Part One: Where are the dolls houses made by Ted Twiggs? by Angela Spencer-Harper
I have a particular wish to try and trace at least one of eight dolls houses that my father, Albert Edward Twiggs, made in 1944-1945. They were made for RAF officers who were billeted on us by the base at RAF Fighter Command at Bentley Priory, Stanmore, Middlesex at the start of the war.
Officers' Mess, Bentley Priory
At the time he made these houses, my father was suffering from a nervous breakdown following very long and stressful service in the A.R.P. in London and was encouraged by these gentlemen to create a large model railway in his study. They were all very successful at this and it took their minds off the worries of the war. Nearer to the end of the war, one of these officers asked my father whether he could make a set of dolls house furniture for his little daughter - he did so and also then made a doll’s house for her. They were so popular in the Mess that he then made seven more.
They were very large and immensely heavy. Probably they were about 2ft broad by about 2 foot 6 inches to the top of the roofs and about 1 ft in depth. Unfortunately, most people didn’t have cameras at that time, so we have no photos of them but I remember them clearly. They were all built in the same design - that of a half-timbered house with two pitched roofs.
I believe there were nearly 1000 pieces of wood in each and in between the outside black ‘beams’ (about the size of a large matchstick) he put a type of ‘anaglypta’ white wallpaper.
Each room had a hinged mahogany door and there were also skirting boards made of the same wood. I believe the officers paid about £10 each for these houses. Sadly, I have no means of verifying any of these statements - I was only about 12 years old at the time.
I do recall that the roof could be raised and was held by brass chains. The front of the house also opened and exposed the rooms and the staircase. He also provided the furniture and it was this that led him to make dolls house furniture which, after the war, was sold by major retailers throughout Britain. The company name was A.E. Twiggs & Co.
Albert E Twiggs in later life
I know almost nothing about these officers, except that they were usually high ranking and in 1944 I was sent to stay with the family of one of them, because of the dangers of the ’doodle-bugs’. This man was Sqdn Leader Longbottom who lived in peace-time in Gosforth, a suburb of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Whether he bought one of my father’s dolls houses, I do not know.
I would be very interested to know if any members have ever seen or heard of any of these lovely houses.
Later, in the 1970s, Ted Twiggs made a dolls house for his granddaughter, my brother Tony’s daughter. It has a half-timbered exterior, but is rather simpler than those made in the 1940s. She still has it - I understand that it is in her attic now that her daughter is 13 and has grown out of 'dollies'!
[Editor: If you think you know of one of these houses, please contact me, by email or through the website, or telephone Mrs Spencer-Harper on 01491 641379.]
Editor: Some years ago, a dolls house collector / researcher had a stand at a fair next to Tony Twiggs, got into conversation, and learned about his father Ted Twiggs’ dolls house furniture. The furniture itself was known to collectors, but as it isn't marked, wasn't advertised by name, and very little has survived in labelled packaging, the maker was quite unknown until that lucky meeting. That resulted in a write-up in International Dolls House News in 1997 (Vol 26, No 8). As that's now over 16 years ago, and there are many new collectors who would not have read that article, I am very happy to be able to present more information from Ted Twiggs’ children.
(Note: This is often referred to as Twigg furniture. This probably arose due to thinking that Twiggs was a plural form, but in fact, the family and company name was Twiggs.)
Mrs Rona Twiggs
Angela writes: My mother Rona was a very strong person and it was she who dared to go, as soon as the war had ended, to the one and only toy shop in our nearby town of Harrow, Middlesex, taking with her examples of the cots, swings and chunky Teddy Bear tea tables and chairs that my father had also made.
Toys that, pre-war, had been made in Bavaria, had not been available during or after the war, so he jumped at the chance and said - "I will buy anything your husband can make!" Sadly, none of these toys, painted in pale pink or blue, have survived in the family.
