Tudors, towers, turrets and dragons


Earlier this year my daughters’ school topics overlapped with the elder studying the Tudors and the younger learning about castles and fairytales. As we love an historical topic in this house we got involved at home, too. Here are some of the ways we have enjoyed learning more and some other suggestions, too:

  1. Visit some Tudor sites or castles. We are spoiled for choice here in South London, just a relatively short distance from all sorts of interesting Tudor places to visit. Both girls went on school trips to the Tower of London which were excellent although my elder daughter did not enjoy the torture and punishment tour! I am sure a fair few of her classmates did, though! The equally epic Hampton Court Palace is also nearby and we had an excellent boat-ride there along the Thames from Richmond a few years back. Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Bolyen is a fantastic day out, incorporating the historical castle with beautiful gardens, amazing play areas and a boating lake. Close to us we also have Carew Manor and Whitehall in Cheam which are much cheaper options for a Tudor-themed outing (in fact, the former is now a school and not open to the general public but can be viewed from the road). Of course, if history had turned out a little differently we might also have still had the once fabulous Nonsuch Palace on our doorstep, too! There is a very useful book called A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscombe which lists significant Tudor sites to visit all around England so you can be sure to find somewhere to go and see. A word of warning: it’s not a children’s book and some of the descriptions of the fates that befell certain unfortunate Tudor residents are very graphic and upsetting and so not for younger reads (beware the section on Chartwell in particular!). I have listed suggestions of castles to visit in my previous post on Medieval times but there will obviously be different options open to you depending on where you live. Lots of palaces, castles, houses and other sites often have family- and children’s-events going on at weekends and holidays so it is sometimes worth planning ahead to coincide your visit with one of those.
  2. Make a castle cake. Okay, this is one we haven’t done (yet) but it was one of the homework options for my daughter’s castle topic-work and lots of children (and their mums!) made some fantastic castle cakes and biscuits. It’s up to you and your child how much accurate castle information you work into your iced creations but even if you end up with something more suitable for Barbie or Mike the Knight to live in than Henry VIII it will still be fun and inspirational. You could always look at together at some of the wealth of castle books around before you start to feel like you have done some historical research.
  3. Watch TV! A quick scan of iPlayer’s history programmes usually reveal some good Tudor- and castle-related options although parental guidance is always recommended as these programmes are made for adult viewers unless they are Horrible Histories. My daughters recently enjoyed Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives on the BBC.
  4. Make Tudor jewellery or crowns. My previous post on the jewellery my daughter made tudors-009for her school project would be difficult for a much younger child but a quick glance at the internet for inspiration will give you lots of ideas for simpler pieces. Even cardboard and gem stickers should produce a beautiful crown, pendant or brooch. Time Traveller Kids has a how-to-make Tudor pomanders which gives opportunities for learning about tudors-007plague, hygiene and medicine in Tudor times.
  5. Dress up. A princess dress can fairly easily be adapted into a Tudor costume with a lot of imagination and suspension of disbelief especially if you wear some home-made Tudor jewellery. A quick search of the net shows you how to make a cardboard tabard, shield, etc. for a knight. Obviously if you are prepared to spend out a bit of money you might be able to find a slightly more authentic outfit at a party shop, historic site gift shop (these are usually really dear!) or somewhere like TX Max. You might even be able to find a second-hand one left over from some else school dressing-up day if you look on eBay or charity shops. Alternatively, many historical places to visit now have opportunities for children to dress up. My daughter was able to dress up in authentic Elizabethan costume at The National Archives and at Buckland Abbey near Plymouth, home of Sir Francis Drake, our whole family were inveigled into dressing up in Tudor costume by the National Trust Costume Group who operate from there and make Elizabethan costume with traditional methods and materials. There are also opportunities for children to dress up in the house itself and to try Elizabethan games and find out a lot more about life in that era.early-2017-066
  6. Take photos! Once you have dressed up a really fun idea is to make a photo story with your children (and maybe you?) as the stars or to write a story and use photos as the illustrations. My younger daughter chose making a book as her homework for her castles and fairytale topic. She wrote a story about a princess, a dragon, a witch and a fairy and the whole family were persuaded to join in, taking the different roles. Guess who got to be the witch?! My daughters really loved doing this project because it involved dressing-up, acting and story-telling all rolled into one. They also got to see their daddy dress up as a fire-breathing dragon and their mummy being a witch. What more could they ask for?
  7. Throw a Tudor banquet. At school my daughter’s teacher brought in vegetable soup (‘pottage’), apple juice (‘cider’) and fruit cake. You can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Bread was a staple so an artisan loaf from a local bakers or even a supermarket might help set the scene, along with meat (unless it’s a Friday!), cooked vegetables and some sweet items. Time Traveller Kids has a tutorial on how to make Tudor marchpane sweets which looks very easy with an impressive-looking finished product and we might well have a go at half-term.
  8. Make a cardboard castle or Tudor house. Enough boxes, loo rolls and paint can produce a very satisfying castle which can then be used for playing knights and other games if you make some little paper dolls or buy some plastic toys. At school my younger daughter made Tudor houses from boxes painted white with black wooden beams.
  9. Watch a play by Shakespeare, visit The Globe Theatre and learn more about The Bard. The Globe runs a Shakespeare’s Telling Tales event every summer especially for children. We went to a fantastic A Midsummer Night’s Dream workshop last summer with Marcia Williams where the children were shown how to create comic strips to tell their own versions of the play. Marcia Williams is enthusiastic and approachable and we all enjoyed it so much. We then spent time hanging out in the Bottom’s Book Market where the were authors reading stories (we heard Polly Faber reading from her Mango and Bam-Bam books and then we ended up buying two of them…), a The Tempest story-telling tent, opportunities to colour your own characters, pop-up performances and a stall run by Tales on Moon Lane.
  10. Read! Some of our favourite books about the Tudors:
  • Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley. My daughter loves this book about a maid of honour at the court of Henry VIII and her cousin, Henry’s current, doomed wife, Katherine Howard.
  • The Lady Grace Mysteries by Grace Cavendish. These are a series of mysteries set at the Elizabethan Court and starring Elizabeth I’s favourite maid of honour. My daughter has read all of these and while they are historical fiction rather than factual books they give a flavour of the era and what it was like living in those times and circumstances.
  • Usborne Dolly Dressing Tudor Fashion and Tudors Sticker Book by Emily Bone. These are always a fun option for wet days, journeys, waiting rooms and so on.
  • I am also keen to try this Tudor Fashion to Colour by Emily Bone and Rosie Hore.
  • Usborne Tudors and Stuarts by Fiona Patchett. The Usborne history books are always informative and easy to read. My daughter has read this innumerable times.
  • The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes and Ferrets by Marcia Williams. Marcia Williams’ comic strip books are very popular in this house and my daughters have both really enjoyed this new one.
  • 50 Things You Should Know About The Tudors by Rupert Matthews. The information in this book is split into fifty short sections about significant events and issues. Text is displayed in small boxes and there are lots of pictures so it’s easy to read and get an overview of the period.
  • If your child is a little older and a good reader they will soon have gleaned all the information available in children’s books. I found The Tudors: The Kings and Queens of the Golden Age by Jane Bingham in the adult history section of the library; it is readable but takes the information and knowledge on a little further.
  • There are several My Story historical fiction books about the period, inspired by real people and events. My daughter loves Elizabeth (My Royal Story) by Kathryn Laskey and there are more to choose from including Lady Jane Grey by Sue Reid; Bloody Tower by Valerie Wilding; Mary Queen of Scots by Kathryn Laskey; Katherine of Aragon by Alison Prince; Henry VIII’s Wives also by Prince; Anne Boleyn and Me by Alison Prince again; and To Kill a Queen by Valerie Wilding.
  • My younger daughter is now learning about pirates and exploration so we got her A 16th Century Galleon by Richard Humble and Mark Bergin. The illustrations are fascinating and the information given is sophisticated. She took it into class to show the other children and they really enjoyed looking at it.
  • DK Eyewitness Shakespeare: The fascinating life and times of history’s greatest playwright is a good introduction to, and overview of Shakespeare. It also comes with a free wallchart which is good quality and very large! My daughter also loves Where’s Will?: Find Shakespeare Hidden in His Plays by ‘Tilly’ and Anna Claybourne.
  • Time Travel Guide: The Renaissance by Anna Claybourne. This has lots of illustrations and good, solid information that opens up the era rather than just focusing on events in England. It provides a wider context with information about art, religion, politics and new ideas.


