Northallerton craftsman’s role in Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House

Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House was made as a gift from the nation to the queen who had seen the people through the First World War.

The Edwardian mini-mansion was designed by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who is perhaps best known in the North East for creating Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island off the Northumberland coast, and it was filled with miniature items made by more than 1,500 craftsmen across the country, including Frank Finley Clarkson of 211, Market Place, Northallerton.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Frank Finley Clarkson's prototypes are still in Northallerton - they were slightly too big for the dolls' house, so he scaled them down

“I remember my grandmother’s sitting room was on the first floor above the shop and you could look across into the town hall,” says his grand-daughter, Margaret Elcock, who still lives in the town. “Behind the shop was Clarksons Yard which ran down to the Applegarth.”

Also still in the town are the prototypes of seven items that Frank made for the Dolls’ House, including a marmalade or jam pot, a milk jug, a salt and pepper cruet set and a silver plate.

“They were too big, and he had another run at them and made them much smaller,” says Margaret.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Queen Mary's Dolls' House. Picture: Royal Collections Trust

Everything in the house was one twelfth of its normal size. A committee, headed by Princess Marie Louise, a cousin of King George V, had been formed to oversee the royal house and to make sure everything was perfect: there was electricity in every room, running water, a flushable toilet with tiny paper, a working bicycle, 588 miniature books including the complete works of Shakespeare, 700 specially commissioned watercolours, and a complete set of Crown Jewels in the throne room.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Silversmith Frank Finley Clarkson in his workshop

As well as being a gift to the Queen who was fascinated by all things miniature, the house was intended to be displayed at the 1924 Empire Exhibition. Therefore, all the contents were to be made by the best artists, craftspeople and manufacturers to show off the best of British. It is not known how Frank became involved – many of the manufacturers had Royal Warrants – but he must have been very highly regarded.

He was born in Northallerton in 1867, the son of a clockmaker. He went into silversmithing in the days when every family who could afford it had a silver tea service for best. He made memorial pieces for Northallerton church, and in 1903, he won two gold stars at an exhibition in the Albert Hall in London for an iron casket and a hammered powder box.

Darlington and Stockton Times: A miniature vacuum in Queen Mary's Dolls' House. Picture: Royal Collections Trust

His most enduring legacy is perhaps the chain he made in 1950 for the chairman of the urban district council. It is now worn by the mayor of Northallerton.

He worked until he was 87 in 1955, and died five years later when Margaret was barely in her teens. “We were always visiting,” she says. “I remember more than anything that he had the most beautiful hands – a real craftsman’s hands.”

The dolls’ house took three years to complete and was seen by 1.6m people at the Empire Exhibition. This year, it is centre stage at Windsor Castle and a series of events is planned to commemorate its centenary – only last week, Queen Camilla presented 20 handbound 7mm high books, by contemporary writers including Simon Armitage, Alan Bennett, Philippa Gregory and Julia Donaldson, to the library.

Windsor Castle is open from Thursday to Monday. Full details are at rct.uk. If you go, see if you can spot the silver work of the Northallerton lad.


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