Heritage > British Castles
QUEEN MARY'S DOLLS' HOUSE
The idea of a very special dolls' house for Queen Mary originated from one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters, the late Princess Marie Louise whose parents lived at Cumberland Lodge. Once when staying with the King and Queen at Windsor the Princess noted how Queen Mary was at the time collecting miniature objets d'art to furnish a small existing dolls' house. The Princess decided there and then to approach the great architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, who was a friend of her parents, to design a great dolls' house worthy not only of a beloved Queen but also as a monument for posterity. It was to be a gift for Queen Mary as a token of the universal esteem in which she was held. Sir Edwin agreed and the Queen agreed to accept the gift and appointed Princess Marie Louise to be her liaison officer between herself and the architect and the many authors, painters and craftsmen who were to be approached to contribute.
The result is a miracle of smallness. A Palladian country house was designed with rooms decorated in the eighteenth century idiom. Each tiny painting which hangs on the wall was executed by a great contemporary artist. Among those whose work is now in the dolls' house are Sir William Orpen, Sir Alfred Munnings, Sir William Nicholson and Ambrose McEvoy who painted the 'Winterhalter' of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the Dining Room.
In the Library we come to the most amazing achievement of all. The focal point is Nicholson's portrait of Elizabeth I over the fireplace but it is the books which catch our attention. Each volume is leather bound, tooled in gold and bears Queen Mary's monogram and crown. Each volume has a tiny bookplate and each book was written by a contemporary author or poet specially for the Library, notably Sir Max Beerbohm, Walter de la Mare, Thomas Hardy, Arnold Bennett, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G K Chesterton and Rudyard Kipling among many others. Only one author approached refused and that was George Bernard Shaw who wrote a tiresomely offensive letter declining the invitation.
A drawer in one of the cabinets contains drawings and watercolours by such artists as Mark Gertler, Russell Fling and Adrian Stokes.
Princess Marie Louise 'borrowed' one of King George's despatch boxes to be uncannily reproduced in miniature. She sent a linen tablecloth from Buckingham Palace to Belfast to be copied, and so on. Every household article was made perfectly, whether it was a tiny paper-knife for a desk or a bottle of wine (there are in the wine cellar many casks and bottles of spirits and vintage wines, the bottles being about an inch in height). Even the taps can produce hot and cold water in the bathroom with its green marble bath.
There is a nursery, of course, full of minute toys and outside are motor-cars, a bicycle and perambulator. Even the garden was designed by a professional - Gertrude Jekyll who was famous in her day.
Queen Mary's Dolls' House is something more than a Georgian country house in parvo, it is a reflection of life in a royal palace in the early twentieth century.