A Local Treasure
by Annette Hoar
A recent visit to my local Museum, Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery in Hertfordshire [Added later: Hitchin Museum closed to the public on 1 September 2012], lead to the discovery of a wonderful Victorian dolls house complete with original furniture and residents.
The house measures 51 inches high by 34 inches wide and is 16 inches deep. It has six rooms that have doors but there is no staircase. The outside is painted a buff colour. There are two chimneys but although inside there are fireplaces there are no chimney breasts.
There are 12 sash style windows and there is a decorative door painted on to the side of the house. The front opens like a cupboard and there are two drawers underneath. The walls and floors appear to be covered in the original paper.
I counted a total of twenty dolls in the house, and there are a few pets too. The dolls are a variety, including: Parian, China, Dutch wooden, Grodnertal, wax and bisque.
The Dining Room
There are some charming items of furniture belonging to the house. To list a few of my favourite: a birdcage hanging from the bedroom ceiling, and a tin fireplace. A lovely half tester bed and smaller metal bed, wash stand and matching linen press, dressing table and mirror also in the bedroom.
The next bedroom has furniture matching the first bedroom and a similar fireplace.
The drawing room has upholstered high backed chairs and a matching couch in green velvet. There are decorative candlesticks and a writing desk and the table is set with a tiny set of China. There is a wonderful sewing table lined in green felt with tiny spools of cotton, scissors and such.
The dining room (see above, with dolls) has more of the darker wood furniture, but plainer chairs than the drawing room. The chaise has very nice turned wooden legs. There is a set of thick books on the shelf.
There is a nursery on the ground floor. The furniture in this room is of a lighter wood, which is inlaid with a darker wood. There is a wash stand and various types of tin baths, water cans and buckets.
The kitchen has a little range tucked into the corner of the room. It has a tin kettle and pan on it.
The Kitchen Range
The dresser is adorned with various pans, tankards and a tiny grater. There is a marble top table with a knife and other cutlery. The kitchen also has a drop leaf table and an upholstered chair and a smaller, plain chair. The room is in some disarray and the cook seems to have got stuck in the wooden airer whilst rummaging in the laundry basket.
The Cook in the Kitchen
I was very fortunate that on the day I visited the museum to take photos, the house was due for cleaning and conservation work. The museum was closed for the day (although I was allowed in) and a local museum conservationist was giving a talk and demonstration to museum staff and volunteers how to correctly clean the old dolls house and its contents. The glass display panels around the house had been removed and I was able to get a nice close look and photos too.
Tables set with very simple items for the cleaning process.
One photo shows the conservationists with some of the types of equipment they use, such as a vacuum cleaner with a very thin nozzle with fine gauze over the end to ensure no small items are such up along with the dust. Some trestle tables were also set up ready for the furniture cleaning. Very simple materials are used, such as water, cotton buds and muslin (cheese cloth).
Soft brush and small-nozzled vacuum cleaner used to remove dust.
The pictures I have taken show the house before the clean up took place, but even the dust cannot disguise the beauty within.
This dolls house dates back to around 1850 and belonged to a prominent Hitchin family and was played with by their children.
Hitchin museum has a display of local history on the ground floor as well as regular art exhibitions. Upstairs has a display of historical costume, toys and dolls and of course the dolls house. Also upstairs there is an recreation of a Victorian pharmacy.
A wax doll.
My sincere thanks go to the Museum Curator, David Hodges, and all others there on the day for being so accommodating.