Dipping into Bath


It’s been over two years since our last, brilliant, visit to Bath. The girls and I stayed in a Premier Inn, having travelled down on a Friday afternoon in February, and then spent the Saturday visiting the Roman Baths, the Pump Rooms, Bath Abbey, and the Assembly Rooms. They loved the novelty of staying in the ‘hotel’ and enjoying the unlimited breakfast in the neighbouring family restaurant. We caught the Park and Ride bus into the city and arrived fairly early so there was no queue for the Baths. They were fascinating and we spent ages looking at everything before it got too crowded. The Abbey had a fantastic children’s trail and the staff were welcoming. We were too late to visit the Fashion Museum by then but we went into the Assembly Rooms and had a quick look around. We had such a lovely day-and-a-bit and were keen to return.



Last week was half-term here and my elder daughter has been very interested in the Georgian era and Jane Austen so it seemed a great time to visit again. Time and money meant that staying over near Bath wasn’t an option this time so we girded our loins and decided to do it all in one day. We live in a London Borough south of the city which means that Bath is a long drive away and, in fact, having done the trip I don’t think we’d be in a hurry to attempt to do such a long journey again in a day.

Two hours and forty-five minutes after we set off we reached Lansdown Park and Ride, the one nearest the M4, having stopped briefly for the loo at Reading Services. The Park and Ride is easy and reasonable; you just pay your return bus fare to the city and the car park is free. Children under 16 are free, too. The drive into the city is interesting, taking you down Lansdown Hill and passing Beckford’s Tower, a neo-classical folly built for the rich novelist William Beckford, a museum that exhibits furniture intended for the Tower and an historic cemetery.

