of sample kitchen worktop veneer that I ‘collected’ on a visit to my local DIY superstore.  The mirror over the mantle is just made up from some pieces of mirror card cut into a vaguely art deco style and stuck on a thin piece of card with a chain on the back to hang it by. 



There is a packet of Woodbines on the arm of the chair along with an ashtray with a half smoked cigarette in it, as when I was young and my father still smoked, he was never without a packet of Woodbines in his pocket. The chair itself was made with chunks of wood (I cannot saw wood properly to save my life!) and then covered in brown glove leather.  The photographs are all of the family, one of dad in his uniform sits on the piano, mum and dad's wedding on the sideboard and a “snap” of them on the mantelpiece.  The lady going out of the door now has her gas mask on her shoulder and originally had quite a lengthy skirt so I decided to shorten it (due to fabric rationing) and add a half belt to her jacket, then I painted on stocking seams which improved her look no-end. 



The little girl now has 1/12th scale music to play by as the sheet that was on the piano when I bought it was out of scale.  The piano is actually a music-box so it’s lovely to wind it up and imagine that the little girl is really playing it.  I got the bookcase which replaced the magazine rack beside the fire from KT Miniatures as a gift from my husband one Christmas, and also the toy box of Panic Post which is laying abandoned on the hearthrug alongside various childhood books.   KT Miniatures is the place to shop for 30’s and 40’s miniatures.  The lamp on the sideboard is another cheap adaptation of an oil lamp with the funnel removed and replaced with a parchment type of shade trimmed with rick rack.  The clothes horse to the back right has been replaced with the carpet sweeper I treated myself to when I had a rare visit to the London Dollshouse Festival.  The occasional table has been rearranged slightly with all the paraphernalia of an air raid warden along with his thermos; his gas mask sits on the carpet ready to be packed in its box – another gift from my friend Val.




The upper floor is only about 5 inches high at its peak which limits the height of furniture, so I cut the bottom ¼” off the legs of a washstand and painted it to look distressed, which enabled the roof to fit over it, and then dressed it with various bits and pieces.  The carpet is a simple piece of patterned velvet that I picked up in a remnant box and I think it works quite well.  The Lloyd loom chair was a brown resin conservatory chair that I painted green and gave a little gilding then stuck some material on the seat to try and reproduce one I used to have in my bedroom as a child.  I decided that the owner of the bedroom (who has no connection with the “flat” below) is a bit of a good time gal and so she has been lucky enough to obtain some silk stockings – it’s just a pity she doesn’t look after them better as they are laying around the floor and draped on the chair. 



The washstand has a box of Coty powder like the one my grandmother always had on her dressing table, it was easy to make, I took some pictures from google images, reduced them,  stuck them together to make a decent sized piece of patterned paper  and then made up the box.  There is a bottle of nail varnish (made from a small round bead with a tubular bead stuck on top) which, if you look carefully, you will see has spilt.  There is a tiny powder compact which I made from two sequins with a little bit of gold gift tag string round the edges to create a rim, the bottom one has a thin layer of real powder stuck on it and the top one has a tiny circle of mirror card, I managed to find some very thin pale pink felt and cut a circle of that for the powder puff then stuck some narrow ribbon across it. 


The handbag on the trunk at the bottom of the bed  is open and the contents are spilling out, there are some ration books and keys along with a photograph.  The bed is another thing I cobbled together with my dreadful woodwork skills but I made an eiderdown to go on top which hides the worst of my mistakes.  That’s a fur tippet hanging on the bottom of the bed by the way not a dead cat!!!  There is an ashtray on the floor by the bed with ash and a half smoked cigarette in it complete with lipstick marks.



Things don’t have to cost a fortune to give you enjoyment – I love adapting and improving cheap bits and pieces that I have picked up over the years.  I am still adding to and adjusting the shop, I don’t think I will ever stop as it gives me such pleasure making even the smallest change. As my own daughter is not interested in miniatures I shall probably end up donating it to the Hull Museum who helped me so much one day, but that will be a long time in the future – in the meantime I will trawl the fairs and shops to find inspiration and all the little extras to help create the period feel.  I hope that you enjoy your own projects as much as I do, I’m currently upgrading my First World War sweetshop so watch this space ............

Happy Miniaturing.


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