Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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

The House That Moved by Mike Adamson


Some may remember the Tudor Merchant’s House that appeared in the ‘For Sale’ section of Dolls House Past and Present several months ago. A ground floor shop with living quarters on the first and second floors and craftsman built to plans provided by Brian Nickolls in his book Making Dolls’ Houses in 1/12th Scale (ISBN 0-7153-9848-2). For me it was love at first sight! It seemed the ideal building in which to house the present day Art Gallery that I had in mind for my third dolls house project since becoming interested in the hobby early this year.






The original house upon which this model is based stands to this day in Exeter and is currently home to ‘Pirouette Wedding Designs’.  Built in the late 1400’s at 16 Edmund Street, the accommodation consisted of a small shop with kitchen within the 10ft. by 14ft. ground floor, a first floor hall or solar (the living room) and a second floor divided into two chambers with a cockloft in the roof-space. In fifteenth century terms this was considered the house of a man of some substance and it continued as a shop with dwelling until it fell into disrepair during the early part of the twentieth century.

As it was in 1922. Photo © Mr. Cecil Brewer,


Still from from Look at Life film series, "The Village Sleeps Again", September 1962, courtesy Devon Record Office


It was to remain in this dilapidated state until road works forced its removal in 1961, when between Saturday 9th and Wednesday 14th of December the structure was encased in baulks of timber, raised on hydraulic jacks and bodily dragged 70m up the hill to its new site at 24 West Street opposite St’ Mary Steps Church. What a sight that must have been!


Photo ©


After an exchange of emails with the seller, followed by a return trip on the 23rd of August of some 550 miles, ‘The House that Moved’ moved again. During the next few weeks it sat on my work bench whilst I planned how I was to turn this wonderfully constructed 1/12th scale Tudor period building into a present day retail establishment that would retain the period features without causing damage to the existing structure. At the outset I had intended to replace the fairly basic ‘scored’ board floors with new, individually planked oak flooring, and given that I would also need to both extend and add to the electrical wiring that had been installed, I decided that it would be sensible to run these two tasks side by side. This work took around two weeks of almost full time daily work to complete, taking one room at a time, routing channels into the old floors to take the new wiring and covering with the new and now removable floor panels. By the second week of October ‘The House That Moved’ was ready to go. All it needed was my firm decision on which way it was to go!



The more I looked at the building, the more it reminded me of the 200 year old one-time warehouse in which I had set up my first Hi-Fi shop ‘Derbyshire Hi-Fidelity’ in the 1980’s, when I, my wife Rosemary, my small son Ben, Rosemary’s  father Geoff  and any willing or half-willing friends took almost two months to convert the sadly neglected structure in ‘The Old Blacksmiths Yard’ in Derby into a ground floor showroom with an audio demonstration studio on the first floor. We traded there for 10 happy years ……… fun times and great music! ……….. ’The House That Moved’ just had to be a Hi-Fi Shop!



The name or the theme always comes first, and by association with the building, The Minstrels Gallery was an obvious choice. The shop was based on a typical Hi-Fi consultancy of today with a ground floor reception, rather than a showroom lined with tier upon tier of shelving full of the anonymous Japanese electronics that was so common during the 80’s and 90’s. The upper two floors would house the demonstration studios for audio and video systems.




By the end of October, I had made the hi-fi components, made the cabinets to house the working television and cinema screens and made the furniture, apart from the Le Corbusier sofa and Mies van der Rohe chairs which I purchased from Kim Selwood. It was finished and all in all I was reasonably happy with the end result …… but it was the end result! I had left no room for expansion.





“You should have followed your first instinct!”

That little voice whispered into my ear.

“When you saw the house in the first place you thought of an art gallery!"

I cringed inwardly.

“Remember convincing your wife that you were perfectly justified in spending £275.00 plus a tank and a half of petrol on the third dolls house in six months, because you intended to use it as a ‘real life’ shop front to sell your own miniature art?”

Of course, the little voice was right. Little voices often are, and when your own wife agrees with them then you know it’s time to listen! My plan had been to use the house as a showcase for my own miniature art and open an ‘Etsy’ Shop, but after I had finished initially altering the building, the thought of all three floors being dedicated to art simply did not seem right (that and the fact that I’ve had a love affair with technology for most of my life). It was my wife’s idea to combine art with coffee and I have to admit ……. it was one of her better ones!


Do you know how difficult it is to find a miniature commercial coffee machine? ...... There’s one! and that one costs more than the real machine we have in our kitchen at home. So that was the start.

Three hours, scrap bits from the garage and Kaffeine was born. All it needed now were the counters, tables and chairs (Thank you Elf Miniatures), ‘daylight’ lighting in the gallery and the art. Not my art I must add….at least not for the moment but my choice of pictures reflect (using royalty free material) what I shall, in the coming months replace with my own. In the dim and distant past I was trained as a ‘finished artist’ and worked for a while producing illustration and cover design for advertising. I also have a passion for photography so right now I’m going to go back to my roots and see if I can successfully ‘downsize’ to a miniature canvas. I have tried to keep the fixtures and fittings ‘in style’ with structure of this wonderful replica ………… I would just like to think that its original builder would be happy to see what I’ve done with his creation! 



As I write this on the 8th of December I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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