The oldest toy museum in the country started with a 19th century toymaker in Walworth

Charles Harrison (02 December, 2021)

The toy collection is now run by the grandson of the woman who brought it all together

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The collection of the most famous toy theatre maker has been passed down through generations, from Walworth to all over London since the early 1800s. Now it resides in the oldest toy museum in the country, writes Charles Harrison…

John Kilby Green made and sold toy theatres and plays in Walworth from 1834 to 1851. He was known for being prolific in his work, which involved etching the toy theatres into metal plates that would then be used to create paper theatres.

When John passed in 1860, his printing plates were left to his former agent John Redington, who went on to create a successful business out of them. John’s daughter Eliza then married Benjamin Pollock, at which point the business was passed to him.

Pollock traded for 60 years – from 1877 to 1937. At this time the shop, still featuring John Green’s now one hundred year old printing plates, was in Hoxton. However, when the blitz hit London in WW2, Pollock’s daughters sold the building and moved on just in time – for a V2 rocket destroyed the building shortly after they did so.

One of Mr Green’s prints

Following financial struggles, by 1952 Pollock’s business had stopped trading in its new location in Covent Garden. In a stroke of luck, mother Marguerite Fawdry was looking to buy a new wire slide for her son’s toy theatre. After ringing up the shop, she was told that not only could she buy one wire slide – she could buy the entire stock.

Marguerite did so, and set up a shop and museum in Covent Garden. Since then the collection of toys has grown and grown, and after moving to Fitzrovia in Camden in 1969, Pollock’s Toy Museum has become the largest of its kind in the country, with over 7,000 toys. John Green’s paper theatres remain at the heart of the collection.

Mr Pollock with one of the theatre prints

Today, Marguerite’s great-grandson Jack looks after the collection with his partner, having himself learned the art of toy theatre-making in Camberwell School of Arts, in the same London borough as John Green popularised it just under 200 years ago.

“It’s amazing working here,” said Jack. “I don’t really know anything else, but it’s a different world and it’s great to be surrounded by lots of lovely things.

“I’d really encourage anyone to come and lose themselves in the museum for a day.”

Jack working on an etching

The museum will be hosting a number of winter events, including Victorian-style projector shows, hand-painted slides on the wall, and late-night magic shows.

Meanwhile, an exhibition by designer Emma Carlow, inspired by Pollock’s, will be featured until the New Year, with some items for sale. Emma will also be running paper craft workshops in the museum.

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