Tuesday 22 January 2013

To 's or not to 's......

A short (and almost picture-free) post today, brought on mainly by a feeling of guilt that if I don't write one now, there will be no post in January at all.   The weeks are whizzing past and we continue to clear our house ready for sale - a sale which had been due to complete at the end of February and which sadly fell through last night.

So everything is up in the air again but one thing is certain and that is that we (butterfly and I) have a duty to head to the Czech Republic the first week in March or there is little hope of the museum being ready to open around the beginning of June.   Followers of my journey to a museum of my own will remember that there is much work to be done on many dolls houses......   Not to mention all the shelves that have to be put up in the museum and all the sorting of tiny objects that has to happen so that they can be found easily when needed during the restoration process.

A chance remark by butterfly, who was blogging about my birthday present earlier this evening, reminded me of the vexed question of what these things that I collect are called.   Or rather how does one correctly write down what they are called?

In the Georgian period (1714-1830) in England these miniature buildings were not known as dolls houses at all - the common name for them then was "baby houses".   (I have never been quite sure whether that referred to the small people who played with them, or the fact that they were not full-grown houses.)   

There was a snide comment by the politician Horace Walpole in 1750 that Frederick, the then Prince of Wales, was busy "building baby houses at Kew" (rather than attending to his courtly duties I imagine).   The Prince had apparently been infected with the baby house bug by a visit to the Dowager Duchess of Brunswick who was trying to reproduce the court in miniature.

Actually I am a bit dubious about this piece of information - if it is true then there were two members of the nobility in Germany producing their courts in miniature.   I can find no other information on the Dowager Duchess of Brunswick doing any such thing but I do know that about fifty years earlier the Princess Augusta Dorothea of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt, having been widowed early, decided to devote her energies - and those of her servants and courtiers - to producing a miniature town.   You can take a tour of it here. The website is in German so click on "Rundgang" and find your way round her amazing creation.   Apparently by the time she finished the project she had run out of money and was deep in debt - and had presumably tried her courtiers' patience to the utmost.

Royal links to dolls houses are not infrequent.   Princess Victoria's dolls house can still be seen at Kensington Palace; the little Princess Anne, (1665-1714) sister of the Mary who reigned jointly with her husband William of Orange just before her, had a beautiful house.   It's particularly charming because it illustrates clearly that houses were intended as teaching tools for little girls.   The Princess kept careful lists of all the linen in the house, she named and labelled all the servants, she counted all the table silver and crockery and all these lists still exist.   

 And of course there is the fabulous house of Queen Mary which can be seen in all its glory at Windsor Castle.   That house deserves a whole blog post to itself but in fact it is not my favourite of her houses.   That one lives in the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.

It's a villa made of inlaid wood and reminds me in many ways of the full-size house we are currently trying to sell.... 

It's very easy to infect people with the dolls house bug and maybe that is what happened to me.   When I was a little girl I was taken for walks in Kew Gardens every day.   Queen Mary loved to stroll in the Bluebell Wood there and as the story runs in my family, she stopped to talk to me one day when I was about four.....I blame her entirely for this journey I am now on!

I seem to have digressed a very long way from what I had intended to write about - the title of the post gives you a clue.   Are these small buildings dolls' houses, doll's houses, dolls houses or dollshouses?   Our American friends have solved it - almost - by calling them doll houses.   Or dollhouses.......

A precisian (yes it does exist, butterfly has just convinced me) would probably make an argument for dolls' house with the apostrophe firmly indicating many dolls, their house.  But why should it not be one doll and her house thus placing the apostrophe before the "s"?   Who knows?   
All I know is that it is no use going to the magazines and books on the subject.  If you have enough patience to trawl through these images you will eventually find them all represented......

Followers of this blog - and it's lovely to know so many people are reading it - will have noticed that I have opted for dolls houses.  Probably grammatically incorrect but I am sticking to it.   At least it is easier than the Czech - domečky pro panenky - which does not exactly trip off the tongue.   We are still struggling to find a name for the museum which works in both languages and also indicates that it will be a work in progress, so that visitors will not expect a perfect end-product when they visit.   They will be able to see how we set about restoring a house and furniture, and maybe even join in sometimes.

At the moment a Czech version of the blog is in preparation.   I am interested to see how my valiant translator friend Heli will cope with the challenge of the paragraph on the apostrophe - it's unknown in Czech.....

This "short" post seems to have grown entirely by itself - I hope some of you are still with me and I look forward to seeing you again fairly soon, though there may well only be one post in February, just like January!   Thank you for following.....



  1. Hello Cestina, I found my way to your blog from the very talented Butterfly she kindly shared the link. I think your journey to making a doll house museum is amazing and a joy. I also love doll houses ever since a little girl and my Mum used to take me to Christchurch mansion in our home town to look at them. Mum and I both have our own doll houses now. We also collect and make bears keeps us young at heart. I have so enjoyed reading about your journey and I am looking forward to seeing the photos when it is set up. Hugs Sandra X

  2. Thank you for the post, and for the link to the wonderful German town. What an incentive to brush up my extremely rusty German! Are there not an unusual number of figures in this work? I think of dolls houses (my preferred version, avoiding all apostrophes!) as more about furniture than figures, but I may be influenced by the CS one where they had to name all the materials used!

    1. Yes you are right Lucy - lots of people! But she was trying to reproduce the life of her court in miniature and so I suppose it was inevitable. Once you include a theatre, an orchestra, a monastery and a convent with little orphan girls the numbers are likely to multiply!

      And you are right that we who have learned about dolls houses from Chalet School books are not used to many people. In fact I am just trying to remember whether there are any at all in Tom's houses?

      I shall have to post a question on the CBB since most of my books covering that period of time are on loan at the moment.

  3. I think the apostrophe is a moveable feast, dependent upon the number of inhabitants, so it is the Devil's job to keep up with it. I think ignoring it altogether is a fine Shavian solution. Perhaps the Dowager Duchess of Brunswick had seen the Princess's work? The nobility must have had b***** all else to do, after all, once they had oppressed the peasantry. What a pity Queen Mary didn't invite you to look at her house. I'm sure she wanted to. More history, please!

    1. Be careful what you wish for! I can bore for England and other European countries with dolls houses.....