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Toys in the Community: Valuing Memories of Teddy Bears, Dolls and Construction T

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Text & Interviewee photographs: Copyright 2015 Brighton Toy and Model Museum

Toy and Themes Photographs: Copyright 2015 Steven Cragg

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum
52-55 Trafalgar Street



Toys in the Community: Valuing Memories of Teddy Bears, Dolls and Construction Toys



Toy Types

Teddy Bears


Construction Toys







Project Credits

Interviewee Photos


With thanks to all those who made this book possible, including:

The Heritage Lottery Fund for the grant which provided us with much needed funding.

The project volunteers for their commitment and for helping to shape the project as it developed.

The staff, volunteers and trustees at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum for their trust in the project, their good humour and patience.

Steven Cragg for his photography skills.

The interviewees for sharing their stories and memories.


This book is the result of a two year project run by the Brighton Toy and Model Museum and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The project collected memories of teddy bears, dolls and construction toys from a range of people. The youngest interviewee was 19 years old and the eldest was 99. Although the people we interviewed grew up in a range of places, both in the UK and abroad, they all lived in the Brighton and Hove area at the time of their interview. A number of them had current or past experience of homelessness.

Their memories provide a valuable insight not only into the types of toys that people owned, but also into the relationships between people and toys, in both childhood and adulthood. A number of interlinking themes emerged during the review of the interview material. These were acquisition, emotion, play, identity and loss.

In the writing of this book there were a number of approaches we could have taken. However, given that the purpose of the project was to value the memories of those who chose to share them with us, we decided that the most appropriate approach was to let these voices largely speak for themselves, although we have arranged them according to toy type and theme. In the process we hope that this will help people to reflect on their own memories of toys, and what they mean to them.

The full interviews, as both videos and transcripts, can be found on the project website – www.toysinthecommunity.org

Toy Types

Teddy Bears

Did you have a teddy bear? Can you tell me about it?

I definitely remember a big, two, two foot sized teddy bear, black and white one. That was raggedy and falling to bits but I absolutely adored it when I was younger. It was probably a hand me down thing because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t new when I came to get hold of him. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

It wasn’t one of my own, it was my sister’s, Buddy, and she gave him to me when I was 7 and I had measles very badly, so she gave me her teddy bear. He already had a broken growl, and his paw was fraying, so he wasn’t perfect Pat, born Southsea, 1946

His name was Edward, and he had very pink, flat … I wouldn’t call it fur, I could draw in biro on his chest, and I did. I must have had some envy of school kids before I went to school, because I drew a blazer on him, complete with a pocket with pens. He had a very solid chest but he must have been made of, I don’t know … cloth composite I suppose, there was quite a structure to it, it had quite a sound rib cage, pretty much like most teddy bears do but he was just very pink. I think one of his ears was ripped, but he lived through that. Steve, born London, 1957

I had a teddy bear that I’ve still got. I dressed him up in the pyjamas and dressing gown. And he’s very, very sweet. I don’t have him on display now, I’ve got him tucked away in a box. Zoe, born Brighton, 1960

He was brilliant white, with lovely, those sort of amber eyes with black pupils and he had a little button nose here like that. A little smile there. And his paws were stitched on. And he never had a name. Marc, born Islington, 1960

When I was very young, I had a lovely teddy bear which was called Blue Ted, and he was about this big, a teddy bear with little arms out, and a little button nose which I – sorry, button eyes. I used to chew on them, when I was very young Yeah, I loved him so much I took him everywhere. I used to drag him down the street as my best friend, sleep with him, and I knew that when I went to bed my mum would take him and wash him. And then put him back into bed with me. Bal, born Croydon, 1974

Teddy was brought by my mother’s twin brother in Israel, where he was working after the war, about two years before I was born because my mother had fertility problems so, this, I was a very planned baby. And after I was born Teddy appeared. So he is an Israeli teddy. Interesting. I am not sure what the fabric is but he is definitely full of sawdust. He lost his eyes a long time ago. He had the teddy button orange and black eyes I think. But I just can’t bring myself to get rid of him. Rhiannon, born Lewisham, 1950


When I was very small I was always scratching him, so he permanently had a sort of naked tummy, just no fur left on him at all, but he was an old faithful. He eventually got replaced by a monkey which was named Jacko, and he wasn’t a patch on Ted, but it was a change. Jim, born Hove, 1932

Yes I did have a teddy bear. One eye. And it was a bit moth eaten as well. I’m not sure where it came from. It could have come from my grandfather. It had quite a sharp pointed head and all the arms and legs I think were intact but one may have been missing, I’m not sure. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

I certainly had a teddy bear at the age of 3 and a half or 4 and it was quite a big one. I think it was a Chad Valley and it had a voice and it was called Banks. And why was it called Banks? Because my father felt it rather resembled one of his fellow form masters at Shrewsbury School. Michael, born Montreal, 1923

I have my brother’s only teddy bear. He’s called Tough Ted. When my brother was a teenager, he was a punk, in the late ‘70’s, early 80’s, and so was this bear. At one point he was sprayed gold and basically he matched whatever hair my brother had for a while. Annebella, born Plymouth, 1973

These are my, probably my most fond toys from my childhood, two similar looking bears that were made for me from a friend from my nursery, which I decided to call Sausage and Bacon and playing with them I was very aggressive and made them fight almost every day and was showing my mum these sort of wrestling moves and asking her which one would hurt the most and that pretty much kind of writes how I played with my toys as a kid…kind of miss those days. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

I had a teddy bear that was given to me when I was two years old. And I still got him now. He’s one with like brown leather hands and feet and the kind of brown button eyes. Glass eyes and things. One of the expensive teddy bears. I was scared of him as a two year old because he was bigger than me. And then he just kind of used to be my teddy bear on my bed. All the way through. You know, my mascot. When I used to study and stuff. And my friends knew my teddy bear because it was always there. Like part of the furniture. He did have a name but I can’t remember it now. Yolanda, born Pietermaritzburg, 1968

It was a female cat in a very flat shape about 12 inches in height. It was like someone had made it out of flat fabric. So it was not well stuffed. And it was grey coloured, with some sort of uniform and grey legs and white feet. Hugh, born Hove, 1966

When I was younger I had loads and loads of teddy bears. But now I just have the one I got given by my great grandmother when I was about a few months old. It’s this little white lion, it’s a bit battered down. My Nan’s had to stitch him a new tail. My Nan stitched a smile onto him because he always looked really depressed because he just had like the two whiskers, and he used to have black felt on his ears and feet but that’s long fallen off I think, and he’s got a little brown button nose. But all of the fabric’s come off that so it’s the bare button. He’s very well looked after, I still can’t sleep without him. Matt, born Brighton.1991

I had a handmade thing called Steggy the Stegosaurus my grandmother – which was a stegosaurus, handknitted, with dungarees, still got him around somewhere. Given to me I think when I was 4, a pattern my grandmother found somewhere, went with me pretty much everywhere, every school trip, until it became a bit embarrassing to bring a teddy bear on school trips, and spent most of his time in my bed. Hugo, born Haywards Heath, 1989

I got a teddy bear in 1961, when I was three years old. I remember it very well. And I got the teddy bear because I had to go to hospital when I was three. I had something called acidosis and I had to spend … I’m not sure how long … it was probably about a week in hospital and my mum bought me the teddy bear while I was in hospital. But funnily enough, unlike most children who really love their teddy bears, I always had, with this teddy bear, the association of not being with my mum. So I never bonded at all. I never really liked my teddy bear. Even though I felt that I should like it, I never liked it. It grunted when you turned it. It had a very scratchy nose. I don’t know if the nose was always scratchy but as far as I remember, the nose was very scratchy. It became threadbare because it probably was thrown around quite a bit in its. It had a name too, Klaus, yeah I think my mum named it and my mum was German so all my dolls and my teddy bear had German names. Yaa, born Balham, 1958


Did you play with any dolls? Can you tell me about them?

She was nice. I had it for a Christmas present one year when I was quite young. The head was china. She had real hair. The head was china but the body was, in those days, it was a material body. And the one I had was black material body. But it was given to me with all the dolly clothes on. My mother, she got her dressed in a white, like a baby’s christening robe that went all over. The funniest thing was, she had donkey’s ears bags. It was, today we’d say knickers. But this was donkey’s ear bags. Used to tie them under the knee and a drawstring at the back. And they were generally known as donkey’s ear bags. Alice, born Brighton, 1918

I had a doll. It was a second hand doll. But I liked it. It was china and she had, it was a she, she had a set of clothes that I could change for her. But it was given to me, it wasn’t bought, because my mum was poor, couldn’t afford things like that. But I used to love that. It was only small. But I liked it very much. Doreen, born Bexhill, 1927

I remember one of my first dolls. She was called Katie and she had kind of dreadlocked hair that stands up on end,’ cos I used to play with it under my nose. She was a bit weird actually, Katie. She had plastic arms and legs and a plastic head but then a soft body. Yeah, I think she was one of those early ‘90’s dolls. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

My favourite one was one I had at Christmas with a magnificent pram and she was black this doll, and it was about ten years I suppose after the Windrush project of Afro Caribbean people coming into the country that were invited in, if you remember, in the late forties, and the fifties. These dolls were seen as incredibly exotic, and we just thought they were absolutely gorgeous. There was nobody at school with a dark skin, or curly hair, and I had a friend who also asked for a black doll for Christmas, so the two of us walked round with our prams with our black dolls in. She wasn’t breakable, so she wasn’t china. She had hair. She had eyes that closed when she lay back. I suppose Bakelite was coming in in those days. I’m talking about the fifties really, because if I was born in forty eight, this would have been about fifty five, fifty six, fifty seven, so I would imagine some early form of Bakelite. Linda, born Brighton, 1948


