Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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

C. E. Turnbull & Co by Rebecca Green


 A C. E. Turnbull & Co Dolls House from an 1895 article in Athletic Sports, Games and Toys (courtesy of Marion Osborne)

The article states that: "Of dolls' houses, Messrs Turnbull are large makers, and they also import this class of goods. The houses of their own manufacture are well-made, attractively painted and got up, and are very cheap, ranging in price from a shilling or so for a two-roomed house, to £3 or £4 for a house of 6 rooms complete with staircase stoves electric bells etc. …. Their stock of dolls house articles is very comprehensive and includes every sort of furniture etc found in a real, well-furnished house."


C. E. Turnbull was Charles Edward Turnbull, born ca 1841 in Pancras, London. His father, William Turnbull, is shown in the 1861 census as a Pianoforte Maker, employing 4 men and 2 boys. Charles Edward Turnbull was 19, and Assistant at a Fancy Warehouse.
By 1871 Charles had married, and was living at 14 St Pauls Crescent, St Pancras. His occupation is shown as Wholesale Toy Salesman. According to another Athletic Sports, Games and Toys article from 1896, C. E. Turnbull and Co was formed in 1872. They had a warehouse at No 5, Charterhouse buildings in Goswell Road in the City of London.

The Turnbull family were still in St Pauls Crescent at the time of the 1881 census, but had moved to Number 9, where they also lived in 1891. Charles' occupation in 1881 is Toy Merchant.


 In 1885, the firm’s warehouse and contents were severely damaged in a fire which started in 18 Charterhouse buildings at an embroiderers’, spread to 17 large warehouses in one hour, and in the course of the six hours for which it burned, damaged 46 buildings. (Another toymaker, Mr Randle, and toy warehousemen Messrs Purslow and Co, both at at No 15 Charterhouse-buildings, were completely burnt out.)


Who the “Co.” in C. E. Turnbull and Co was originally, we don’t know. However, I have found a notice in the London Gazette of May 1887 announcing that the partnership of “C.E. Turnbull and Co., Charterhouse-buildings, City, importers of fancy goods and toys and warehousemen” was dissolved. By this time, Turnbull’s own sons, Arthur Charles (born ca 1867) and Frederick George Mines (born ca 1868), had grown up. The 1896 article mentioned above states that “Mr. Fred. Turnbull entered the business in 1884, after having served his apprenticeship in French and German commission houses, thus gaining a thorough knowledge of the trade.” Fred Turnbull would have been only 16 in 1884, which seems rather young to have completed an apprenticeship and entered the business. However, the does 1891 census show Charles Edward Turnbull, described as a “Merchant Toys and Fancy Goods” employing Arthur and Frederick as Warehouseman and Cashier, respectively.


Charles' occupation on the 1901 census is transcribed as Wholesale Log Importer (Employer). I read it on the original image as Wholesale Toy Importer even before I looked at the other censuses! And in 1911, it's given as Wholesale Toy Dealer. By this time his elder son was a Commercial Traveller in Toys (to a Wholesale Toy Importer, presumably his father), and the younger son was a Commercial Clerk and Cashier (to Wholesale Toy Importer).


It’s interesting that all the census entries describe Charles Turnbull as a salesman, merchant, importer or wholesale dealer. The 1896 article refers to his “determination to deal in the better class of goods”, and details the floors of the warehouse from the packing rooms in the basement, through the shop on the ground floor, and five floors above this stocked with toys of different kinds. The 1895 article quoted above makes clear that the firm did also make dolls houses, but it doesn’t seem that they were made in the Charterhouse premises. Perhaps C.E. Turnbull had manufacturing premises elsewhere, or perhaps he contracted outworkers who made the dolls houses in small sheds, workshops or their own homes. (As well as dolls houses, C. E. Turnbull made forts – two Charterhouse forts can be seen on Allen Hickling’s Gallery Two of toy forts (scroll down to the bottom of the page); he describes them as made of hand-painted wood, metal and paper litho.)

We don’t know when the firm commenced or ceased manufacturing goods. However, Margaret believes that C. E. Turnbull must have ceased manufacture well before the Second World War, as she was in touch with their former sales director in the 1970s, who told her that in his time they were only wholesalers, there was no manufacture at all.



The London telephone directory shows that C. E. Turnbull & Co., Wholesale Toy Manufacturers, were still at 4 & 5 Charterhouse buildings (ph Central 5256) in 1903.

Then in 1904, they moved to St John's House, Clerkenwell Rd E.C.1 ph Central 5256, and remained there until 1936. (The phone number changed to Clerkenwell 6530 in 1923.)


The firm used the brand name "Charterhouse Toys" even after they had moved from the Charterhouse buildings – it appears in the 1921 directory of brand names in Marion Osborne’s A-Z 1914 - 1941 Dollshouses. Another brand name used was CETANDCO, formed from the initials C. E. T. and Co. (In the 1921 directory just referred to, Celando appears as C. E. Turnbull’s brand name for dolls. Is this a mistake, or did they use both CETANDCO and Celando?)


The Turnbull family also moved from St Pancras by 1901, to 'Oakland', 39 Lovelace Gardens, Surbiton. Presumably the business had prospered sufficiently for the family to move out of central London. The residence first appears in the telephone directory in 1906, and then right through till 1926:
Turnbull, C. E. “Oaklands”, Lovelace gdns ph Kingston 52.

Charles Turnbull died in 1928 in his late eighties. His elder son, Arthur Charles Turnbull, had married a woman named Mary Dawkins in 1912. (They may have had one son; I am not yet certain about this.) Arthur Charles died in March 1935, leaving £25,000; he was described as a toy merchant and director of C.E. Turnbull and Co. Ltd.


After WWII, C. E. Turnbull's younger son Frederick continued the business, with new premises at 3 Bevis Marks E.C.3 (ph AVEnue 3604) from at least 1951 until Frederick’s death in 1963.


(Photos courtesy of Marion Osborne)

                                              Page 7