Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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




by Julie Hardy

The very beginning of this story is the black day, in 1968, when I came home from school, and my mother said, casually, "I've given your dolls house away". The house was a Tri-ang "U", filled with Spot-On furniture, and which had a large Britain's Floral Miniature Garden alongside. The shock of its unexpected loss was visceral, and I mourned that house for more than 40 years...

The longing for another dolls house, although somewhat suppressed, never left me. By 1990, I was talking about getting one, but didn't do anything about it. Somebody, though, was listening: on Christmas Day, 1991, I received my first adult dolls house as a gift - the unique little oddity which is my 1900 workers cottage, home to Albert and Ellen Shuker, and their six children:


This was commissioned by my husband, Brian, from an amateur woodworker. Neither my husband, nor the builder, had the first idea about dolls houses for adults. From the outside, this looks to be a two-storey house, with a rather fanciful facade, in 1:24 scale. Inside, it has just one room, which works best in 1:16 scale - at the time, I had no idea just how significant, ultimately, that was going to be!


Once started, I intended to continue as a 1:12 miniaturist, so early in 1992, I acquired a Honeychurch Georgian House kit, wanting to portray the Pooters' house from the Grossmiths' The Diary of a Nobody. Once it was half-built I realised that it was going to be too small for that particular idea, so it was turned into a 1990s house whose official tenant, Belle, is in breach of her lease by sub-letting three rooms to university students. Owing to various circumstances beyond my control, the building of this house never got finished. It remains a shell to this day - although, as I never stopped collecting for it, it does contain a great many exquisite miniatures from some of the best artisans from the last 20 years. It never will be finished, now, as it is too small for all it contains and the plans I have for it. One day, I will build a new house big enough to fulfil them, but until then, the existing shell acts as a crammed, bare wood showcase for all it contains:

The two top-floor bedrooms are impressions, in miniature, of rooms our two sons had when they were at university in the early 1990s. Dan's room is at top left, Sam's at top right.


In July 1996, we celebrated the wedding of Sam and Sue. I did the catering and received, from them, as a surprise thank-you gift, Sue's childhood dolls house - a 1968 Tri-ang No 50:


This increased my ownership of 1:16 houses by 100% and started me off as a collector of vintage furniture. I set this house in 1965 (the year of Sue's birth). It was given the address 50, Lines Drive, Droylsden, and quickly acquired the Bradgate family - parents Derek and Veronica, son Andrew and baby Sharon - to live in it. How could I have foreseen where this innocent little house was going to lead me!

It was about this time that I made the pronouncement that despite this being a Tri-ang, there was no way that I was going to attempt to recreate my lost childhood house...

... and I didn't - for about ten years.


Between 1998 and 2003, my three houses were packed away, owing to major house renovations, an unexpected house move, then more major renovations.

When Sue gave No 50 to me, it was filled with Barton furniture, which suits it well, but when I came to set it up again, I yearned to incorporate a few nods to my lost house. That only became possible when I discovered eBay in 2006 and found that I could buy Spot-On furniture and the Britain's miniature garden. I replaced the bathroom suite with Spot-On pieces, and acquired a Britain's pond for the garden. I thought I was satisfied...


In early August, 2010, I was astonished to see a Tri-ang "U" listed on eBay with a Buy It Now price. My heart stopped! After all my preaching about never replacing my lost house, I wanted it so much! I had a quick consultation with Brian, who said simply “Go for it!”. So I did! It arrived five days later:

As soon as I had bought it, I immediately started looking for, and buying, Spot-On furniture and Britain’s Floral Garden. It was furnished, and had the beginnings of its garden, within weeks!

Now with the address of 123, London Road, Droylsden, it's lived in by Stephen and Margaret Goodwin, and their toddler twin daughters, Carol and Suzy. Margaret is the sister of No 50's Veronica Bradgate.

At first, I would only put in it what I had had in my original, lost, house. Another vow ultimately destined to be broken! There were quite a number of Spot-On pieces I hadn't had as a child - as a greedy adult collector, I bought most of them, over the course of the next year or two.

