Founder, Michal Morse tells us how the 1st UK specialist dolls house shop came to be.
It is hard to believe that Michal Morse opened the doors of her dolls house shop in Broadley Street, Marylebone 49 years ago (Oct 1971). It was the first specialist dolls house & miniatures shop in the UK (which was the 1st in the world?) and it wasn’t long before she needed more space (miniatures do take up A LOT of space) & so moved to a larger store in Lisson Grove. Michal was spending time in Sudbury too, so had a second shop there.
In 1980, Michal was invited to join the refurbished Covent Garden. The old fruit & veg market had been transformed in a totally original way (then copied throughout the world) & was originally an interesting group of indie shops, that were chosen for their originality & quality. Rents were kept low & Covent Garden was an immediate hit.
Michal was originally thinking of opening an old fashioned toyshop called Pastimes. Bagatelle, skipping ropes, ninepins etc, then she met Anne Griffiths, who told her about the dolls house hobby – Anne used to buy and sell a few miniatures. She lent Michal a couple of antique houses on sale or return and introduced her to some craftsmen and Felicity Locke who used to produce the first home-printed issues of International Dolls House News. (Anne went on to open her own Dolls House Shop, The Singing Tree, in Fulham)
I worked as a Saturday Girl in the Covent Garden shop from around 1986 & can still remember the excitement of so many of our customers when they arrived through the door. Many would stay for hours, sifting through the 1000’s of tiny miniatures – pots & pans, milk jugs, whatnots, chesterfield sofas, vintage champagne etc. We often had requests for things we didn’t have, but were always up for a challenge & could usually track down even the most obscure items.
Meeting happy & enthusiastic customers, is also Michal’s favourite part of her job.
Recently a 9 year old was so excited to be given a Sue & Trevor Cook Shop & Cottage (originally made for me in Covent Garden) It turned up recently in mint condition in an auction & has now gone to another happy home.
The original Covent Garden shops were gradually squeezed out by rising rents & service charges. A victim of its own success. (Covent Garden Market is now full of designer labels from Apple & Chanel to Laudree & Dior). At the end of her 15 year lease she escaped to Northleach in the Cotswolds, where her shop is next-door to her 17th century stone house.
Michal now mainly specialises in mainly second hand and antique houses, handmade & mass-produced furniture & dolls. Michal has also written 3 books for Batsford. “Build”, “Decorate” & “Furnish a Doll’s House”. She can restore interesting dolls houses for customers or ones she has just bought, but admits she is rather slow.
Back in the Covent Garden days, there was always a buzz when Paul Issacs incredible violins arrived in the shop. These were one of the most expensive items we sold & always popular. Paul was a dentistry student. Once he qualified, he earned more money as a dentist so stopped making his precious violins. Now he has retired, he is enjoying making them again for The Dolls House.
The doll’s house world is full of stories like this, makers come & go, disappear & reappear, but you can guarantee that there will always be something beautiful to admire in Michal’s shop & she will always have a story about who made it or where she bought it.
The Dolls House
Cheltenham GL54 3EJ
On junction of A40 between Burford & Cheltenham & A429 between Cirencester & Stow-on-the-Wold
Open: Now by appointment 2 people only Thurs, Fri & Sat 10-5.
or phone 01451 860431