Through the keyhole of the Nostell dolls' house

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

Step into the miniature world of an intricately crafted masterpiece with a unique connection to its life-sized surroundings. Nostell’s dolls’ house is more than 200 years old and a grand mansion in perfect miniature.

At almost 300 years old, it’s one of only a handful of such dolls’ houses to have survived the test of time and the most elaborate and complete example of its kind anywhere in the world.

Windows to the past

With three storeys, nine rooms and nine miniature residents including the much-loved mouse, the dolls’ house is also the only one that can still be viewed in its original family home.

It was was commissioned around the same time work began to create the “big mansion” and offers a unique window into the world of what a grand 18th century house would have looked like.

From doors with working locks, handles and hinges, to a hallmarked silver dinner set and tiny dolls’ dresses with three layers of petticoats, the extraordinary detail of Nostell’s dolls’ house sets it apart from the rest.

The Drawing Room of Nostell's dolls' house includes a solid silver tea set
Nostell dolls house tea set
The Drawing Room of Nostell's dolls' house includes a solid silver tea set

Bringing history back to life

Recent conservation work confirmed almost all the interior decoration as original and crafted with the same meticulous skill and technique as a normal sized house. 

Just like any full-scale house therefore, agents of deterioration had taken their toll over the generations and centuries.

Generous donations from National Trust supporters raised more than £100,000 to bring the dolls’ house and its nine miniature inhabitants back to life, with the masterpiece due to be redisplayed in 2020 for visitors to see and enjoy.

Sadly, the doors of Nostell itself remain closed due to the pandemic, but we look forward to opening them once again to visitors as soon as it is safe to do so, with the fully restored miniature mansion on display.

Conserving Nostell's dolls' house at Nostell, West Yorkshire
Conserving Nostell's dolls' house at Nostell, West Yorkshire
Conserving Nostell's dolls' house at Nostell, West Yorkshire

Join our Virtual World

For now, we’re opening the dolls’ houses own doors virtually. Stay tuned to our website, Facebook and Instagram accounts to explore the dolls’ house and learn more about the interiors, objects and characters that make it one of Nostell’s best loved treasures.

We’d love you to get involved! Whether it’s sending us a drawing of your favourite character, contacting us with your own dolls’ house memory, or letting us know if there’s something about this miniature masterpiece you’d like to find out about.

Aristocracy and a design for life: origins of the dolls’ house

The dolls’ house was commissioned in 1733 by Susanna Henshaw, wife of the third Baronet. Sadly, Susanna died in childbirth at the age of 32 and didn’t live to see her vision completed. 

We believe later additions to the house were most probably made by Susanna’s daughter-in-law, Sabine D’Hervart, putting her own stamp on this family heirloom.

Elaborate, expensive and the work of many hundreds of skilled hands, a dolls’ house like Nostell’s was not a child’s toy but instead a toy for the adult imagination.

How to take tea

‘Baby houses’, as they were known, were used by aristocratic women in their teenage and adult years to learn how to run a country house, practice social etiquette and express their creativity.

Nostell’s miniature mansion would have helped girls and young women teach and rehearse activities - like taking tea and managing servants - to creating fashionable interiors by choosing wallpapers and upholstery fabrics that mirrored the tastes of the day.

This modern world: imagine your own miniature masterpiece

The original purpose of the dolls’ house, as a training aid for Nostell’s female aristocrats, is today a concept for the history books.

All of us can use our imagination to design our own perfect dolls’ house. What miniature masterpiece might you create? Why not tell us a story or draw a picture of the objects and characters that might live in your very own mansion?

We’d love to see the results! Why no post them to our Facebook Page.