My father had been apprenticed to a joiner when he was in his late teens and I still have a sewing box on legs, which, like his toys, had drawers that were so perfect that they were all inter-changeable. The cots and swings were made of 'beads' that my father turned and cut to length. These were drilled with holes, through which cord was threaded and box-shaped seats were provided for the dolls, enabling them to be swung.
The cots were made in a similar manner, with vertical rails all around, except at the head which was a piece of wood. The base was made from thin slats. The whole cot was brush painted, pale blue or pink and a floral transfer was set on the headboard.
The Teddy Bear sets were my favourite. The table top was square and supported by a set of slats. The chairs were also made in solid plywood, shaped to have a back and two smaller sides. It is difficult for me to describe them, really. When a doll or Teddy Bear was placed on the seat, their feet were under the table and another of these floral transfers was placed on the back of the seat. (I still have a few of these, now nearly 70 years old - and they still work!) Again, these full sized toys were painted in blue or pink.Because of my father’s nervous breakdown, it was not possible for him to go from the little toy shop in Harrow to all the well-known London stores, eg Harrods, Selfridges, John Lewis, Gamages, etc and even Hamleys! Mummy gritted her teeth, put on her charming smile and took her samples in a large suitcase and I recall how tired she was by the time she came home! She had never done anything like this before, but she succeeded in selling these toys, by the hundreds, to buyers in a completely male-dominated society! Harrods asked for a bath mat, towel and sponge (costing about 1 shilling), to be provided at an extra 2/6d from them and this enabled them to put add on a much larger sum for these unique sets!!
Tony writes: The whole family were involved in making the dolls house furniture. My father designed the furniture with some input from my mother. Dad did all the machining, the woods used were oak, beech and birch with 4mm plywood for backs, chair sides, etc. My father did some assembly and from the age of nine I also assembled items. It would take approx three hours to assemble a batch of 150 chairs.
My mother did all the marketing, she would travel to meet buyers with her case of samples. We supplied all the top shops and stores, i.e. Hamleys, Harrods, Selfridges, John Lewis Group and many others.
Boxed kitchen set with label 'Dolls Furniture Set by A. E. Twiggs & Co.' The number 117 is stamped on the label.
My sister often stuck the toys in the boxes. But we were very flexible and being a family business working from home we could give a rapid service at peak times, sometimes in the pre Christmas rush Hamleys would phone at 7pm on a Thursday to say they had sold out of certain sets. If the furniture was made we would set to and stick it in the boxes, often working to late in the evening. Next morning the stuff would be delivered by taxi, later when I could drive I would deliver it to the shop at 8am before going on to school in Hampstead.
The Twiggs family home and address of A. E. Twiggs & Co, 93 Vernon Drive, Stanmore, Middlesex, where the furniture was made until a move to the Cotswolds (to 11 Court Close, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire) in 1969.
Angela writes: My mother took a great part in the business, while my father worked away in his workshop in our garage and in the fourth bedroom which, pre-war, had been his study. (He made the white-painted Art Deco furniture, designed by himself, for the study, and all the furniture in my bedroom, in the mid-1930s.) My mother designed and made the bed-clothes and upholstered 'settees' which were sold separately. She then taught neighbouring women to do this work, and the painting, etc. I was the one who glued the furniture into the boxes! I did not suffer from the effects of the glue because it was very simple stuff and had none of the horrible chemicals that were developed later on.
Twiggs furniture often has glue residue on the back or base, from being glued into the boxes. The red colour is the remains of the cardboard on the base of the box. Photo © Valerie Towers
Angela Spencer-Harper has kindly shared photos of the sets of furniture she owns. There are four boxed sets, of bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining room furniture, as well as a lounge suite in original plastic packaging and another dining set, not in packaging, with a TV. I will show these sets room by room, together with photos from Dolls Houses Past and Present members of other versions of each set.
Tony Twiggs provided the information for the 1997 IDHN article that packaging in boxes was dispensed with after the move to the Cotswolds in 1969. These boxed sets would therefore date to the 1950s or 60s. We do not yet have other information to date the various models and styles of furnishing which can be seen below.