I had a rag doll called Meg. and I used to play with that a lot, and dress it up in costumes and I think latterly I gave it to my mum when she was poorly and I think eventually I gave it away to a collector, but it was, it got ruffled, a bit tatty, and I put it in the washing machine and it got a bit tatty in the end so I think I got rid of it, but yeah I really used to enjoy playing with Meg, used to be one of my favourite dolls. She was, pink arms and soft body and individual arms and legs, and yes quite a character. Zoe born Brighton, 1960

The doll I want to talk about today she’s called Barbara, I would never call a doll. And I remember very well the day, when I, when I, when I first saw her. And so here was with a box, and I unwrapped and looked what was in that box, and I was just, from the very beginning, absolutely captivated and I think first of all I saw her hair, because it made me feel ‘Is she real, is she, what is she? Is she a doll?’ Because this is real hair. And my mother had a little kind of, almost a speech, saying ‘this is special doll, there’s only one like her.’ Because the lady who made the dolls, she was an artist and these dolls just had become quite famous actually and Barbara ended up with me because she had a problem with her arm. And she had been in an exhibition, and something happened to her, so it was affordable. And I can see that, you know, looking back, that probably it also set me apart a little bit from other girls because they never had doll like this, I mean, they were seriously expensive at the time. [She was made by] Sasha Morgenthaler. She was an artist. It’s all hand made. The head is ceramic. She painted the face. The whole head is exclusively made by her. Every single head is different. And she later on then had a mould and the whole Sasha puppet turned into a mass operation. Christina, born Zurich, 1953

Klaus was the oldest and their ages always stayed the same. I think he was always ten. And then Petra, who was a very pretty sort of German doll. She was sort of the most classy, the most expensive. Then there was Alex, who was a baby boy doll who didn’t have any hair, whereas Petra had some really nice hair that sprouted out of her head in tufts. Annetta was a very elegant doll with red nails, yes, so she was very classy. And then after Alex, there was Katya, who was actually a boy, although he had a girl’s name and one year, he sat too close to the open fire at Christmas, so his hair got all sort of frizzled, which was quite sad but these things happen. And there was Ushi, and Ushi’s arms and legs were very loose. (They never actually fell off, but I think they were tied with elastic inside so they always were in danger of falling off but they never did. And I think Ushi was one of my favourites really. And then there was Christa, who was also a boy with a girl’s name. And the last one was Heidi, and Heidi was a little plastic doll made in one mould, with moulded hair, I don’t think you can get dolls like that nowadays. And I had her when I was very small and she had scribbles all over her back, which never came off and her limbs were stuck in one position. They didn’t move at all. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

Me and my sister were both big fans of Barbies and we’ve still got a large collection of Barbies of different varieties. I had a bowling Barbie where you could pull her hand back and she let the ball go; we had a teacher Barbie. I think I had a car at one point as well. We had a lot of different Barbies and a lot of kind of variations on Barbie like teacher Barbie or swimming Barbie. I remember getting a cheerleader Barbie when we went to America and we each had our own cheerleader Barbie, again in different coloured uniforms, ‘cos we each had our favourite colours. There was one with blue dungarees that I was quite fond of, a bit older than little. I think I must have been about 10 or 12 and she was my favourite one, probably because I had blue dungarees as well. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

I coveted a Barbie. I always wanted a Barbie but I just got given cheap Barbies which were really quite disgusting – very prominent breasts, very small waists. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

I used to have liked a Sindy Doll but I had another doll called Mary Make Up. And that was a similar sort of doll but I used to put lipstick on it. And a Tressy Doll with growing hair. And another doll that I used to call Angela but it had black curly hair. And two coloured dolls and I used to call them Mellissa and May. And another doll called Goalie that was a goal keeper. And that was dressed in a football shirt and a top. The other dolls were called Gordon after Gordon Banks. And another doll called Susanne that I had as well. Zoe, born Brighton, 1960

The doll I mainly played with was the doll that my mum had which must have been from about 1950s. And it was plastic and it had those marbley eyes with eyelashes. So it was my mum’s doll that she had since her childhood, and my sister played with it and me. And we all gave it a different name, so my mum called it Ruby, and I called it Diana which I think retrospectively was because of Princess Diana who was obviously around a lot in the 90s. She had, she was missing a foot where my uncle had sawn it off in an act of childish revenge I think. But we loved her anyway. My mum still has her and keeps her in a cot. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

I had lots of dolls. I had a lot of Barbie dolls. All the different stages of the Barbie dolls. And I had I think it was about five, and Mum and Dad bought me all these tall walkie talkie dolls, that were in fashion that year. And I had one bought for me. But mine didn’t walk, it only spoke. But she was still a big one in a box like a coffin. I had a set of Barbies. And obviously, used to change them into different clothes and stuff. And have picnics and tea parties. Yolanda, born Pietermaritzburg, 1968

You used to be able to get a magazine with a cut-out cardboard cut-out doll. And you used to cut out every week you’d get or every month you’d get new umm clothes for them. They had little tabs on them, so I do remember playing with that quite a lot. Rhiannon, born Lewisham, 1950

My big thing was trolls, they were my absolute favourite thing in the world. They were all different types, so I had you know doctors and everything. I used to like doing their hair that was a big thing, different hair styles. I used to carry them around in a bag and I even made a passport for them. So when, we, when I took them places, I would make a passport stamp about where they had been, by bag or by bus. You know the mode of transport was very important. And they all had different names which I used to remember, I used to you know reel off 50 or 60 troll names. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

I did have dolls, I had a fair few, I had . . . Well its quite cliché stereotypical Action Man, multiple of them which I kind of used as they are supposed to be used-fighting, blah blah blah James Bond-esque. I had these wrestling figures which kind of formed the same sort of function which would be fighting each other constantly. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

Action Men. Absolutely loved them, yeah. I think at its high point I probably had 6 I would say, who had different names. They were in a sort of pack, they were a group, like a commando unit. They were a very tight team you know. And a major innovation was that you might have started out with one with fixed positon hands in a sort of the right hand was in a trigger position and the left hand was in a muzzle support position, but that was changed in the early 70s to gripping hands so you’d have more utility. That was quite an innovation really, they could hold multiple tools, all the fingers could articulate, and so could the thumbs. The issue with that was they broke, they became broken on the inside of the knuckles and so fingers would fall off. Fortunately, in Brighton was the doll’s hospital, where you could get that problem rectified and a new pair of hands put in so your Action Man would work, would be mended. Hugh, born Hove, 1966

I had a large collection of Action Men. I had some fairly old ones I think, the earliest one I had was from the 80s, I also had Action Men and Action Men knock-offs that I didn’t like that much, and they were always used to test things I made, like I made a zipwire and so my least favourite would go down it first to make sure it wouldn’t break, then my favourite ones went down. Hugo, born Haywards Heath, 1989

I started off by having a little plastic one, which wasn’t very good because his arms wouldn’t bend. Like his hair was plastic, it was just drawn on. But then I got an Action Man who bends and turns and everything, and he was a lot of fun. Bal, born Croydon, 1974

I did play with like your Action Men, and robots, and Masters of the Universe type He Men little figures and collected those, but not really dolls, no. I think everything I had really fell into three camps. That would have been Star Wars stuff and Star Wars figures. ‘Cos that was huge, with that kind of generation of kids. I definitely had a few Transformers models ‘cos they were, that was another big thing from about 1983, 84, 85 that kind of era. And as I say, the Masters of the Universe, the He Man stuff. And probably in that order, to be honest with you, by sheer coincidence. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

Toy soldiers. Yes. They were painted and some on horseback. They were forever getting broken. The heads were coming off and their arms were coming off. Gordon R, born Cardiff, 1929

The soldiers would be on a strip of cardboard, so many, and then there’d be horses and they’d have a lance and it moved – their arms moved up and down, that was made of lead. And then it was painted, beautiful colours you know, and then you had the fort, well that’s it, that was a wooden fort, up in the square, it had the thing what went up and down, you know the drawbridge, and all that kind of thing and you built round it if you know what I mean. William, born Hammersmith, 1920

Construction Toys

Did you play with any construction toys? Can you tell me about them?

I had Meccano. Boxes and boxes of it. Yeah, it was very interesting. Helpful. John, born Brighton, 1934

I had a Meccano set which my father made a case for. He made a wooden case for me for me for it. I used to make cranes particularly, and bridges. Winding up bridges and so on. And the cranes. And I had wheels, cogs and fabulous, a fabulous set, quite a few girders, and, you don’t find them now, but the triangular shapes of the metal. Good for bridges and stuff. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

Well the great thing I think all the boys today they’d remember, it was new for us, was the Meccano set. That was marvellous. If you got one of them, you was made. They had different sizes, but as a kid you just had a small one, you had the screws, and there you are. You had the pieces of tin, they were all colours, and they had holes in them, and all you done, and you had little round wheels, and you could make a crane out of it, see. William, born Hammersmith, 1920

I remember my brother having Meccano and playing with it together, because I was a bit of a tomboy so I quite liked the boy stuff, I didn’t like the car stuff very much, but I quite like, I do remember putting Meccano together. And him getting frustrated with me because I couldn’t quite do it correctly. Train sets and stuff like that. Rhiannon, born Lewisham, 1950

I don’t know the name of it, this flat pack, this kind of, just like Meccano, but it wasn’t Meccano And these things were 10 shillings a packet. And once you’d acquire several sets, several boxes, you could then intermingle them. Joe, born London, 1936

We had Meccano with batteries. I think we had a car and you could like build it in, and it had like plastic that you could fold over and put a battery in, it was like a remote controlled car. That was really cool, I really liked that. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

We had Lego. I remember having a big, big metal, probably just one of those Quality Street tins, or it might have been even bigger, just full of Lego. And it was, it was not just specific sets, it was just random bits of Lego. But I also remember having a fair bit, to start with, of Meccano. I think my older brother was a bit more into Meccano than I was. Probably more the case that I probably got it too young. So Lego, where you were just sticking bricks together was a lot more simple than toying with little spanners and tiny little nuts and bolts. Even now I love the idea of Meccano. I think it’s a shame it’s not, you know, everywhere and in the shops and teaching kids to be young engineers and stuff. But I think I probably got put off it a little bit by getting given it all at the same time. But I had an awful lot of Lego and built an awful lot of things out of it. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

