Ilkley toy museum to share heritage boxes featuring lost toys from tin soldiers to vintage dolls

A tale of social history is told in the toys of generations of children and how they have changed over time.

Ilkley Toy Museum, Whitton Croft Road, was founded on one woman's private collection of ancient toys but is now a whole museum, with toys dating back to 4th century BC. Image: James Hardisty

Now the Ilkley Toy Museum, housing a treasure trove of ancient curios, is to share lost trinkets and games in new heritage boxes for schools.

Old toys evoke a sense of childlike reminiscence that never fades, said museum owner Alex Samuel, and with a little imagination can inspire a journey through time.

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“Children have always played with toys,” said Mrs Samuel, who has many thousands of items dating back to the fourth century BC.

“People love to see them, and to say: ‘I used to have one of these’.

“Though dolls and games may have been made from different things over the centuries, they are a part of our social history.

“In the national curriculum we look at toys through time, and so many in our collection have a story.

“While it’s not always possible for schools to come to museums any more, this is finding a way to take the museum to schools.”

Ilkley Toy Museum is now to create vintage toy boxes for schools as part of the social history curriculum, with old teddies and tin soldiers which can be sent to schools in vintage suitcases to share the story of how toys have changed over time. Image: James Hardisty

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The Ilkley Toy Museum, opened in 1999, began as a way to showcase Mrs Samuel and her husband’s own assortment of old trinkets and dolls.

When Hartleys Auctioneers put up a collection from the Museum of Childhood, it rapidly expanded and has grown ever since.

There are working fairground models, dolls house displays, tin soldiers, spinning tops and rattles, Thunderbirds models and puzzles.

Alex Samuel, curator of the Ilkley Toy Museum next to Boris, A fine white Steiff Bear fro mGermany in around 1909, with White mohair and black boot button eyes. Boris originally belonged to a gentleman called Vladimir who was adopted in Russia and subseqently went to live in America and England. James Hardisty

The oldest item is a Corinthian terracotta dancing doll, dating from early 4th century BC, which still has an ornamental headband, pointed shoes, and some painted decoration.

The teddy bears come with a storyboard of their history, with some featuring heartbreaking backgrounds.

One Steiff bear Boris, circa 1909, belonged to a Russian circus boy who was adopted at birth as his German soldier father wished to hide his existence.

Another, called Thomas, was the most treasured possession of a young boy who tragically drowned while on holiday in Norfolk in the summer of 1948.

Pictured Alex Samuel, curator of the Ilkley Toy Museum, placing Action-man figures, in a mixed display. Image: James Hardisty

Memories

With every item in the collection, said Mrs Samuel, it is impossible to forget the children who would have played with them.

One of its most recent acquisitions is a 16th century wooden doll, made around 1560. Measuring eight inches tall, it has a “severe” expression.

“It’s lovely to hold,” said Mrs Samuel. “When you hold it in your hands it’s so smooth - you know it has been held and played with and well-loved over the years.

“Even if we don’t know where it’s come from, we can imagine who has played with it, and how it has passed down the generations.

“Children have always had dolls, even if we go back to Roman times some of the games are very similar to the games children play today. Just made from wood or clay.”

Heritage Boxes

Ilkley Toy Museum, awarded £12,000 under the Culture Recovery Fund, is to create learning resources to tell the story of toys through time.

Vintage suitcases will be filled with old and replica toys as lending boxes, creating mini-museums with teddies, board games or puzzles, as well as a new website for schools to access information to compliment the curriculum.

The museum, closed until May 17, has been readying for reopening with new displays.

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