Hello and Welcome!

I paint, I make and  re- love the discarded, the overlooked or the lost.  The best way to contact me is via my instagram page.I am not much of a  blogger but you can find a few random posts on subjects I have researched that might be of interest!  Thanks for stopping by.  Jacs x 


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  1. If you are a dolls house fan, then you will already know about Queen Marys Dolls House and the quality furniture, original artworks and books it contains, produced by over 1,500 artists, craftsmen and makers.

    Designed as a gift for Queen Mary between 1920 and 1924 by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, it went on display at the British Empire exhibition held in London from 23rd April 1924 to October 1925 before being re-located to Windsor Castle. For over 90 years it has continued to raise money for charitable causes and be admired by thousands of visitors.


    Queen Mary's 1924 letter of thanks



    British Empire exhibition leaflet and map

    Accompanying the dolls house when it was completed in 1924 were two volumes of books - vol 1 The Queens Dolls House, with a complete inventory and lists of donors, artists makers and craftsmen. Vol 2 - the Queens dolls house library devoted to the authors that produced the many books the library contains.

    In the same year, extracts from the books were produced in a smaller book entitled "everybody's book of the Queen's Dolls' House" with profits from the book going to Queen Marys charitable causes. 3 detailed sets of tucks postcards were also produced showing many rooms and individual items in the house.

    While I was researching the history of the Old Bleach Linen Co  ( you can read it here ) I discovered that they produced a host of finely stitched tiny replica linen items for Queen Mary's Dolls House so this is a follow up post about these amazing items.

    Old Bleach supplied the Royal Household with Damask tablecloths and other linens so it seems natural that they would be selected to replicate tiny versions of all of the household linens for the dolls house. These included linen towels, bed and cot sheets and pillows, tablecloths and runners for both the royal household and the domestic staff, as well as the more mundane domestic use items such as dusters, pudding cloths, knife cloths and aprons.



    These incredible hand stitched reproductions in miniature were monogrammed for the dolls house with white for the royal rooms and red for the servants and housekeepers. Bundles of linen were also  stored in the dolls house linen room  tied with "colour coded" ribbons denoting the household use. One of the full size Damask tablecloths was sent to Ireland to help with reproducing it in miniature for the dining table in the dolls house.



    the linen room in the dolls house


    The housekeepers room with Old Bleach Linen towels

    The dolls house book from 1924 tells us that "certain properties of matter do not scale down comfortably when size is altered.. the clothes, linen table cloths, the bed sheets etc.. though exquisitely made, of the very finest known materials, are liable to behave as if they had been slightly
    starched... Curtains, carpets and the table cloth laid on the dining table all required extremely careful coaxing"

    oldbleach tablecloth_diningroom dolls house

    The Old Bleach Damask tablecloth in the dining room

    Old Bleach proudly advertised their connection to the dolls house - the following advert appeared in New York in 1924 when the dolls house was completed :


    The Royal collection has some lovely photos of some of the linens in the dolls house made by Old Bleach, I especially love the beautifully made aprons which were pictured in black and white in the 1924 book about the  dolls house and also show the cross over fastening with tiny buttons.


    royal collection_linen towels by old bleach

    royal collection_pillowcases_old bleach

    Monogrammed pillow case for use in the Royal rooms

     The Lisburn Irish Linen centre and museum in Ireland  has a selection  on display of some of the monogrammed Old Bleach linen contained in  the dolls house, donated to them in the 1990's. I have not been able to find out how the donor came to acquire the items, but I think most likely the collection was kept as a record by an old Bleach employee. Many employees often built up personal collections of items they had produced at the factory.

    Makers also re-produced  items supplied to the dolls house for purchase by the general public.  Old Bleach Linen co produced a boxed set of "Dollies Towels" which contained  a set of 6 replica tiny linen towels that can be found in several rooms in the dolls house. They are not marked as such, but   I think these little  sets  were  most likely sold as  souvenirs  during  the  British Empire Exhibition.  The set I have date to this time and came in a tiny 10cm or so long box, lined with tissue paper, tied up with a green shamrock ribbon together with a card insert explantion. 

