Yes, the above photograph is not of a doll’s house, but of a doll’s shop – a doll’s butcher’s shop. This detailed and comprehensive, if a tad gruesome, miniature with its array of hanging cuts of meat of various sizes and carcass-parts, is perhaps my favourite exhibit in the Museum of Childhood, which is another of the durable (and free to enter) wee museums that are dotted along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
I’m not a fan of childhood per se. In fact, I’m of the old-fashioned and curmudgeonly opinion that children should be seen and not heard, and I believe that the best way to handle juvenile bad behaviour is not to implement tolerant modern parenting methods but to deal with the little shits in the manner that Roald Dahl dealt with Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt and Mike Teavee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That said, I seem to have a strange fascination with toy museums.
In the late 1990s, I can remember visiting a lovely one in Melbourne, Australia, but I can’t find any mention of it now on the Internet, so I have to assume it is no more. Definitely no more is the London Toy Museum that once operated in Bayswater but was closed down in 1999. I will always remember it for its astonishing working model of a coal mine, four metres long and three metres high, which had moving lifts and pulleys and some 200 miniature miners toiling within its labyrinthine shafts and tunnels. Elsewhere in London, Pollock’s Toy Museum off the Tottenham Court Road is still on the go, but it’s rather small. And there was a charming little toy museum in Valetta, Malta, when I was there a few years ago, but its owner was getting on in years, so it might have pulled down its shutters now.
The Museum of Childhood – founded by Patrick Murray, who was both a toy collector and an Edinburgh city councillor – seems to be going strong, happily. The section of it that invariably draws my curiosity is the first-floor exhibition room, accessible via the spiral staircase on the left just after the entrance lobby and shop. This room is given over to the display of doll’s houses, miniature shops, toy theatres and a small but eccentric selection of puppets.
But it’s that tiny butcher’s shop that I always find myself staring at. I wonder if it was ever actually presented to a child as a toy – and if it was, what on earth was going on in the minds of that child’s parents. Perhaps in the early 1900s some super-wealthy mogul in Chicago’s meat-packing industry, which was so vividly and viscerally described by Upton Sinclair in his book The Jungle, had it made as a special gift for the little tyke who was his son and heir.