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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 Theatreland, 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 Building. 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. Pollock's Toy Museum is still a small private museum and is now run by the founders grandson, Eddy Fawdry.
Our shop is connected only by the shared history as we have been a separate business since 1988. The Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust are a separate body and charity who produce publicatons on toy theatre and are a forum for 'intelligent discussion on toys and play'.
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. Peter's lifelong interest in the model theatre had begun when he was given a Pollock's Regency theatre when he was 12. “You push the characters on and off, change the scenery, take the curtain up and down, change the lighting,” Peter told the BBC. “You’re totally in charge, it’s an actors’ dream.” Peter was well-known as a comedic actor in TV's 'Coronation Street' but could also be found behind the counter at Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop where his speciality was the antique toy theatres. He was also president of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild and author of one of the definitive books on the subject 'Toy Theatres of the World'. We sadly lost Peter in October 2015.
Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop of Covent Garden is one of the few toy shops 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 display 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.
Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, 2015
PETER BALDWIN, Actor, Toy Theatre Collector and Performer and Covent Garden Toy Shop Purveyor
1933 - 2015