Temple Newsam dolls’ house

My idea of heaven and absolute favourite place to be is Temple Newsam estate in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Having grown up in the area I have spent many happy times there and still try to visit weekly. As well as feeding my Georgian obsession with wonderful landscape gardens and 18th century architecture, the estate boasts a further attraction for lovers of the miniature – an exquisitely preserved 1740s dolls’ house.

The house is featured here in the BBC History of the World. (links open in new page)

Comprising four rooms in a glass-fronted cabinet, the house is in remarkably good condition, considering that it was played with by generations of children. Inhabited by several little people, the house contains many beautiful miniature pieces including a fully fitted out kitchen.

The house is not original to Temple Newsam, but serves to illustrate the type of house which belonged to the daughters of the 9th Viscount Irwin in the mid 18th century (pictured below).


Painting by Benjamin Wilson

According to the BBC site, their father would often bring home items for their dolls’ house from the shop of Maurice Tobin in Leeds. Tobin was a whitesmith based in Briggate at that time, and it seems likely that he manufactured miniature playthings for the rich alongside his other wares.

The house currently on display was previously at Stonegappe near Skipton, North Yorkshire, and is believed to have been decorated by the author Charlotte Brontë during her time as governess there. The auction record at Christie’s provides more information about the Brontë connection, and suggests that she put many hours’ work into the house. Artist Serena Partridge has created some miniature items for the Brontë Parsonage Museum, inspired by the life of Charlotte Brontë. As Charlotte worked at Stonegappe in 1839, it’s clear the house was still being enjoyed by children for at least 100 years after it was made.

I believe that the household items were added to over a long period, due to the differences in scale amongst the furnishings and dolls, which in my opinion only adds to its charm.

If you would like to visit Temple Newsam, all relevant visitor info is here.


Taboo – mini style

I’ve recently become quite obsessed with the BBC series Taboo (possibly due to the leading man). The costumes and sets are amazing, and I love how each character’s wardrobe has been designed to communicate something about that character. What better way to express my admiration than a series of miniature dolls?

The process I follow when designing a doll usually goes like this:

Visual research into the character – photographs, paintings, drawings, screen grabs of TV shows or films. I need a lot of visual information to get a feel of what they look like, preferably from several angles.

Background research – if they are a real person, looking for records of physical attributes. Most importantly, their height, so that I can reproduce it in 12th scale. It strikes me that lots of male actors are shorter than the average man, while actresses tend to be on the tall side.

Book research into costumes and props for their period. What styles, materials and colours will be accurate and work for this character? I have also built up a collection of photos of garments I have found in museums.

Having analysed the costume from the collected imagery, I need to work out how to reproduce it in miniature. Not every tiny detail is going to work out in 12th scale, so I need to simplify it while still conveying the general impression. This will involve drafting my own patterns for the clothes.

Last step before starting to make the doll, I need to work out how they will be posed, i.e, sitting or standing, where are they looking, what are they doing with their hands.

Once I have all these details planned out, I can start sculpting the doll! Yippee!


Miniature Monarchs – rulers in a smaller scale

I have started a long-term project to create English monarchs from Richard III to George V. (I know that some of them are monarchs of England and Scotland, or of Great Britain, but Britain wasn’t a union until the early 18th century).

I started with Edward VII and his mother Victoria. Two more different people I don’t think you could find. Similar in face and build but different personalities. “Bertie” waited a long time to become king due to his long-lived mother, and spent the waiting years enjoying wine, women and song in Paris.

My vision for the project is to have all the monarchs on a display shelf or case, regarding each other with the appropriate gaze. I think it’s safe to say, Victoria will be looking disapprovingly at Bertie.

Why monarchs? Well, I would not say I am a monarchist. But however they came to power, be it by blood, politics or literally fighting their way to the top, these people have been important and influential in their times, and defined the eras in which they lived.

Next up to be made is poor little Edward VI.