Castle of Childhoods Dreams, by Herbert Cescinsky

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index



(Author of "English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century," etc.)

WE have had the Queen's dolls' house of Sir Edwin Lutyens and Titania's Palace of Sir Nevile Wilkinson, and now we are to see Mirror Grange, the house built by the Daily Mirror for Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.

Being one of the martyrs who has made miniature furniture, and has designed and supervised the making of much more, I have been asked to write a few words on the subject.

Very few have the remotest idea of the labour and the conditions which are involved in the making of these miniature pieces, nor of the cost entailed. I have met many, especially when the Queen's Dolls' House was in the making, who really imagined that a chest of drawers, for example, one-twelfth natural size, would cost to make about the same proportion of the price of the full-sized original. It was curious to note the effect when it was pointed out that the tiny gramophone in its cabinet, three inches high instead of three feet, cost over £850, and that the firm who made it did not want to make another at this or any other price.

It is only when one of these miniature pieces is thoroughly examined that the difficulties which have to be surmounted really dawn on the observer. Take a pedestal writing table with nine drawers on each side, the top lined with leather, and each drawer with two ring handles and real locks and keys.

I made such a piece once, so I can speak feelingly, if not vituperatively. Every part had to be made true to the one-inch scale; once that was shirked, the result would have been a monstrosity, if such a term can be used in such a connection. Thus, the table was 6+ inches wide by 3+ inches in depth and 2+ in height. Into this 2+ inches had to be schemed four drawers, six rails, a top and a frieze moulding and a plinth base. The fronts of the drawers were one-twelfth of an inch thick, and each was framed with cock-beads. Imagine a front little more than one-quarter of an inch deep, rather less than a veneer in thickness, and framed with beads.

Now imagine, further, the sides, one-thirty-second of an inch, which is considerably less than the aforesaid veneer, and connected to the front with four dovetails one-twenty-fourth of an inch long and rather less in thickness.

The finest saw known to the woodworking trade (that of the marqueterie cutter) would be at least fifty times too coarse for this task.

Having made the table, fitted each drawer properly (remembering that the finest glass-paper is much too coarse to ease the sides should the fit be too tight), having pared the leather for the top to something less than tissue paper thickness (remembering that job with curses not loud but very deep), the next problem is to find a locksmith who will make eighteen locks complete with wards, bolts and keys one-quarter of an inch wide yet strong enough for the key not to break the first time it is turned.

You cannot have a locking lock if you cannot lock it. Beside this task, the making of ring handles one-eighth of an inch in diameter is mere child's play; in fact, it would be just the job for a child three inches high, and with a mechanical bent. I suppose many ladies have tried their fair hands at that most fascinating hobby, petit-point needlework, stitched on a tambour frame. Those who have progressed beyond the beginners' stage will agree that thirty stitches to the lineal inch (which is nine hundred to the square inch) is fairly fine work, yet in the drawing-room in the Queen's dolls' house there are certain carved and gilded chairs (truly Louis Quinze and really carved and gilded) two inches across the seats and covered with real needlework one hundred and forty stitches to the lineal inch, about sixty-eight thousand to each seat! I should call that real petit-point with a vengeance. Of course, the "canvas" is the finest cambric, and the "wool" the most delicate spun silks, but it was done by a normal woman with full-sized fingers.

Mirror Grange, from the brain of Maxwell Ayrton, is a real creation, perched on rocky crags. Inside there are real Chippendale chairs of true (infantile) period, and there is one Hepplewhite sideboard and a perfectly delicious hexagonal wine-cooler on splay legs and brass-banded "all proper," the grown-up originals of which I would love to possess.

If I had to name the house, I should like to call it "The Castle of Childhood's Dreams," even if a part of it is characteristic English half-timber work with a wonderfully realistic thatched roof.

A purist might dub this combination an incongruity, but all Childhood's Dreams are incongruous, never on any account to be confused with those of Grown-Ups.

Yes—and we Little Folks too,
We are as busy as they—
Working our works out of view
Watch, and you'll see it some day.