Central Bath was quite a surprise. The last time we had visited it was a chilly winter Saturday. This time it was a hot, sunny day in the summer half-term holiday and, of course, peak tourist season. It was so much busier! We were glad we hadn’t been hoping to visit the Roman Baths that day because the queue was something else! We had a brief peep in at the Pump Rooms; no-one tried to seat us in the restaurant so I suspect they guessed we weren’t prospective diners!

Our first stop was the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street, a street that was one of Jane’s several homes when she and her family lodged in Bath following her father’s retirement as a vicar. That house is further up the hill from the Jane Austen Centre, a bit closer to the Circus. Lucy Worsley’s enjoyable recent BBC documentary ‘Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors’ gives the viewer a fascinating tour around the Austens’ Bath residencies, which became meaner and less fashionable with each move until they found themselves in the dreaded Trim Street, a grim haunt of prostitutes and low-lifes. My daughter had high hopes of the Jane Austen Centre because it has a fascinating website which has many recipes, crafts ideas, fashion tips and so on. Unfortunately, it was rather an expensive disappointment.

We qualified for the ‘small family’ ticket which was around £20. The very pleasant, and beautifully costumed, lady selling tickets and serving in the gift shop sent us upstairs and after about a minute we were invited (having shown our tickets) into a small lecture room for an introductory talk by another member of staff who was also wearing a smart Regency outfit and who was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. If you were a beginner in the world of Austen then you would have come away with a good grounding in her life and works but, having just watched Lucy Worsley’s documentary and having visited the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton, my daughter and I had already heard just about all of it. We were then asked to go back downstairs where we grouped in a corridor with the other members of our group and were given a short talk about the copies of different portraits, or possible portraits, of Austen. Again, the guide was a good speaker and she knew her stuff but I felt a bit silly; a quick Google would have turned up these images and I could have looked at them for free at home…

A Hare, part of the Cirencester March Hare Festival, designed to look like the famous greeter at the Centre, Martin Salter.


We were then allowed to ‘explore the rest of the Centre’ which doesn’t take long! Most of the information is displayed in little plaques around the house but there really isn’t much to see. There are some examples of fashion of the era, a window display of a milliner’s shop of the time, some copies of books, some examples of scents that people wore at the time… When we got to the dressing-up rail (my daughters were really looking forward to this bit!) we were hit with the most disgusting stench of drains. They had a big fan running to try and keep the air moving but it wasn’t very effective and the whole area was very unpleasant. My children had a bit of a try of the clothes and a play with the fans, sending each other signals by displaying the fans in different positions (there was a booklet explaining all this), but there was only one child-sized dress and the smell was so off-putting. My younger daughter had already been feeling a bit wobbly due to car-sickness and this really wasn’t helping; she asked to go the the ladies and we had a few minutes respite. On our way back to my other daughter we had to squeeze through another group of portrait-viewers. The lady who was giving them the talk asked, rather abruptly, to see our tickets, although we hadn’t left the museum at all and it really didn’t seem the sort of place to attract vast numbers of gate-crashers (especially a seven-year-old and her mother!), but perhaps I am naive.

We spun out our visit with the having a go at writing with a quill pen and then exited via the gift shop, as per usual! The entrance tickets entitle you to 10% off in the gift shop which isn’t to be sniffed at. It is only a small shop and there wasn’t a great deal to appeal to children of their age, fortunately, so we came away with a copy of the humorous history pamphlet Austen wrote and a pack of Jane Austen Top Trumps which were designed by the Centre and is definitely one of their better ideas.

The problem wasn’t that my children were too young for the Jane Austen Centre; I certainly did not get much out of the visit myself. It was just that it was too amateur and too small to be able to successfully charge such high entrance fees. It just didn’t have enough to show for itself. We were there under an hour and I really tried to make the visit last as long as I could.

After we left the Centre we had a little wander around the city centre, past the Abbey, Baths and Pump Room but it was so hot and crowded that we didn’t take very long. We headed to Pizza Express to use our precious Tesco vouchers but despite advance booking a table online we had to wait to be seated and the service was so slow that it took two hours which took a large bite out of our available time.

On our way to the Fashion Museum we visited the Royal Crescent and the Circus, just for a look. I was a little frustrated to realise that if we had been earlier we could have bought a saver ticket to the Fashion Museum and No. 1 Royal Crescent, a house that has been decorated just as it might have been in Georgian times and operates as a charity. I think we would have got a lot more fun out of this than the Jane Austen Centre and I have only myself to kick for not doing better research!

The Fashion Museum,  which is housed in the magnificent Assembly Rooms, is very good. It is also expensive (hence why the saver museum ticket would have been great) but the girls enjoyed it a lot. The clothing is fabulous and there is a fair bit to look at. The clothes are arranged historically so that you can see how fashions developed over time and how social and cultral change has been reflected in fashion. Younger children or children who are not very patient might find it a bit trying as it is mostly very much a ‘just looking’ museum but it does have a couple of hands-on areas where you have the opportunity to draw your own costumes and then to try on reproduction vintage outfits. We were visiting at the same time as two groups of French school children who raced past the historic clothes (as in, they didn’t actually stop to look at any of them) and went straight to these areas of the museum. As these areas were so busy we had to wait a bit before we could have a turn but it was worth waiting for and the girls enjoyed themselves a lot, especially with the wigs and bonnets.

