The Queen’s Dolls’ House at Windsor Castle is the largest, most beautiful and most famous dolls’ house in the world. In this charming new publication, the well-known broadcaster and architectural historian Lucinda Lambton guides the reader on an imaginative tour of this most magical of residences – a perfect replica in miniature of an aristocratic home. Built for Queen Mary by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924, it includes contributions from over 1,500 of the finest artists, craftsmen and manufacturers of the early 20th century. From life below stairs to the high-society setting of the saloon and dining room, a library bursting with original works by the top literary names of the day, a fully stocked wine cellar and a garden created by Gertrude Jekyll, no detail was forgotten – the Queen’s Dolls’ House even includes electricity, running hot and cold water and working lifts.
The Nursery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House [Image: The Royal Collection (c) 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Photographer David Cripps]
The idea for a dolls’ house came from Princess Marie Louise, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, as a gift to Queen Mary in acknowledgment of her steadfast presence throughout the First World War. It quickly assumed national importance as a flagship endeavour for British innovation and as a symbol of Britain’s post-War renewal. Lutyens’ vision was to capture life in a royal residence in all its detail, designing the house to the Imperial scale of one inch to one foot – it is 1.52 metres high, 2.59 metres wide, 1.49 metres deep, and weighs 4.5 tonnes. [Image: The Royal Collection (c) 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Photographer David Cripps]
Leading industrialists, manufacturers and artists, many still household names today, were eager to be associated with the unique project. To complete Lutyens’ impressive wine cellar, Berry Bros of St James’s, London, contributed over 1,200 thimblefuls of the finest Champagnes, wines, spirits and beers to fill each tiny bottle. Some 200 authors, including Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy and A.A. Milne, produced original hand-written works for the library – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a Sherlock Holmes story, How Watson Learned the Trick, especially for the Dolls’ House. Royal gun-makers, James Purdey & Sons, donated working replicas of King George V’s guns, complete with leather case and a magazine of 100 tiny cartridges. In the garage a Daimler limousine, Rolls Royce, and a 1923 Silver Ghost seven-seater limousine landaulet boast the supremacy of British motor manufacturing in the 1920s.
Interior of Queen Mary’s Doll House [Image: The Royal Collection (c) 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Photographer David Cripps]
Throughout the Dolls’ House there are reminders that this is not just any residence. In the saloon two silver-gilt thrones measuring an inch high sit side-by-side; the dining room is decorated with silver wall sconces, miniature replicas of those at Windsor Castle; and a collection of red and green leather dispatch boxes, each embossed in gold with the royal cipher and ‘THE KING’, add royal gravitas to the library. There is even a fully operational strong room to hold the Crown Jewels – weighing 1½ lbs, rather than 1½ tons. Royal portraits include a copy of Winterhalter’s 1846 painting of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children, and contemporary portraits of the young Prince of Wales, King George V and Queen Mary.
The Housekeeper’s Room, Queen Mary’s Doll House [Image: The Royal Collection (c) 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Photographer David Cripps]
The domestic quarters and the rooms below stairs were given as much attention as the grand rooms above. In the kitchen, 2,500 tiny sections of oak recreate a wood-block floor, a copper kettle made out of a King George V penny, with the King’s head on its base, sits on the stove, and three ivory mice in a humane mouse trap are forever under the gaze of a ceramic cat. Every detail of domestic life is included, from lavatory paper, Lux flakes and Sunlight Soap, to a tin of Coleman’s mustard and a bottle of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. In the living quarters, chamber pots can be seen under every bed, trouser presses await use in the men’s bedrooms, and reading material is on hand for the servants.
The Queen's Bedroom, Queen Mary’s Doll House [Image: The Royal Collection (c) 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Photographer David Cripps]
In a letter of thanks to all those involved, Queen Mary described the Dolls’ House as ‘the most perfect present that anyone could receive’. This letter is reproduced in the book alongside correspondence from the Royal Archives between the Queen and Lutyens, and contributing artists and manufacturers. In 1924 the Dolls’ House went on display at Wembley Park as part of the British Empire Exhibition of Arts and Manufacturing, where it was viewed by 1,617,556 people. For the first time the public were able to see into the heart of the royal household, gaining an unparalleled view of the intimate aspects of family life and bringing them closer to the royal family than ever before. The following year the Dolls’ House was put on permanent display at Windsor Castle, in a room specially designed by Lutyens, where it remains to this day.
The Saloon, Queen Mary’s Doll House [Image: The Royal Collection (c) 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Photographer David Cripps]
The Queen’s Dolls’ House is available from the Royal Collection’s online shopwww.royalcollectionshop.co.uk, the Royal Collection shops at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and all good bookshops.