Many objects from the Brecknock Museum collection are being prepared for exhibition in Y Gaer. They include a fascinating doll’s house that was gifted to the collection almost 100 years ago by a lady from The Struet, writes Alison Hembrow.
The doll’s house is in Regency style, with two storeys and real glass windows. It mirrors many of the fine late 18th/early 19th century houses that can still be seen in central Brecon. “The front ‘wall’ is hinged so that it can be opened to reveal the interior,” explained collections assistant Jacquie Morgan. “It has wonderful details, including a Georgian fanlight above the front door, a functioning door-knocker, and intricately patterned wallpaper on the walls.”
Miniature houses have a long history. They were first built in northern Europe in the 16th century, with the earliest known example being built for the Duke of Bavaria in 1557. They were for adults to show off their collections of expensive miniature objects. In the 18th century “Baby houses” appeared: small replicas of the owner’s house, filled with tiny versions of the owner’s furniture. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that such houses were seen as toys.
Accredited conservator Cath Haslam is leading the conservation work, and brings with her a team of highly-trained international conservators. Her colleague Aly Singh has dedicated many hours to working on the doll’s house. “It’s a composite object, consisting of many different materials, including wood, glass, paper, and real coal in one of the fireplaces,” explained conservator Aly. “Having so many different materials within one object presented a conservation challenge, but we’ve worked on numerous complex objects in the Brecknock Museum collection and enjoy rising to that challenge!”
The first job was to clean the doll’s house. “We carefully vacuum cleaned the interior and exterior, then progressed to using cotton wool buds. Once the cleaning was completed, we assessed the repair work that was needed. For example, missing chips of paintwork on the interior and exterior were infilled in acrylic, and the balcony railing on the front façade had loose pieces reattached using cotton archival tape and methyl cellulose adhesive,” Aly continued.
The house will be furnished from a range of doll’s house items in the Brecknock Museum collection. “These include a miniature wooden dresser, a clock, a candle holder, bentwood chairs, and tiny copper saucepans, jugs, and kettles,” said Kristjana Vilhjálmsdóttir from the conservation team. “All these items have been cleaned and labelled. They will be installed in the doll’s house to create a fitting interior scene.”
In Y Gaer, this doll’s house will be located in the Childhood Gallery, alongside many other toys from the Museum’s collection. It will be displayed with the front wall “open”, so visitors will be able to see the interior of the house, and both sides of the front wall.
“We hope it will prompt a lot of interest,” said Jacquie, “The current proliferation of blogs and vlogs and other social media showcasing doll’s houses and mini-furniture demonstrates that a new generation is engaging with doll’s houses.”
Senior curator Nigel Blackamore concluded: “Cath is a very experienced conservator, and we’re lucky to have her and her team carrying out the work.
This vital conservation work on the doll’s house and other objects is possible through funding from the Welsh Government via the Federation of Welsh Museums and Galleries, for which we’re very grateful. It means the objects that have so kindly been donated by the local community over many years will remain in the best possible condition for display to our visitors in Y Gaer.”