Know what a Baby House is? Well, Strangers’ Hall in Norwich has one of the earliest (18th c.) surviving Baby Houses of its kind - incredibly detailed and meticulously assembled too. Baby houses pre-date the all familiar popular children’s toy – the Dolls House.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, Baby Houses were traditionally created by architects who would often be commissioned by large or significant property owners, and often they’d base the Baby House on their own property. In this case, however, we don’t know if the Norwich Baby House was based on a real-life property or just from someone’s imagination – either way, it’s rather impressive!
The house was given to Strangers’ Hall in 1952 by Mrs W F Brown of Gipsy Lane, here in Norwich, and it belonged to her grandmother, Mrs F Allen. It’s been dated right back to 1720, meaning it’s actually one of the earliest surviving Baby Houses, and the detail on it is amazing.
Image: Fully-equipped kitchen of the 18th century Norwich Baby House, Strangers’ Hall collection © Norfolk Museums Service
Image: 18th century quill or feather-work furniture, with a pair of fashionably-dressed 18th century dolls, Strangers’ Hall collection © Norfolk Museums Service
The perfectly proportioned façade has been decorated to represent brickwork, and it also features 12 paned sash windows with real glass! It has, of course, a pitched roof, and the front door has been painted in two shades of green, opening out to reveal rooms across three floors, including a kitchen, parlour and bedroom!
Not only that, but inside there are some amazing furnishings, many of which are hand-made. That would take some steady, accurate handiwork to create (no sausage fingers!). Inside the kitchen (which, we might add, is more impressive than any full-size kitchen we’ve ever seen) sits an impressive built-in dresser with a full set of Staffordshire blue and white kitchenware, as well as a fine brass kitchen range with side oven and rotating spit, plus plenty more – there’s even a tiny nutmeg grater! If that isn’t attention to detail, I don’t know what is…
Moving into the parlour, there’s an 18th century butler – he’s even got a tiny papier-maché head, and he’s seated in a fabric-covered wing chair in front of a fire, with dogs lying lazily at his feet. Upstairs, in the bed-chamber, sits a long case clock and a curved dressing table with its own mirror and stand. The bedroom is decked out in floral sprigged wallpaper, too!
Image: 19th century German Grodnertal dolls’ house dolls, Strangers’ Hall collection © Norfolk Museums Service
Well, to find that out, you’ll have to hear the audio interpretation which will accompany the Baby House display at Strangers’ Hall; we often describe this museum as an oversized doll’s house itself, so it’s the perfect place to host this amazing artefact! The Baby House and other dolls exhibits are all part of the Small Stories exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery (4 March – 25 June), which will cover 300 years of social history told through stories of the V&A Museum of Childhood’s most treasured dolls’ houses. The exhibition will be spread across the two museums: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, where most of the items will be exhibited, and Strangers’ Hall, where you can see the Norwich Baby House! So make a date in your diary now and find out more about this and various other incredible baby houses.
Small Stories will be at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from 4 March - 25 June, and offers visitors the chance to peek behind the closed doors of twelve of the V&A Museum of Childhood’s most treasured dolls’ houses, spanning 300 years. Norwich Castle’s sister museum, Strangers’ Hall, will present a complementary programme of events and displays, drawing on the museum’s extensive toy collections, and displaying the Norwich Baby House described in this post. Find out more about admission costs to Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery and Strangers' Hall on their listings.
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