Moving the dolls' house at Uppark

In June 2016, we had the challenge of moving our 18th-century dolls' house to a newly decorated room.

Why do we have a dolls' house?

The rare dolls' house was brought to Uppark soon after Sarah Lethieullier married Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh in 1746 and has been at Uppark ever since. Dolls' houses at this time were often reflective of a family’s high status, and collecting items to fill the house would have been a hobby for young ladies like Sarah. They then would have been able to show it off to friends and family. 

The dolls' house at Uppark is not to be missed
dolls' house in lower servants hall
The dolls' house at Uppark is not to be missed

The big move

In January, we moved the dolls’ house to the lower servants’ hall so that we could refurbish the stewards’ hall. Five months later, we again had the task of moving the dolls’ house back to the newly decorated room, where you’ll now find it when you visit.

A few days prior to the move, the house team and volunteers were busy carefully packing each individual item from the house. Every item had acid-free tissue paper wrapped around it to ensure it was protected for the move. 

Uppark dolls' house items in tissue paper nests
Uppark dolls' house items in tissue paper nests
Uppark dolls' house items in tissue paper nests

We started by putting bindings around the doors so they would not swing open when each section of the house was moved. We then carefully moved each section of the house in turn, beginning with the top floor, which when taken off the house was then placed onto parallel benches so the weight was evenly supported.

The house team lifting the first section of the dolls house
The house team lifting the first section of the dolls house
The house team lifting the first section of the dolls house

When it came to moving each section to its new destination, some members of the team were stood ready outside the door, so that each section could be carefully passed through. Each section was so big that it was impossible to fit a person and the section they were carrying through the door at the same time.

Nearly there

After having secured a section of the house onto two sets of wheels, we slowly navigated through the basement to the new room. Once the sections were separated, we were able to reconstruct the house starting with the rusticated basement that supports it.

The dolls house being reconstructed in its new room at Uppark
The dolls house being reconstructed in its new room at Uppark
The dolls house being reconstructed in its new room at Uppark

After some adjustments to ensure the house was sitting squarely, there was a huge sigh of relief from the team. We spent the next couple of days restoring each item to its original location within the house.

The Uppark house team moving the dolls' house
The Uppark house team moving the dolls' house
The Uppark house team moving the dolls' house

Looking inside the house

The house has three floors and the front opens to reveal rooms which represent the differences in life above and below stairs.

The bottom row of rooms embody servant life with the kitchen and the Housekeeper’s room, whereas the rooms on the two floors above show the higher status of the dolls that occupy them, with the drawing room, dining room, and the beautifully decorated bedrooms.

A closer look at the dolls' house at Uppark
A closer look at the dolls' house at Uppark
A closer look at the dolls' house at Uppark

More about the dolls

The dolls themselves serve to remind us about the hierarchy in the house, with the servant dolls being made out of wood and the family dolls being made out of more expensive wax.

The detail in the house is incredible, from the hand-painted oil paintings to the hallmarked silver spoons in the drawing room.

A close up of the oil paintings in the dolls' house at Uppark
A close up of the oil paintings in the dolls' house at Uppark
A close up of the oil paintings in the dolls' house at Uppark

Surviving through the ages

Luckily for us, the dolls' house has been well loved and cared for by the occupants of Uppark including the author H.G Wells, whose mother Sarah became the housekeeper here in 1850. H.G Wells mentioned being able to play with the doll's house in his 1909 semi-autobiographical, 'Tono-Bungay'.

" …went to the great dolls’ house…I played under imperious direction with that toy of glory."
- HG Wells

Seeing the dolls' house

If you are visiting Uppark, the dolls' house is certainly something you will not want to miss. Come along and find it in the steward's hall.

Visitors having a closer look at the dolls house
Visitors having a closer look at the dolls house
Visitors having a closer look at the dolls house