The History of Pollock’s Toy Museum

Pollock’s Toy Museum is one of the oldest toy museums in the UK – founded in 1956, although the origins of the collection date from much earlier. The collection is home to an extensive and much-loved collection of puppets, optical toys, teddy bears, tin toys, dolls and dolls’ houses, games, folk and traditional toys from around the world.

The name comes from Benjamin Pollock, a publisher of Victorian toy theatres, the museum’s speciality. These were a craze in the Regency period, offering boys, chiefly, the opportunity to put on plays at home using paper cut-outs of figures and scenery from the full- size live stage. The London trade making and selling these, with wooden theatres and other accessories, was carried into the twentieth century at Pollock’s shop in Hoxton.

After Pollock’s death in 1937 and the start of the Second World War, an enthusiast, Alan Keen, bought up everything that remained in the shop – printing plates going back to the 1830s and a stock of unsold prints – to save it, and relaunched in 1946 in the West End.

The business prospered at first, and many children were introduced to its magic through adapted plays printed in colour, with scripts by George Speaight, the shop manager and the author of a definitive history of the subject. Nonetheless, bankruptcy loomed by 1951 and it seemed that Pollock’s might once again be lost.

This was not to be, thanks to the redoubtable Marguerite Fawdry who was trying to buy some more wire slides for her son’s toy theatre. Having rung up to find Mr Keen’s business was no more, she was told she could not buy just one wire slide but she could buy the whole stock if she so wished. So, raising funds from friends and family that’s just what she did!

In 1955 she set up a shop and Museum at 44 Monmouth Street, close to Covent Garden. Being a keen educator, entrepreneur and interested in children’s toys, she started the museum to complement the shop. This was also gave the toy theatre a new context, engaging modern generations of children growing up with the competition of television and cinema.​

From 1956 to 1969, the museum grew and grew from one small attic room at 44 Monmouth Street all the way down to the street level shop. It became was a huge success, attracting a community of supporters, patrons and customers. it was at the forefront of a revival in Victoriana, but also became something new, with actors and artists both as staff and customers.

The colourful Surrealist artist and film- maker Jaques Brunius lent, and later bequeathed many of the collection’s early optical toys.

Threatened by redevelopment proposals in the Covent Garden area (later abandoned), Mrs Fawdry looked for a more secure home and in 1969 Pollocks relocated northwards to a corner house and shop at No.1, Scala Street, formerly an Italian family café in the Fitzrovia area that combined European and more exotic cuisines with craft trades.

The Georgian museum building, with its atmospherically creaky stairs and charmingly wonky windows, was a perfect setting for the toy collection and within a year or two the museum acquired the adjoining building at 41 Whitfield Street, allowing for expansion and the development the collections, now held by a charitable trust on behalf of the public. The exterior of the combined buildings added to the atmosphere, outside was painted with toy theatre scenery and a shop front redolent of Mr Pollock’s ‘Theatrical Print Warehouse.’

When Covent Garden Market reopened in 1980, Mrs Fawdry was invited to create a branch shop there, managed by Pollock friend, Coronation Street actor and toy theatre historian Peter Baldwin. He took over the business in 1988, with the name ‘Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop’, working with Louise Heard who now runs it. It is a separate enterprise from the toy museum, but linked by a shared name, history, and love of toy theatre and toys.

Pollock’s Toy Museum has always had a special atmosphere, created by Marguerite’s imagination and the skills and knowledge of those who worked with her to continue the mission. The majority of exhibits have been given by the public, often together with the histories and memories of their former owners, which provides a museum full of imagination, history and play.

​In 2020 Marguerite’s great-grandson Jack Fawdry Tatham and his partner Emily Baker took over running the museum, bringing a new generation of creative energy, and together with the trustees creating an inspiring template for the next change of scene in Pollock’s history.

Sadly in January 2023 the museum was forced to close its doors in Fitzrovia, bringing to an end its 53 years in the area. However by March it was announced that the museum had found a new temporary home in Croydon as part of the London Borough of Culture, where a Croydon pop-up museum and a lively programme of performances and workshops are proving very popular. We are delighted to have received funding to deliver an oral history project about an influential Croydon toy factory called A Barton Toys.

A small pop-up in Leadenhall Market has also been thriving since November 2023.

The museum blog Tales From The Toybox has launched to share stories from the collection and insights into the history of toys alongside news and information about special exhibitions.

The Trustees are working hard to find a new permanent home for the museum. Read the latest news about Pollock’s Toy Museum and how you can support us.

Please consider donating to Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust to help the museum continue for another 200 years.

Before the museum in Fitzrovia closed we filmed this little video to document what a special place it was. We hope you enjoy it, and would love to see you experience the magic and history of the collection in person at the Pollock’s Pop Up in Croydon.