A few years back, I got an old dolls’ house on eBay. It was a simple, orange-crate homemade dolls’ house but it came with several letters written by a child in WW1 to her father, in the RAF. The dolls’ house seems to have been a project father and daughter worked on, together. The handful of letters are a brilliant glimpse into a lost world.
I have always meant to publish these and never got round to it. Til now. So forgive me for repeating my first of these posts – subsequent, previously unpublished letters to follow….
I did have the pillow Brenda mentions but it was beyond conservation. The doll’s house dolls are currently living in my freezer and I’ll photo them when they come out. They include an interesting Grecon doll, made by German Jewish refugee to England – Miss Margarete Cohn. Margarete left nazi Germany for London and put her art school training to good use – making miniature dolls which turned into a good business, supporting many people.
I will write more of Margarete another time – the history of people who have come to the UK as immigrants and refugees, and contributed hugely – is worth revisiting – especially at the moment. I will write of Margarete when I have taken Brenda’s poor Grecon out of the freezer and can photo it!
Here’s the post:
Something in the spirit of the blog, where I like to talk about social and domestic history – especially women and children’s lives.
“Paracosm ~ a prolonged fantasy world invented by children; can have a definite geography and language and history…”
I have always been fascinated by paracosms. In their most developed forms, they’re imaginary worlds like the Brontes’ Angria and Gondal, or Hartley Coleridge’s Ejuxria. For many children, though, they were maybe playing with toy soldiers, or dolls’ houses and that whole life of the imagination.
A while ago I stumbled on a homemade 1940s’ dolls’ house. It had been found dumped in the street, outside a charity shop. It came complete with 1940s’ wallpaper, textiles (hand-stitched silk curtains) and a full compliment of handmade 1940s’ dolls’ house furniture, with a few commercially available items like some of the Britain’s Miniature Garden items, thrown in.
Intriguingly, it came with a file of documentation. The file contained wartime letters from a little girl to her father (on active duty). Many letters concerned her dolls’ house and what she was making for it. Over time, I will share with you, gentle Reader, little Brenda’s story and show you inside the dolls’ house and its items. And, when I’m done, the dolls’ house itself. Not pretty – but made with love.
The letters were carefully filed in date order and are a poignant look into the everyday world of a child in wartime. The dolls’ house seems to have been emblematic of the bond she felt with her father. On the outside of the house, Brenda had written, in pencil, “Roedean”, which when I was told about the house, before I saw it, at first I assumed must be a reference to Brenda’s school. It turned out, it was the name of her beloved home, and the dolls’ house was her Roedean in miniature.
With no further ado, I will start the story.
I may blog other stuff inbetween, but over some time, will weave in and out of the other stuff, the lovely, touching story of Brenda. Most of her letters are addressed to her dad. But the first is to Father Christmas. The dated letters start in 1942. This could be that year, or earlier. I traced Brenda and she is no longer alive. She was unmarried and had no direct descendants I could find. Maybe the dolls’ house and letters were found in an attic before they were left on the street? Once I have shared this with you, I intend to re-home the dolls’ house with either a collector who will know how to preserve it – or a museum. I think it deserves a wider audience first, though.
I managed to trace Brenda on Ancestry and FindMyPast. FindMyPast has the 1939 Register – a snapshot of the UK on the brink of War, and I was able to use this to locate Brenda and her loved ones. The letters had her address on, which helped.
Someone slipped into the dolls’ house file, a few photos of the family of three. It seems Brenda was an only child. In wartime, toys were scarce so there were probably more dad-made dolls’ houses than usual. Until the War, Lines Brothers (trading as ‘Triang’) had probably been the best known dolls’ house makers, but the Triang factory went over to munitions, so as the dolls’ house was made after 1939, it would be very typical of a wartime dolls’ house.
As I put up the letters, I will put up the items that Brenda mentions. The first, (above) is a Britain’s garden fork. Pre-War these toys were made of lead. During the War, they weren’t manufactured and returned in plastic, re-named Britain’s Floral Garden, in the 1960s. It’ s quite startling to read of an item in the letters, then find it in the shoe-box where they currently reside.