Updated post: 18/11/18 | November 2018
Millionaire status is tantalisingly close. In front of me is a money-making machine. All I have to do is to pop in a blank sheet of paper and it will spit out a crisp note. There is just one small flaw in the master plan. This magic machine is in Pollock’s Toy Museum. Travel with me to London to take a journey back to childhood.
A short history of Pollock’s Toy Museum
Tucked away behind Goodge Street station, this small museum is one of London’s hidden gems. Housed in a pair of atmospheric townhouses, dating from the 1880s and 1780s, it is named after Benjamin Pollock (1856 – 1937), a toy theatre maker. His creations are on display in the museum. The museum itself was established in the 1950s by Marguerite Fawdry, and houses up to 2000 exhibits in its six rooms.
Visiting Pollock’s Toy Museum
Entering the museum through its unrestored shopfront is straight out of a Charles Dicken’s novel, from the jangling doorbell above the door to the vintage cash register that swallows my £7 entrance fee. Ascending the narrow staircase, I pass by toy silver fish from Peru, Mexican toys fashioned from plaited and stained wood and Edwardian board games to reach the first room.
This is what I call the “toys for boys’ room. Matchbox vehicles and Hornby trains going nowhere, Mecano sets at different stages of construction. There are Action Men & GI Joes, poised for battle, and toy robots ready for inter-planetary domination. Being a huge EM Forster fan, the star exhibit for me is a set of his toy soldiers, nesting in their original wooden box.
Climbing a further flight of stairs to the second floor, I am whisked back into my childhood. Created by Harry Corbett in the 1950s, The Sooty Show was a staple of children’s TV in the UK. Pollock’s Toy Museum has managed to get hold of original glove puppets from the show.
Moving across the creaking floorboards into the next room gives me the opportunity to play ‘Name the Russian President’. During Perestroika in the late 1980s and early 90s, new-found freedom of expression allowed Russian premiers to become a common theme of matryoshka dolls.
An adjacent case has a far more local flavour, with a collection of dolls dressed as Pearly Kings & Queens. Recognised by their clothing covered with patterns of mother-of-pearl buttons, they are an iconic London image. Founded by Henry Croft in 1875, the Pearly Kings & Queens is organisation continues to raise money for many charities.
Passing by cases of dolls’ houses from the mid-1800s and much-loved teddy bears – Pollock’s Toy Museum claims to have the world’s oldest example, Eric at a grand old age of 113 – I reclaim another treasured childhood memory, Basil Brush. Basil was a fictional fox, created in 1963 and primarily ‘played’ by a glove puppet. He was meant to be a classy fella, his voice modelled on that of the film star Terry Thomas, and is best known for his catchphrase “Ha ha ha! Boom! Boom!” The Basil Brush Show ran for 12 years from 1968, and he was supported by a series of stooges. The most well-known were “Mr Rodney” (Rodney Bewes) and “Mr Derek” (Derek Fowlds).
Reluctantly descending back to the entrance, a Rubik’s Cube catches my eye. Like most of my contemporaries in the 1980s, I had one these fiendish 3D puzzles and it defeated me for a long time. In a wound to my pride, my brother, six years my junior, was the first in our household race to solve the puzzle. Happy days. Who needs to be a millionaire anyway?