When my daughter was small she had a doll’s house , made by her father from a kit one Christmas. It was a modest four-roomed dwelling in a gingerbread style and she swiftly filled it with Sylvanian Familes characters and all the trappings and comforts a family of wild boar in dungarees could wish for, including a tiny computer for the up-to-the-minute swine. This strange ménage was presided over somewhat anachronistically by a flowery Victorian peg doll which was doomed to spend her days at the ironing board. She didn’t even have an electric iron, which seems a bit rough when the pigs were into the latest technology. When my offspring was at school, and under the pretext of ‘dusting’ I would linger by this scene of inter-species domestic bliss and give old Peggy a hand, setting out the tiny Christmas turkey on the table and tidying the pans on the dresser.
I’m taking this trip down memory lane because recently I have been tending to another doll’s house, but this time it is one of Charles Wade’s and I am dusting it in a professional capacity! This house was made by Mr Wade in the early years of the 20th century for a child called Elizabeth Murray, the daughter of a friend. It is not too ostentatious but it is a comfortable, bourgeois home. According to the guide book it is the domain of Lord Mex but it is quite hard to decide which of the porcelain characters in the house this is. Most of the inmates are distinctly juvenile and would surely arouse the suspicions of the most inept social services department as not one of them has a complete set of limbs. Happily, this is not because of ill-treatment but more likely evidence of a toy loved and played with.
In the upstairs nursery the babies are cosy in pretty metal cots embossed with cherubs. The home –made quilts, pillows and mattresses perhaps stitched by young Elizabeth. The painted pine wardrobes and chests are in an artistically rustic style . More formal furniture in a gothic design is to be found in the dining room while the kitchen is well equipped with heavy-duty pots and pans and a dresser groaning with piles of plates. A ginger cat has taken up residence here in a straw basket. In terms of scale, it would be like living with a lion rather than a moggy, but this mismatch makes the house even more charming.
As you have realised, it is easy to get carried away when cleaning this toy. However, it doesn’t do to lose concentration, as one slip of the hand could send a tiny piece tumbling down a crack in the floorboards, never to be seen again. To avoid this, we set up a table close by and two of us tended the little objects while another fetched and carried. We worked unhurriedly and methodically mostly using pony hair brushes but sometimes deploying a cotton wool stick. It was interesting that the condition of the items seemed almost to be frozen at the point when they had last been played with – battered and much loved. They are protected from further deterioration and enthusiastic visitors by a clear screen fixed across the open front of the house.
Doll’s houses modern and antique reflect the fashions and inventions of the times and as such offer an important historical record. The computer given to the badgers in the 1990s is hopelessly out-of-date now and the different styles of furniture in Elizabeth Murray’s house illustrate both Victorian and Edwardian tastes. Keeping Snowshill Manor in order has its challenges but it is always a treat to be housekeeper for the miniature homes within!