    The box and it's contents are  a fantastic historical reference to both the Old Bleach Linen Co and Queen Mary's dolls house -  a rare survivor now over 90 years old. There may have been other miniature replica items sold as souvenirs by Old Bleach, and I would love to know if this is the case.

    old bleach miniature towel

    Old Bleach dolly towel

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  2. As a  linen and fabric fan, a small hoard  has been gathered over the years as part of my passion for the discarded, the overlooked or the lost. A recent rummage  has prompted me to blog about the Old Bleach Linen co, an Irish linen company with a fascinating and long history of textile manufacturing in Randalstown, Northern Ireland.

    Irish linen is known for its quality which is put down to the climate in Ireland which is perfect for the growth of flax and over hundreds of years  the low worker costs and high demand resulted in Ireland becoming a dominant force in linen production.


    1909 New York dealer Advert for Old Bleach Linen


    1949 advert

    The  Old Bleach company  was started by a quaker called Charles J Webb in 1864, and  started out  using the  age old method of linen production, where the flax was hand pulled, stacked and left to dry, before being processed to separate the seeds and core to leave the fibres. The resulting woven fabric was "bleached" by laying out in the open air, and this  old method of bleaching  continued to be used by the company during its long history.  By the 1930's  the company was a large textile manufacturer employing  a workforce of over 1000 people, using the nearby railway to help export their textiles and linens all over the world. 


     A photo postcard showing the Randalstown mill C 1940s 



    Furnishing fabric advert from late 1940's

    As the company expanded, they commissioned textile designs from leading artists and they were also one of the first companies to perfect screen printing of designs onto textiles. The company produced a  portfolio of design samples for the festival of Britain, bringing together science and design by using a pattern produced by crystallographer Helen Megaw which produced some striking  patterns on their fabric samples. The company supplied fabric and textiles to prestigious customers over their long history such as furnishing fabric for  HMS Queen Mary, designed for the company  by Norman Webb. The V & A has a collection of old bleach furnishing fabric designs produced by  designers from the 30s - 50's such as Paul Nash & Marion Dorn which you can view online.



     advert for designer fabrics


     The company also produced the miniature textiles and linens for "the Queens Dolls House", and went on to retail similar miniature towel sets when the dolls house went on public show. 



    Old Bleach Dolls House towel set box info


    workers  hand painting the  flowers on damask C early 1950s

    The strategy of using  designers of the day, new dye techniques and producing quality products helped to keep the company at the forefront of Irish linen production. In 1971 the company was acquired by  Carrington Viyella (which was the merger of 2 companies called Carrington Dewhurst and  Viyella)
    Production in Ireland and the trade name "old bleach" continued after the buyout throughout the 1970's, with a prolific output that is  still snapped up by vintage and retro fans today - Rural Retro favorite Belinda Lyon produced several designs for Old Bleach tea towels during the 1970's.

    The Old Bleach co employed generations of families from the local town  during their long history  and the proud workers  formed lots of "old Bleach" recreation and sports clubs such as bowling, tennis and hockey. Some of  these mill worker  clubs are still in existence today in Randalstown such as the local  cycling and bowling clubs.


    At the start of the 1980's the Old bleach  mill was closed  as part of cost saving by Carrington Viyella as the luxury linen industry declined and  demand turned to cheaper man made fibres imports. The trade name continued for a  couple of years  -  labeled as "made in the UK"  before the “Old Bleach“ linen company Ltd was formally dissolved in 1982.  The closed mill was left disused until most of the buildings were  eventually demolished during the 1990's - a  story familiar across the linen  mills in Ireland.