Unfortunately the Ball Room was being used for a private function so we couldn’t go in there again but we had a little peek into the Great Octogon and the shop before heading back to the bus stop. We left the car park at about 5:15 and took forty-five minutes to get back to the main road that leads to the M4 because the entire route was one big uphill traffic jam. At the end of the winding country road is a right-hand turn onto a busy main road meaning that it took ages for each car reaching the head of the queue to be able to safely join the stream of traffic, resulting in a vast rush-hour tail-back. So we got home at about 8:40 pm. It was a fun day out but full of travelling. Next time we go to Bath we will be staying nearby!



Making a miniature Japanese flat garden


My daughter is very into all things Japanese at the moment. Having read a lot about Japanese gardens, one of the things she was keen to try was making a miniature Japanese flat garden. Full-sized Japanese gardens are themselves miniaturised; they are a microcosm of the macrocosm whereby rocks can represent mountains, ponds can be seas in order to create a controlled image of a perfected version of the natural world so creating a miniature version of this is merely another step in this process.



Japanese gardens are deceptively simple; they appear sparse but are full of symbolism and the working together of the different elements in the garden. We have visited the Japanese Garden at Gatton Park and are planning to return to the wonderful example at Kew Gardens, but there are others fairly nearby which we would love to see including the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park.

We used a semi-opaque plastic tray for the base of the garden because it was only £1 and because we wanted a neutral shade that wouldn’t detract from the garden itself. We weighed up using sand or gravel for the white sand traditionally used in Japanese gardens to suggest purity and the movement of water. Sand is more traditional but much messier; we wanted it to stay put, rather than encroach all over the house, and we wanted it to stay clean. We found white aquarium gravel at the garden centre (we bought Hugo Kamishi) and the 2kg bag was just enough to cover our tray.



My daughter really wanted to add a proper bonsai tree so we also bought one of these at the garden centre. It was £15, so not cheap (last time we looked they were only £12, which was annoying).



For the rocks we used pebbles we had saved from various trips to the beach and which we found particularly smooth and calming. We also used a lump of weirdly iridescent green glass we found embedded in the ground at the park. Japanese gardens traditionally have waterfalls, streams or irregular ponds but for now my daughter used the lid of a cake sprinkle jar for a small pond.


Then she used a chopstick to rake into the gravel the swirling meditative patterns typical of a Karesansui, or dry rock, garden.


There are other possibilities that she might include in the future, such as a basin of water, blossoms, a miniature tea house or a bridge. She is keen to have a bridge but so far we have not found one that we liked and could justify spending more money on so we are keeping a look-out for something suitable.



Clay Cameo Pendant for Kids


Making her own version of period jewellery has become one of my daughter’s favourite history activities but sometimes it can take a lot of time, effort and materials. We thought we would try just a quick and easy project for a bit of mid-week fun. Older children and/or those with more time and the proper tools could probably produce something with a more professional finish. We were a bit sloppy, to be honest, but it gives you an idea of what you can produce.

Cameo jewellery has been popular for thousands of years but we wanted to go for a Georgian-look. Traditionally, cameos are carvings on an object which usually produce a relief image against a negative image. They have come to be generalised into the idea of a piece in contrasting colours, often featuring a head within an oval frame.

As we have a lot of air-drying clay left over from other projects we decided to use that as the medium for our pendant.  My daughter traced the silhouette image of Jane Austen from the cover of Lucy Worsley’s new book Jane Austen at Home: A Biography for the head on the pendant. She then cut out the image and laid it on some rolled-out air drying clay and, as carefully as possible, cut around the paper. This is quite fiddly work for a nine-year-old with a kitchen knife and tracing paper; using better tools would probably produce a better result…



We had planned to use a spare oval pendant backing left over from our Eye Jewellery for the actual pendant but it was just too small. Rather than head out to the craft shop five miles away for a larger one we decided to just make the base entirely out of air-drying clay. We then had trouble finding a stencil of the right size oval and were running out of time when we found an oval pencil sharpener and made do with that. It turned out a little uneven but, again, this is a kid’s craft, just for fun rather than an adult-made piece of fine jewellery. Using the end of a fine paint brush she bored a hole through the clay for the necklace.


My daughter left the clay to dry for a day or so and then painted the head white and mixed white and blue paint to get the shade of blue she wanted for the background. It needed a couple of coats.



When it was dry she used a hot glue gun to stick the head onto the background. We considered using a finding to put through the hole in the pendant but the ones we had already were just that bit too small so she just used a darning needle to thread some ribbon through. And there it is – a quick, easy cameo pendant.