Twiggs' bedroom set in original box © Angela Spencer-Harper
Above is the boxed bedroom set belonging to Angela-Spencer Harper. The wood is unvarnished and has no painted details. The door and drawer handles are small brass screws.
Twiggs' bedroom furnishings were available in different finishes - unstained wood, limed oak, plain varnished wood, and varnished wood with floral decoration. (The limed oak finish may also have been available with floral decoration.)
As well as the finish, variations are known in the shape of the legs, the size (particularly of the wardrobes and bedside cabinets), and other features. There seem to have been more different models of the dressing table than of the other pieces of furniture - eight versions are shown here!
The Twiggs' bedroom sets made of varnished wood decorated with flowers are well known:
Twiggs' bedroom set © Kim W.
The door handles made of nails and painted red are a very recognisable feature of much Twiggs' furniture. Note the corners of the head and foot of the bed painted red, as are the corners of the small table.
This beautiful boxed set popped up on ebay just as this article was being prepared, and the seller has kindly allowed me to share photos of it:
Twiggs' bedroom set in original box © ebay seller lovely_marcia
The pattern on the box suggests that this set is older than Angela Spencer-Harper's. Notice that while the floral decoration of red, blue and white flowers is the same as that on Kim's bed and bedside cabinet above, the wardrobes are slightly different. Kim's wardrobe has two doors, with large swags of red, blue and white flowers at the top of both doors. In the boxed set, the wardrobe has a single door, with the same floral design as the bed and cabinet placed at the bottom of the door.
Twiggs' bedroom set on original box. Photo © ebay seller lovely_marcia
The box label states that this is a Birch Bedroom Set, No 111, by A. E. Twiggs & Co. The original price was 9/6 (nine shillings and sixpence).
Label on Twiggs' boxed bedroom set. Photo © ebay seller lovely_marcia
Lis Garner has a Twiggs' bedroom set with the same decoration of red, blue and white flowers, but her two-door wardrobe has pale blue paint on the handles, as does the chest of drawers.
Twiggs' bedroom set with red & blue flowers and blue handles © Lis Garner
A second floral decoration can be seen in the photo of Kim's bedroom furniture, above: the smaller bedside cabinet has a large pink flower design. Here it is on a wardrobe:
Twiggs' wardrobe © Chris G
and on a bed:
Twiggs' bed with large pink flowery decoration. Note the angle cut in the base of the foot of the bed, similar to the design of the legs of the wardrobe with the same floral transfer. Photo © Chris G
Sometimes it was applied the other way up:
Twiggs' wardrobes © Valerie Towers
Note that the single-door wardrobe on the left has angled legs. Both the two-door wardrobe on the right, and the single-door wardrobe in the boxed set above, have straight legs.
Another floral pattern is also known, with red, yellow and white flowers:
Twiggs' bedside cabinet with yellow, red and white flowers © Isobel Hockey
Limed oak bedroom set:
Photo © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
This limed oak set has straight legs, and the wardrobe has two doors, like the varnished sets with blue and red flowers and with yellow, red and white flowers, above. The pediment on the wardrobe is like that on the plain wood wardrobe in the boxed set.
Plain varnished set:
Photo © Rosemary
In this plain varnished set, the legs are straight, but have a tiny notch towards the bottom on either side, giving the impression of feet. The wardrobe has one door, like the wardrobe decorated with large pink flowers above. The bedside cabinet has the position of the drawer and door reversed in this set.
Photo © Rosemary
Like the bed with blue and red flowers above, this bed has red paint on the upper corners of the head and foot, and straight sides. I am unsure whether it belongs to the same set as the plain varnished bedside cabinet and wardrobe, or is part of another version.
One chest of drawers appears in the boxed set above; here is another, slightly wider version:
Photo © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
The dressing table shown with this chest of drawers has a low board with three drawers on each side. It is almost identical to the one in the boxed set, but while that one has a rectangular mirror with sharp corners, this one has cut-off corners.
