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Where to find the best dolls' houses

The doll's house in the Treasure Room at Hill Top, Cumbria, home of Beatrix Potter
The doll's house in the Treasure Room at Hill Top | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

From 18th-century mini palaces to the house that inspired Beatrix Potter, the dolls’ houses at the places we look after are as varied as they are beautiful. Discover rare 18th-century pieces, famous dolls’ house owners, and places where you can find entire miniature collections. While these antiques can’t be played with, they do have some enchanting stories to tell.

History of dolls’ houses

The fashion for dolls' houses, or ‘baby houses’ as they were originally known, first began in Germany in the 16th century. Unlike today’s dolls’ houses, they were not simple child’s toys.

Their exact purpose is unclear, but the expensive craftsmanship and level of detail suggests these dolls’ houses were, at least in part, an ostentatious display of wealth. They were possibly also a way for young aristocratic women to learn the art of furnishing and running a home.

The earliest surviving example of a British dolls’ house dates to around 1695 and was reputedly bought by Queen Anne for her goddaughter.

Rare 18th-century dolls’ houses

While we don’t look after any dolls’ houses quite as old as Queen Anne’s, we do care for two rare 18th-century pieces at Nostell in West Yorkshire, and Uppark House in West Sussex. Only a handful of doll’s houses have survived from the 18th century, which makes these two quite special.

A close-up of some of the rooms in the 18th-century dolls' house at Nostell Priory, with intricate details such as bedroom furniture, curtains and fireplaces.
The 18th-century dolls' house at Nostell Priory | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Nostell’s original dolls’ house

The dolls' house at Nostell is thought to be the only one still in the house of the family for which it was made. One of the most opulent and detailed of its kind, it’s a masterpiece of craftsmanship and a window into a past world. No expense was spared when it came to furnishings. There’s even a miniature Japanese garniture made of real porcelain and tiny, handmade glasses in the Dining Parlour.

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Famous dolls' house owners

Beatrix Potter's dolls' house at Hill Top in Cumbria was the magical place that inspired The Tale of Two Bad Mice. Inside you can see furnishings and items used in the illustrations for the book, including the baby's cradle, the birdcage, the metal fireplace and the tiny set of plates and spoons.

Vivien Greene collected dolls' houses and wrote several books on their history. Saltram in Devon now cares for one of her houses, originally thought to be a miniature version of Whiteway House in Devon. The interior is fashionably furnished with fitted carpets, upholstered chairs and objets d'art, including a tiny working snow globe.

Places with collections of dolls’ houses

Why have one dolls’ house, when you could have a roomful? From Nunnington Hall’s collection of miniature rooms to an entire model village at Snowhill’s Manor, here’s where you’ll find collections of dolls’ houses all in one place.

A close-up view of some of the rooms inside the Hammonds dolls' house at Wallington, with the Music and Drawing Rooms and Ladies Parlour on the ground floor, bedrooms, the Breakfast Room and nurseries above.
The Hammonds dolls' house at Wallington | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Wallington’s dolls’ house room

Wallington in Northumberland has a whole room full of dolls' houses. The oldest house dates to 1835, while the jewel in the crown of the whole collection is 'Hammond House'. This special house has 36 fully furnished rooms, 1,500 pieces of furniture and 77 china-faced dolls. It is fitted with electric lights in every room and once had running water.

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Where to find more must-see dolls’ houses

Calke Abbey

The Victorian dolls’ house in the School Room at Calke Abbey comes with its own separate kitchen annex. It is furnished in the style of the period with a tiger-skin rug, piano, and even a miniature Noah's ark. Some of the furniture was made by children at the ragged school toy-maker’s workshop that Octavia Hill, co-founder of the National Trust, managed in the 1850s.

See items from Calke Abbey's dolls' house

Castle Drogo

Made in 1906 for six-year-old Mary Drewe, the sophisticated dolls’ house at Castle Drogo, Devon originally boasted working electric lights and running water, with a water tank located in the attic. The front and rear façades can be lowered and raised by turning a handle.

See Castle Drogo's dolls' house


An early 18th-century oak cabinet in the nursery at Erddig, Wrexham, hides a miniature world. In the 19th century, windows were cut into its side and it was converted into a four-room dolls’ house. Some features replicate those of Erddig itself, such as the maxim ‘waste not, want not’ painted over the kitchen range.

See the kitchen of Erddig's dolls' house

Landscape mural of Italian seaport showing a harbour scene in the dining room by Rex Whistler at Plas Newydd House & Gardens, Anglesey

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We care for one of the world's largest and most significant collections of art and heritage objects. Explore the highlights, our latest major exhibitions, curatorial research and more.

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