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.