You had all these sort of themed Lego sets which allowed you to create what you wanted but also kind of tie in with the theme of your choice, which I always found enjoyable! Mainly just Star Wars. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

Yeah, I had some Lego. The good thing with Lego, about Lego in those times was that it tended not to come in these sorts of sets that were linked to films or other things that were going on. It wasn’t heavily marketed. It was utility Lego, you could make anything from it. So it was only limited by your imagination really. So I would build towers as high as they could go. See if they could go as high as the ceiling, but they’d only go a couple of feet probably. Hugh, born Hove, 1966

I was a big fan of Lego. But before that, I had the Duplo which was basically the baby version of Lego, or the small child version and they were a bit bigger, they were probably about that big or something so children couldn’t eat them basically, or swallow them. It was plastic; it was quite bright coloured. There were four different colours so it was red and blue and yellow and green. I think we must have had two sets of Duplo that had got mixed ‘cos we had zoo animals and we had a house. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

Lott’s bricks. I thought they were great. They inspired me. They were comforting too, because they were repetitive to make. But you could vary the model making enough to be of interest along the line as it were. And you had the green roofs. And I’m not quite sure what the stone was, some sort of marble with the colours printed on, which I thought was great. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

At this time, one of the great things was in fact Lott’s bricks which were still the best of all bricks and I certainly had a number of sets. Nothing like as prolific as you actually have in the cases here. The Toy Museum’s set of Lott’s bricks is superb. Michael, born Montreal, 1923

I used to have lots and lots of bricks, blocks, wood blocks. Every time my father went into town he came back with a bag of building blocks. Gordon R, born Cardiff, 1929

Well yes, you got a set of bricks you know, to build up of various shapes. You could make like houses in a sense if you’ve got a set of bricks. You know you’d have one with sort of bit out in the various colours. I had those, yes, to make buildings as you might say. Reg, born Newington, 1915

I have loved Thomas the Tank Engine since as long as I can remember, so I think that’s what got me into trains, and I’ve still got the very first Hornby train ever built. It’s a bright red tank engine, it still works, with these bright blue, yellow and red coaches and trucks. And I was hooked ever since. I’ve still got my model railway, I’m still adding to it. Yeah, I had some of the Hornby Thomas Trains and some of that as well. I’ve sold that all now, but, yeah, hours of fun with trains. Matt, born Brighton, 1991

I had something called Wenebrix. And each piece slotted into each other. And you could make scenes with that. Alice, born Brighton, 1918

This was the time when Hornby were also producing their motor car kits and it is about two years later, just after we came back to Birmingham that I was in fact allowed Hornby Number One car Construction kit, which was very nice. It looked a bit like an MG, open tourer. Michael, born Montreal, 1923

One thing we used to get occasionally is balsa kits for making aeroplanes. And things like that. They were one of the sort of things you could get during the war you know. And then you used to hang them up on the roof, as if they were flying, you know. Dave, born Bolton, 1935

I remember some of the very first plastic aeroplane kits which came out just before the start of the Second World War, and they did a very short range, sort of Spitfire, things like that, difficult, but they were a funny sort of plastic, and you had to get a special glue for them and special paint and that used to shatter my father’s finances somewhat. Jim, born Hove, 1932

It was called a Bluebird. Which was a very simple aeroplane. I mean, it was the first one I ever built. My auntie was well aware of that, so it was quite a simple, just a balsa wood construction, with tissue paper over it. Cellulose, and an elastic band and a propeller. So that was the first one. But again, I didn’t make many of those kits, because I used to do all my own designing and that’s what triggered it all off really. When you start off it’s rubber bands. Rubber. Elastic. And, or gliding, when you use the wind of course as energy. And after that then there’s a whole range of aircraft engines. In my early days it was just petrol engines but slowly, at the end of the war, diesel engines came in which were much easier to run and didn’t need an ignition system and all that sort of thing. So it was engines after that, and then they just got bigger and bigger basically. Tony, born Brighton, 1933

I’ll tell you what we used to have, what we called trolleys. There were four wheels, with a plank, with a bit of seating on it, and we used to have them. Dave, born Bolton, 1935

We used to make four wheelers. With pram wheels and a plank. Run them down the road. That sort of thing, yeah. John, born Brighton, 1934

I used to collect the empty .22 cases, small brass cases, and used to collect those and took them home, a pile of these of these, and I created in my mind like a weapon. But it wasn’t. What it was, was a metal coat hanger which I cut into a shape, basically like that, with a grip and a piece of metal and then at the end of that I put a spring, and compressed the two bits together, so if you hold it, you help an empty .22 cartridge on the end of it with your finger, and when you let it go it sprung off. And I found hours of amusement in that. Joe, born London, 1936

All down one side of the cellar was a big workbench, which my grandfather worked at, and my father worked at. Not doing anything in particular, but just as a hobby really, and I had a tiny little vice, that clamped on to the end of this, and we had a little pond in the garden, so I used to hammer nails into bits of wood and make sails, and float these little boats, little flat boats on the water. Linda, born Brighton, 1948



How did you come to own it?

Mum and Dad would get them when they’d gone on their holidays or you know, from different countries or from England and stuff like that. They were all gifts. I never bought any of mine. Yolanda, born Pietermaritzburg, 1968

I think it was a Christmas present and then it just started from there and once shops that sold the Betta Bilda and obviously not as widely distributed as Lego, once they were located, I would think ‘aha’, the finger would wag and that was it, there’s a Betta Bilda distributor there so I don’t know if I had pocket money or now and again, I’d get slipped half a crown I guess from my mum or my grandmother and I’d be able to get some. Steve, born London, 1957

I had a doll, my father brought it home from abroad. Pat, born Southsea, 1946

I had lots and lots of golliwogs and that’s because from the age of about 7 or so I started collecting them. And I started just with one that I particularly liked and because I liked it so much, my mum knitted me one for the following Christmas. And then, the next Christmas or birthday I got another one, and I started looking out for them as well as being given them. Annebella, born Plymouth, 1973

It was actually bought because I was a spoilt child. I must be honest with everyone. I was a spoilt child. And at my paternal mum’s behest we’d gone to a local church thing. I was very very young but I remember it quite vividly. And I saw this teddy bear which had been hand made by one of the ladies of the local Women’s Institute. And I said “I wan’ it, I wan’ it, I wan’ it.” And I never got it, not on the day anyway. And about 3 or 4 days later I discovered that my grandma had actually bought it off the lady, ‘cos it hadn’t sold at the fete, for 14 old shillings. Marc, born Islington, 1960

I and my governess were in the flat and what was rather nice was on Christmas day, that doctor came along to see me and I was in fact getting better and he had a present for me which was a Hornby aeroplane kit Michael, born Montreal, 1923

With the He Man figures I remember being enticed, whenever my mum and dad went to do the weekly shop at Tesco’s, that when you first walked in they put all the kid’s toys right near the front of the store so I, in my mind, every week I was allowed to go and buy a new figure to keep me quiet and stop complaining while they did the shop. I think, I think in reality it was probably once every four or five trips to Tesco’s. I probably had four or five tantrums and then once in a while I got a new He Man figure, but I definitely remember it working on that basis of them always coming from the same store. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

I had my tonsils out when I was five and ‘cos we were covered under BUPA cover, we got into the hospital and there was a welcome pack from BUPA, for all the children that they treated. And in the top of this bag, was a bear. And he went into the operation with me, I think. I don’t think he left my side for a while afterwards. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

My big thing was trolls. I don’t know how I got my first one, but I used to go round charity shops and collect them, and my mum used to work in a charity shop for a while, and I used to love rummaging and of course they were affordable for me, they were just 20p or something, so I used to just collect them. And the more unusual they were the better, and with anything when you start getting a collection people, you know, will donate, so they came in from everywhere. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

I remember like looking through like, the Argos catalogue for Lego stuff, and stuff every year that I wanted. So yeah, that’s where I think that’s where I found most of the things. Matt, born Brighton, 1991

There was a kind of, a kind of genteel poverty about the house, and always a worry about money. And I didn’t realise ‘til many years afterwards that my mother had really really struggled to pay for this pram, and this doll. And we used to go down to a shop every week, just to make sure that Father Christmas had actually got the message about the doll and the pram that I was wanting. And in actual fact, she was paying off a little bit each week, so that I would have this wonderful pram and doll. Linda, born Brighton, 1948

I suppose somebody must have given it to me. Somebody had finished with it I expect. It was second hand. Alice, born Brighton, 1918

I think it just came down through the family. When somebody had finished using it they passed it on to the next youngest one, you know. Dave, born Bolton, 1935

It was a second hand doll. But it was given to me, it wasn’t bought, because my mum was poor, couldn’t afford things like that. Doreen, born Bexhill, 1927

A lot of the stuff I had was kind of hand me down stuff from my two brothers, so it’s kind of like the previous era of toys I guess. Even most of the stuff that my brothers had in the 70s wasn’t brand new stuff, it was probably hand me down stuff from other people’s families. There were no little trips to department stores to get the latest gadget stuff, you know. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

The Meccano set was about the first thing I had. ‘cos it was partly Dad’s I think when he was a boy. And I inherited it. And he added to it. And I used to buy bits. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

I think my Dad had some Lego, so he passed that on. Christmas and stuff you would get sets but we had a lot more Lego than the set would imply, so I guess we just picked it up in big bags of random pieces from charity stores sometimes as well. Hugo, born Haywards Heath, 1989

I don’t know if you remember the cereal called Force do you? Well, when I was young we had it at home. And if you sent the packet tops and a small amount of money they sent you a Sunny Jim as featured on the box. I don’t know where that ended up. But years and years later they said people could send out and buy one. And I wanted one so badly, ‘cos I did like my Sunny Jim. I couldn’t resist sending for him when they were advertising. Alice, born Brighton, 1918

