Tag Archives: toys

Votes for (clockwork) Women!

Beamish is taking on a distinctly militant feel this week, as we get ready for a very special weekend of activity to celebrate the North East’s suffragettes. On the 29th and 30th of June, we’ll be commemorating the centenary of Emily Wilding Davison’s death and remembering the women who fought for that most fundamental of civil rights – the right to vote.

There will be lots happening at the museum, and you can find out more here on our website: http://www.beamish.org.uk/suffragette-celebration-weekend/. We will be doing special behind the scenes tours of our collection store all weekend (come and see us, it’s worth it!), and in preparation I’ve been having a look to see if we can find some suffragette stories in the Beamish collection.

A peek in the Beamish trade catalogues always comes up with interesting results – we have hundreds in the collection, from Victorian dentist’s supplies to 1980s Kay’s catalogues. Normally,a look through the 1909 edition of the A.W. Gamage department store catalogue wouldn’t be expected to turn up a suffragette surprise, but it is amazing what you can find if you look carefully enough – and what these finds can tell us about society and attitudes.


A.W. Gamage 1909

Gamages were particularly renowned for their range of toys, games and sports equipment, including complex mechanical toys – Arthur Walter Gamage founded the store in 1878 as a watch repair shop, so clockwork mechanisms were a speciality. This catalogue is a pleasure to read, full of ingenious games and novelties. However, on one page, there are two somewhat shocking items among the jumping jacks and wooden animals – two mechanical suffragette toys.

In the first example, described as a ‘clever toy’, a squeeze of a ball causes a protesting suffragette to be pushed along by a police constable:

Squeeze the ball, move the suffragette

Squeeze the ball, move the suffragette

The second toy, titled ‘force feeding’ is even more alarming: at the turn of a handle, a monstrous looking suffragette swallows a tiny policeman:

Turn the handle, and a tiny policeman meets an unfortunate end

Turn the handle, and a tiny policeman meets an unfortunate end

It is difficult to know what to make of these images – to modern eyes they seem odd and sinister, but they are not unique. Many toys and boardgames were inspired by the women’s suffrage movement – often aimed at adults rather than children, and sometimes cruelly satirical.

Whilst our two Gamages examples are a more of a parody, pro-suffrage toys could be found too – some women’s suffrage organisations produced board and card games and toys to raise awareness of the movement, as well as much needed-funds. In 1908, the Manchester Doll Show even included a ‘Suffragette Exhibit’ within its displays.

An array of suffragette toys and games - image from womansuffragememorabilia.com

An array of suffragette toys and games – image from womansuffragememorabilia.com

Toys and games have always reflected the attitudes, concerns, and (crucially in the case of women’s suffrage) the fears of the society that produces them. If the Gamages toys tell us anything, it is that by 1909 the women’s suffrage movement had captured the imagination of the public. For better or worse, the suffragette was a recognisable enough character to feature as a commercially produced toy – she had become a part of Edwardian popular culture!

What do you think of these ‘novelty’ suffragettes – are they comic or cruel? What do they tell us about Edwardian attitudes to the women’s suffrage movement?



Advance to Grey Street, do not pass ‘GO’

A look in the Beamish stores can turn up the most unexpected things – we’ve been working on putting together a selection toys and games to loan to the Bowes Museum for their summer holiday exhibition. It’s always nice to be able to help out a fellow museum with a loan, and it gives us the opportunity to spend some quality time in the stores.

We’ve looked at all manner of toys from automota to teddy bears, dolls to Victorian toy building stones (the name doesn’t lie – these are actual stones, and really heavy!).

Looking through our huge selection of board games for the loan, we came across something very unusual indeed – a Monopoly board with a crucial difference:


The home-made Monopoly board

The home-made Monopoly board

It’s an entirely homemade, hand-drawn board, and instead of the usual London locations, this one shows the city of Newcastle. Instead of the usual stations and utilities we have Newcastle’s very own local transport:

A very carefully drawn vehicle

A very carefully drawn vehicle

The National Coal Board:

NCB - a bargain at £200!

NCB – a bargain at £200!

And (of course), the jewel in Monopoly Newcastle’s crown, St James’ Park:

Home of the Magpies and the hottest property on Monopoly Newcastle's board!

