A stocking full of toys

As Christmas approaches, we take a look at traditional toys from our large and varied collection.

Many children will have written their Christmas wish lists for 2013 and it’s almost certain many will have asked for gadgets and hi-tech games.

Around 100 years ago the richer children would receive toys such as card and board games, jigsaw puzzles, wind-up toys, rocking horses, books, dolls and dolls’ houses for girls, and train sets and building sets for boys.

Poorer children considered themselves lucky if they received a whip and top, marbles, a hand-made rag or peg doll, or a penny whistle; many were happy if all their stocking included was an orange or an apple and some nuts.

Here we showcase some of the toys in our collections - which would you most like to see in your stocking this year?

    A wooden doll, Dudmaston Hall

    Jane’ was made around 1760 and can be seen at Dudmaston Hall. She was carved from wood and has jointed legs and arms.

    These types of dolls, rare in the 18th century, were usually made in and around London by skilled craftsmen and were dressed in lavish clothes of the period. English wooden dolls of this date were always modelled on adults and their bodies shaped in such a way that once dressed they appeared to be wearing corsets and hoped petticoats.

    Ninepins at Sudbury Hall

    This amusing game of ninepins or skittles is on display at our Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall, and dates from around 1900. The cats are made of fabric and stuffed and dressed with ribbons and bells. The wooden ball was made in 2004 by Roy Patterson, a volunteer at Sudbury Hall, as the original was missing.

    Bowling games have been played for centuries and stone bowling pins and balls have been found by archaeologists who have dated them to the times of the ancient Greeks.

    Ninepins was originally played in English inns and alleyways and was often known as the ‘poor man’s game’. It became popular in North America during the 17th century when the game was played by Dutch settlers. It later became associated with heavy gambling and was outlawed in the USA so players introduced one more skittle to become known as ‘ten-pin bowling’.

    Happy families at Attingham Park

    A happy families pack of cards can be seen at Attingham Park. This version was devised in 1851 by John Jacques II, shown at the Great Exhibition in that year, and became very popular.

    In the Blitz in 1941 however, a bomb destroyed the factory where the game was made The only original pattern for the card that survived was Master Potts the Painter’s son; fortunately some time later the printing plates for the game were discovered undamaged and the game continued to be produced.

    The original designs were created by John Tenniel, later Sir John Tenniel, the chief cartoonist of Punch, who later illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

    Model ark at Gunby Hall

    Visit Gunby Hall and look out for this beautiful wooden ark with a straw marquetry roof. The top of the house lifts off to reveal 20 painted wooden animals which unfortunately are all broken.

    In the past, Noah’s Arks were seen as ‘Sunday’ toys because of their religious associations, and it was only on this day of the week that children were allowed to play with them.

    Our model ark was made by French prisoners-of-war at Norman Cross House in Peterborough, the world’s first purpose-built prisoner-of-war camp and commissioned by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The prison housed around 5,500 men and it was the Navy’s mission to carry out humane treatment and look after the men well. They received clothing, sufficient amounts of food and were given the opportunity to learn to read and write.

    The prisoners were encouraged to relieve their boredom by making toys, model ships, games and ornaments from wood, bone and straw marquetry, which they were allowed to sell at the market by the prison gates.

    Clockwork toy at Sudbury Hall

    Clockwork toys were first invented at the beginning of the 16th century but at that time they were only given as presents to Royalty.

    This charming clown and pig clockwork toy on display at our Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall, dates back to around 1900 when similar tin toys were being mass produced by European manufacturers. They were highly popular until the invention of the battery when sales declined drastically. In the late 1970s wind-up toys became popular again and were made from plastic.

    Tin whistle at Tyntesfield

    The tin whistle could be bought for an old English penny which is why it became known as the ‘penny whistle’, and this particular item can be seen at Tyntesfield.

    The first tin whistle was produced by Robert Clarke in 1843 in Coney Weston, a small village near Bury St Edmunds. Robert, a humble farm labourer and talented amateur musician, learned to play on wooden whistle. His invention of the first tin whistle became so popular in England he went on to set up a successful business in Manchester.

    The Clarke Pennywhistle Company still produces penny whistles today and has influenced many famous musicians. James Galway, the famous flautist, first learned to play on one of Clarke’s penny whistles.

    Teddy Bear at Sudbury Hall

    This ‘Ally’ teddy bear has his home at our Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall and was manufactured around 1916 by Harwin & Co. Ltd, in north London. The business was established in 1914, by G. W. Harwin after there was an import ban on German-produced goods after the declaration of the First World War.

    ‘Ally’ bears were designed as part of a series of mascots in uniforms for the Allied Forces in the First World War. This bear is dressed in the uniform of a British Officer and is a rare item; it is unusual today to find a bear of this type fully clothed.

    Toy push-along dairy at Lanhydrock

    Visit Lanhydrock and keep your eyes peeled for this quaint push-along toy dairy with ten wooden milk bottles and a tin milk churn.

    It was made by Tri-ang but the date of manufacture is unknown. Brothers George and Joseph Lines (G. & J. Lines Ltd) made wooden toys in the Victorian period. After the First World War Joseph’s three sons formed Lines Bros Ltd which eventually became Tri-ang – ‘three Lines making a triangle’. The production of childrens’ toys was halted during the Second World War as the factories were converted for weapon making. The company rose to own 40 companies worldwide including Hornby, Meccano and Dinky, but went into receivership in 1971 and was sold off.

    As well as being fun to play with, this toy dairy was also useful as an aid for children learning to walk.

    Meccano set at Sudbury Hall

    Meccano was invented in 1898 by Frank Hornby, the father of two young boys, who created for them a model construction system. This consisted of re-useable metal parts including axles, gears, nut and bolts, wheels etc. from which they could construct working models similar to the cranes they enjoyed watching at Liverpool Docks.

    The set was first patented as ‘Mechanics Made Easy’ in 1901 but was later changed to ‘Meccano’ and manufactured by the British company Meccano Ltd between 1908 and 1980. The market for Meccano is still thriving although it is now made in France and China.

    This set can be seen at our Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall.

    Blackie's Girls' Annual at Rufford Old Hall

    An annual book for girls was produced by Blackie’s between 1904 and 1940.

    This type of publication was sold for the Christmas market and made an ideal present. In the 19th century the annual was merely a compendium of stories taken from weekly or monthly magazines, but Blackie’s pioneered the trade by publishing books containing all new material.

    Annuals were popular until paper rationing in 1940 which cut back the amount and quality of material that could be published. After the Second World War the trade continued to decline with the rise of comics and television.

    This particular annual, on display at Rufford Old Hall, has an inscription on the inside front cover: ‘From Granma with love to Ethel Xmas 1926’.