Tucked away on a side street yet only a few minutes walk from Ilkley railway station stands the Ilkley Toy Museum. This hidden gem has been located in a former Sunday School building in the attractive small West Yorkshire town of Ilkley for the past 16 years.
The museum contains one of the finest private collections of toys and dolls in the north of England and after enjoying visits to toy museums in London, Edinburgh and Espoo, Finland we were eager to take a look at the items on display here too.
The Ilkley Toy Museum is generally only open to the public between 12.00 noon and 4.00 p.m. at weekends but school parties can arrange educational mid-week visits. During opening hours a giant sized bear dressed as a policeman guards the entrance, his pockets filled with useful museum leaflets. Stepping inside, another large bear dressed as a soldier with a bright red jacket stands on duty near the ticket desk.
Arranged in glass cabinets are a collection of toys representing a journey back to childhood for many visitors. We were particularly interested in a model fairground which was thought to have been made around 1950. This scale model comprises 21 pieces of which 12 are electrically powered.
Visitors can operate this model fairground by purchasing a token costing 20p from the reception desk. Placing our token into the slot, we gazed in awe as the fairground swung into action and it was fun to watch the merry-go-round rotate and the swings swaying during the 45 second operation.
There’s a large display of Victorian dolls’ houses with miniature furniture and household items. The attention to detail is incredible with intricately painted porcelain and tiny pieces of lace edged cotton for tablecloths.
One of the buildings, the Original Swan c1865-70 caught our attention, formerly in the Vivien Greene Dolls House collection, it was bought by the museum from a lady in Oxfordshire when it was in a derelict condition. The featureless dolls house has since been converted into an 1880’s country hotel with a period bar and other fittings restoring it to its former glory. Taking pride of place in the centre of the room is a large model railway bringing out the child in all of us.
Along the corridor and pointing the way upstairs was another helpful bear, this time a traditional teddy bear sitting comfortably in a chair and sporting a red bow tie. There are two galleries on the upper floor both full of fascinating exhibits in glass display cabinets and beneath them we found pull-out drawers packed with tin plate figures, small metal cars, wooden and paper toys.
One of the games on display, a Waddington’s Formula One board game was familiar to us as an elderly relative has this in one of her cupboards. This game has kept our family amused over the years with its 1950’s racing car models and cardboard dashboards and hopefully it will continue to do so for generations to come.
In the dolls’ gallery there is a beautiful display of early English wooden dolls, pedlar dolls weighed down with their big wooden trays filled with tiny trinkets and many other exquisite dolls through the ages.
We adored Pratt’s Garage, a rare wooden service station dating from 1932. The Crescent Garage in the foreground has intricate detail with its very own wooden accessories including an air and water set. The car filling up at the petrol pumps is a 1935 coupe.
Also on display is a 1980’s Paddington Bear made by Gabrielle Designs. Michael Bond wrote the first of his Paddington books in 1958 but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that Paddington gained popularity when he first appeared on television. In the photo Paddington is stood next to a Richard Steiff teddy bear whose German company are believed to have developed the teddy bear in the early 1900’s.
Before leaving the museum we had a look in the small museum shop which stocks a range of traditional toys, games and jigsaws. As soon as I returned home, I went straight upstairs to say hello to my very own Paddington Bear which I received as a gift in 1980. He is identical to the one on display in the Toy Museum except that his felt hat is now perhaps a little faded from the sun.
He still wears his original blue Dunlop wellington boots and looks smart with his red duffel coat. Sitting next to him is my much loved teddy bear Edward, who has been at my side as my dear friend for as long as I can remember. His coat is made from mohair and he has a growler sewn into the back of his body from which he can still manage a deep grunt if he is gently rocked. I wonder, do you still have dolls or teddy bears from your own childhood? If so, do please let me know who your favourites are!
The Ilkley Toy Museum will be displaying a collection of their Victorian board games, dolls houses, toy soldiers and rare dolls at a Victorian Christmas at Harewood from 24th November – 31st December 2017. Harewood House is located 7 miles from Leeds and Harrogate and further details of the event can be found on their website.
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I would like to thank the Ilkley Toy Museum for kindly inviting us to visit their toy collection.