Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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More 'Dolly Mixture' dolls houses from Wakefield? by Rebecca Green

Jenni's 'Dolly Mixture' house, we now know, was a No 5 model made at Wakefield Training Prison, Yorkshire. Are there other models we can link to this one, and say that they, too, were most probably made at the same place?

Although George B. did not mention Gamages, a very similar house to the Number 5 appears in Gamages catalogues for 1961 and 1962/63. It has red roofs, two gables with black gable timbers, and blue and cream square-paned windows, including projecting triple windows with red bases and tops, like the No 5, but it has no garage or balcony. I suggest that it is sufficiently like the No 5 to lead to a very strong presumption that it was made in the same place, ie Wakefield Training Prison.

Dolls house on the cover of the Gamages Christmas 1961 catalogue.


Gamage Dolls House in the 1962/63 Gamages Autumn/Winter catalogue.


The Number 5 model in fact appears in an advertisement for a cleaning product in the Woman's Weekly magazine in 1960, so we can say that these dolls houses with projecting blue and cream windows were produced at least between 1960 and 1962. 

We also know of a model with two gables and a garage, but no balcony - perhaps this was Number 4, which must have been the same size as Number 5, as they fitted in the same box:

Possibly No 4, a two gable house with attached garage. Photo © Phil & Jane.


Like Jenni's No 5, this house has floor papers and plain white walls. One of the floor papers is even identical!


Floor paper in a possible No 4 model: upstairs left above, and downstairs left below.


 Floor papers upstairs and downstairs in a possible No 4 model.


This one-gable model with a garage has been in its owner's possession since childhood:

Photo © Penny

In another example of this model, we see similar floor papers to those used in the larger models:


Photo ©  mini5


These models mostly seem to have the light switch by the front door, with a compartment for the battery attached to the back:

Back of the No 5 model, showing the battery compartment. Photo © Jenni Lowcock.


Back of the probable No 4 model, showing the battery compartment. 


Back of the single gable model, showing the battery compartment.  Photo ©  mini5


The probable No 4 model, however, which has two gables and a central front door, has the switch on the back wall, accessible through the front door (for people with small hands!): 

Front door of a probable No 4 model, showing the light switch. 


Gamages' 1963 dolls house was very similar to the 1961 and 62/63 house - but it no longer had projecting windows on the upper floor. The triple windows were placed flat against the walls - perhaps so it was easier for the borstal boys to make? Note the other changes too - the gables are painted blue, the base is brown rather than green, and the window above the front door is round, not rectangular (surely not easier!).


1963 Gamages Dolls House


1950s 'Dolly Mixture' dolls houses

If Gamages sold dolls houses made at Wakefield Training Prison in the early 1960s, it would seem likely that they also sold them in previous years too. Gamages did also sell dolls houses made by Tri-ang and by Barton; they are (usually) named as such in the catalogues, while the 'Dolly Mixture' houses were unnamed.

Gamages' 1958 catalogue showed this 'Attractive Dolls' House', which has a single central gable with black timbers, a roof which appears darker than the ones above, and the older green and cream diamond lattice Romside windows. As Marion Osborne has pointed out, the base and top of the triple bay windows are painted red, as in the houses above.


'Attractive Dolls' House' in Gamages 1958 catalogue.


Marion Osborne has one of these 'attractive dolls houses', from which we can see that the roof is indeed very dark:


Attractive dolls' house' as advertised in Gamages 1958 catalogue. The interior papers are not original. Photos © Marion Osborne.  


Also with a dark roof, black gable timbers and green and cream diamond lattice windows, we have seen a house of the same design as Jenni's No 5. Other slight differences include a wooden awning over the front door, and a wooden garage door, rather than the metal Romside awning and garage doors used on the later houses.


Ca 1958 probable Dolls House No 5. Photo © Dick & Lia.


The black timbers and dark roof of this two-gable house without garage or balcony (below) suggest that it is from the same period. However, instead of a Romside door, it has a double wooden front door:


Ca 1958? two-gable dolls house with a double wooden front door. Photo © Jazz.


Interior of ca 1958? two-gable dolls house. The papers are not original; the light fittings are. Photo © Jazz. 


In this period, the electrical switches (usually toggle switches with Up, Down and Off settings) were placed on the back of the roof, with the battery compartments inside the roof cavity. It must have been difficult for small children to reach the switches - the change to front door switches would have made it much easier.


Back of two-gable Dolly Mixture showing the toggle switches and battery compartments. Photo © Zoe H.


In 1955, the Gamages catalogue showed a dolls house of the same design as in 1958, with slight differences, including gable timbers which are brown, rather than black.


