Five Hundred Years Old (Mirror Grange, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred)

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index

Five Hundred Years Old, by Sir Sidney Low

THERE is a fascination in the art and craft of the miniaturist which is a salutary set-off to the modern worship of mere bigness.

Some such reflection passed through my mind as I made my way among the yards and sheds and workshops of Messrs. Higgs and Hill, the great contractors of South Lambeth, to examine the Model House they have made for the Daily Mirror.

A large firm is that of Higgs and Hill, and they do things usually on the large scale, things that involve the handling of steel girders and heavy baulks of timber. But they can turn the precision, the accuracy, and the careful attention to detail, demanded by these operations, to workmanship on a reduced measurement, as they have shown in undertaking and carrying to completion Mirror Grange.

And what strikes the observer at once is that it is not a dolls' house; nor, strictly speaking, is it even a model. It is just a fine old English manor-house, which has been lived in for centuries by the same family, and so has accumulated furniture of various periods.

It is as though a married couple, out of Lilliput, had said to Mr. Maxwell Ayrton, the architect "Please arrange for us and our children a home of beauty and old-world charm in which we can live with comfort."

If these small clients could walk up the sloping path to the front door, and go through the various rooms, they would own that the commission had been executed to their entire satisfaction.

The edifice itself is not a reproduction. Mr. Ayrton has avoided making an exact copy of any existing building. The design follows the general idea of one of those beautiful old places, still to be met with in Shropshire, founded perhaps in the fifteenth century and enlarged with later accretions.

There is a fine brick tower at one corner with stone-framed windows, in the Decorated or Tudor style, and a good solid staircase, up which the Lilliputians could walk to the battlements. The rest of the fabric is mainly of oak beams, brickwork and plaster.

In the wine cellar -- or is it a "sort of" dairy? -- there are hooped casks with taps and bungs, and lifelike bottles of beer and wine. Look through the windows of the dining-room, when the tiny shaded lamps are lighted, and you will notice the decanters and finger-bowls, and port and claret and champagne glasses, all correctly shaped.

In the dining-room there is an imposing old-fashioned fire-grate which cannot be less than two inches wide.

It is equipped with fire-dogs, as long as wax matches, forged and hand-worked, and just enough weathered with rust to look as if they had been hammered out of good Sussex iron three hundred years ago.

If you have seen enough of the living-rooms you can open the walls of the upper floors and peer into the bedrooms, where you will admire the delicate sheets and quilts and the pillow-cases with their lace edgings. There are cots in the nursery, and a rocking-horse, not much smaller than a very young mouse, and a very diminutive toy engine.

An abode for civilised modern occupants must have books. So we get a library with bookcases, stocked with volumes bound in calf and cloth. Against one wall stands a Chippendale bureau, a "period" reproduction, complete to the correct drawer handles and those thirteen panes for the glass-fronted doors which the connoisseur expects to find in a genuine piece of that character.

All these exquisitely small and delicate objects, except the glassware, which is contributed by the Chelsea firm of Anderson and Byskon, have been made in Lambeth workshops.

And they were made, as I have said, by men more familiar with tall cranes and heavy hammers and broad saws than with the needle-like tools specially contrived for the purpose by themselves.

I do not know whether anything has been decided as to the ultimate destination of Mirror Grange. Eventually I hope it will find a permanent resting place at South Kensington alongside of Queen Victoria's dolls' house, or in the London Museum as a notable and interesting example of British design and handwork in the reign of King George V.

It has been worth making and will be worth keeping.


— , Sir Sidney Low, , "MIRROR GRANGE: The Book of the Daily Mirror's House for Pip, Squeak and Wilfred", , 1929