In autumn of last year, the Brockley Society received an interesting email from Anita Barry. She had been given a doll’s house by a friend which was made by her friend’s grandfather, Edward S. Hough a mechanical engineer from Brockley over a century ago. The model house is a depiction of 2 Adelaide Avenue where the family lived, which was destroyed during a V1 attack in 1944.
The following is an extract of Anita’s journal of her project to restore the doll’s house and find out more about its history:
“When Brenda asked me if I would like to have the dolls house built by her Grandfather, it did not take me long to give her a positive answer. Feeling really honoured that she would trust me with this treasured possession, but also aware of the responsibility of acting as curator to the ageing model, I felt excited and interested, but also wanted to make sure I gave it the honour it deserved. To restore or not to restore – that is the question. In my view it is alright to restore if it is done sensitively. Also I believe that restoration (restoring to the original period) is preferable to renovation (making it new). I believe in restoration because it does honour to the original builder. After all the man spent hours making this object out of love – it would be a shame to let it go completely.
The dolls house had been built for Brenda’s mother, Christine, for her eleventh birthday in 1900. It had been a toy, not a collector’s showpiece and continued to fill that role throughout the succeeding one hundred years, being happily played with by Brenda, her children and grandchildren. Obviously it had sustained some damage, mostly to the furniture and fittings, but was structurally sound and still retained its original ‘decoration’. All in all, for its age and considering its use as a plaything it was in remarkable condition.
Initial work involved an assessment of the condition of the furniture, cleaning and repairing damage. The moulding on the left hand side of the base was repaired and the paintwork on windows restored. Some of the furniture had broken legs, paintwork was damaged on various items and two of the little water jugs had broken handles. The furniture was polished and I separated the items into different periods, deciding to use nearly all the original furniture in the restoration. Any furniture not used was packed away carefully and stored.
The house itself had the original ‘wallpaper’ which was dark and quite stained. This meant that the furniture did not stand out when viewing. Not wanting to take off the original wallpaper but instinctively wanting to make the rooms more attractive, I had to keep a strong grip on my natural urge to re-paper. After pondering over this dilemma for a while I thought of a method of ‘wallpapering’ that would preserve the original. After researching the period of the house I found some lovely designs of wallpaper by C.F.A. Voysey, from the period.
After digital rescaling, the patterns were joined and matched then printed on A4 card. After this a fixative was sprayed on to the pattern and left to dry. Making paper templates of the walls I then cut out the card to fit and joined the A4 sheets to make a free-standing 3 dimensional shape of the room. Using card gave it the stiffness required to stand upright and making it fit tight up to covings, skirtings and door architraves helped it to stay on the wall without the use of glue, the furniture assisting in the process. This meant that the original paper is preserved underneath and is also still showing on the opening doors as it would not be possible to cover them without complete gluing. Where carpets have been added, the originals are underneath apart from a loose brown, velvety one that was in the study. The original has been kept with all the other items.
Two other items have been added to the house that point to some event that happened in the past. Brenda remembers standing on the bath to watch the milk man bring his churn to the door for the family to receive their milk, hence the milk churns on the front door. And I just know people are going to say “Why is there a bear at the back?” “What can a bear possibly have to do with a terraced house in the middle of London?” Well it has! Brenda remembered her mother telling her that one day, when she went out into the back garden she was astonished to see a bear roaming down the alley at the back of the house. It was a dancing bear being lead by its owner! This is a wonderful story of the period and the memories of the original recipient of the delightful little model.
I hope the members of Brenda’s family who read this journal will enjoy reading it and feel that the little house has been treated with the respect it deserves.”
(Anita Batty – Oct 2010)