Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Pollocks Model Theatres and the Polyphon


Yesterday I recorded a podcast for History Today magazine, something I have never done before. And afterwards,since it was a nice day,  T and I took a really pleasant walk around the central part of London and ended up in Whitfield Street, London W.1, at Pollocks Toy Museum.


This quirky little museum was a childhood favourite of mine, and also of my kids, and it lives in a rambling, very old house, with tiny, dark rooms.  Some of the toys are a bit creepy to be honest, but they are a wonderful selection, collected by the present owner's grandmother.

Downstairs is an old fashioned shop, of the type which has pretty well disappeared now. Not much has been changed (and in fact this is a bone of contention because the shop's owner is NOT modernising or doing very much to the museum and the trust which owns the toys wants him to.... but I won't go into all this.) Let me just say that Pollocks also specialises in toy theatres, and the characters for them, and the toyshop grew out of the print making business.



Below are some of the toy theatres, made up, and hung around the entrance parlour. The characters  in model theatre plays are cut out separately, and are printed on cardboard. They can be moved about  the stage to "act" in the plays. Very interesting.


The shop also sells vintage books and toys for reasonable prices. I got a very interesting book about old Japan and a vintage birthday card.   I didn't go into the museum this time, so I can't show you pictures of it - but it's not expensive, I think £6 for an adult and less for concessions. The shop sells a nice selection of novelty, vintage and wooden toys.


Pollocks also own one of the few working polyphons in London that still operates on "old" (pre 1971) pennies..  Polyphons are a make of  Victorian  musical box with perforated steel discs inside (as you can see below) which can be changed if you want to change the tune.


 It's typical of the shop that it doesn't even have a notice on the polyphon to say what it is, and most visitors probably don't know - but if you recognise it and ask the lady at the desk - there she is on the right, below - then she will get an old brown penny and put it in the slot at the side, and the


polyphon will launch into a merry dance tune of the 1890s.

 I filmed it yesterday and put it on Youtube so here it is below. (Sorry about the bit in the middle where I tried to show the enormous steel disk rotating inside the musical box and it was too dark - duh.).  At the end you will see the little dog who likes to guard the reception desk, walking back to his place and sitting down.



It is really very nice, AND they give away free sweets in the shop!

This type of musical box was sometimes used in pubs in Victorian days - what they had instead of the juke box I suppose.  Long ago I went into a pub in Suffolk and to my amazement there was a polyphon on the wall which was still in operational order. The pub had sawdust on the floor, and was full of local old men sitting round silently. It was a real village inn of a type that seemed extremely old fashioned even then. I suppose it has become a gastro pub or something now because I have never found it again and can't find anything about it on the internet.

Anyway. it is nice to look round Pollocks to the music of the polyphon, neither of them very modern and yet somehow both appealing. If you are in London and want to visit, it, it's open 10-5 Monday to Saturday and is at 1 Scala St, London W1T 2HL, just off Tottenham Court Road. It doesn't seem to have a website - so don't confuse it with Benjamin Pollocks in Covent Garden (which is also good -  but not the same).


32 comments:

  1. I've heard about Pollocks before but never saw photos of the interior. It looks like a fascinating place to visit - and I really like those toy theaters. I wouldn't be surprised if it was haunted by kindly ghosts and spirits on Christmas Eve.

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    1. What a lovely idea! it definitely is just that kind of place. A real bit of oldy-worldy London! :)

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  2. How fascinating...so very interesting. One could spend hours, if not days in there. I know I could. :)

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  3. It's another place I have to visit in London, thank you Jenny!

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  4. Hello Jenny,

    What an absolute treasure of a place.

    We have never heard of or seen this museum before and it looks simply enchanting. The toy theatres are particularly interesting and look to be so very beautifully decorated. Yes,we could be amused for hours in this fascinating shop and will certainly have to put it on our list of places to visit when next in the area.

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  5. A magical place, and there must be a big bone of contention about modernisation.
    It sounds as if your pub in Suffolk could have been a ghostly encounter on a large scale, A great story waiting to be written.

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    1. What a great idea, I had not thought of that! If they were ghosts, they didn't talk mch! I have rarely been in such a silent pub ... apart from the polyphon, which did play. Come to think of it, that makes it an even better ghost story!

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  6. How wonderful. I wouldn't be able to resist a visit if I were to find myself in the area.

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  7. Beautiful post. It shows me that there's still so much about London I do not know. We're having an early spring this year, aren't we? :-)

    Greetings from London.

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    1. Yes, though winter can still sneak in through the back door. I keep hearing about the possibility of snow in London...

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  8. Marvellous place that modernisation would ruin. I wish I could browse around in there.

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  9. I just saw a program my Canadian friend tapes for me called London Next Stop, in which the host gets off at a London stop and shows sites within walking distance. She went to Pollock's with all it's little theatres (although I'm not sure now if it was this one or the one in Covent Garden -- might have been that, as that was the stop, unless they are close together!) Oh Jenny -- when I come to London (and I will, someday!), I have to see this spot. It's simply enchanting. I loved your video and hearing the Polyphon. This is exactly the kind of shop where I could get lost for hours. Thank you for starting off my morning in the perfect way!

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    1. Jeanie, I think that might have been the one in Covent Garden. It's very nice but much more up to date - like, it has a website! The original version, which we have known all our lives, is content to sit quietly in its back street and dream to the tune of the polyphon!

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  10. What a neat place, I love the theaters, I can imagine wondering in a place like that forever.

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  11. Like a museum and toy store all in one. Love the music and the little guard dog. :)

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    1. The dog was so sweet, sitting faithfully there doing his job, at least I am pretty sure he thought that was what he was doing! :)

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  12. Looks lovely and I would spend much time in there.
    The music was wonderful but I made sure to check out the little gud dug helper at the end.

    cheers, parsnip

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  13. Old fashioned shops always have strong appeal to me. That's a great pkace you have there.

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    1. There are still a few left in London. I like the old grocer in Muswell Hill, Martyns, I wonder if that is still there. Must go there and check it out.

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  14. For some reason, I never went into Pollock's Toy Museum when I lived in London, and I don't think I've ever seen a polyphon before. What a very genteel sound it makes! I had hours of fun with my toy theatre when I was a kid. And I still vividly remember my granny's musical box which gradually slowed down as the clockwork ran out!

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    1. I would say afternoon tea sound. Fortnum and Mason also has one, a grander one (OF COURSE) and this has been converted to play with modern money.

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  15. Looks like something right out of Charles Dickens. I'd love to visit it, but then I'd like to visit London in general someday.

    That polyphon provided the right type of background music.

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    1. I hope you get to London someday, Kirk!

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  17. I’ve heard of this place but unfortunately never visited so thank you for the tour.

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  18. I never heard of a polyphon before. How delightful! The store and museum sound quite enchanting.

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  19. Well, that was a magical mini tour of a wonderful place! And the polyphon music was the perfect accompaniment. I will definitely have to visit the next time I am in London. As another commenter said - modernisation would ruin this place. I had a cardboard theatre when I was younger, and used to play with it for hours. I wonder if it's still up in the attic...

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    1. One of my kids once had a model theatre like Shakespeare's Globe - quite intriguing and unusual!

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  20. Just the sort of out of the way interesting little shop I would like to visit.

    Darla

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  21. You make me want to explore near and far!!!

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  22. Despite being a keen museum enthusiast, I have never been there. I also thought that it was in Covent Garden. I will now make a point of going. It sounds like there are a few tensions about how it is organised and run. I will make sure I ask for an old penny for the music box. Thanks for sharing.

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