The Palace of Woodheart (description)

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index
Jump to navigationJump to search

This a transcript of a two-page typed description that was with the wooden Alice in Wonderland figures that are now on display in Puppet Corner.


" The Palace was directly inspired by Sir Nevile Wilkinson's Titania's Palace which I saw when I was on tour in Exeter about 1927. Titania's Palace was built between 1907 and 1922 and, when finished, had 2,000 miniature furnishings. (It had already inspired Queen Mary's Dolls' House, originally shown at the Wembley Exhibition in 1923 and now to be seen at Windsor Castle). It (Titania's Palace) was exhibited for charitable purposes between 1922 and 1967, was seen by two million people, and raised £150,000. In 1967 it was sold by Miss Gwendolien Wilkinson (for whom it was built) to Miss Olive Hodgkinson, who sold it again at Christies in 1977 for £135,000. It was bought by Spink's on behalf of Lego, the toymakers, and is now to be seen at their children's museum at Jutland.
The Palace of Woodheart cannot compete either with Titania's Palace or with Queen Mary's Dolls House for perfection. Its main interest is perhaps that, whereas they were built by professionals for wealthy people, it was personally constructed by a boy in his early 'teens, who steadily improved it over several years and collected the furniture for it. Immediately after seeing Titania's Palace, I started to make the Palace of Woodheart out of wooden packing cases in which wine was in those days delivered. These soon proved too rough for the purpose and they were replaced by the present construction of tongue-and-groove deal boarding.
Titania's Palace was built around a central courtyard: it was 12 foot long and 3 foot wide and 6 foot high and contained 16 rooms. The Palace of Woodheart was smaller, measuring approximately 6 foot each way and 2 foot high, though it originally had rather more rooms. It also was built round a central courtyard: it also had a throne room.
During the 1930's, school took me increasingly away from the Palace: in 1939 the war caused the furniture to be packed up and the Palace to be dismantled and put away: for forty years it has been stored in the outhouses and basements of various homes but in 1979, appropriately the International Year of the Child, it has been given a new life. A great family co-operative effort over the four days of the Easter holiday has given it a new roof, repapered almost all the rooms, rewired the electricity and renewed some of the furniture (for example, the four-poster bed has been given clean hangings).
Like other stately homes, the Palace has had to be adapted to modern times and reconstructed. Two of its four sides and therefore the enclosed courtyard have disappeared: gone too is the throne room with silver steps and pillars with mirrors behind them – a veritable Salle des Glaces. The gilt audience chamber remains, together with thirteen other rooms, though some critics may say that to have only three bedrooms to nine reception rooms (not counting the kitchen and bathroom) is out of proportion.
Proportion was always important. With very few exceptions (the miniature edition of the Times is one), all the items are to a scale of about 1 inch to 1 foot.
Starting on the left, there is the audience chamber with its original gilded wall-paper. Next to it is the front hall and, above this, a small sitting room with a view over the garden. Next again is the drawing-room and, above it, the bathroom and two small bedrooms with a corridor behind. Turning the corner, we pass the stairwell and come to the refectory with a small modern kitchen and a study above: then the smoking room with an office over it and finally the private dining room under a dressing room and the best bedroom.
The Palace was rarely inhabited. The people for whom it was built were a series of cut-out wooden figures, with moving hands, arms and legs, based upon Tenniel's drawings for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. This explains the name of Woodheart: the King and Queen of Hearts were made of wood, but, as the years went by, imagination gave them characteristics of which even Lewis Carroll had never dreamt. The people of Woodheart still exist but the only inhabitants of the Palace are the major-domo and the cook, who wait in the mediaeval refectory. The cook herself comes from Switzerland: the majordomo came into being as a result of wood-carving lessons in Geneva: the big stone chimney by which they stand itself derives from the Chateau de Chillon at the end of the Lac de Geneve.
Similarly the architecture of the Palace itself, with its sloping grey roof, owes something to that of the French chateaux which I visited several times in the 1930's. This also accounts for the escalier d'honneur which used to sweep down into the central courtyard and is still to be seen: it was inspired by the out-of-doors horseshoe staircase at Fontainebleau, at the foot of which Napoleon said farewell to his troops before departing for Elba. Staircases deserve special study: many doll's houses are built without them, so that it is only by a flight of the imagination that people reach the upper rooms: the attempt to provide a satisfactory staircase is always heavy in its demands on space. The reconstructed Palace, without two sides of its courtyard," provides the opportunity of looking out beyond it to the garden, the home farm and green fields. The farm was another collection, put together in the 1920's and 1930's, and shows how farming was conducted in England before the days of mechanisation. The farm workers and their animals are on a smaller scale than the Palace and its furniture – approximately one-third – but the perspective of distance may justify including them in the background. Still further away are the huntsmen in their pink coats.
W. M. Thackeray, with great prescience, wrote:

Ho, pretty page, with the dimpled chin ..
This is the way that boys begin ..
Wait till you come to Forty Year.

— Thackeray

To some extent, Easter 1979 has restored to us the forty years that the locust hath eaten but will the Palace of Woodheart, like the other stately homes of England, still be with us

Forty years on, when afar and asunder
Parted are those who are singing today?

— Thackeray

William Barnes April 1979