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  3. I recently came across a fascinating  article on the history of Gee Bee dolls houses by Rebecca Green on the excellent  "Dolls Houses Past & Present" website.

    Gee Bee based in Hull were started around 1946 by 2 veterans using their army payment to finance the  business. They sold their doll houses, farms and garages  almost exclusively through a local toy distributor  who traded under the name Tudor Toys.

    The article reminded me that I gave my sister an  early Gee Bee dolls house quite a few years ago. The DHPP article has a photo of my sisters actual house captured from the original ebay listing, so for Gee Bee  dolls house fans everywhere here are some recent photos of it, still in it's original condition.

    The house has flat painted flowers rather than the "raised plastic" flowers and "green flocked" grass described by a Gee Bee worker but these were clearly painted by the same hand that painted "Sally L's" house also pictured in the article.

    It is made of hardboard, plywood and another softwood  with chisel marks clearly visible on the back base slot. I am not sure if this was an "offcut" reused, or hand chiseled to size  by the joiner who made the house.

    These early examples are  described as having no back - this one originally most likely  had 2 sliding hardwood backboards  that slotted into the groves and could be slid independently. Alternatively, perhaps "add on" rooms could be purchased seperately that were slotted into the groves?

    Gee Bee Dolls House - Front


    Gee Bee House - Back



    Gee Bee House - Front Side view



    Gee Bee House Back Side view



    Gee Bee House - Garden and path view



    Gee Bee House - base view

    The house has lost it's "GB"label that would have been on the front wall, but it is initialed with "G B" for Gee Bee in pencil on the base. There are other initials that look like "F1 DB" and "E4" I would love to know what or who these other initials stand for.



    It is likely that there was some variance in size between individual houses, but this one is approx: Length: slightly over 18 inches Height: 14.5 inches Total depth: 10 inches, with 4 inches for the garden. The tall chimney is 5 inches in height.

    As Rebecca Green highlights in her article, Gee Bee evolved different variations of their original core designs through the years, as well as introducing new models.  This first cottage had a few  variations before it was re-invented  as the more well known "DH8" Tudor cottage during the 1950's that continued to be made until the company folded at the beginning of the 1980's.

    Variations of the Gee Bee Cottage

    Photos from  various ebay sellers - just like full size houses, these are often re-modeled, updated and repainted, so not always easy to date them


        geebee_cottage_sallyl_dhpp       gee bee       dh8 tudor cottage gee bees_ebay                

          Cottage - right hand door          Cottage - curved gables           DH8 - right hand door

          geebee_cottagedh8 tudor cottage gee bees small house side view_ebaygeebee litho hardboard1977

                DH8                                         DH8 left hand door             DH8 - 1970s


    You can read the full history of Gee Bee by Rebecca Green on DHPP here:

    Rebecca has written another good article  about the handmade dolls  houses that were  constructed from designs and plans available in woodworker and other hobby magazines. I have a woodworker house together with the original edition of the 1935 magazine containing the design which  I have owned for many years. Rebecca's article also has a photo of a different house built to the same design. Mine is still on my list of projects to re-decorate!.

     My 1935 Woodworker Dolls House



    You can see more photos of the inside  on my instagram page.

     1935 dolls house from wookworker plan


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  4. This is a long overdue blog about the work of  Belinda Lyon, a talented illustrator  who created  tea towel designs for Oxfam during the 1970's.
    Belinda Lyon trained at a London art school and  started her commercial career in advertising.   Illustrators were in strong demand during the late 1950's and early 1960's and advertising was where  many young  graduates of the era started their careers. Iconic illustrated adverts and posters the early 1960's are  now highly collected and many talented  and now sadly  anonymous  illustrators started out in advertising  before television and photography took over  during the later "swinging 60's".