Other dressing table designs are shown below. I don't know which dressing tables go with which of the design variations shown above.
Dressing table of varnished wood with high board, semi-circular mirror, two drawers on each side and legs beneath the drawers. © Chris G.
Dressing table of varnished wood, high board with rounded edges, semi-circular mirror, three drawers on each side and no legs. © Rosemary.
Three dressing tables © Kim W
Left to right: 1. Two-tone dressing table with high board, rectangular mirror with cut-off corners, two drawers and legs to the side of the drawers. 2. Dressing table of varnished wood, high board with rounded edges, semi-circular mirror, three drawers on each side with a shelf space between (for a drawer?) and no legs. 3. Dressing table of varnished wood, high board with rounded edges, trapezoid mirror, three drawers on each side and no legs.
Collector Jesamine Kelly (short_paws) has sets of several other Twiggs' bedroom designs, including a dark set, probably from the 1970s, and a full two-tone set from the 70s, which can be seen in her photobucket albums.
Boxed Twiggs' kitchen set © Angela Spencer-Harper
The Twiggs' pale blue kitchen sink and cupboard units with rounded shelves at one end are immediately recognisable.
Twiggs' kitchen © Kim W.
Kim's set above shows one variation, a plain plywood table top:
Twiggs' kitchen table with plain plywood top (& homemade acorn cups). © Rebecca Green
Chris' kitchen shows another - the non-opening 'drawers' of her cupboard have two handles, instead of the single handle on each 'drawer' in the boxed set and in Kim's kitchen, above.
Twiggs' kitchen © Chris G.
Twiggs' kitchen cupboard with two-handled 'drawers' © Chris G.
The sink was also made without the attached shelving:
Twiggs' kitchen sink with plain top and no shelves. © Rebecca Green (The item on the left is probably the lid of a Barton layette chest.)
The taps on the sinks are made from split pins. The kitchen dresser seen above in Chris' kitchen can also be seen here in Kim's photo, which may also show another version of the kitchen table, if the white painted one is in original condition:
Twiggs' kitchen furniture © Kim W.
Twiggs' kitchen dresser, closed and open (+ added playdough stains) © Rebecca Green
Valerie has another less common piece in her Twiggs' kitchen - a small shelving unit, which can be seen on the far left of this photo (and in a front view below that):
Kitchen furnished mainly with Twiggs plus some other items © Valerie Towers
On the right of Valerie's kitchen is a Twiggs' fridge, which can be seen here in more detail:
Shelf unit © Valerie Towers. Twiggs' fridge © Zoe H.
Twiggs' fridge, left: detail of split pin handle; right: open, showing the shelf and icebox. © Zoe H.
The basic Twiggs' cooker has two black hotplates, four red knobs, a grill section, an oven with a red handle, and short legs:
Twiggs' cooker with red knobs © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
However, black knobs and orange knobs (with orange hot plates) are also known. We could guess that orange dates from the 1970s!
Left: Twiggs' cooker with black knobs © Zoe H. Right: Twiggs' cooker with orange knobs and hotplates © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
Lis Garner also has a kitchen sink and cupboard with orange handles. As with Angela Spencer-Harper's boxed bedroom set, the handles are screws rather than nails.
Twiggs' kitchen with orange handles © Lis Garner
Kim also has a Twiggs' cooker like the basic one, but with a solid base rather than legs. In the centre of this photo is a wooden cooker by Barton. Like the Twiggs' cooker on the left, it has a solid base and a red handle on the oven door. Note, however, the round printed hotplates and the lack of knobs under the hotplates. Barton also made a wooden cooker with short legs and an enclosed oven door like the Twiggs' cooker on the right, but again, the Barton cookers do not have knobs for the hotplates, which are printed instead of painted.
Three cookers, left and right Twiggs, centre Barton. © Kim W.
See Jesamine Kelly's Twiggs Kitchen album for photos of an early cooker (painted pale blue, with no control knobs), an early fridge, and a sink with no taps or handle.