We, a lot of people, at that time didn’t have that much material possessions, an awful lot. My family certainly didn’t. Skint. But most of the toys, most of the things I amused myself with I had to create for myself really. That sounds a bit selfish on my parents’ part but it’s the truth. Joe, born London, 1936

In this children’s village, the boys used to do carpentry. Somebody made me a crib for the dolls, a rocking crib, which was beautiful, really lovely. They were just gifts. I mean I was lucky because most of the children were about ten years older than me so I was like the young child and I lived with my mum whereas they all lived without their parents so I suppose I was a bit of surrogate sister to them, and they used to be generous to me and be kind to me, so that was nice. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

My granddad was a very clever man and he used to do carpentry as a hobby and he made me and my sister several toys and two things that he made were dolls’ rocking baskets like cribs and a doll’s bunk bed for Christmas for different years. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

One of the greatest Christmas presents I received when I was comparatively young, was a train that was designed and built by my father. He used cotton reels for the wheels. And he did a good job. And I was ever so proud of that. The fact that things were desperately short, money was desperately short, and he actually worked on that in his spare moments, prior to going in the forces. Bernard, born Burgess Hill, 1934

I think the pattern came from a knitting magazine, my nan still has the pattern. It got slightly chewed on by some cats so whenever she makes the stegosaurus they have a slightly weird crick in the neck, but she made another one for one of my cousins. Hugo, born Haywards Heath, 1989

I was most fond of quite home-spun things. My mum made a lot of cuddly toys. I really clearly remember that when I was at primary school, she made toys to go on a toy stall. And my sister and I were absolutely heartbroken because we’d fallen in love with them and we couldn’t keep them and she’d let us play with them before they went on the stall. And my sister and I got really early at the front of the queue. We ran to the toy stall and we bought them back with our own money. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

I had a golliwog. My aunt Alice who lived under us, she used to wear black stockings, and the body of it was made of the stockings, and then the head, and you know she made it, and the mouth, and the eyes were buttons sewn in, you know, and all that, and it was quite nice. William, born Hammersmith, 1920

One Christmas, I had two Pelham puppets, ‘cos Dad knew I was interested in that side of it and I put them together and made some outfits for them. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

We used to make four wheelers. With pram wheels and a plank. And then we used to make these, a stick with flight feathers on it, wind a bit of string round it and throw it, they were very very dangerous they was. They’d kill you if they hit you. John, born Brighton, 1934

On Saturdays I delivered rolls and bread for a very small bakery up the road. An Italian guy. I used to deliver papers from his shop in the week and on Saturdays I delivered bread for him locally. And from that, it sort of kept me out of mischief and also it enabled me to have a wage. Some money every week. Which was ten shillings. And with that I managed to do things. So for example I bought, it was like Meccano but it wasn’t. And every pack, it was 10 shillings. Later on from that I did the same thing but using my money to buy a bike. A push bike. I bought it on the never never. My father had to sign the HP document of course and I paid him. And that was 17 pounds 10 shillings. The Raleigh Tourist Sport. Red. Joe, born London, 1936

When I was fifteen I think it was, I saved up, ‘cos I was still at school, I saved, I worked on the post office over Christmas, and I saved up, I can still remember it to this day, four pound, fourteen and sixpence, which I used for buying my first engine and that was with me for a good many years. Tony, born Brighton, 1933

We used to sometimes go for a walk in an area not far from our house, which was a sort of wasteland area. There was a valley between two streets of housing and people used to just chuck stuff in there and we used to root through it and find stuff and I remember finding a Barbie twin tub. And some Weebles with the eyes caved in. So we had never been bought those or even wanted them or asked for them but we picked them up when they were discarded on a rubbish dump. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

Was there anything you wanted but couldn’t have?

There was a lot of toys like accessories to Action Men, like the vehicles were really expensive, and so we rarely could afford those or get those, I remember hovercraft Action Men I really wanted. Lego we couldn’t afford too often because Lego is always a bit pricey, but yeah I saved up for a lot of things. Family couldn’t really afford too many presents, the occasional big thing, but there was a lot of stuff I wanted that I couldn’t get. Hugo, born Haywards Heath, 1989

There were quite a few Lego sets that were advertised really well and they were very, very expensive which I always asked for but kind of knowing that I’d never get them but yeah I mean I, I don’t really regret not having them now I mean but yeah I always did want them. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

I didn’t really have any Barbies because they were too expensive. At the time I wanted a Barbie but now I think I had much more interesting toys. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

There were adverts on television, you know, for extremely complicated and extremely expensive things but I don’t remember there ever being a hope in hell of getting them] so I never, kind of, set my heart on them because I couldn’t have them. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

A pedal car. I feel, in a way, my childhood has been blighted by not having had a pedal car. I really, really wanted a pedal car. I suppose I didn’t ask strongly enough or maybe they were too expensive. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

I don’t suppose I give much thought to having more toys, you just had what you had, you know. The sailor thing, and the fort, and that sort of thing, that’s all I ever had, you know. And I don’t think my mates had much more. Dave, born Bolton, 1935

No, no. Nobody had lots of toys in those days. We all had a few favourite ones. Alice, born Brighton, 1918

No, I can’t recall that at all. No. I was never really what you’d call covetous, you know. I wouldn’t be like a spoilt child. Steve, born London, 1957

I don’t think so, I don’t think I ever wanted for anything of those. Sometimes I thought my neighbours had more that I had which was disappointing, but that was it really. Hugh, born Hove, 1966

I think I was OK, don’t think I really yearned for anything else. Zoe, born Brighton, 1960

I’ll tell you what it was for me. My grandfather started to make me a dolls bungalow. And he was a perfectionist. He was a really skilled carpenter, self taught, and this dolls bungalow progressed so slowly, that by the time he died when I was eleven, it still wasn’t finished. And then a year later I was through that stage and out the other end, so I never did have my dolls bungalow. But that would have been the kind of thing I could have thrown myself into completely, because there would have been a little domain with tiny tables and chairs and beds and what have you, and I think I would have loved to have had that ready to play with. But sadly it didn’t ever get finished in time for me to benefit from it. Linda, born Brighton, 1948

Do you know what there’s nothing I can think of, I think I was quite lucky with my childhood. It was quite privileged so I can’t think of anything. There was always trains that I wanted but I can’t think of anything I wanted specifically that I didn’t have. Matt, born Brighton, 1991


How did you play with it?

You got just a box of Lego. You didn’t get them as pre packed, you know, make this up. You had to make your own up. So you could be quite creative. Of course most of mine were starships and things like that ‘cos I was very much into science fiction. Marc, born Islington, 1960

I loved making things up, out of Lego, inventing things and then making up stories with whatever I was playing with. We had this one set that was like pirate ships, and islands and stuff so a lot of pirate scenarios with that one. Or I used to make planes a lot as well and trains out of Lego, and made up things. With the ponies, when I was in the bath, they used to have to try to get on a journey around the bath while being like battered by tidal waves. Matt, born Brighton, 1991

I used to make buildings with my Meccano such as churches and things like that. All bolted together with nut and bolt. Bridges. I made bridges. Peter Briant, born Brighton, 1920

With the Lego we took it very seriously, we had a big piece of plywood that we painted a road on that ended in a beach and it had plots for each of the houses. And we used to build, like all of us, like me and my brothers and my aunty used to build all of the houses and used to put them on the street and we used to put a pirate ship in the sea. And then we used to leave it up for a week or so and, you know used to play with it like a city. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

You could build all kinds of things, you know make a crane and on the end you’d have the little handle you made and you just turn it, and that’d lift up a log and that. And if you got a railway train, you know a little railway brought you a train, as it came round, it stopped, then, you could have tree, a little trunks of trees which you got from downing branches, and what I used to do was cut them and there you are, you could paint them brown and all that, and then, do them up in bundles, and you lift them out and lower them onto the carriage as it got there. You know it’s all kids’ play and mind. William, born Hammersmith, 1920

With Lego it used to be more serious, because we had to, we used to be more concerned about constructing a car or a home or a boat or something out of it. So we didn’t really mix it with other toys. It was just the proper kind of putting them together to make up something. But we used to make up quite big things, you know. Big houses and stuff. Yolanda, born Pietermaritzburg, 1968

Yeah, it was a great toy that was. I think most of us had Meccano didn’t we? Cranes, trucks. You got the instruction kit with it as well. Very good they were. You used to make your own things out of them. Yeah, you had motors and everything on them. Yeah, a brilliant toy. Winders. On the crane, up and down. Yeah, a very good toy that was. Used to spend hours and hours with it. John, born Brighton, 1934

We had a Hornby train set, which we used – my brother and I, and my dad used to make – well we used to make things like bridges and all that sort of thing, tunnels for the trains you know. And we used to try and make motor cars. Maurice, born Ramsgate, 1923

The Bayko I just used to build, actually, the, you know, the designs that came with it, it came with a booklet of various designs, and I would build those, because I just didn’t have that sort of imagination, that I could design my own. The train set, in the living room, it had a paisley rug, and the paisley I made into a town for my marbles, and the marbles were the passengers and the people and the train served that town, so, you know, that used to, I used to almost like always on the paisley rug while everything else was going on all around me, and I would, you know, that was…that was my world Pat, born Southsea, 1946

Whenever I had a big cardboard box, like make a big base of them, intricate furniture and stuff like that, and then there would be about ten minutes of destroying the base in a scenario, so it took me 5 hours to make this thing and then I would spent ten minutes destroying it and then start all over again. With my brother, we’d spend ages constructing stuff and usually whole society sort of running, not really war with Lego, it was how the society ran, who did what, that sort of thing. Each one had a job, stuff like that, yeah so then there’d be political strife, I don’t know, it’s – this whole society ran, there’d be a great big catastrophe and you’d start over again the next day. Hugo, born Haywards Heath, 1989

