Should you be considering a short family break this half-term holiday and fancy interspersing your visit with one or two more unusual, even educational things for the little ones, then you could do far worse than search out one of the capital’s hidden gems– Pollock’s Toy Museum.
Originating as a shop and printer’s business founded in Hoxtonin the 1850s, this museum and small toy shop is located in two atmospheric, historic buildings in the Fitzrovia area of the West End.
Inside, six small rooms and two winding staircases are home to a collection of mainly Victorian toys. Dolls, dolls’ houses, teddy bears, puppets, toy theatres, folk toys, optical toys, toy soldiers, tin toys and toys from all around the world are dotted here, there and everywhere. If you keep your eyes peeled you’ll even spot a clay mouse from Ancient Egypt that’s believed to date from as far back as c.2,000 B.C.
Named after Benjamin Pollock, the theatre is dedicated to the original shop’s owner, the man behind the hand-printing, construction and colouring of so many paper-based toy theatres in the nineteenth century. Indeed, much of the toy theatre material to be found in the museum was created by him. Toy (or paper) theatre was most popular in the Victorian age, some of the models offering extraordinary, exquisite detail, thus enabling children to fuel their imaginations as they staged their own productions at home, often making use of cut-outs for various characters, props and scenery (which were also created by Pollock).
A unique glimpse into a bygone era and the lost art of creating playthings– and a perfect way to while away a couple of hours with the kids, especially should you be staying at the relatively nearby Shaftesbury London Hyde Park – Pollock’s Toy Museum in London started life in 1956 in a single attic room at 44 Monmouth Street, very near Covent Garden, the site of Pollock’s original toy theatre shop. Soon a flourishing success, the museum went on to occupy two further rooms, while the building’s ground floor became an adjoining toyshop. By the end of the 1960s, its collection had grown to such an extent that it had out grown its premises and so had to move to its present address (very near Goodge Street Tube station).
Since then, the collection has continued to grow, built up by purchases and donations – a family-run place, its owners maintain that it exists more to display its timeless items for the public than for profit. However, it’s worth bearing in mind they advise it’s more suited to older than young children – as well as curious grown-ups, of course! Indeed, those who are particularly fascinated are welcome to attend the lectures and events on the history of the art-form which the museum sometimes hosts.
Opening times: 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday (Last admission: 4.30pm)
Prices: Adult £6; Children £3; Seniors and students £5
Address: 1 Scala Street, London W1T 2HL
Telephone: 020 7636 3452