Category:Queen Mary's Dolls' House

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The Queen's Dolls House (later known, more specifically, as Queen Mary's Dolls' House), is an utterly extravagant 1:12-scale dollhouse designed to be the ultimate expression of how people (or at least, wealthy people and their household staff) lived in Britain in the 1920s, and a public showcase for the precision and artistry of British craftsmanship – not just a "museum piece" but a complete museum in its own right, executed in miniature.

The design and creation of the dollhouse and the commissioning of its contents for presentation to Queen Mary was organised by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869 - 1944), with the project starting in 1920, and finishing in 1924.

The dollhouse as a challenge in micro-engineering

Part time-capsule, part national monument, the creation of the dollhouse was approached not as the building of a conventional toy or a display model but as an engineering challenge, where extraordinarily extreme lengths were taken to try to make sure that as much of the house as possible was not only constructed using the same materials and techniques as the original, but also functioned correctly like the original. While it's not unusual for a dollhouse to have electric lighting, few are wired exactly like a real house, and have working lightswitches on the walls. Queen Mary's Dolls' House goes one step further by having miniature working Otis lifts, and even working plumbing – the miniature taps actually work and issue hot and cold water (slowly) ... or at least they did until some years after the dollhouse was finished, when the water-pipes – authentically! – furred up with calcium deposits, due to the water sitting in the pipes.

This "ultimate" approach to authenticity and detail, to an extent far beyond what any onlooker seeing the dollhouse on exhibition could ever hope to be able to see, extends to every book in the dollhouse library having fully handwritten pages, a collection of original paintings by well-known artists, and every miniature bottle of wine in the cellar being filled with wine and spirits of the correct type and correct vintage, carefully extracted from the real bottles with a syringe.

The Builders

The absurdly meticulous, "no-expense-spared" approach to the dollhouse was made possible by promoting the dollhouse as representing an entire national exhibition of British workmanship in miniature – it was presented as an opportunity for companies to have their products showcased, and to have the prestige of being chosen to allow their products to grace the country's ultimate, Royalty-endorsed dollhouse. This, of course meant that the companies producing miniatures of their normal work would go to extreme lengths to make the miniatures the ultimate that could be produced, and would then donate them to the dollhouse project free-of-charge, in exchange for being listed in the dollhouse's official inventory, and being able to brag about their association with the project in their promotional materials.

The "expense not spared" was therefore not actually Queen Mary's as she was getting the entire dollhouse and its contents as donations, free of charge. The strategy of assigning large companies little sections of the house meant that although the time and expense of producing each part was significant, it was not so large as to cripple any of the individual suppliers (or make too many of the invited donors turn down the opportunity to be associated with a Royal project). So (for instance) the garden was laid out by Gertrude Jekyll, who had worked closely with Lutyens designing gardens for the real buildings he'd designed, ceilings were painted by famous artists, the sewing machine was by Singer, the working lift with call buttons lift by Neville Maskelyne, an employee of Waygood-Otis (who was also a well known model railway engineer) the miniature guns with working breech-lock mechanisms and their cartridges (which might or might not actually be capable of firing) were supplied by Royal gunmakers James Purdey & Sons, and the model Lanchester limo had real miniature spoked wheels produced by car wheelmaker Rudge-Whitworth, fitted with miniature tyres supplied by Dunlop. Carpets were hand-woven at a weaving school for crippled children, and the house was painstakingly equipped with every item and piece of household equipment that would be found in a real house of the time, from working meat-mincers, to needlework sets and lawncare and gardening implements.

In some cases, the "donor" companies would pay third parties to produce the models for them before donating, so some of the cars were actually made by model engineers Twining Ltd, and a range of other expert British modelmakers would probably have probably have been involved.

The list of contents and their makers was so large that it had to be published in book form as a two-volume set, with the second volume dedicated just to the contents of the library.

Public display

The dollhouse was finished in 1924 and put on display at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, which was opened in by King George V and Queen Mary on 23 April 1924, with the first ever Royal live radio broadcast. The same Exhibition also showed off the new Flying Scotsman locomotive, and after a second exhibition year in 1925, the stadium was retained to become Wembley Football Stadium.

After the 1924 season at the Empire Exhibition, the dollhouse was sent to Kensington Olympia for the 1925 Ideal Home Exhibition, where it was put on display in a special pavilion, again designed by Lutyens.

Finally, in July 1925 it was installed in a special public display room designed by Lutyens at Windsor Castle, where it has been ever since.

See also:

External links


Edwin Lutyens
British Empire Exhibition, 1924:
Ideal Home Exhibition, 1925

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