Dollshouse Festival


Twice a year Kensington Town Hall hosts the amazing Kensington Dollshouse Festival. If you or your children have any interest in dollshouses then it is a fascinating outing. This Saturday was only our second visit because the date used to clash with a school event and life is always too busy to get to the Christmas festival, although it would be amazing with its intricately decorated tiny Christmas trees! Saturday was also the first time I had taken both my daughters; the younger one was a little dubious and for some reason had pictured it all taking place in a series of tents in a field…

Anyway, the actual festival takes place over two days when around 170 exhibitors are gathered together in the town hall to showcase and sell their work. There is just about every aspect of dollshouses represented: the model buildings themselves; the dolls; pets; furniture; food; utensils; clothing (including hats, shoes and handbags); lighting; tiling and fabrics; glassware; toys for the dolls… It cost £17.50 for the three of us to get in (£20 for a family ticket of two adults and two children) and you could go and just marvel at all the wonderful displays and not spend a penny. Many of the items are very, very expensive; dogs for over £400; miniature cakes for £80; beds for £500; dolls for £300, and so on. Most of these are worth their very high prices because of the time, attention to detail and adherence to the correct scales (ratios of 1:12, 1:24 or 1:48). Some are just breathtaking. One stand in particular (My Little House Miniatures, a Spanish company with, sadly, no website) sold cakes of such exquisite detail it was easier to imagine fairies baking and icing them than figuring out how a lumbering great human could achieve such perfection.

A few items are, to be honest, rather over-priced, especially the ones where you can easily see how they could be made at home with a bit of Fimo or paper, but I find that fairly inspiring! It reminds me of what we could make and achieve if we give it a go. A lot IMAG2480_1of the tiny paper boxes of soap powder, chocolate, sugar and so on can also be made at home with a colour printer but as we don’t have one we didn’t mind paying £1 for a miniature Bunty paper. Despite the many high end prices there is a lot there that is very affordable, even for children, and the exhibitors and organisers do a lot to encourage the younger generation in their enthusiasm for dollshouses. The year before last, towards the end of the show, my daughter was given a couple of items free by a lady who said they needed to encourage younger children to carry on the dollshouse traditions. At the tube station we met another girl who had been given some free dollshouse food for the same reason. Everywhere we went my children were exclaiming and wondering at the items they saw. One exhibitor said she thought she ought to hire the two of them to advertise her stand, they were so effusive!

The KDF organisers run a ‘find the mouse’ trail around the festival where children have to spot the little wooden mice hidden on different stalls and note them IMAG2484_1down to be entered into a prize draw to win a handmade lIMAG2482_1ittle mouse figure. To be honest, my children spotted three out of twelve because there was so much else to spot! They were still allowed to enter the draw and were rewarded with pink sugar mice. There is a children’s craft activity room on the Saturday of the two-day festival. Known as ‘The Gingerbread Craft Club’ it offers a different miniature craft each year. The first time we visited my daughter made a framed portrait for her dolls house and this year children could make miniature gardens in a box; a little tricky to get home on tube, tram and bus but great fun to make!



In 2015 we didn’t yet have a full-sized dollshouse at home so we were buying in readiness for that. My daughter bought a Victorian little girl dolls from Woodside Dolls; a IMAG2478_1an old-fashioned Brownie Guide doll for the doll (if that makes sense!) from Sally Reader Miniatures; some food including a very realistic crumble, a cream tea and a jar of liquorice Allsorts from Country Contrast; a paper dolls kit and and folding paper IMAG2481_1dollshouse, both as toys for a dollshouse nursery from Aidan Campbell Miniatures; and a tiny ceramic cat moneybox for her sister from Janice Crawley. The girls got the dollshouse as their joint birthday present that year and have been gradually building up their collection with more dolls (parents, a younger sister, a baby, a dog and a maid) and some furniture but they are not purists. Sylvanian Family furniture and food sit alongside the scale models and Sylvanian animals often come to call. There are also some anachronisms, like the Bunty comic in what should strictly be a Victorian household.



This year my younger daughter bought a teeny kitten in a teeny basket from Kate Pinsent Dolls and, elsewhere, a mummy cat for only £1. She was quite keen to buy a Bible but we have put IMAG2477_1that on the back burner for another year. My elder daughter bought a keepsake box of miniature mementos, a blank notebook and a kit for making a paper theatre from Aidan Campbell Miniatures and the Bunty comic and a cricket game box from Shepherd Miniatures. I bought them a very intricate 18th-century doll’s doll (like IMAG2486_1this but with a turquoise dress) for the nursery from Sally Reader Miniatures to commemorate our Georgian studies this term. I also liked the little Japanese doll which was out of our price range at £20 and the fabulous Elizabeth I and Henry VIII and his six wives. They also had a very tiny pedlar doll, again way beyond what I could afford, but wonderful to look at. I did love the My Little House Miniatures cakes and also the stall selling miniature bento boxes and other Japanese food and, best of all, a dolls’ house sized Japanese dollshouse by Kimmy Okumura!



