From an age before political correctness, a treasure trove of toys stirs mixed emotions

Daisy Dring, age two, and her mother Shelley, looking at a  Victorian rocking horse  at Temple Newsam House in Leeds.
Daisy Dring, age two, and her mother Shelley, looking at a Victorian rocking horse at Temple Newsam House in Leeds.
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In a week in which the betting industry is being pressured to clean up its act, the toys of Christmases past might set off a few alarm bells at the Gambling Commission.

The archive of the Leeds manufacturer John Waddington includes not only the famous horse racing game Totopoly, but also a diversion for nine-year-olds upwards called Lose Your Shirt.

Even less politically correctly, the collection also takes in a locally-produced, early card game called Striptease.

The Waddington merchandise, produced at factories on Kirkstall Road and in Hunslet, is held by Leeds City Museums, and a range of games goes on display today at the Tudor-Jacobean Temple Newsam House, east of the city.

Among them is Careers, a 1960s board game in which children and their parents collected points for fame, wealth and happiness in their pursuit of vocations such as uranium mining and going to sea.

“Games like these have a special kind of evocative power,” said the curator, Leila Prescott.

The exhibition takes in the whole gamut of toys, from a die-cast Corgi model of an E-Type Jaguar to a 1976 Bionic Crisis Game from the TV series Six Million Dollar Man, which Ms Prescott, who was eight at the time, named as her favourite.

It also includes an earlier generation of playthings, with a painted Victorian rocking horse and a porcelain dolls’ tea set from the 1930s that sits comfortably with the decor of the grand house.

“Each of these toys will have meant something special to their owner. Everyone who has seen them has been sent on a flight of recollection,” Ms Prescott said.

“The further you go back, the simpler the toys become. One is just a piece of wood with nine pins that you have to knock over with a ball attached to a string.

“Even the early electronic games, like Pong, seem very dated now.”

The Waddington collection, part of which is on loan to Temple Newsam House, with other items displayed at the Abbey House and City Museums and at the Discovery Centre at Leeds Dock, dates back to the 1890s, when the company began making playing cards and other diversions in the city. Later, it acquired the UK rights to the American Monopoly, and licenced the Cluedo game to them in return.

Kitty Ross, the city’s history curator, said not all of the firm’s output – especially its junior jigsaw puzzle of “Willy Woodpecker with gay designs” – would sit comfortably under a Christmas tree today.

“Totopoly took longer to play than Monopoly and it was based entirely on racetrack betting,” Ms Ross said. “You couldn’t conceive of such a thing today. And Lose Your Shirt sounds like an invitation to gamble.

“There was also a game called Carlette, which was part cards and part roulette.”

The Christmas exhibition at Temple Newsam runs until December 23.