The founder of the first ever dolls house shop in the UK, Michal Morse, tells us more about how it all started.
It is a surprise to realise that it is 50 years since I opened my first shop in Broadley Street, Marylebone, with a couple of antique houses loaned by Anne Griffith (who later opened The Singing Tree), mass-produced furniture from Barton, Lundby & Dol-Toi, Windsor chairs and a Tudor house by Den Young & wooden headed dolls by Patience Arnold.
Grecon dolls were also still available, with their woollen legs & metal feet. Anne also introduced me to the Atkins, who made a beautiful Tate Baby House, and Ken Guy, prop designer at the Festival Hall, who made textured Tudor cottages. I once had two Kits Coty houses on display in the shop, as they were too big to go to the store room at the back & a customer refused to buy one as they were so common!
Sarah Beeney’s father Richard, an architect, built some Georgian houses, and made Victorian bathrooms. Ian Holoran (who used to make O-gauge model railways but found working to one twelfth scale much more satisfying) made Georgian houses, and lots of furniture for me.
Over the years, a variety of friends have worked with me in the shop. Jo Whitehorn used to be Jo Plummer and produced Children’s Hour programmes, including Toy Town about Larry the Lamb which I used to listen to as a child & the Jennings series about a boys school. This lead to some actors coming to the shop who’d known her when they were child actors in the series. She also introduced me to children’s author Noel Streatfield & an American who had produced a film of The Borrowers gave us a private view. I had met the author, as I was at art school with her daughter & in the 1980’s, I hired some furniture to the BBC for their version. Over the years I have hired many props to TV and films; a film about David Bowie used 3 houses, increasing in size, to demonstrate his rise in wealth – cheaper than filming real houses!
Darlene used to work in the shop, too. She was later employed for styling Smallbone kitchens, after her practice in arranging dolls house furniture! I met Charlotte (now the KDF organizer) through her aunt Gill, who I knew from art school and working at J.Walter Thompson & who helped me in Broadley Street then later in Covent Garden.
All my previous experience was useful in running my shop – art school, advertising, PR (for Steiner hairdresser), and selling bric-a-brac on the doorstep of my flat in Portobello Road. My father had been a journalist for the Glasgow Express before the war, then became an antique dealer. He once said when you’ve worked for yourself you become unemployable, I rather agree!
We then moved into a larger shop in The Lisson Grove. Jon Snow noticed it when driving past & bought house for his daughter.
It was exciting to be invited to join the newly converted Covent Garden in 1980. The first tenants were an interesting mix of individual businesses: Original & Rare Newspapers, Clive Shilton, who made Princess Diana’s shoes (flat!) for her wedding, Cabaret Mechanical Museum, The Candle Shop, Eric Snooks Toy Shop, Pollocks, That’s Entertainment selling records from musicals.
But after 15 years there, with a decline in the number of privately owned businesses, (and an exclusive restaurant becoming a Pizza Hut), and having two houses stolen, I was delighted to escape to the Cotswolds, where I remain.
The Dolls House
Glos. GL54 3EJ
+44 (0)1451 860 431
Open Thurs-Sat, 10-5 & some Sundays.