Peek inside a 100-year-old Royal dolls’ house
The jewelled miniature, a copy of Britain’s Imperial State Crown, is part of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, on display at Windsor Castle outside London
By Megan Specia
NEW YORK: The silver crown is set with diamonds. Rubies, sapphires, emeralds and seed pearls are peppered through the design. And the red velvet cap inside would be fit to cushion the head of a monarch. Except that the whole thing is only an inch tall.
The jewelled miniature, a copy of Britain’s Imperial State Crown, is part of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, on display at Windsor Castle outside London, where the everyday objects, luxuries and curiosities of royal life in the early 20th century are reproduced at one-twelfth scale.
Scrutiny of Britain’s royal family was supercharged this past week by the announcement of King Charles III’s cancer diagnosis, which followed the hospitalization of Catherine, Princess of Wales, in January. But while the modern monarchy finds itself under a sometimes unwelcome microscope, the dolls’ house has for a century allowed visitors to peer inside the rooms of a palace — albeit at a tiny scale.
The house was given to Queen Mary, the wife of King George V, in 1924, not as a child’s toy, but as a carefully constructed depiction of the best of British craftsmanship for a royal who loved all things miniature. A January 1924 report in The Times of London described how Queen Mary, then 57, had inspected her gift “and expressed the keenest appreciation of its wonders,” which included running water and electric lifts.
To celebrate the centenary, visitors can now get closer to items normally housed inside, like the famed miniature crown, with a selection presented in a special display outside its walls.
“It’s got this instant charm,” said Kathryn Jones, a senior curator at the Royal Collection Trust. “But also as you dig into it, I think you find it’s quite layered.”
Windsor Castle’s steady stream of guests often gaze upward: at the impressively large Round Tower fortress that looms over the palace grounds, at the ornate ceilings of the formal banquet hall, and at the murals hung high on imposing walls.
But now they are also being encouraged to gaze down at the painstaking details of the dolls’ house, with some of its teeniest artifacts placed in low cases to benefit close inspection.
On a recent winter afternoon, two women crouched to look at the miniatures, which are on display in the Waterloo Chamber. There is a tiny grand piano, complete with working keys; a Singer sewing machine with small reels of thread; and a Hoover vacuum cleaner, its cord carefully wrapped around its handle.
As Jones, the curator, noted: “You start to see the world in a very different way because you are looming over these tiny little things.” “You do feel a bit like Gulliver,” she added. The dolls’ house, in the style of an Edwardian-era townhouse, was designed by Edwin Lutyens, a leading British architect. It was built from 1921 to 1924, and was put on display at Windsor Castle the following year. The house sits behind a large glass case in a grand room in the state apartments, with its facade lifted to reveal the rooms inside.
Sally Isherwood, 70, lifted her 3-year-old granddaughter, Demi, for a closer view of the dining room. “Can you see the table, Demi?” she asked as she pointed to the wooden table with 14 tiny place settings of plates, cups, glassware, forks and knives.