    Early 1960's adverts relied on illustrators to create the "look" These typical examples are from 1962/63

    Belinda started her commercial freelance career circa 1965 with illustrations for short stories  and  books. Almost from the start of her career, her commissions  were for books aimed at children and teenagers, featuring advice for young people, crafts, sewing and fashion. Some of the books and cut out  dolls she illustrated in the first few years of  her career  are fantastic retro time capsules 40 plus years on.


    Short story, book and cut out doll story illustrations  from 1966 - 1968

    Belinda Lyon is more well known to 1970s retro fans for her lovely  tea towel and fabric cut out designs which became  part of the massive Oxfam retail success story. Belinda's first  design for Oxfam was a colourful Christmas card illustration in 1966. In 1967 Oxfam  introduced their  first "own brand" products consisting of the first two tea towels.  The elephant and giraffe were initially produced in three colours and were selected for the London Design Centre - at this time still known as the Council for Industrial Design, prior to the opening of the Design Centre shop in 1971 which had people flocking in to buy the latest trend setting products.


    The first 2 Oxfam tea towels were produced in 3 different base colours.

    The  elephant and giraffe tea towels were an instant hit  and new designs were added to the range each  year with 20 different animals available in the series by 1979, most of which came in two different colours.  Oxfam were the very first UK charity to introduce a retail commercial model to their shops and as the number of shops grew so did their gift  range.


    Fox, Dandy Lion and bull from 1969 - 1972

    Belinda produced very popular designs for Oxfams  successful retail gift range throughout the 1970's and her work very much reflected the  colours, trends  and themes popular with children at the time. Belinda produced  over 60 designs for Christmas cards, wraping paper, tea towels, cut out dolls,  pillow cases, cushions and toys which continued to be sold in Oxfams shops into the 1980's.


    4 of the "Great lovers of the world" tea towel series from 1973 - 1976/77


    Belinda Lyon's first 2 cut out doll designs for Oxfam issued in 1972/73


    Other  designs for Oxfam included cut out cushions, toys, and pillow cases

    Belinda Lyon's designs also appeared on tea towels sold by a few other companies during the 1970's including Old Bleach based in Ireland.

    As a published children's book illustrator, it seems a natural progression that Belinda Lyon went on to become  a successful comic illustrator.  Most of her later career during the 80's and 90's was spent illustrating for Twinkle comic, and lots of grown up girls will remember with fondness one of her most well known Twinkle comic characters - Jenny Wren. Sadly, weekly comics  started to decline during the 1990s and Twinkle stopped production in 1999.


    One of Belinda's last commissions before she retired from commercial work was for a lovely children's book by Nicola Baxter, still in  production as far as I am aware, which contains many of her highly detailed humorous illustrations.
    Belinda Lyon, like many other talented  illustrators from her generation,  has been mainly unknown  for the last 20 years until the  growing  retro interest in the 1970's and the current sewing craft revival has brought  her designs and illustrations "back on trend"  and her designs are a  reference source  for several of today's retro inspired designers. 
    You can have a look at lots more examples of her work on my flickr photostream.

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  5. planchesta

    This  8 drawer mahogany plan chest  has been with me for  many years and  I have often wondered about it's history. While recently moving it, I  discovered a makers label  hidden on the underside of one of the drawers.The  slightly torn label contains a wealth of information that has led me on an interesting  journey of discovery.


    The label told me that my architects plan chest was made sometime prior to  May 1936 and was supplied to "HMOW" as a "plan press" with  "G.R" for George V stamped on  the brass drawer label holders.

    It turns out that "HMOW"  has been through a lot of  changes, but  in 1936 it was  H.M Office of Works with architect offices located in Edinburgh, London, Bristol and Manchester.

    H.M Office of Works became  the Ministry of Works in 1943; renamed the Ministry of Public Building and Works in 1962, and was absorbed into the Department of the Environment in 1970.   Most Works functions were transferred to the Property Services Agency, set up in 1972 with the job of providing, equipping and maintaining a wide range of buildings and installations for Government Departments, and the Armed Services. The PSA  has a bit of a chequered history and was subject to an enquiry that lead to the department  being privatised in the 1990's.