Dollshouse books

Reading about dollshouses is an inspiring way to get ideas or just to enjoy the topic! Here are some of our favourite dollshouse books:

  • The Enchanted Doll’s House and The Enchanted Doll’s House Wedding by Robyn Johnson. These are very visual books which are more about the aesthetics of each dollshouse or shop portrayed rather than a strong story. There are lots of pop-out parts, flaps, and tiny detail.
  • The Doll’s House Fairy by Jane Ray. This is about a fairy who comes to live in a little girl’s dollshouse. It is so beautifully illustrated and offes a slightly different way of looking at traditional fairies and traditional dollshouses! My younger daughter was a big fan and dressed up as the fairy for Book Week at school.
  • The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter. Probably my favourite Beatrix Potter book, this is the story of two naughty little mice who raid a dollshouse.
  • Usborne Slot-Together Doll’s House. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a book but my daughter loved putting it together and playing with it.
  • The Fairy Doll and Other Tales from the Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden. This beautiful edition includes The Dolls’ House which deals with the micropolitics of a family of dolls when they move into a new dollshouse and have to live with a cruel, proud new doll. It also includes Godden’s books about Japanese dolls (Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum) in which the little girls’ tiny handmade Japanese dollshouse and its tiny contents are described in full, inspirational detail.
  • Queen Mary’s Doll’s House by Mary Stewart Wilson. This is on our wishlist because we love reading about the amazing dolls’house that was created in jaw-dropping detail for Queen Mary and presented to her in 1924. If money was no object then this is what one could achieve…
  • The Dolls’ House Colouring Book by Emily Sutton. This is a companion to the V&A Museum of Childhood’s Dollshouse collection and is a really high quality colouring book.
  • Dolls’ Houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood by Halina Pasierbska. Another on our wishlist, this is a guide to the Museum’s dollshouses which we loved visiting.
  • The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Not strictly about a dollshouse but the resourceful Borrowers take great pleasure in the dollshouse furniture given to them by a human boy. Moreover, the Borrowers’ home was probably more inspiring to me than any book about actual dollshouses; it prompted me to make my own Borrower home in the bottom of a cupboard which gave me hours of fun.
  • The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. The first books tells the story of the fragile Annabel and her new friend, the adventurous plastic doll. My elder daughter enjoyed it but hasn’t asked for the next book in the series.
  • This is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter. We haven’t read this one as it is a fairly new picture book and currently quite expensive as well as probably being a little young my my girls now. It looks lovely, however, telling the story of a girl who makes and loves her own dollshouse. She is shaken to find that her friend has a perfect shop-bought dollshouse that seems to leave her own in the shade until through play and imagination they discover that the home-made house is much the most fun!
  • The Tale of the Castle Mice by Michael Bond, illustrated by Emily Sutton. This is the story of some mice who live in a dollshouse. Again, it’s one we haven’t read yet but a combination of Michael Bond and Emily Sutton promises a rewarding read!
  • The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child, illustrated by Polly Borland. This is fascinating book illustrated by photographs set inside a dollshouse.
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Child, Borland and Emily Jenkins has a similar aesthetic.


Gatton Park & Gardens



Gatton Park and Gardens are wonderful parklands and woodlands which feels like it is deep in the middle of the countryside but is only minutes from the M25. It is also home to a private co-educational boarding school which was originally two schools for orphans, boys and girls living and learning separately from 1760 when the boys’ school opened, the girls’ school following a couple of years afterwards. The Gatton Trust oversees the conservation of the parks and gardens and opens them to the public on a few days each year. There are often events running during school holidays but the grounds are also open on the afternoon of the first Sunday of the month, February to October. It is only £5 entry for an adult and children are free so it is a really good value afternoon out! Moreover, dogs are welcome on leads.

The Park is famous for the work that Capability Brown carried out there between 1762 and 1766 when the stunning lake was extended, smaller lakes added, formal landscaping replaced with more naturalistic design and the parterre created to afford sweeping views of the lake and grounds. Today much of this work remains alongside woodland and later additions to the garden including the Edwardian Japanese Garden, added at the request of Sir Jeremiah Coleman (of Coleman’s mustard fame and fortune) when there was a fashion for the influence of the Orient.


When we arrived it was overcast and chilly. We headed straight down to the bottom of the estate, enjoying the wildflowers as we went – bluebells and cowslips amongst them – and being surprised by a glimpse of a residential road as we rounded the curve of the lake. There is a bird hide at the far side of the lake where a very helpful volunteer was manning the quite impressive selection of binoculars. He helped us to spot the enormous gangly ‘baby’ herons looming out of their nests in Surrey’s only heronry. There are twenty to thirty nests here each year although you can’t see them all from the hide. There was also a swan, several mallards, coots, moorhens and a Great Crested Grebe carrying her chicks on her back!


We really enjoyed exploring the rest of the gardens. The Japanese Garden has a wooden tea house that is available for private hire for morning or afternoon tea during the May half-term which would be lovely. The peonies were stunning. My younger daughter had a great time following a spring flower trail around the rock garden, having found a little friend to run about with. We called into the refreshments room for a drink because we were fairly hot and thirsty by this time. Run by volunteers it is a far-cry from an expensive and well-stocked National Trust tearoom but you can get tea or coffee, squash and a homemade cake or flapjack and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.


Gatton Park has all sorts of events coming up in the next few weeks including a Fairytale Treasure Hunt, Junk Modelling and the Gatton Fair so it’s definitely worth a visit.