Twiggs' dining room set in original box © Angela Spencer-Harper
The boxed dining room set owned by Angela Spencer-Harper not only contains the usual dining table, chairs and sideboard, but also includes a grandfather clock, a desk and a small bookcase with two shelves. I will show other examples of these pieces of furniture in this section too, although in a dolls house they might well be placed in the hall, drawing room or study.
In the dining set above, the chairs have solid backs with floral decoration - the daisy part of the large pink flowery transfer seen on a bedroom set above. Mrs Spencer-Harper also has an unboxed dining set, with chairs like the kitchen chairs shown above, but unpainted. The sideboard is also a quite different design - in the boxed set, it has curved sides and a curved base to the drawer section, and a shelf below. Note the differences in the tables as well - the one above has pedestal legs, while the one below has a straight leg at each corner.
Twiggs' dining room set © Angela Spencer-Harper
You will notice the TV sitting on the sideboard. It has a colour image on the screen, so probably dates from the mid 1960s on. Here you can see it in more detail:
Twiggs' TV, sideboard and chairs © Angela Spencer-Harper
Both these dining sets are made of natural, unvarnished wood. They were also made with varnished and limed oak finishes, and the chair seats and backs were often painted red.
Twiggs' dining table with notched legs and red-painted chairs © Chris G.
Note the legs of the table above, and the sideboard from the same set below, which have notches in the legs like the plain varnished wardrobe and bedside cabinet shown in the bedroom section above. The blue and red floral decoration appears on wardrobes and bedside cabinets with straight legs.
Twiggs' sideboard with notched legs © Chris G.
This sideboard, unlike the two already shown, has no drawers, just two cupboard doors.
Twiggs' dining table with limed oak finish and red painted chairs © Valerie Towers
A limed oak sideboard with two non-opening drawers in the centre, and a cupboard on each side:
Twiggs' limed oak sideboard © Valerie Towers
The same design in varnished wood, shown with a two-toned sideboard with straight legs and a two-door cupboard:
Twiggs' sideboards © Kim W
Another sideboard is shown in the 1997 IDHN article, and Jesamine Kelly has another, making seven known designs.
As well as the desk in the boxed set above, Twiggs made a more solid design with two drawers, which was available in plain, varnished and limed oak finishes.
Desk with limed oak finish, above: closed, and below: with flap and drawers open. Photos © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
Varnished desk © Isobel Hockey
The design of these grandfather clocks is the same as the one in the boxed set, except for the decorative moulding on the top. Twiggs clocks have a printed paper face showing the time as five minutes past ten.
Limed oak grandfather clock © Valerie Towers
The clock case opens to show a wooden pendulum:
Grandfather clocks open showing the wooden pendulum. Limed oak clock, left, © Valerie Towers, Varnished clock, right, © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
As well as the empty bookcase in the boxed set, Twiggs made bookcases with a glued-in, solid row of painted wooden books:
Twiggs' bookcase © Rosemary.
The books were painted alternately red or green, or left as natural wood. Note the notched legs that we have already seen on a dining table, sideboard, wardrobe and bedside cabinet.
Twiggs' drawing room set in original box. Photo © ebay seller lovely_marcia
Twiggs' drawing room set on original box. Photo © ebay seller lovely_marcia
Label on Twiggs' drawing room boxed set. It reads "A. E. Twiggs & Co, Manufacturers of High Class Toys", and is numbered (I think) 122. Photo © ebay seller lovely_marcia
The A. E. Twiggs & Co price list for January 1985, reproduced in the 1997 IDHN article, lists a 5-piece Drawingroom set (No 126). The boxed set above, another which appeared on ebay as this article was being put together, has 6 pieces - two easy chairs, a coffee table, a bookcase, a grand piano and a piano stool. A 5-piece set could well have had a sofa in addition to the easy chairs, and omitted the piano (probably a fairly expensive item). Matching wooden sofas can be seen below in Zoe's and Lis' photos - both these sets have red leatherette upholstery, much more common than the blue of the boxed set.
