Fit for a (very small) queen — a dolls’ house with running water, electricity and working lifts

Queen Mary's Dolls' House celebrates its 100th anniversary with a brand new exhibition and a reimagined display at Windsor Castle.

As well as Lindisfarne Castle, Country Life’s former offices on Tavistock Street, London WC2, and numerous country houses in the Home Counties, Sir Edwin Lutyens is known for designing a miniature, four-storey Palladian villa given by the nation to Queen Mary in 1924. This year, the Royal Collection Trust celebrates the 100th anniversary of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House with a reimagined display at Windsor Castle, which opened last week.

This extraordinary 1:12 scale replica of an Edwardian residence, complete with electricity, working lifts and running water, is not for children, but was designed as a showcase for the works of some 1,500 artists and crafts-people of the day. As such, there are Purdey shotguns, newspapers, wine resting in the cellar and the King’s red-leather dispatch box. Some 700 artists provided miniature works, such as paintings by Paul Nash and Tom Mostyn, a caricature by H. M. Bateman, fairy-tale murals in the Day Nursery by Edmund Dulac and female nudes on the ceiling of the King’s Wardrobe by Wilfrid de Gelhn.

The 1:12 scale replica was designed to showcase the works of some 1,500 artists and crafts-people. Credit: Royal Collection Trust / His Majesty King Charles III 2024

About 50 pieces of music were composed — with tiny original scores signed and forever unpublished, bound in leather — by the likes of Holst and Delius (Elgar refused). There are Louis XV petit-point embroidered chairs and sofas in the Saloon, a silver service for 18 in the butler’s Strong Room and a real sewing machine, with thread and tiny scissors, in the servants’ quarters. The list goes on.

Many items that are usually inside the house have been redisplayed in the Waterloo Chamber, such as a tiny, fully functioning, concert grand piano and miniature Crown Jewels inset with real diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and seed pearls; much has been restored and the house has been filled with tiny plants and flowers.

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No dolls’ house would be complete without a tiny garden — the weeding must be very tricky. Credit: Royal Collection Trust / King Charles III 2024.

Online, a new ‘doll’s-eye-view’ film can be seen, allowing in-depth exploration of various rooms, and a book, The Miniature Library of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House by Elizabeth Clark Ashby, details the creation of the walnut-panelled Library, where a copy of Country Life reclines. This splendid room houses original works from the 1920s’ literary best, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Vita Sackville-West, A. A. Milne, J. M. Barrie and Thomas Hardy (Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw refused to contribute) and some excerpts are published for the first time. The book is available now from Royal Collection Trust shops and from other sellers in February.

This miniature grand piano can actually be played, if you have small enough hands. Credit Royal Collection Trust / King Charles III 2024.

‘How many London residences, even in Berkeley Square and Park Lane, have a library consisting of two hundred books written in their authors’ own hands and a collection of over seven hundred watercolours by living artists? I doubt even if you could find the counterpart of these in the real Buckingham Palace,’ wrote E. V. Lucas in 1924 in The Book of the Queen’s Dolls’ House. The same could be said today.

To find out more about Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, click here

Inside Windsor Castle, by kind permission of the Sovereign

As the new reign begins, John Martin Robinson takes an exclusive look at Windsor Castle, Berkshire — an official residence of