78 Derngate Archive

Basset-Lowke and Dolls’ House Furniture

31 Dec
Barbara Floyer

“The furniture illustrated in this catalogue represents the first attempt to provide scale models for the doll’s house, for although we have brought the working models of ships and railways to perfection and so provided the boys with the best of toys we have hitherto sadly neglected the interests of girls.”

These are the opening words from a 1931 Bassett-Lowke Ltd. Scale Model Furniture catalogue that has recently come into my possession.

The fact that B L had dabbled in the dolls’ house world was not unknown, for he had made models for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House in Windsor, but it is the first time I have seen a catalogue of items for general sale.  

Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House was designed in the early 1920s by Sir Edwin Luytens and contains items from the artists, craftsmen and authors prominent at the time.  Bassett Lowke’s own contribution to the house was, not unsurprisingly, a model railway set out on the floor of the nursery. It consists of an oval track, locomotive, passenger coaches, a station (a replica of a standard BL type) and some small accessories.  However, Bassett Lowke and Twining were also commissioned by other manufacturers to make models for the house including Rolls Royce, The Daimler and Austin Motor Companies as well as some 33 other makers of household equipment. Interestingly also, Margaret Macdonald, Mackintosh’s wife, executed designs for the Queen’s Dolls’ House in 1924.

The Bassett-Lowke 1931 catalogue contains furniture and accessories designed for a living room, dining room, kitchen and scullery but no bedroom furniture.  As well as furniture there are lamps, a tea wagon, plant stands (complete with plants), glasses and a vacuum cleaner to name just a few of the items for sale.   It states in the catalogue that the articles were not made locally, but were of continental manufacture, however it goes on to say that sufficient demand for the items would enable the company in the future to undertake their manufacture at the works in Northampton.

One really appealing feature about the catalogue is that on the cover and every page is a small trademark, showing a table and chairs and the word NUWAYS. (see picture).

Since finding the catalogue, I have been on the lookout in the dolls’ house world to see if I could find any Bassett-Lowke (B-L) items.  With the help of a good B-L collecting friend, we managed to find a fireplace from the catalogue, (see picture). It is made of metal and the catalogue describes it as “an exact replica of the well known Bell grate with Dutch tile surround and hearth.” It sold for 3/6d and originally would have had an imitation fire illuminated with an electric bulb powered by a pocket battery.  The fireplace in the dining room of 78 Derngate has Dutch tiles.  

While I’m on the subject, one of our volunteers at 78 Derngate, Val Knowles, is a very talented miniaturist and has made a 1:12 scale model of the guest bedroom of 78.  It is presently on display at Delapre Abbey in Northampton.

First published in June 2007 In The Friends of 78 Derngate Newsletter Issue 47.
Author: Barbara Floyer
Transcribed 2018: Barbara Floyer