Princess Elizabeth's Playhouse
by Deirdre Alden
In the early 1930s, the people of Wales gave the then Princess Elizabeth (our current Queen) a miniature house to play in. Called Y Bwthyn Bach To Gwellt (The Little House With The Straw Roof), it was made in Cardiff in 1931 and presented to the Princess in honour of her sixth birthday - April 21st 1932.
The house was destined for The Royal Lodge at Windsor, but before the Princess and her sister were allowed to play in it, to raise money for charity the house was exhibited at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition, Olympia in 1932. Amongst the thousands of children who were doubtless taken to see it, were my mother and aunt (my mother still remembers it). Nevertheless, I could hardly believe my eyes when, while clearing my aunt's house in 2005, I found a copy of the little guide book obviously bought for them on the day. It contains fascinating information about the playhouse and its furnishings, how it was made and even how it was transported from Wales (with two AA motorcyclists as an escort apparently!). At least one postcard of the house was also produced, which showed Y Bwthyn Bach with Princess Elizabeth standing in the doorway.
G & J Lines were connected with the original Princess's playhouse - they apparently made the miniature Rolls Royce which went with it. And Triang were quick to see the potential of it too. Soon they were making copies of the playhouse as dolls houses. I believe this model was continued from the 1930s up until the 1950s.
Because the Princess dolls house was produced over a long period of time, there are several different versions of it, some of which have some design problems. An early model was back opening (always a problem for collectors because, unless you have a large space in which to display, the house has to be moved before it can be opened and then the items inside tend to fall over).
I am a collector of Lines/Triang houses, and I currently have two Princess houses. The first has two problems. The house has the unusual and lovely addition of an opening back door - but unfortunately it is in the lounge, not the kitchen (which has the usual sink, dresser and cooker fitted). Why oh why, didn't they put the back door in the kitchen or make the door a french window?
To get over this problem, I have tried various things. At one time, I had the house fitted out as a school (where a door in a classroom wasn't so incongruous). My school has now moved into another house, and my latest plan is to fit out the house as a cottage hospital (again where the extra door will be more acceptable).
Another problem with the house is the fact that the tops of the bay windows and the door have the "snowcem" on them - and it flakes off. This is presumably why later editions of the house have flat coloured tops to the bay windows. The third problem isn't a design flaw - but it irritates me! The Princess houses look great furnished with Barton Tudor pieces. But try as I might, I cannot get the Barton Tudor four poster bed to go into the bedrooms because of the solid thatch roof at the front. If you could get the bed past the thatch, it would fit beautifully - but it simply won't go in!
My second Princess house fortunately has no back door. The bay windows have yellow tops. There are also yellow chimney pots and a yellow front door. It also has an unusual base with wheels.
This house is almost completely original including the curtains. It has the fitted kitchen, and a fitted bath (my first Princess has two bedrooms with fireplaces and no bathroom). It also has an original tree in a pot by the front door (I believe there should be two).
I bought it at auction and was lucky enough to get the original contents with it. There was a lot of things, including 9 dolls, so I sold some of the contents and dolls on ebay (to offset the cost of the house), put the rest of the original contents back in the house and added (and am still adding) a few pieces of my own.
I decided to furnish the house as the Princess's playhouse, so I have gone for a royal theme. Hence there are flags flying from the chimney and two soldier dolls keeping guard at the front door. Inside, two identical dolls which came with the house act as the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. They have with them two more of the original dolls, which are the size to be their dolls!
The remaining doll which came with the house is a pink haired. She is taking a bath in the bathroom.
Much of the original furniture is Pit-A-Pat. This includes the original bedroom suite which is white.
There are original Pit-A-Pat pieces in the kitchen too, and a Pit-A-Pat grandfather clock in the hall, but I have furnished the lounge with Barton Tudor furniture.
Amongst my royal accessories are a miniature crown, and a jug with a picture of the two young princesses on it. The original playhouse had a portrait of Princess Elizabeth's mother the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) above one of the fire places. I have reduced down a picture of the royal family beside Y Bwthyn Bach and have put this on the bedroom wall. It shows the future King George VI and his daughters outside the playhouse while the Duchess of York looks out of a bay window.
Y Bwthyn Bach is still situated at the Royal Lodge in Windsor which was taken over by Prince Andrew, following the death of his grandmother. And Triang Princess dolls houses can still be found fairly easily too. It is one of the more common Triang models, but because of its history, I think one of the most delightful.