I could form quite ambitious constructions with [Betta Bilda]. I developed great big fantasy cities if I could manage it and under- sea empires, that sort of thing as best I could. I was very influenced by Gerry Andersen puppet series and Stingray I was a bit keen on and so I would modify Betta Bilda. I just lived in a realm of fantasy in my head really, I was quite content there. Steve, born London, 1957

Well I used to have soldiers and a fort and used to have battles with my brother. You know he was a bit older than me. He used to win all the time. Maurice, born Ramsgate, 1923

Well the farm had tractors and ploughs which I put together and played with, the soldiers I used to form up into ranks, not do much with them, but look at them. Peter Briant, born Brighton, 1920

I was a little more untidy with my toy soldiers. I used to go in our back garden which had a lot of rockeries and I’d make fortresses, and I’d gradually lose all these soldiers in the soil. I had a few left over but by that time I was getting a bit too big for them, but I used to play out there, and have little trenches in sand and soil, very untidy, my father was not pleased, but there we are, I didn’t do too much damage. Jim, born Hove, 1932

We used to buy them in Woolworths or any old places and build up an army of them and then a friend of mine would come round and we’d have a battle. Tony, born Brighton, 1933

probably my most fond toys from my childhood, two similar looking bears that were made for me from a friend from my nursery, which I decided to call Sausage and Bacon and playing with them I was very aggressive and made them fight almost every day and was showing my mum these sort of wrestling moves and asking her which one would hurt the most and that pretty much kind of writes how I played with my toys as a kid. Kind of miss those days. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

I sort of pretended she was real. I used to take her out and play with her. I didn’t have a dolly’s pram, but I did have this cradle. I used to take her out and make it up. Take her out and sort of tidy up the bed. Things like that. Tidy up the cradle. Alice, born Brighton, 1918

I remember playing massive Barbie games of having a massive family, ‘cos I wanted all the little dolls to be involved and they were all related somehow and they were all brothers and sisters or cousins and friends and my mum used to get quite annoyed though, ‘cos I used to play the same game every time and she would be like “can’t we play a different game?” and I was like “no, this one’s called Holly and she’s friends with this one and then he’s called Dave or” I don’t remember all their names but I had certain games that I would play with certain of the toys. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

Lots of pretend play, lots of conversation, you know, let’s go and see the doctor troll. There was a vicar, I had a vicar who used to marry people, used to marry the trolls, that was good. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

I had also a little run down pram, that was very run down actually, so I used to take it for walks. We done a lot of walking, I think that was our pastime really, walking. Doreen, born Bexhill, 1927

You’d have little scenarios where you’d have the goodies and the baddies, and perhaps the goodies would have to go and rescue someone who was trapped. A lot of the stuff I would have made with Lego would have interacted with the He Man figures. Because I wouldn’t have necessarily been bought the big expensive Castle Greyskull or whatever. But I would have then gone right, well what can I do to sort of, you know, add to this, and I would have made like little houses and put them on little different levels and so on. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

They’d spend a lot of time in the back yard, garden, buried. They’d have camps. Or they’d be hidden, or they’d be fighting the next door neighbours’, they’d be in a sort of team engaged in warfare with next door. Yeah, they spent a lot of time outside getting very dirty. With all their equipment. Hugh, born Hove, 1966

The Action Man was great. It got me into an awful lot of trouble because I’d dress him up in his combat uniforms and put him in the back garden, and then go and nick my dad’s darts, and run round the garden throwing the darts from different angles at the Action Man. And it gets slightly more disturbing than that. Afterwards when I was in the bath, I’d take the Action Man into the bath and drown him, and then hold him up by his head and watch all the water spurt out of all the different holes all over his body. Chris, born Brighton, 1959

We pushed them proudly round the streets. We both had prams that were miniatures of those wonderful big sprung prams that babies used to go around in, in those days. I had lots of dolls actually, and I took my responsibility towards them very very seriously. I couldn’t leave home on a cold morning without making sure they were all covered up in the bedroom. So they would be on the floor, on cushions and things and they had to be covered up. I did feel that they needed my care and attention, most definitely. Linda, born Brighton, 1948

I had a set of Barbies. And obviously, used to change them into different clothes and stuff. And have picnics and tea parties. Yolanda, born Pietermaritzburg, 1968

Most of the time they were my class and I taught them things. Or I lined them up in front of the TV and we used to watch TV. I was an only child so it was a bit sad because I suppose they were the people that I spoke to, yeah. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

Sometimes I used to have like school lessons, and sit them round in a circle with the other dolls and give them pieces of paper and things to do. I used to have doll birthdays and give them the party. And used to make up stories for the dolls. They were always part of my childhood and I just enjoyed playing with them. They all got individual characters, you know and that’s what, the thing I remember about them. In all different avenues and individual personalities and names like little people. Zoe, born Brighton, 1960

I didn’t make them act out scenarios. I just enjoyed having them. I don’t know what I did with them really. I had them on display. I wrote about them. I’ve always written things and I wrote a little book about them. So that was what I did with really, was I lined them up according to sizes. I was of an age where I was a bit too old to kind of have tea parties with them and I was sort of curious about them. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

I spent most of my boyhood on the beach. My mother used to buy me a pair of sandals at the school holiday beginning but I’d usually lost them before I’d had them a week, because when you went down to the beach you took your shoes off and started paddling, so your shoes were either round your neck, or you left them somewhere so you could go and pick ‘em up, which somebody probably did before you got back. So I spent a lot of time barefooted. Norman, born Cleethorpes, 1919

I lived on the banks of the St Lawrence River. It froze twenty four feet thick in the winter, and when the winter was starting a big gang of us kids we’d take up sacks, first bit of snow that come down we’d go up and down, up and down, and as soon as it was hard enough we would get on there with our skates, and we’d go down this, I mean some of us would take us out ten miles out into the river. One problem came out of this. The problem was you had to skate all the way back, and by the time you skated all the way back you didn’t want to go down that hill again that day. But this fella came out I’ll never forget it, it was like a blind he’s got, we says what’s that then he says you’ll see and off he went and then we skated back. He comes back it’s like a little sail, so we all tried to make the same kind of sail, we were never as successful as John was. That was a bit of fun really. Patrick, born Glencraig, 1924

We used to play with things in my imagination. For example, I used to sit on my bed, single bed, and put a chair on the bed. Not upright, but laying on its back. And sit in this chair and spread a sheet over the top of me. In my mind, I was flying an aeroplane. That was it. Which was quite good. Because in that way you can, if you imagine things you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone. Which is quite nice. I did that quite a bit. Which was interesting. But that was stuff that was ordinary. Sheets from the bed, a chair to sit on. I don’t think I actually created many toys. Joe, born London, 1936

Well, we mainly played out in the street to be honest with you. We played, well, we played football, and kick out ball, and all like that. We didn’t really have anything to play with, we just improvised things. We had a string, with a tin can tired on the end of it. Someone stood in the middle of the ring and turned it round, and we all hit it with sticks as it went by. And we called it slapcan, and if you, if you hit the string instead of the can you had to go in the middle and spin it round. Dave, born Bolton, 1935

We used to have a basement flat, and the coal used to be tipped into a hole in the pavement, which had a cover over it of course, and it used to fall into the cellar below, and in the cellar below had a door to it to open in, and that’s where they kept the coal. But my favourite was to get in there and play with the coal. That’s where I used to, quite honestly I was, I was always covered in coal dust, and one thing and another. That was my favourite spot, because I was by myself, you know, I had to play by myself. Perhaps stacking them up on bits on top you know, didn’t seem to be anything in particular I was playing, no idea really. Arthur, born Hammersmith, 1921


How did you feel about it?

That was the most important part yeah. I think probably more important than family at times. Was having my toys, because they meant the world to me. Giving them up was really difficult. Bal, born Croydon, 1974

I would never get rid of him, I couldn’t. I’d feel too guilty because he’s like one of my friends. Matt, born Brighton, 1991

To me she was not a doll. I would never have called her a doll. She was just Barbara. And she had her own mind as well. I remember being angry with her, and I remember being really upset because of something I’d done to her or she’d done to me. She’s still with me, she’s still around. And because she brings so an intense collection of memories back of being in my life and being part of my life I still can’t really objectify her. She’s still more than a doll. And I have to say, she, I thought that just before as well, you know, she kept me somehow sane, you know. She really enriched my world as another friend. Christina, born Zurich, 1953

I still don’t want to get rid of my Barbies, or my teddy bears. I think it’s partly because you do give them lives and you do give them emotions and you feel like you’re losing them all. Even if you give them to a charity shop or another child, then you feel like you’re abandoning them. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

By the time I was 6 or 7, teddy bears were still around but they weren’t, they weren’t something to be played with, they were just sort of something to be, you know, like a comfort blanket I guess. For when you were upset or for whatever reasons. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

And I must have had it since I was a baby but it, it only became liked really because of its comforting smell which must have been a sort of combination of bits of sick and snot, and other bodily functions. Smells of saliva. And it was occasionally washed, and when it was washed that was a problem because it had a different smell then. It was usually rejected at that point. Hugh, born Hove, 1966

For me Teddy was an emotional resource rather than a toy. I think my parents anyway were quite uncomfortable with distress, so I used to tell him when I was upset or sad. He’s got a lot of my secrets this teddy. Rhiannon, born Lewisham, 1950

I still can’t sleep without him. It’s really funny I have to have him there. I really struggle not to when he’s not there. Matt, born Brighton, 1991

I remember having this little luminous green glow worm with a sleeping cap on and I loved the fact that when I went to sleep it would glow green, that was really comforting, and we used to go up to Scotland, back to the Orkney Islands. On the sleeper train up you would have a little blue night light. And anything, when I was asleep, in the night, had a little bluey neon kind of light, or green light or whatever, was fantastic. So this glow worm, I absolutely adored this thing. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

Lott’s Bricks. I thought they were great. They inspired me. They were comforting too, because they were repetitive to make. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