    I can't be sure which of the 4 offices my  chest was originally supplied to but in 1936 the Manchester office, located at 76 Newton Street was headed up by William Shaw Cruickshank who became the  District Surveyor in charge of the North West in 1933, and was in charge of eight assistants and draughtsmen. You can read more about him  on the Dictionary of Scottish Architects

    George V died in January 1936 and was succeeded by Edward VIII, who abdicated in December 1936, leaving George VI to take up the throne. However,  in typical British "make do and mend" style, items stamped with G.R continued to be used until around the end of 1937 when new items produced were then stamped with George VI. Very few crown property items (such as GPO postboxes) were stamped with Edward VIII.
    Public service  draughtsmen and architects during the late 1930's  were responsible for all manner of public buildings,  so I can only imagine what  designs might have been  stored in my chest over it's many years of  service. Just 3 years after the chest was delivered, the second world war broke out - several well known war artists  started out as draughtsmen  and many  returned to government offices after the war to work on plans for  the massive amount of re-building projects that were undertaken after 1945.

    My  label is torn  where the company name is, but  I have been able to identify that the maker is Simpoles of Manchester. I can't  decipher the name of the cabinet maker  on  my label, but Simpoles of Manchester have a long history of making quality office furniture and chairs.

    Using a wonderful collection of trade directories available online as part of  the University of Leicester's special collection, I have found out that  Charles Simpole, the son of a pork butcher, was born around 1817 and started to operate as a furniture dealer & cabinet maker from his home at 13 Bradford Street and a workshop at 5 Victoria Terrace, Victoria Street, in Manchester from around 1850. The terrace at the end of Victoria Street contained various traders including an ironmongers, artist, architect & tea dealer together with residential homes.   By 1863, he is still listed at Victoria Terrace, with the furniture broker & auctioneer side of the business operating from Cathedral Yard (later to be called Cathedral Steps). The business remained at  Cathedral Steps until the end of the 1800's.
    Charles Simpole died  around 1888 and the  company  is listed in the directory issued covering this time as : Furniture dealer & Valuer, Simpole Charles ( Exor's of)

     By 1903, the company had re-organised & expanded. It was listed in  1903 as Simpoles, office furnishers and cabinet makers (late of Cathedral steps), 38 Deansgate ; 11 Victoria Bridge,  and 45 Chapel st.  

    Simpoles were in good company, as the furniture makers Gillows of Lancaster, (later to become Waring & Gillows) also had their showroom further along Deansgate, which in the 1900's was a  busy retail metropolis with many well known brands  and  trams operating along this main road in Manchester.

    Between 1936 &  1938 "Messrs Simpoles Ltd of Manchester, contractors to the British Government" were  responsible for  providing all of the wood and furnishings inside the  Padiham Civic Centre (the town hall in Padiham, Burnley) which was designed by architects Bradshaw, Gass & Hope and opened with much fanfare by the London Council Chairman in March 1938. According to an article  published in the local press about the opening ceremony,  the  council chamber featured Australian walnut panelling, with walnut and leather armchairs and tables, while three French windows opened on to balconies overlooking the street to provide facilities for public announcements.
    The assembly hall, complete with stage, offered seating for 450, and was panelled in bronze chequered Gaboon veneered plywoods and had a sprung maple floor for dancing.


    Simpoles Limited continued to trade from  Manchester, with a Liverpool branch added sometime after the 1940's. After over a hundred years of trading, the company eventually ran into difficulties and was dissolved at the end of the 1990s.
    It is hard to know how long my Simpoles plan chest remained  in "His/her  Majesty's Service", but at some point, it was sold or given away and ended up being used for storage in a builders merchants  in Dorking, Surrey where it was purchased from when the builders merchants closed down around 1987.

    Isn't it amazing where a simple label can take you?

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