In a time before flashing screens and remote-controlled gadgets needing an endless supply of batteries, simple toys held children’s attention. Stacking wooden blocks, peering through a kaleidoscope into a world of splintering shapes and colours, or acting out a puppet show while hidden behind a wooden theatre provided hours of entertainment.
For many, these toys continue to hold nostalgic charm. Just north from London’s trendy Soho area in Fitzrovia, you’ll find Pollock’s Toy Museum located in a brick building with a red and green facade. Visitors who climb the winding staircases inside the museum will discover a treasure trove of retro nostalgia packed into six small rooms. Each room brims with vintage toys, dolls, old-school curiosities and a single, much-loved rocking horse.
Pollock’s story begins in the 1870s, when a young Benjamin Pollock inherited a theatrical print warehouse in Hoxton. It printed miniature 3D theatres complete with the scenery and actors from successful plays being performed on London’s stages. At one time, these tiny theatres would have been the centre of everyone’s attention as parents, family and guests gathered in the drawing room to watch the children act out classical works.
Pollock created his theatrical souvenirs using hand-engraved copper plates and lithographs. His detailed and whimsical creations were immortalized by Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote, in an essay, “If you love art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock’s.”
Following Pollock’s death in 1937, the shop changed hands and locations for a couple of decades before Marguerite Fawdry, looking to buy some character slides for her son’s toy theatre, became enchanted by the store. She bought the entire stock and opened a museum. Over the years, Fawdry added to the collection thanks to donations and purchases from friends, family and the public. In the late 1960s, when her collection became too big for its location, she moved the museum to its current Fitzrovia space. Today, Pollock’s Toy Museum is run by Fawdry’s grandson, Eddy.
The museum’s collection of 3D paper theatres, with their delicate layers of scenery and faded players, still enchant more than a century after they were first built. Each is a complete stage in miniature, with movable parts that allow children to make believe they are the director of a lavish stage production. Many other pieces in the collection hail from the Victorian period, and it’s easy to imagine the tiny fingers that once turned the dials on the toy soldiers or wound up the mechanical dancing animals.
Many of the toys are beautifully preserved and instantly have you imagining the tender loving care a child would have used while playing with them—that cherished stuffed bear or precious tiny doll may have been the only toy that child had to play with, so a little extra care came naturally.
The appeal of these antiques and vintage toys is truly in the human story. They were all held, loved and previously brought to life by the carefree wonder of a child’s imagination. This has imbued them with magic from the past, a magic that can effortlessly transport you to a time when fantasy ruled and “let’s pretend” was a rallying cry.
The Toy Store
The Pollock name is synonymous with toys. Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop is located at 44 The Market in London’s Covent Garden. It was bought from Marguerite Fawdry in 1988 by actor Peter Baldwin, who played Derek Wilton on the British soap Coronation Street. After Baldwin’s death in 2015, Louise Heard, who worked in the store for many years, became the owner. The store still specializes in toy theatres but is in many ways a contemporary shop. Items look like they come from another century but are shiny and new.
Three Toy Stores to Visit
If a visit to Pollock’s ignites a passion for toys, check out these vintage stores and toy museums:
This retro toy museum likely contains at least a few toys you remember from your childhood. Its oldest exhibit is from the 1920s
Here you’ll find collectibles, including a range of Star Wars vintage toys. The shop also has comics to browse through and trading cards to complete your childhood collections.
Those who grew up in the 1980s and later will find reminders of their childhood here, with He-Man action figures, anime characters and superheroes.
[This story appears in the December 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.]
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