Went with me pretty much everywhere, every school trip, until it became a bit embarrassing to bring a teddy bear on school trips, and spent most of his time in my bed. Hugo, born Haywards Heath, 1989

I think I used to feel jealous about some people’s toys. Yeah, I do remember some people had, you know, really fancy stuff. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

I come from quite a big family, I’ve got two brothers and two sisters, and thinking about it now, I think I took out a lot of my frustration for my brothers and sisters on my Action Man doll, because he couldn’t fight back. Chris, born Brighton, 1959

The Hulk was very important. And then, they – his response to everything was ‘Hulk smash.’ So if you wind him up he gets mad and then he smashes things and that’s his big power. So when I got told off I went ‘Argh, smash’. And then I got in more trouble And they say I’ve got anger issues now and I think mm, it’s the way I was brought you, you know? Bal, born Croydon, 1974

I can remember clearly wanting a little cooker that I saw in Selfridges in Lewisham and asking my mother for Christmas, and it was absolutely beautiful it even had little crystal things in it, that would glow so it looked like the cooker was on and the knobs moved and you could take the stuff in it, it was a really good miniaturised cooker, but my uncle brought me a cooker for Christmas and it was a nasty plastic moulded thing that you could, nothing worked on it and I remember being really devastated. Rhiannon, born Lewisham, 1950

It was quite disappointing, because we lived in a two up, two down, and there wasn’t room for a train set that would stay up all the time, so they put it on a board, and it just went round and round and there were no sort of extras, it was just a train, but I wanted trees and tunnels and all the rest of it, and, you know, obviously no room, no money for it, and yeah I played with that for quite a lot, I mean I wasn’t displeased with it, but I just wanted it to be more 00 Gauge. Pat, born Southsea, 1946

I had a teddy bear that was given to me when I was two years old. And he was big. So for a two year old he was too big. Bigger than I was almost. So I used to be scared of it. Yolanda, born Pietermaritzburg, 1968

I had a doll, my father brought it home from abroad, I don’t know where, I’m afraid, it was as big as I was, and I was terrified of it, and I think he must have been very disappointed but I can remember trying to play with it, but I didn’t like dolls and I didn’t really know what to do with them. Pat, born Southsea, 1946

I felt very invested in them. I felt very enthusiastic about them. Most weekends I used to go out in pursuit of them. If I ever had any money, I spent it on golly-related things. My mum knitted me a golly jumper. I was interested in, I suppose, the whole thing around them. The history and the stories, the fact that they were rare. I suppose latterly I probably got interested in the fact that they were controversial. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

She was missing a foot where my uncle had sawn it off in an act of childish revenge I think. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

As I’ve got older, I’m fully aware of how they’re deeply offensive and the more knowledgeable I’ve got about their origins, the more I look differently on them because now I can see by looking at them that they’re absolutely part of a tradition of minstrelry and you know, mockery of black culture, which I couldn’t see at the time because I didn’t have that visual knowledge, to see images of gollies next to images, you know, that mock. But I’ve now come to realise that they’ve always had that status and I didn’t realise it, rather than that their status has changed because somebody’s forced upon on them. So it’s a rather complicated feeling about them now. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

I know that I was a bridesmaid for my aunt when I was about six, I think. Me and my sister had matching bridesmaid dresses and my Gran had made them and she had a bit of material left and she actually made a doll’s dress for me and my sister so we’d each have a doll to take with us to the wedding ‘cos we were quite small and quite scared and stuff and it was Katy that went. I’ve got a picture somewhere of me in this bridesmaid dress with a doll under my arm in a matching dress. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

He’s got a lot of memories embedded in him, but actually the strongest memory is the measles, which is quite scary, because there was a lot of whispering outside the door and curtains being pulled because measles is, you know, quite a serious thing in those days, you know. It affected my eyes, and all sorts of things, and I was quite scared, so it was quite nice to have Buddy there and my sister being nice to me. Pat, born Southsea, 1946

I suppose [my dolls] were like a little fantasy family for me, and a little world over which I had control. My real family was going through a really difficult time. My father and my grandfather had to deal with the business going bust, my grandmother and my mother had an impact from that of course. Money was very tight. We had moved from a little house in Patcham, all in together because we couldn’t afford to run two homes, so we moved in with grandparents, and so it was all a bit squashed, mother and grandmother sharing a kitchen. There was a lot of tension in the house at that time, and looking back I think that this was another little world over which I had control in my bedroom, or the bedroom I shared with my sister. There was love, but there was also turmoil, and I think what I sought was a peaceful, more serene place. My grandfather and I had that in common, but other people in the family were quite feisty. Linda, born Brighton, 1948

The Transformers stuff, I have no idea where that went. And for years I was quite sulky that I didn’t keep it. ‘Cos I still feel quite strongly that I wanted those kind of things. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

I don’t want to make out that I’m really puritanical and I’m saintly and I didn’t have any desires for expensive stuff, because I surely did. But all of my deep affections were for quite humble things. I mean even the first golly in my collection is a bald, homemade, second-hand, possibly a bit pre-loved item. So it was more about the face of the object and how appealing its face was and its tactile qualities if it’s particularly soft or malleable or comforting or something, then I would have had more of an affection with it than if it was something quite complicated – lots of parts and … I didn’t find it as easy to form an affectionate relationship with plastic-y objects. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

I got the teddy bear because I had to go to hospital when I was three. I had something called acidosis and I had to spend probably about a week in hospital and my mum bought me the teddy bear while I was in hospital. But funnily enough, unlike most children who really love their teddy bears, I always had, with this teddy bear, the association of not being with my mum. So I never bonded at all. I never really liked my teddy bear. Even though I felt that I should like it, I never liked it. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

There was this Action Man, who my brother gave to me and basically my brother was always my role model as when I was a child and basically he gave me that and I was always very protective over it. And he was always the one that won the fights. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

I thought had I lost one of them in Drusilla’s park and I was looking round for hours and hours crying with my Mum and in the end I found it sitting up upright on the side next to the monkeys.. And, yeah, I was a very happy boy. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

I think even as adults, you know, there’s still a special affection for the ability to just click things into place. It’s that therapeutic thing of putting things in order isn’t it? Which you know, probably as an adult is why it still appeals to us and it’s still quite a nice, nostalgic memory. I often think of buying bits of Lego, just for the reasons I’ve just discussed, just to have a few things to click around. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

I’m a recovering alcoholic, and when I first started coming off the booze, I tried going through various different recovery models, and they never worked, and I was told by my key worker that when I come off the booze I would emotionally revert to when I started to drink, and I started drinking at a very very young age, so I decided to embrace that, and started doing the models, and I actually used that as a way to help me get off the booze, so you could say in later life, in my second childhood they became far more important than in my first. Chris, born Brighton, 1959

I don’t think I had any strong feeling about dolly really; she was an object just to play with. Rhiannon, born Lewisham, 1950

How did I feel about that doll? That’s really really weird. Seeing as I put him through so much, very very little I think. And it was just another thing, another thing to play with. Chris, born Brighton, 1959

With Lego and stuff, I did actually come to finding it quite boring, there wasn’t the same sort of sentimental kind of bond with it at all. It was simply if you’ve built it then you feel, feel good about building it because you done it yourself, its kind of like you’re satisfied with what you’ve created but when they’re just blocks themselves they mean nothing really and you can easily pick up these blocks from anywhere, they lack personality really. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

I always found Lego slightly frustrating, never quite made the things as wonderfully as the potential. I don’t know. It used to get a bit boring sometimes. I can’t say I was ever that attached to Lego. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

I wasn’t particularly interested in it. Didn’t do a lot for me. He was nothing in particular. Just a teddy bear. I can’t even remember its name. Didn’t mean an awful lot to me. Tony, born Brighton, 1933

There is a value I can see on forming an attachment to a soft toy, a teddy or to a doll. But I can see the negative sides to it as well. And sometimes the negatives are more powerful than the positives. Because if people get dependent on anything, any third party object, sometimes in the rush of things they’re devoting their attention to that third party rather than their siblings or their parents, that affects them. Especially when their parents are thrusting things in front of them. Rather than to get on with their life, which is there for doing, you know. Joe, born London, 1936


How important was it to you?

You call me Ted, but I was christened William Arthur, and the Ted, Ted comes round because of a teddy bear. I was born in a shop in Grange Road in Southwick, and my parents used to put me out the front of the shop, in my pram with a big yellow teddy bear, and people went by and said hello teddy bear, and it stuck to me. And when I went to school I was called Ted Bear. Ted, born Southwick, 1924

I don’t think that Meccano and rail engineering have quite as tight a connection as people tend to think because I think, you know, railway engineering is about strains and stresses and calculus and various other things. I think actually Meccano and all the other construction sets, the Lott’s bricks, everything is more about manual ability. That it’s fun to discover that you can put things together and you make them etc. Indeed, one wonders, you know all the construction sets at any time have instruction books but to what extent those are followed by the owners who hopefully will have a certain inventiveness and will try this way. It’s much more the broadening of the whole individual, rather than a specific learning thing. Michael, born Montreal, 1923

Dolls were much much more important to me than teddy bears. I think from a very young age I realised that a bear wouldn’t stand in the place of a baby for me. I was probably very realistic in that sense, you know, it was nice to have fluffy things, but actually what I wanted was to play at being a mother. So dolls were more important. I mean when I look back it seems absolutely bizarre, but we used to spend our pocket money on real baby products, like little Johnsons lotions, and talcum powder and things, and then when we would bathe our dolls we would use these real products. So this was us really I think in training for what we perceived was our destiny, which was to become mothers. Linda, born Brighton, 1948

You see, my family were boys, so we didn’t have any dolls. So we didn’t have no dolls at all. We weren’t interested in dolls. We were getting ready to go in the army. Dave, born Bolton, 1935

