Queen Mary’s Dolls House

By Lucinda Lambton

To make a television programme about Queen Mary’s Dolls House without mentioning the name of Edwin Lutyens, is like making a programme about Blenheim Palace without mentioning Vanburgh; worse, in that Lutyens was the driving force behind every aspect of the Dolls House, from its ‘Wrenaissance’ exterior, to its tiny cabinet gramophone in full working order. Yet that is what the BBC, to my amazement and dismay has gone and done. The good looking and nobly booted Fiona Bruce who presented the programme was indeed marvellously telegenic and pleasing to behold, but surely that was an inadequate reason for omitting the name of the great architect from the story. Nor was it fair to the viewer since – as I endeavoured to show in my recent book about this most tiny national treasure – it was Lutyens’s genius, as both architect and impresario, which endowed it with a measure of immortality.

‘That most frolicsome of men and architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens….. took fire….wrote E. V. Lucas, the writer who helped assemble the miniature library; Everyone to whom he communicated the scheme took fire too’. He held regular ‘Dolleluliah’ dinners – Lutyens’s huzzaing by-word for anything to do with the Dolls House – that were eventually to inspire over 1500 individuals to become involved in one way or another. It was a formidable force, the whole gamut of early 1920s British life was there- with dashing additions from both India and America – 250 craftsmen and manufacturers, 60 artist decorators and 700 artists, 171 writers and 500 donors, many of them still household names today. Many too that have long since been forgotten; hauntingly vanished footprints in the sand, that are brought into exquisitely sharp focus when seen again in this little building.

So it was that Queen Mary’s Dolls House, which could well have been a mere royal plaything, a fantastical toy, subsumed into the wealth of the royal collections, was instead to become a serious work of art – in fact hundreds of serious works of art – as well as a beacon of national importance, displaying the very cream of the country’s endeavour.

The story is a characteristically English one. When asked to build the Dolls House after Britain’s victory in the First World War, Lutyens was already passionately preoccupied with building a new capital for the British Raj in India. Instead of spurning the challenge as beneath his dignity, he enthusiastically accepted it, finding in the combination – an imperial palace and a miniature Dolls House – something magically British, and it was in this spirit that he succeeded in enlisting the enthusiastic cooperation of all that was best in Britain at that time. Hence the continuing attraction to this day of this tiny building. None of this was even hinted at in the BBC programme. Was I the only one to shed a tear?

Lucinda Lambton
Author of “The Queen’s Dolls’ House” (Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd.)