Places with the best dolls' houses

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. Because a lot of our dolls’ houses are very old, they can’t be played with, but they have some enchanting stories to tell. You can learn a lot from them, plus all of our dolls' houses are great for a game of I spy.

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 their expensive craftsmanship and level of detail suggests they 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. We do not look after any quite that old, but we do care for two rare and exquisite early 18th-century dolls' houses at Nostell, West Yorkshire and Uppark House, West Sussex.

Morning Room of Lying-in Room in Nostell's dolls' house

Nostell's original dolls’ house 

Only a handful of dolls’ houses have survived from the 18th century. The dolls' house at Nostell, West Yorkshire is the only one still in its original family home. Arguably the most detailed and authentic 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 is even a miniature Japanese garniture made of real porcelain as well as tiny, hand-made glasses in the Dining Parlour. Thanks to generous donations, the dolls’ house has recently undergone vital conservation work to preserve it for the future.

" It is the elevated level of design detail and quality of materials that makes the Nostell dolls’ house such a superb example of its kind."
- Simon McCormack, Curator, Nostell
The dolls' house at Uppark

Uppark’s historical dolls’ house 

The incredibly well-preserved 18th-century dolls' house at Uppark House in West Sussex, is one of the most historically important in the country. Built in the style of a Palladian mansion, the house features three floors made up of four bedrooms, two reception rooms and three rooms 'below stairs' for the servants. The intricate interior offers a glimpse of what aristocratic life was like in the 18th century.

Winter visits

Please note, many smaller places and houses are closed in winter and reopen in spring, but some are open for special pre-bookable Christmas visits. Check the relevant property webpage to plan your visit.

Famous dolls' house owners

Places with collections of dolls’ houses

Wolf’s Cove: Snowshill's model village

Wolf’s Cove was once one of the most celebrated features of Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire. The artist and architect Charles Wade spent the majority of his life designing and building the model houses to create his own miniature Cornish fishing village. The model buildings included a pub, houses and fisherman’s cottages. Wade later went on to add the road, canal and railway.

Since 2010, we have been working on recreating the village, based on original photographs, re-excavating the harbour and making replicas of the original models. The recreated village can be visited every summer and Charles Wade's original models are on show in the house.

Where to find more must-see dolls’ houses