Making Georgian Jewellery


As part of her studies of the Georgian period my daughter was keen to make some jewellery, having really enjoyed researching and making Tudor jewellery earlier this year. On Pinterest we discovered many examples of sentimental ‘eye jewellery‘ which apparently became fashionable after the future King George VI, then the Prince of Wales, wanted to express his love for his mistress and ‘wife’ (the marriage was invalidated by the Royal Marriages Act as George III disapproved and would not permit the marriage) Maria Fitzherbert. A piece of jewellery showing merely the eye of a beloved, rather than the whole portrait as in a usual miniature, preserved the anonymity of the subject. George wore ‘Maria’s eye’ under his lapel, close to his heart but hidden from other, prying and more hostile eyes… Eye jewellery was commissioned by other couples and also by parents who wanted to remember a lost child. Having such a piece, worn as a pendant, ring or brooch was like wearing a locket with a piece of a loved one’s hair or a tiny picture of them inside.

IMAG2421_1.jpgWe started off by practicing drawing eyes. There are lots of tutorials on the web showing you how to draw realistic eyes and my daughter had a lot of fun experimenting. This one was the tutorial she started off trying.


  • We bought a pendant base from Hobbycraft, along with a pack of clear oval domes, IMAG2426_1a packet of bronze-effect jump rings (rather like this but in the appropriate colour) and a length of ribbon.
  • We drew around one of the domes as a guide and within the shape my daughter drew and coloured an eye.
  • She stuck this to the pendent base with some Bostik glue
  • and then stuck the dome on top.
  • When the pendant had dried she fixed the jump ring onto the pendant and threaded through the ribbon.



Invisible Ink Experiment


My daughter’s learning about Sir Walter Ralegh led her onto the subject of invisible ink this week. In times of court intrigue, secret messages were a vital way of getting information from one party to another. We visited the church of St Mary the Virgin, Beddington, next to Carew Manor, the home of Ralegh’s brother-in-law Nicholas Carew (who was previously a Throckmorton like Ralegh’s wife before he changed his name when he inherited the estate). It might be that Ralegh’s body (minus his head which was carried around by his widow Bess in a red case and was bequeathed to their son with whom the gruesome momento mori is thought to have been buried) is buried somewhere in the grounds of the church or manor but we will probably never know for sure. When we got home we decided to conduct an experiment to see which was the most effective invisible ink…


You will need: A selection of ‘inks’. We chose milk; lemon juice; apple juice; onion
(I crushed some onion in a garlic press to make a small amount of liquid); honey and water solution; sugar and water solution; beeswax (used like  crayon); and a solution of bicarbonate of soda and water. All but the latter two are ‘revealed’ through heat. For the bicarbonate of soda ink you can use a wash of grape juice to create a chemical reaction which will reveal your hidden message, although heat should work to reveal it as well. For the beeswax we used a wash of paint and water. You will also need small containers for the ink (like ramekins or even plastic lids from margarine tubs, etc.), paper to write on (we used parchment printing paper but ordinary paper is fine) and something with IMAG2416_1which to write such as a cotton bud, cocktail stick or similar. We used one of those plastic stylus you get with rainbow scratch art kits. Make sure you have some soapy water and kitchen roll to hand to ensure you wash the stylus thoroughly between each ink to avoid cross-contamination and to ensure a fair test. You will also need a hot oven for revealing the temperature-dependent messages and a brush for the other two. There are other options for the ink, including urine, but we decided not to try that one…

Method: Number each ink and label them on the paper. Dip the stylus in the ink and write a message on the paper next to the number and name of the ink. Leave it to dry and move on to the next ink, making sure you wash the stylus and do not smudge your message. Continue until you have tried out all the inks. You may want to use a separate sheet for the beeswax and bicarbonate of soda solution inks as you will be revealing this in a different way from the others.

Make a chart by dividing a sheet of A4 paper into two columns. List the number and names of your inks and head the columns: ‘Before’ and ‘After’. Look at your finished work and grade each ink out of five for initial effectiveness. Can you see the ink? Did it dry quickly and completely? Record the mark and any comments by the appropriate number.


Next you will need to reveal your messages. The honey and water solution had not dried and had to be blotted so we noted that another time we would need to use more water and dilute the honey better. We tried ironing the finished papers but we didn’t get any results at all so we placed them in a very hot oven (about 200 degrees Celsius) for not more than two minutes by which time the messages were visible. Using a brush, lightly paint the colour wash over the beeswax and then, using a different brush, brush grape juice over the bicarbonate of soda ink.

In the ‘After’ column on your chart grade the inks’ efficiency now that you can (or cannot?) read the messages. Are the messages clear and easy to read? Do they stay legible or do they fade?

Conclusion: Add the before and after grades together and declare an overall winner. To celebrate, write a full secret message with your winning ink!



Making Queen Cakes


As part of our Georgian studies this half-term my daughter wanted to have a go at making Queen Cakes. These are dainty little cakes flavoured with mace and currants which gives them a slight spiced edge. She was able to make these on her own as it is a quick and easy recipe. We adapted the recipe from Felicity’s Cooking Studio, an American Girl book which focuses on the ) American Girl doll Felicity Merriman, circa 1774. My daughter received the Felicity mini-doll in her Christmas stocking about 4 or 5 years ago and since then I serendipitously discovered the Felicity’s Story Collection in a local charity shop. A couple of weeks ago we discovered that there was also a range of recipe books published to accompany the dolls (and paper-doll kits, magnetic doll books, and so on but most are out of print and very expensive!) and we managed to find one cheaply online. There are quite a few recipes in there that look do-able and there’s also ideas for hosting tea-parties, dinners, picnics and so on, plus historical background information.