The most commonly found coffee table is the small square pedestal table in the boxed set, which could have its corners painted red, blue, or left plain. Two other coffee tables were shown in the 1997 IDHN article, both rectangular.
Twiggs' wooden easy chairs and pedestal-type coffee table (with limed oak dining room set) © Valerie Towers
Twiggs' made at least three types of wooden lounge suites. Jesamine Kelly has a set with squared arms, and a modern design, with solid wooden arms, is shown in the 1997 IDHN article. Zoe has a set like the blue boxed set, with the addition of a matching sofa:
Twiggs' wooden lounge suite (shown with Grecon dolls) © Zoe H
Celia Thomas has had a wooden sofa with solid arms, which has blue leatherette upholstery. We are not certain that this is a Twiggs' piece, but as it came with other Twiggs' furniture, it seems likely.
Twiggs' wooden easy chairs with possible Twiggs' wooden sofa upholstered in blue leatherette © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
Twiggs also made fully upholstered lounge suites, such as this one in original packaging dating from after the move to the Cotswolds in 1969:
Twiggs' lounge suite in original packaging © Angela Spencer-Harper
The same basic design was made in many different fabrics, colours and patterns. Red does seem to have been a favourite.
Twiggs' sofa and easy chair in red plaid © Kim W
Twiggs' easy chairs, sofa and footstool in two red and white patterns © Alicia Davies
Would a footstool perhaps have been part of a 5-piece drawing room set? Anther possible item of furniture for this room is a mantel clock, which has the same clock face as the grandfather clock:
Twiggs' mantel clock © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
Twiggs' grand piano and stool © Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
Twiggs' living room, with a console TV, sideboard, easy chair and sofa, grand piano and stool, and grandfather clock. © Lis Garner
Jesamine Kelly (short_paws) has several other models of Twiggs' TVs, as well as upholstered lounge suites in a variety of fabrics, in her Twiggs Lounge photo album on photobucket.
Twiggs' bathroom set in original box © Angela Spencer-Harper
The basic design of Twiggs' bathroom remained the same over their years of production. The four pieces - bath, basin, toilet and stool - were available in blue, pink or green paint. As Angela Spencer-Harper has described, accessories like the sponge, towel and bathmat could be added at the request of a store, like Harrods, which wanted to offer a more exclusive luxury product.
The boxed set above is very unusual in having a fabric bath mat. I suspect that many would have been lost or even discarded over the years, as their original function was forgotten. Only glue residue on the back would hint that such a piece of fabric had once been a Twiggs' bath mat. Cork mats were also supplied in some sets, or at some periods.
Blue Twiggs' bathroom set. The octagonal table is an unusual piece, but painted in the same shade of blue. © Kim W
Twiggs' blue bath and basin, with a cork mat. © Lis Garner
Lis (above) and Zoe (below) both have cork bath mats with their Twiggs' bathrooms. The designs are slightly different - are they both from Twiggs, I wonder?
Twiggs' green bathroom set, with cork bath mat. © Zoe H.
Note that the angle of the toilet flush handle is different on the green set from the blue sets above. Other green sets have the same angle to the handle, so it must be intentional. Both the blue toilets shown above have blue seats, while on the green and pink sets shown here, the toilet seat is painted black. Is this always the case, I wonder? And if so, what is the significance?
Twiggs' green bathroom suite © Valerie Towers
Twiggs' pink bathroom set, including a stool with a cork seat. © Chris G
This pink bathroom set is particularly interesting, as the basin has no taps or holes where taps might have been. Remembering the tapless kitchen sink, above, I wonder if no taps was an economy feature, or perhaps means an early date?
Pink Twiggs' bathroom set, with a cork bath mat that is probably from Barton (it has a Selfridge's label on the back, suggesting that it was sold separately). © ebay seller lovely_marcia