Ann Sharp’s famous dollhouse
Princess Anne, later to become Queen, thoughtfully presented her goddaughter Ann Sharp with a Baby House dollhouse that was preserved with great care because of its royal connexion and which now survives as the earliest recorded British dollhouse. Ann Sharp was born in 1691, one of the fourteen children of John, Archibishop of York – the high mortality rate of the period is chillingly illustrated by the fact that only four of these children survived their parents. It is paradoxical that this crudely made box like house with its very basic furniture should be the only model that can be positively associated with the monarch whose name is so often used in conjunction with any well made house in the style sloppily termed ‘Queen Anne’.
The first impression of this house is immediately reminiscent of the Nuremberg cabinets, as the basic construction exhibits nothing of the skilled carpentry associated with the better Baby Houses, the box like rooms have no skirting boards or picture rails and the cornicing is of the most basic type. The chimneypieces were utlized from sections of cheap picture moulding, some being positioned on the back walls and others in corners. The firebaskets also show casual improvisation, as they are made with backs of playing cards and roughly cut tin bars. The model stands 5 feet 10 inches high, so that an adult cannot see over the top, and this size also reminds the viewer of the German models. The rooms themselves are also deep and dark and as it is unlikely that this was the only house made at the time, it seems possible that very early houses were constructed in a similar way in both Britain and Germany.
The survival of the house from Ann’s childhood is due largely to the fact that she retained her interest long after her marriage at the age of twenty one to the Dean of Ripon. Its connexion with Queen Anne could not be forgotten, as her portrait, painted on the back of a playing card, hangs in the house as a constant reminder of the royal origin. Generations of the family have treasured the house, and it is now seen surrounded by the metal and plastic toys of the new generation but overlooked by a portrait of Ann Sharp attributed to Jonathan Richardson.
Her baby house was one of the few that were highly regarded in the 19th century and one of the earliest published descriptions appeared in an issue of ‘Aunt Judy’s magazine’ in 1870. Since that time the dollhouse has stood as the starting point for any investigation of the Baby House, as it contrasts so interestingly with the more sophisticated versions. It’s interesting to compare historical dollhouses with modern ones. For the KidKraft Annabelle Dollhouse Click here, the KidKraft Savannah Dollhouse Click here and the KidKraft Majestic Mansion Dollhouse 65252 Click here