Words Kirk Truman
Photography Adedotun Adesanya
A pub on the corner, an award winning fish & chip shop a few doors down and a neighbouring pigeon infested row of benches that face out onto Tottenham Court Road, their backs to the long avenue that stretches downward from Warren Street to meet Windmill Street at the base. Whitfield Street is arguably just as admired as its big sister, Charlotte Street, running parallel. Beginning to walk north from Goodge Street along Whitfield Street one will notice a large jester that dances upon the well-aged brick wall of the house at the corner of Scala Street. Do not be fooled, this beautiful house and its neighbour have more to pose than this dancing jester. If you approach, do so with caution. The sheer unimaginable excellence of this rare collection of exhibited, ingenious and engaging articles, lost in time, is undoubtedly a worthy and untamed match for J.K.Rowling’s ‘Diagon Alley’. I wander the many curious rooms of the Georgian crossover Victorian house, No.1 Scala Street, with Eddy Fawdry, to talk Victorian dolls, toy theatres, rocking horses and, his leading lady, Pollock’s Toy Museum.
The door knocks an array of bells that quickly begin to chime as I make my entrance. A vintage cash desk rings, what seems like an endless ticking of clocks resounds and battles about the ground floor shop of the museum and on through toy shop. Haggis, the small dog that wonders about the museum, taps its nose at my knee and soon after I am greeted with what I assume is an eccentric home environment more than it is the most carefully disclosed toy museum in London, perhaps England. It is not a museum; it is an emporium, an exposure of human creation and the width of children’s imagination through the modern ages.
Amidst the hordes of vintage toys stacked behind the desk, I am greeted by a unique proprietor, Eddy Fawdry. Before Eddy, sitting in pride, day by day, at the counter of the museum, with his dog lying by his side, his father had taken his place. Before that, his grandparents held the throne and, prior to that, the Pollock family, originally being based in Hoxton. The Museum came to Fitzrovia in 1967: “This building is the Victorian one, and then this has just been cut through. This is the Georgian one; this was built in the 1780’s.” Despite having had the roof bombed by the Luftwaffe, I quickly come to realise that No.1 Scala Street is one of Fitzrovia’s oldest surviving buildings. “It’s not been restored, some of it was rebuilt after the war – it was damaged during the raids of the Second World War. We originally had the Georgian building. My grandmother, noticing it was empty, enquired about the building next door. It turns out that the owner had died overseas, fighting in the war. It was some sort of electronics shop, they sold theatre lighting. The whole thing was empty, though there were odd glass domes left in the attic. It was apparently very odd inside. It was really quite strange: “We still use some of the domes in the museum!” The Victorian building was acquired during the early 1970’s and soon after was conjoined with the existing museum.
I am taken, by the proprietor from the cash desk, up a creaking stairwell and on in to the first room of the museum for a rare guided tour. The setting is warming. Imagination can flourish here: a jack-in-the-box and a toy World War I tank, to name a few, catch my eye. A well-worn rug leads to a fireplace, above which he points to a rocking horse: “I can’t remember the exact date; it was made in England during the 1840’s.” We climb another level of stairs to the second room where a vast array of distinct model theatres, from all over the globe, greets me. He begins to show me an original toy theatre produced by Pollock’s in Hoxton some years ago: “you’d buy the theatre and then you’d buy the backdrops, the characters (all of which are on little sliders so you can pull them in and out). They came with scripts so that you could have a performance using the theatres and leave them to a child’s imagination. There were quite a few people printing the theatres, though Pollock was the last. I don’t know about famous, but if anybody knows about these toy theatres they’ll certainly know about Pollock.” I point to a toy Aston Martin DB5, “I added that myself,” says Eddy.
Questionable at first, the most remarkable sight greets me. Amid the array of toys, that seem only to talk and whisper on at those approaching, a small section cuts through the red painted brick wall which leads from this house to the next. Eddy climbs the narrow staircase before me: “We knocked through this wall and the one downstairs,” he remarks. I feel the uneven flooring under me and tilt my head to stand up in the top floor room of the Georgian house, much lower than the Victorian room we had just left. The floor is quite noticeably tilted, a trait of its undeniable age. “This building is much more interesting than the other one, there’s quite a lot the other one but not like this.”
Feed me, pull at my hair, shoot the runner, nurture and learn from me; the perennial modern images of children at play with their toy dolls. From behind a glass pane, where a door once stood, I am startled by the dozens of dolls and their luminous eyes that watch me from a manger. The aged floor, almost every corner of this, encased pastime. “It’s meant to be a child’s Victorian nursery. That’s the idea. They used this in a computer game believe it or not. It was one of those computer games where you’d have to find things, it was an odd idea. They did it in quite a few rooms, but I specifically remember them using this one. We’ve had quite a few things go on here over the years, filming and whatnot. It’s quite photogenic in here. The dolls go quite far back, especially the wax ones,” he says pointing toward one of the dolls. The plainest image that sinks through my mind is that of the chilling “Emily Rose”, though the less shallow side of me sees the beauty. The Victorian’s were particularly puritanical. Toys such as these, even when new, would only be given to children to play with on a Sunday in the Victorian era, especially Noah’s ark, because of its religious message.
We arrive back into the ground floor of the building, and on into the toy shop. As a gentleman enters to enquire about purchasing a Rubix Cube, Eddy smirks and tells him this isn’t his line of toy. I smile to myself. I realise that, really, this building, this very shop and museum is a step behind: a step into the past. As I leave through the exit, Haggis scurries behind me and is quickly pulled back behind the door. Everything goes back to colour and instantly I reconcile about my tour and encounter with Eddy, purely in black and white. I shall return soon for a venture about the many rooms of the museum to escape to find a pastime in the walls, the toys and the spirit of this place that will capture the mind and soul of even the smug ones among us all. I would thrive in this house in exchange for the blessed routine. That part of us all that demands still to be a child alone and at play with their thoughts that go bang and kaboom.