Talking about teddy bears and dolls and that, the only associations I’ve really really got is as I say, my Action Man beating up my sisters’ dolls, and teddy bears and holding them at gun point or putting them up against the wall just prior to the firing squad. I don’t know, I mean I grew up in a time when blokes were supposed to be blokes, and girls were supposed to be girls, and I think that had a big influence on my choice in toys, without even thinking about it, without even being aware of it, you know, that’s just the way it was. Chris, born Brighton, 1959

When we little girls used to play we used to kind of like to have picnics with the tea sets and dolls and play secretaries and stuff like that but with the dolls. So it was kind of this theme thing. The boys would have their Action Men and their helicopters and you know, cars and things. Yolanda, born Pietermaritzburg, 1968

My sister was a bit of tomboy and she had a lot of Action Men. And so the Action Men often played with the Barbies. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

I have to say, it was the 50s, and it was a very sort of bourgeois background, so you know, lots of educational toys around, lots of good toys around, and you know, I just fitted very well in the girls realm of all of this. I had a dolls’ house, that was a very typical thing to have for a girl. Again, a very nice one. Mind you, I didn’t think it was very nice, because it was too educational. It was all wood, and I really didn’t like that. What else? Things like little suitcases with nursing things in it, sort of, to be a nurse, and to listen to people’s heart, so it was a little bit for a doctor as well. That was very interesting, because you then could then go to other peoples bodies and do all these things. Christina, born Zurich, 1953

My mum gave me My Little Ponies to play with. Because she had a friend that didn’t believe in gender specific toys and so she like followed that. I think I had like Puppy in My Pockets as well. I think at the back of my mind I kind of thought they were aimed at girls but it didn’t matter to me. Because I was always playing with my cousin’s Barbie’s as well, no one stopped me or told me not to because they’re for girls so it was normal for me. My brother played with them as well. It was normal for us, I think he cottoned onto it a little bit as he grew up because I used to like talk about the things I’d play with, and he’d say ‘Don’t do that, they’re for girls!’ Matt, born Brighton, 1991

I remember that boys used to play with Meccano and somehow it wasn’t right for girls to play with Meccano but I always thought it looked quite interesting. You could make really big cranes and things with Meccano and you could do sort of physics. You could winch things up and things like that but I don’t suppose I was ever interested enough to play with it, or maybe I felt it wasn’t my place to play with it. But it was very much that girls played with dolls and boys didn’t play with dolls and I think probably dolls were the one toy that was really gendered. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

I remember looking at the girls’ stuff and thinking no, it’s just Barbie and stuff. I found her smile a bit annoying. And her great big long neck. The more I looked at it, the more I thought ‘she’s a strange chick’. Bal, born Croydon, 1974

I remember my brother having Meccano and playing with it together yeah, because I was a bit of a tomboy so I quite liked the boy stuff. I think even prior to Germaine Greer you know I think that was probably quite unusual that I was interested in playing with the boys toys. But I don’t I haven’t spoken to any contemporaries about it. I think it was part of the whole tomboy thing. I still like getting in there with the guys as well, you know I’m still a bit like that. Rhiannon, born Lewisham, 1950

I think it’s interesting, given what I know of my parents, that they actually gave me the construction set and the train set. I didn’t feel as if I was different from the other girls, because when you move around a lot when you’re little you don’t really build up close relationships with people. I rarely have anything to compare myself with other than my sister, who was seven years older than me, so I wouldn’t have expected her to be playing with dolls, so it didn’t really occur to me until I was, you know, pretty much an adult that actually we were quite unusual. Or might have been quite unusual, I still don’t know. I was a solitary child, so I didn’t sort of notice that other people, other girls were playing with dolls particularly. Pat, born Southsea, 1946

My Mum, like me has kept all of her dolls and toys and she passed all of them onto me, but most of them I didn’t take as much of a liking to, I don’t know whether that was actually due to me not liking them myself or whether stereotypes kind of took hold of me and I swayed more towards the more masculine toys. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

The girls used to have a skipping rope what went across the road, and one of them each end would be turning it, and anything up to fourteen girls would all keep going in and skipping, until one of them upset it and then they’d go out. And us boys used to think it was great to get in there, and do you know, if we busted it up do you know them girls used to give us what for. None of this going home to mum crying, they came and gave you a bloody good hiding. William, born Hammersmith, 1920

It was only boys who had bears, not so much girls. Girls had dolls. When I moved to this country I realised that’s completely different in this country, you know. But in Switzerland, as far as I was aware around me at the time, and so that was sort of late 50s, the girls had dolls and boys had bears. Christina, born Zurich, 1953

We also used to build quite a lot of games as well. You know, in the woods and stuff. We’d do a lot of camping. In these, like we’d dig a big hole in the ground and surround that with bricks and then you’d have like a solid framework roof and then gradually make the branches thinner and thinner and thinner, and then throw a bit of tarp over the top and cover the whole thing in moss. And even fill in the gaps in between the stones, yeah, with moss. So that it would be insulated as well. Yeah, really good. And to think that all of that, you know, was kind of probably in preparation for where I am now again, outside, you know what I mean? Lee, born Pontypridd, 1976

My brother was always a big part of my life, if he liked something, I would like it as well. He passed it down to me; basically him having it means therefore I like it. So him handing down all his toys to me I was very happy because it felt like finally I’m kind of growing up possibly to be like you whatever, that sort of thing. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

When I moved to this country and I walked into other people’s homes there was this big relief to see in people’s houses dolls, soft toys, all sorts of toys, and people really happy to talk about them. So they seemed to move here with people into adulthood. Now you would never ever have that in Switzerland. No, it would be a joke. It’s a whole cultural thing, obviously. Zurich is a very Protestant place altogether. Very, very Protestant. So very far away from any fairy tale. I think it’s just, it’s looked at a little bit sort of childish. It might go together, if you look at the literature for children, it’s very different in Switzerland or Germany than it is here. So the whole world of having characters, and the characters come alive and they do all sorts of things real people can’t do but there are lots of other beings around that can do things. And sort of the whole idea that there are lots of creatures around doesn’t exist so much, you know? It’s different. I mean literature for children I find very educational, again, very serious and sort of well intentioned. Sorry, maybe I make a bit of a caricature around this. But you will never, I promise you, you will not find a bear or a doll in a person’s house who looks, who thinks he is an educated sort of person. Christina, born Zurich, 1953

I was given a camera to make little films with. Which we did, you know, as almost toys, and then turning into a career later in time. Very interested in television, all that sort of business. And of course doing things with construction toys, I said “oh no, no”. That’s something for scene people to do. There’s set designers and all that who can do that. That’s not in my ken. I’d either rather be in front of the camera acting or behind the camera directing. Doing the rest of it, to me, was I thought quite mundane. I wouldn’t be able to sort of carry on enjoying it. Marc, born Islington, 1960

I suppose some of the things that I treasure about them are the way that it shaped me as a person. When I look back at the golly book, I see that as a precursor of books and articles and things that I’ve written now – and so they’ve shaped my thinking in a lot of ways. And I’m very interested in my professional life about objects and their meaning to people. I teach material culture which is often about the material objects that people hold most dear and why they treasure them and what those relationships mean between people and things. So I suppose I reflect on them when I’m thinking about that; when I think about attachment to objects, when I think about collecting, when I think about difficult objects. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

I had every set there was. Starting with, I think it was 3, going right up to the top ones. And, I don’t know whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first but either I was interested in engineering or making Meccano got me interested in engineering, I’m not sure, but that’s what I did. And that’s what I’ve been ever since. Basically I’m an aircraft designer. That’s what I was trained as. But over the years I slowly changed until eventually I had an engineering company which manufactured anything that was mechanical or electro mechanical. My auntie bought me a model aeroplane kit and that was another thing that’s been with me all my life. ‘Cos that’s what I did for a living for many years. Aircraft designing. But again, I didn’t make many of those kits, because I used to do all my own designing and that’s what triggered it all off really. Tony, born Brighton, 1933

The Lott’s bricks were my favourite. That introduced me to architecture. I nearly went, did a course in it. It was partly the feeling behind them when they’d been made into a house. And this was something I liked. I liked the idea of this mock Tudor gable and red brick front and the green roof. And it kind of interested me in other areas of design later on, apart from that. I had an interest in spatial design from that and I was able to construct interiors. And I developed an interest, because my grandfather sold wallpaper and paints. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

She was the one between me and, almost to say, she was sort of a go between me and other dolls, so me and toys, so me and the world which is just the material world if you like. She was sort of something between. And you know, again, I thought about my choice of job. Later on I worked in museums, but also I wanted to study anthropology because you deal with lots of communities and cultures, non-European ones, who have strong ideas and beliefs that there is not such thing like material world and immaterial world. They have very flexible boundaries around this. And that a stone, or a puppet, they are charged with something, they have a potency. And I think children have a sense for that. Children know that exactly. That things are not just things, they are more than that. And there’s a relationship between that. And so you can create it, that friendship. So yeah. So when I look at her, yes, my adult self knows it’s a kind of a doll, but something in me immediately thinks ‘She knows all about it you know’. She knows how important she was, and she knows that she kept me sane basically. Really, in a very crazy world that children have to grow up in. Christina, born Zurich, 1953

My grandad had a box, and he’d made the box himself for all his Meccano, and they bought some Lego because my brothers and sisters going up there, and it was always sort of like Meccano for the boys, Lego’s for the girls, and I always remember a certain sense of disappointment almost from my granddad, and I tried making something with Meccano and got bored with it, and went on to the Lego and started playing with the Lego, and it’s sort of like “mm yes, you’re not going to be a mechanic are you?” Chris, born Brighton, 1959

If anyone had asked me whether I thought they were racist, I would have said “No, they’re just cute”. But that’s not really a defence of them. But to a child, to a primary school-aged child, that’s what I thought of them. And every time that sort of thing comes up, I sort of think: here I have this material. What does it mean to me now? And I feel uncomfortable about having it but I can’t erase it. It was who I was and it was in the culture of Plymouth, in the ‘70s and 1980s. It was a different place and time but I’m incredibly sympathetic to those points of view and so now I just think very carefully and very reflectively about what it meant to be a white child in a monocultural environment, collecting gollies. And it’s quite an uncomfortable thing to look back on your childhood and revisit it in that way. But I think it’s shaped me and I think having that opportunity to reflect on it has been an interesting opportunity. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

The Hulk was very important. I couldn’t imagine being a villain. I always wanted to be the big hero that smashes things. Bal, born Croydon, 1974

I don’t know whether they had an effect on me, or whether they were just my way of expressing who I was at that time. I don’t know. I don’t know how you would sort that one out, but certainly they fulfilled a need in me. Linda, born Brighton, 1948


Do you still have it?