Home of the Magpies and the hottest property on Monopoly Newcastle’s board!

Yet more surprises lurk on the back though – the board is actually drawn on the back of a historic legal agreement. It’s a legal paper relating to a land agreement between farming branches of the Wales and Lumsden families, in the wake of an inheritance from a man named William Cuthbert.There’s quite a lot missing – the paper has been cut, folded and trimmed to Monopoly size.

It’s appropriate in a strange way that a game so focused on land and property should be played on the back of a document like this. The forerunner of Monopoly as we know it was ‘The Landlord’s Game’, developed by Elizabeth Magie in the United States in 1903. Elizabeth invented the game to demonstrate the often terrible effect of land monopolies – a long way from the ‘buy it all’ game that we now play.

The back of the board

The back of the board

It is a unique and fascinating object, and offers us a real snapshot of what was happening when it was drawn up. We don’t have a specific date for when the board was made, but because the NCB was set up in 1946 and took over the pits in 1947 we know it is definitely postwar, and we estimate that the board probably dates from the 1950s. If you can shed any light on who might have made it, please let us know!

This little board tells us about local pride, the nationalisation of industry, the re-use of materials, hobbies and pastimes and even 19th century land agreements!  It just goes to show how just one object can tell us many stories if we look carefully enough at the details – even the policeman is subtly different, with the usual Monopoly American-style cop replaced with a proper British bobby, and ‘JAIL’ with the pukka British ‘GAOL’.


Free parking in Newcastle?!

Nowadays, Monopoly versions of many different cities are a common sight – Newcastle and Gateshead have had their own officially licensed version of Monopoly for some time but our board shows that an enterprising northeastener got there first. It’s a long way from Atlantic City, the location of the original game, but I reckon Scotswood Road and Grainger Street beat Park Place and Boardwalk any day of the week! Have you ever made your own version of a game?  What about your Monopoly memories – were you a successful junior tycoon, or were you usually mortgaged up to the limit? Did conflict ever break out over the little green houses? It always did in my house!





The Golliwog Dilemma

Robertson's Golly

Since we started emptying our off-site storage, we’ve come across a wide range of objects: everything from doors to toy trains, and from postcards to shop interiors. Another remarkable object we found is this plaster Golly from the 1970s. For almost one hundred years, from 1910 to 2002, this figure was the face of Robertson’s Golden Shred Marmalade. Starring not only on the jars, but in all adverts and souvenirs, Golly became a celebrity and an integral part of British culture.

The golliwog on which Robertson’s based their Golly was created in a children’s book written by Florence Kate Upton in 1895: The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog. The golliwog, a ragdoll that looked like a blackface minstrel, became extremely popular and a common sight in England and other European countries.

Two golliwog dolls from our collection

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the popularity of the golliwog started to get questioned. As our society changed and became more diverse, racial issues became increasingly important and minority groups started to get a stronger voice. The blackface minstrels were no longer seen as entertaining, but as racist caricatures and crude stereotypes. The same was true for the golliwog: he may have had a more gentle character, but he was still an expression of the negative way Black people were formerly seen.

Although the golliwog obviously offended many people, not everyone agreed with the view that he was racist. The golliwog had become such a part of our culture that many people felt personally connected to him, having grown up with the Robertson’s Golly. Many saw him as a positive figure that wouldn’t hurt or offend anyone, at least not deliberately. Most of all, some felt that he was never created with any racist intentions in mind and should not be perceived in that way.

When thinking about displaying objects like this golliwog, museums are faced with difficult questions. In some of the time periods we cover at Beamish the golliwog would have been a very common sight. So if we want to be historically accurate we should display him. But how important is historical detail if it may offend large groups of people? On the other hand, leaving it out might suggest that racism didn’t exist in the past, so maybe telling the story within the right context would be better? The story of Golly can tell us a lot about how our society has grown and changed.

Golly’s days as the face of Robertson’s marmalade might be gone, but he remains an instantly recognisable and controversial 20th century figure. There aren’t many children’s book characters who can inspire warm nostalgia and offence in equal measure! It leaves museums like Beamish with an interesting but sensitive problem. What do you think about the golliwog dilemma?