Queen Cakes (makes about 12 cakes)

Ingredients: 115g softened butter or cooking margarine (e.g. Stork); 65g sugar (we used light brown Muscavado); 2 eggs; 2 tbsp rose water; 1/4 tsp mace; 1/4 tsp salt; 65g self-raising flour, plus 1 tbsp flour extra; 75g currants.

Pre-heat the oven to 165 degrees Celsius. Line a fairy-cake or muffin tin with paper cake cases.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Then crack the eggs into the mixture one at a time, beating after adding each egg.

Add the rose water, mace and salt. Mix well.

Add the flour, about a quarter at a time, stirring well after each addition until the mixture is smooth.

Put the extra tablespoon of flour into a small bowl, add the currents and then stir together coat the currents with the flour. Stir it all into the main batter.

Divide the mixture between the paper cases. The recipe we were following said to half-fill each muffin cup but we found this produced a rather small, flat cake. Bake them for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown. You may have to keep an eye on them and judge it for yourself. Our recipe said to cook got 40 minutes but ours were easily cooked after 20. 40 minutes would have roasted them! You can sprinkle sugar over the cakes when they are cooked.

The result is a delicately flavoured little cake. They aren’t fancy but they make a very pleasant treat to have with a cup of tea!






Jane Austen’s House


On Friday my daughter and I set off on the next stop in our Georgian journey: Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, Hampshire. My daughter hasn’t finished a whole Austen book yet but she is working her way through Pride and Prejudice, having been drawn in by Marcia William’s clever and beautiful book, Lizzy Bennett’s Diary, and we have started watching the television adaptations, so she was really excited about visiting the home where Austen did most of her writing.


‘Chocolate-box village’ is a cliche but if ever there was an appropriate location for the label it’s Chawton. You would never think that such a beautiful village lies just off the A31 but there it is with its thatched cottages, traditional pub, tea room (Cassandra’s Cup, named after Austen’s sister and which we regret not visiting as it is meant to be lovely), village green and, currently, daffodils, blossom and spring springing all over.

We parked in the small free car park just over the road from Austen’s cottage. It cost just over £14IMAG2337 for us both to go in but the price includes free entry for a year after your initial visit. The first thing you see when you pass out of the reception and gift shop is Austen’s donkey cart and then the Bakehouse with its original copper and oven. There is a learning centre that plays a short film on loop about Austen, her family, her writing and
the property. There are also some activities for children like magnetic Austen Snakes and Ladders (you slide down a serpent for going unchaperoned to Allenham with Willoughby, for example) and a model house where you can act out scripts with wooden characters.

Walking intIMAG2342o the small but perfectly formed garden for a moment we ducked into the ‘Historic Kitchen’ for some dressing up and activities. There are some good quality bonnets, gentlemen’s hats, fans, cloaks, and dresses to try on; my daughter wore hers all round the cottage! There is also a table where you cIMAG2341.jpgan make lavender bags and try writing with a quill pen (a note asks for a donation towards costs).



The house itself is on a small scale but very interesting and the staff very friendly. My daughter did two children’s trails and we were both rewarded with a badge. You can walk around the cottage at your leisure, visiting Jane Austen’s bedroom which she shared with Cassandra, the dining parlour where she wrote on a tiny walnut-top table still in situ, the drawing room and many other rooms containing memorabilia about Austen and her family. One such treasure is Austen’s ring, a simple gold ring with a blue IMAG2351.jpgstone that is either turquoise or the cheaper semi-precious stone odontolite. The stone was the subject of controversy a few years ago when the singer Kelly Clarkson bought the ring but was then actually prevented from taking it out of the country despite being the legal owner. The Jane Austen’s House Museum raised money and bought the ring for to keep it accessible to the public for posterity. Another fascinating article is the patchwork coverlet exquisitely sewn by Jane, Cassandra and their mother.

When you have finished looking round the museum and garden you can take a walk up the road to the family’s church, St Nicholas, where Mrs Austen and Cassandra are buried, and Chawton House Library, once the home of one of Austen’s brothers, Edward. I wish we had wandered up for a look but I didn’t see the little map in our guide book until we were back home. I am sure we will be back for another visit, however. Instead, we drove on a short distant to the National Trust property Hinton Ampner where there is a Victorian mansion that had to beIMAG2357.jpg completely restored and refitted after a huge fire in 1960. Much of the interior decoration is Georgian, ticking our history box, but we actually enjoyed the gardens far more. They are just gorgeous on a beautiful, warm spring day. As we entered the walled garden the scent of the narcissus hit us like another wall. Everywhere you looked there were flowers, blossoms, birds chirping, butterflies flitting. We could have stayed all day. There is also a little church, All Saints, which is 13th century, although it was built on an older Saxon church.


Hampshire was warm, welcoming and beautiful. We are looking forward to visiting it again soon!