The 1955 Gamage Doll's House


Presumably Jenni's No 2 Dolly Mixture Lane dates from around this period, as it also has brown gable timbers:

Ca 1955 two-gable dolls house, "No 2 Dolly Mixture Lane". Photo © Jenni Lowcock


We also know of a single gable house with integral garage which has brown gable timbers:

Ca 1955 single gable dolls house with brown gable timbers. Photo © ilenalana


This house, unlike the others we have seen so far, has walls painted in blue and pink (as George B. said, "Sometimes we’d be asked to put in flooring or paint inside the walls ...."): 


Ca 1955 single gable house: above, upper room painted pink; below, lower room painted blue. Photos © ilenalana. 


Some houses are known which have arrow-shaped gable timbers:


Two-gable 'Dolly Mixture' with arrow-shaped gable timbers, double wooden doors, and no garage or balcony. Photo © anonymous ebay seller.


Single gable 'Dolly Mixture' with arrow-shaped gable timbers, similar in design to the 1955 and 1958 Gamages' dolls houses.


Marion Osborne has generously shared images of these dolls houses from both a 1958 catalogue (from toy wholesalers I. Angel & Sons, of London), and a 1954 trade publication, the Toy Trader, which shows a toy fair display stand of wholesalers Eisenmann & Co (also of London). If the models with arrow-shaped gable timbers were still produced in 1958, they may not have been made at Wakefield Training Prison (it seems unlikely that they would have made so many different designs in one year). Wholesalers (and even manufacturers) have been known to use the same image in their catalogues over several years, however, even when the design had changed slightly. I suspect that the dolls houses with arrow-shaped gable timbers were being produced in 1954, when the photo of the trade fair stall shows actual dolls houses, but that straight gable timbers were being used by 1955 (as shown in the Gamages catalogue).


The 1954 display of Eisenmann & Co at the Old Swan Hotel at the Harrogate Toy Fair, showing six dolls houses by an unknown maker and six 'Dolly Mixtures' most probably made at Wakefield Training Prison. The Wakefield 'Dolly Mixtures' are, on the middle shelf, in the centre: a single gable dolls house with a side porch but no garage, and a single gable dolls house with a porch on one side and a garage on the other. On the lower back level are, from the left: a two-gable house with central door and no garage or balcony; a dolls house with a simple pitched roof above an upper bay window on the left, and a single window on the right; a dolls house with a central single gable above a single upper window, with two opening fronts each with an upper bay window (as shown in the photo immediately above this one); and a two-gable dolls house with central double doors and an attached garage.


The 1958 catalogue of I. Angel & Sons Ltd shows several of these dolls houses more clearly. The house on the left of the middle shelf is model No. 1:


No. 1 Dolls House, with two lights, code No. D3X1, from the 1958 catalogue of I. Angel & Sons, Ltd. Courtesy Marion Osborne.


Model No. 2 is next to model No. 1 on the middle shelf of Eisenmann & Co's display:


No. 2 Dolls House, with 2 lights, code No. D3X2, from the 1958 catalogue of I. Angel & Sons, Ltd. Courtesy Marion Osborne.


Model No. 3 is on the lower left of Eisenmann & Co's display.

No. 3 Dolls House, with 4 lights, code No. D3X3, from the 1958 catalogue of I. Angel & Sons, Ltd. Courtesy Marion Osborne.


Two other models, Numbers 4 and 5, were also available from the I. Angel & Sons catalogue. Perhaps No 5 was the same design as Jenni's, a two- gable house with a garage and balcony, but as this catalogue has no descriptions, we don't know. The 1954 display shows what was possibly No 4, a two-gable house with a garage, but also has two other models, for which we don't know the numbers. 


Nos. 4 and 5 Dolls Houses, from the 1958 catalogue of I. Angel & Sons, Ltd. Courtesy Marion Osborne.

A bigger picture?

Were other dolls houses which are often categorised as "Dolly Mixture" also made at Wakefield Training Prison? George B talked about the 1950s and 60s. We don't know if Wakefield prison was making dolls houses before the 1950s, or before WWII, and we don't really know what their houses might have looked like before 1954, so linking other models to Wakefield would, at present, be guesswork. Hopefully more evidence will come to light, both about the dolls houses produced at Wakefield, and those made by manufacturers whose names we know, but whose products are largely unknown (for example, J &H Glasman of 'Betal', Horton of Reno Works, Modern Playthings, etc).

George B. also mentioned that dolls houses were made in other prisons and borstals, as well as mental hospitals and schools for those with learning problems. Were other institutions given the same dolls house plans as Wakefield Training Prison, or were the other dolls houses quite different? At present, we just don't know. We know of one dolls house made in Dartmoor Prison, which was raffled to raise money for charity - but were others like it perhaps made in the prison workshops to supply retailers? We also know of dolls houses made in the 1960s and 70s at Severalls psychiatric hospital in Colchester, Essex, which were sold by Kitfix. Escor Toys, a manufacturer of wooden toys including dolls house furniture, was based in Bournemouth, Dorset. It initially employed wounded soldiers, etc, and later provided employment for people with disabilities. Were there other institutions making dolls houses in their workshops? Hopefully more chance meetings or chance discoveries will help us find out more!

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