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The history begins in 1856 in Hoxton, an area of London bordered by the wealth of the City and the poverty of the East End.This is where Benjamin Pollock was born. At this time the toy theatre trade was flourishing in Covent Garden's Theatre land, centred around the Drury Lane Theatre. By the time Benjamin Pollock had married Eliza Redington and inherited her father's Theatrical Print Warehouse, the toy theatre trade had been overshadowed by new novelties such as ‘magic lanterns’, ‘gramophones’ and the ‘wireless’.
However Mr Pollock, in his dark and dusty shop in Hoxton, carried on supplying theatrical sheets costing a ‘penny plain and twopence coloured’. His customers were local children aspiring to the stage or city gents nostalgic for their childhood as well as actors of the larger stage such as Charlie Chaplin. Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the writers of the time to be delighted by the shop and he immortalised him in an essay 'If you love art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock’s'.
Mr Pollock died in 1937 and the shop opposite the famous Britannia Theatre (later a cinema) in Hoxton Street was continued by his daughters but sadly bomb damaged in the second world war. A bookseller, Alan Keen along with the actor Ralph Richardson brought the business back to Covent Garden with an impressive production line making miniature ‘Regency Theatres’ for his showroom in the Adelphi Theatre. His collaborations with artists such as Edwin Smith, actors (Laurence Olivier in a toy theatre version of the film of Hamlet) and performers of the art form like George Speaight made this post war period a creatively fruitful time for the business. However the austerity of the time meant that it was short-lived, although the legacy remains in that those wooden theatres of the late 40s and early 50s started many a British actor, designer, director or producer on their real life stage careers.
The 1960s saw Pollock’s move to another Covent Garden location at 44 Monmouth Street. Marguerite Fawdry ended up buying the stock of copper printing plates when she attempted to purchase some wire character slides for her son’s toy theatre. Her interest in dolls and toys led her to buy the whole business and open a small museum above the shop. 60s London, pop artists, designers and musicians were attracted by the love of Victoriana and folk culture and Pollocks was revitalised. Her collection outgrew the shop and she moved the museum to Fitzrovia. Still, a small private museum, it is now run by her grandson, Eddy Fawdry. The museum currently does not have a website and our shop is connected only by the shared history as we have been a separate business since 1988. The Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust who are a separate body from the physical Museum and our shop are a charity who produce some publicatons on toy theatre can be found here
Pollocks was one of the original shops to open in the newly renovated Covent Garden Piazza building in 1980 which had been central London’s fruit and vegetable market. Originally opened by Marguerite Fawdry, she sold the business on to toy theatre collector and actor Peter Baldwin who had been the shop manager.
Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop of Covent Garden is one of the few toyshops in the West End of London. We stay true to the original aesthetic of our namesake and the tenets of the Stevenson quote. We now produce our own range of theatres and paper models designed by contemporary artists, which recently have been on dispaly at Liberty, Fortnum and Mason and the Royal Opera House. We also sell reproductions and original toy theatres from around the world. We have a large range of books, puppets, music boxes, pocket money novelties and traditional toys which we hand pick from small individual artists and international toymakers which we think will delight and amuse not only children, but all those who are attracted to the delights and memories of childhood.
Louise Heard, co-owner
Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, 2015