Christmas toys from the past: Ilkley Toy Museum opens up its treasure trove of treats

A treasure trove of toys which is on show in Yorkshire provides a glimpse into the past, while continuing to have an enduring appeal with a trip down memory lane for children and adults alike. Rob Waugh reports.

The highlight of the year for many children is the chance to find out what festive gifts have been brought to their homes on Christmas Day morning.

And Santa has been granting the Christmas wishes of youngsters for many a year, as one of the most endearing items at the Ilkley Toy Museum sweetly demonstrates.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

A letter written by a child in 1915 asking for a green teddy bear – and the cuddly companion that happily arrived in response – are among a collection of thousands of toys dating back to the 4th century BC.

Alex Samuel with a Furby which was the must have toy in the mid 90’s

It is also a fine example of however much things change, children’s elemental attraction to traditional toys has remained the same.

“I know video games and all that are hugely popular but I think children still like all those essentials that have been around forever,” said Alex Samuel, who owns and runs the museum with her husband, John.

“Girls and boys still love a doll whether it be a male or female doll, they still like a soft toy, they still like a board game. The basics are the same. Children still like to play together with a tea set or playing shops – it just looks different or it’s packaged differently.”

Read More

Read More
Morecambe and Wise: Lost episode of two great entertainers to be aired on Christ...

The Samuels’ collection began in 1997 when they bought their first toys from local auction house Hartley’s when the collection of the Ribchester Museum of Childhood went up for auction.

The museum, on Whitton Croft Road, opened four years later.

The collection has been supplemented at regular intervals through trips to auctions and boasts a vast selection from countless generations dating back to a Greek doll from the 4th century BC.

There is a working model fairground, Georgian board games that were then printed on linen and old soft toys, dolls houses and toy cars through to the more modern items such as Thunderbirds toys, a Furby and a Buzz Lightyear representing the 1990s, right up to the modern day era with an Elsa doll from the hit film, Frozen.

And there is also Mrs Samuel’s own favourite – a rare and high-quality collection of 18th century wooden dolls.

She said: “They don’t look very soft and cuddly, but they’re so beautiful to look at and some of the outfits are fabulous.”

The museum has long been a popular choice for school trips, with visits now supplemented with the loaning out of vintage suitcases filled with toys.

Mrs Samuel said: “When we opened we had never even thought about school visits or anything like that and that’s become a huge part of what we do – which is lovely, which is a bonus.

“Using toys is a way of teaching children about time and how things have changed over time.”

The collection also offers a valuable slice of social history as toys and their depictions of their own time illustrate the changes throughout the years.

“When you’re looking at the dolls houses and the toy shops you’re capturing how people lived at that particular time,” said Mrs Samuels.

“You’re looking in an 1830s dolls house and you’re getting a picture of how a certain person lived – it’s copying their home. Or toy shops, which are so popular, the old-fashioned grocer shops with their draws and units that reflect the time they were made.”

Of course, it is not just children that get a huge amount of pleasure out of the toys on show, with adult visitors also enjoying a trip down memory lane.

Mrs Samuels said: “One of our straplines on our boards in the museum is ‘I used to have one of those’ because that is something that you hear a lot.”

Ilkley Toy Museum’s services were boosted through a £12,000 grant from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund last year.

The money paid for a new website and the museum’s outreach education scheme, which involves the loan of vintage suitcases filled with old toys to be used as a learning resource.

The museum is closed over the Christmas period, but it is due to reopen to the public on Saturday, January 15.

It is open every weekend and on Thursdays and Fridays during school holidays.

Other visits, including school trips, are available by appointment.

Wishes come true: Above, Alex Samuel with a Furby which was the must have toy in the mid 90’s; left, popular toys from Christmas past; centre, a letter sent to Father Christmas in 1915 requesting a green teddy bear and he was obviusly a good boy becaue that is what Santa delivered; right, Alex with a Sindy doll. Pictures: Tony Johnson.