This story has now reached the point where I deny responsibility for everything which happens hereafter - it has all been somebody else's fault!


At the end of that August, Sam, Sue and their four children came to lunch. They were very taken by the new house. By this time I was frustrated by only having the four rooms in No 50, so had devised a temporary kitchen extension in a shoebox:



I was planning to make a two-storey extension in wood, until Sue remarked that, as a child, she had wished she had had a second house "to be the rooms at the back". Now why hadn't I thought of that? Battered 50s are often found cheaply - the ideal solution!

Then, fatefully, Sam said the two families in the Tri-angs should have somewhere to go on holiday - a caravan or a cottage...

We all trooped to the computer - there was a forlorn 50 for the extension and a sweet Tri-ang Daisy bungalow for the holiday let:

This was largely furnished with spare pieces, so cost very little.

The second 50 was placed alongside the first, giving me a 7-room house, with garage:



And that, I thought, was that...


A few weeks later, Brian's sister (and my very good friend), Lynn, came for a weekend visit. She was thrilled with the new houses and the holiday cottage. Then she started to think. "Wouldn't it be good if there was a pub for them to go to?" "That's a great idea!", I said. "As I haven't a lot of room, I could do a roombox bar". But Lynn was rattling on: "...or it could be like the club all our aunties and uncles used to go to back in the 1960s - you could do Auntie Ivy and Uncle Malcolm, and Uncle Roy, Auntie Josie, Auntie Evelyn..." "Whoa!", I said, "It'd have to be a huge box to fit all that lot in!" (There's several more aunts and uncles and numerous cousins in this scenario). After Lynn had returned home, I started mooching around eBay and gathered a few bits and bobs together for the bar. The trouble was, she'd got me thinking...

I could make a 1960s holiday camp! For anyone unfamiliar with these British holiday resorts, this website shows what they were like:


The mid-1960s were their heyday. In 1963, when the UK population was around 53 million, a total of one million people took a holiday that summer at Butlin's camps - an incredible statistic. (There were two other firms with multiple camps and several independent camps, too, which, whilst not as large as the Butlin's operation, would have accommodated several thousands more, each week).


By the time of Lynn's next visit, the following January, I had started to create the camp in the redundant cupboard which had housed a stacking stereo music system and a collection of several hundred CDs. The Daisy Bungalow holiday cottage had become a holiday camp chalet.

At this stage, the camp was on five levels in the cupboard - a cafeteria; bar and ballroom; the pool, shop and children's playground; indoor games room and nursery; and pony rides. The only extant copies of photos from those early days are on flickr:


Here are two views from those days - the games room and creche (since this was taken, a dividing wall has been built to separate them, and two more nursery staff have been appointed to care for all these children!):

and the bar, dance floor and the "Gents", again before the addition of a dividing wall:


In March, Lynn asked, "What happens in the holiday camp in the winter?". I replied, "It's closed". She said, "The facilities could be used for wedding receptions...". Dutifully, I collected the food and drink, made a wedding cake and found a Lundby bridal couple on eBay:  



In May, she said, "You need a church for the service". My retort: "No more room!". Lynn argued, "You could use the middle shelf on that bookcase". After thinking, "!!!!", I did:


The holiday camp is still a work in progress but has come on a long way since late 2010. It's largely furnished with Spot-On, with some pieces by other makers, including Barton, Dol-Toi, Jean and Lundby. Some 200 dolls make up the holidaymakers and the serving staff, stewards and entertainers. There are thousands of individual accessories and some exquisitely crafted miniature foods. Two Tri-ang Jenny's Home Large Rooms were used to create an office and the beach goods/souvenir shop and tea bar. It outgrew its original cupboard and had to be extended into additional accommodation in a tall, slim bookcase. Its album is here:


I never intended to be a 1:16 miniaturist. I never intended to be a collector of vintage miniatures. I never intended to focus so heavily on the mid-1960s.

That's my story. None of it was my fault - but it's been great fun!

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