Feature,  News

Moving House

The trials & tribulations of re-location on a small scale.

Uppark Baby House

The grand, 18th century dolls’ house at Uppark is among the most historically important in the country, and one of only a handful that have survived almost 300 years in such good condition.

The Baby House was given to a Huguenot heiress, Sarah Lethieullier, by her father in 1732.  In 1746 Sarah married Matthew Fetherstonhaugh & The Baby house was moved to their London home in Whitehall (now the Scotland Office). Then, after Matthew’s death, it was then taken to Uppark in the 1770s, where it has remained ever since.

Built in the style of a Palladian mansion, the house features three floors topped by a balustrade & seven classical figures, with the Lethieullier coat of arms on the central pediment. It features four bedrooms, two reception rooms & three rooms ‘below stairs’ for the servants.

The rooms are filled with delicate porcelain, imported silks, fine furniture & Flemish-style oil paintings. The chairs are richly carved from mahogany & ivory with silk & leather seat cushions, the furniture carries intricate inlays & real marble tops, the silverware is hallmarked & the candles are real.

Other ‘baby houses’ of the time were elaborate play things or teaching aids for children, but it is believed this house might have been an exotic curiosity, an exquisitely detailed display of wealth & taste to be admired by Sarah Lethieullier & her friends.

It is known that the exterior of the house has been repainted twice & the interior partially repainted once. During construction, it seems a red-brick effect for the façade was trialled but quickly rejected in favour of a simple cream-coloured oil paint. The statues on top of the pediment were originally covered in glazed silver leaf to achieve a silver-gilt effect, which has long since gone but the Lethieullier coat of arms & the interior marbling to fireplaces & dining room niche are original.

As this dolls’ house wasn’t designed as a children’s plaything, it has been well looked after over the years but at nearly 300 years old & having survived the 1989 fire in tact, some of its delicate materials started to degrade including its four extraordinary four-poster beds with silk damask hangings. This meant that much of the soft furnishings & dolls had to undergo specialist cleaning & repair at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk. The dolls’ clothes, a mix of printed cotton and elaborate & sophisticated silk brocades, required particularly gentle handling. Wear and tear had occurred where dolls had ‘perched’ on chairs, the creasing & folds in the fabric eventually caused splitting. The aim of this conservation work was not just to improve the appearance of the dolls & soft furnishings, but prevent the textiles degenerating further.

But now it is the environmental conditions in the basement at Uppark which has housed the Baby House for so many years that need repair, as they are not currently suitable for displaying the dolls house & its furnishings. So, the dolls house is on the move for a 3rd time, finding a temporary new home at The Huguenot Museum in Rochester until 1 May 2025, while the basement at Uppark is restored by The National Trust.  

The Huguenot Museum seemed ideal for the baby house, as it was originally commissioned by a Huguenot family back in the 1730’s. Rebecca Wallis (Senior Curator at the National Trust) approached Tessa Murdoch (Acting Chair of the Huguenot Museum) to discuss how to make this delicate & elaborate house move possible.  

Moving house is not cheap for anyone, So they were happy to work with Gander & White, who offered to sponsor the transport fees. The insurance cost is covered by a resilience grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as were the costs of redisplaying the house in the Huguenot Faces gallery. The Scott Finnis Foundation have also come on board to help with some of the promotional costs that will be incurred.

The Uppark Baby House will be at the Huguenot Museum from December 2023 to 1st May 2025.  London Dollshouse Festivals will be organising a visit to the dolls house to tie in with the Summer Festival in May 2024.  Details will be announced soon.

Huguenot Museum
95 High St,
The Precinct,
Rochester ME1 1LX
Tel: +44 (0)1634 789347 
Open: 11am – 3pm Monday – Friday
huguenotmuseum.org