I had her until I was in the forces. And my mother gave her away to a little evacuee girl. When I came home my dolly had gone. So I’d have been 24, 5 Alice, born Brighton, 1918

When I got older I gave all the Star Wars ones away. Even ‘though I loved Star Wars I had a friend who loved Star Wars even more and I was quite happy to just give him my Star Wars stuff ‘cos I was probably getting a bit older and I didn’t really play with them any more. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

I loved them, yeah. In fact, getting rid of them was quite a wrench and although I felt incredibly rich with the five pounds that I probably got for them all, it really, you know . . . It’s a shame, ‘cos a lot of things I haven’t got rid of, I have got rid of those. I spent . . . It might have been ten, it might have been nine pounds. I immediately bought, I bought a digital watch. I’d moved on. Hugh, born Hove, 1966

I think a lot got sold at car boot sales. Yeah, the next generation can have fun with it. Matt, born Brighton, 1991

One night I went to bed with all my dolls either side, and they’d gone in the morning. And my parents had taken them. And I don’t know why, other than I’d had some kind of psychological thing, I’d had bronchial pneumonia and maybe that’s the reason, to make me sit up. But having said that, there were quite a lot of people in the street who weren’t as well off, and they might have gone to them. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

I don’t know what happened to the others, they just sort of went into the land where dolls that aren’t wanted any more go. Yaa, born Balham, 1958

I think it got lost during the war. As so many things did. Yes, yes. But I ofttimes wonder where it did go. I would have loved to have had it. But it wasn’t to be. Doreen, born Bexhill, 1927

I remember being told to tidy up my room, and putting this white and black, newish teddy bear into a cupboard and then, in my memory, going back to the cupboard and him sort of disappearing just almost Narnia style, out the back of the cupboard, where he should have clearly been. And that one’s obviously been quite traumatising because for years I was convinced that it would turn up somewhere, this other little teddy bear. I think it can’t have just vanished. And probably those two memories of checking the cupboard and putting it in a cupboard were probably months apart, but when you’re in childhood time gets a bit mixed up doesn’t it? So you know, yeah, to this day I still generally wonder where this little missing teddy bear is. Just vanished somewhere into the ether. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

When I was younger I did get into the Airfix models and stuff. Everybody made Airfix models, and then blew them up with fireworks. And I always remember never putting pilots in them. I don’t know, I don’t know whether it was me thinking oh no, if I put the pilot in I can’t blow them up or anything, but I don’t know. Chris, born Brighton, 1959

I think that’s where a lot of my toys went, they probably just got thrown away by mum when I wasn’t looking and then I got something new that distracted me and so I didn’t really notice until a year later. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

Unfortunately I lost the Hulk. And I remember that day in a big way because we had a telephone box up the top of the green. I went in there, my mum made the phone call and I put my Hulk down and then I’ve gone home and I’ve gone ‘Where’s Hulk?’ So we went back and he’s gone. I used to walk up there and every time we went shopping I’d go ‘Can we go past there again, just in case he’s back?’ Yeah, it was very sad. Bal, born Croydon, 1974

The Meccano set was more or less stolen by a boy in the street I used to play with. He borrowed it and I never got it back. Gordon S, born Stone, 1947

The problem was that when my sister starting playing she decided Barbie wanted to marry Action Man and I had no idea why. So she stole Action Man, and he, all he did was lay down all the time because he was married now. He wasn’t much fun. But we took his guns off him, yeah, he didn’t need them any more. Bal, born Croydon, 1974

My brother’s now had a daughter of his own and he’s asked for the bear back so the bear’s going to go and have another life in Italy now. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

with the He Man stuff and the 80s Master of the Universe stuff, it was quite tacky and plastic, and so a lot of it probably just broke, or expired. It didn’t look like stuff that was built to last, you know. That was probably part of their agenda, make it so it breaks so someone would go and buy a new one, you know. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

The Bayko’s here [at Brighton Toy and model Museum], I don’t know what became of the train set, I imagine they probably sold it on, and Buddy’s here as well. Pat, born Southsea, 1946

Some of the other ones that I had which I kept hold of, they’ve just disintegrated if they were filled with nylon stuffing. They haven’t lasted 30 odd years and they’re now just the outside and all sort of saggy and rather kind of hideous. These caved-in toys. Annebella, born Brighton, 1920

My teddy stayed with me until unfortunately with all the wear and tear of me being a young rather industriously vibrant and energetic young person that I don’t think that he could have survived more than probably about the age of 14. When I was 14, it would have been 1974, I think that he finally had to go unfortunately into the bin because he just couldn’t be repaired. We did also have a dog Petra, who didn’t do much help, I can tell you, because she would pick it up, so it was quite a shocking thing to find him one day in not too many bits, and all the stuffing had fallen out. Marc, born Islington, 1960

But, you know, with the He Man stuff and the 80s Master of the Universe stuff, it was quite tacky and plastic, and so a lot of it probably just broke, or expired. It didn’t look like stuff that was built to last, you know. That was probably part of their agenda, make it so it breaks so someone would go and buy a new one, you know. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

I was in the car and quite little and I used to get quite badly travel sick and I was actually ill on the doll, with the blue hair, my favourite, blue haired doll. And we got home and I my mum heard the story and she put the doll in the washing machine to try and clean her up because I didn’t want to lose this doll and the doll must have had a rip in her stuffing somewhere ‘cos all the stuffing came out in the washing machine so we couldn’t actually save her. I was quite upset and I was like “can’t we re-stuff her?” And my mum was like “no, we can’t do that.” So she got thrown out, as a casualty of travel sickness. Holly, born Brighton, 1989

They were forever getting broken. The heads were coming off and their arms were coming off. Gordon R, born Cardiff, 1929

Airfix models. Yeah, I did have quite a few of those that I used to make. And then smash up. So yeah. I think the best one that I had was the ruined fort, so once you’d made that you could hide anyone behind that. And then if you had something like one of those dinky cannons you could fire little shells at them. So that was good, that was always a good game. Hugh, born Hove, 1966

One day my mum said “you’re getting a bit old for these”. So I give all my toys, those ones especially, to my brother, and it was only like at the weekends, when my mum’s not looking – “come on, let’s play for an hour.” It was very hard. Very hard to give up. Yeah I kind of wish that we had – if it was just me as a child we could have kept them in a box, ‘cos I hear that’s what people do. But they went to my brother and when he got older I think they were thrown out. Bal, born Croydon, 1974

I was quite old when I actually started to kind of lose love for them. I was about quite late, it was about 9 or 10 that I actually stopped actually playing with them and I remember that day when I cleared them all out of my room and put them all in my box and my mum was actually quite sad at the fact that I was maybe passing away my childhood and basically they’re all up in my attic all stuffed, suffocating in a box so it’s probably not the best place for them. I still have them. Gabriel, born Brighton, 1995

I would like to pass toys on to my children, or my nieces and nephews or god children or my friends’ children. I think my mum feels it too because she has banned us from throwing out anything that her dad made and has said before “I want the lot to be a secret attic full of toys for when my grandchildren come over.” So, there is that idea and I think what we threw out was considered less important to us than what we were keeping Holly, born Brighton, 1989

Meccano, in my case I can remember building a crane and there was a winch, so you had a piece of string and that, and a pulley wheel at the top, and I still have the grab, in amongst some bits and pieces that are in a drawer of oddments that you don’t throw away but you’ve got no use for, so I’ve still actually got the grab, a metal one obviously, yes I’ve still got that indoors, but the rest of the Meccano goes on you know to your brother or your sister. Peter Burbery, born Brighton, 1936

My trolls are still in my mother’s loft because I have a big attachment to them still. I don’t think I will get them out and do anything with them. But I don’t want to get rid of them because they were such a part of my childhood. And I like to think that my kids one day, might want to play with them, carefully and with precision. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

I don’t have him on display now, I’ve got him tucked away in a box, but I’ve still got him anyway. Zoe, born Brighton, 1960

So this glow worm, I absolutely adored this thing. And that went missing for absolutely years, and then that turned up when I was about, probably about 17, 18, 19, and I distinctly remember keeping it for years and years and years. I wouldn’t be taking it to bed, but having been lost for ten years it wasn’t going anywhere fast again after that. Karl, born Kirkwall, 1979

The most important one to me was my teddy bear, and I still make sure that he’s not kind of given away or handed down to anyone. He’s not allowed to be Yolanda, born Pietermaritzburg, 1968

Well all of the Lego got sold because you know when you grow up you want to get rid of all your toys and then you regret it instantly. So I have started re buying Lego sets, I bought a beach house last year. Hazel, born Brighton, 1988

He’s very well looked after, I still can’t sleep without him. It’s really funny I have to have him there. I’ve had him forever. I’m quite protective over him. I would never get rid of him, I couldn’t. I’d feel too guilty because he’s like one of my friends. Matt, born Brighton, 1991

So when I grew older, say in my teens, everybody around me had long stopped playing with dolls of course. And I knew I should stop playing with her, you know, that she should somehow painlessly disappear out of my life, and I knew that would not be possible, and so I kept her a little bit longer and sort of late teens I think, one day, I can’t remember why exactly, but I decided ‘now, you just have to stop this.’ So I packed her all up, wrapped her all up, and put her in the loft, where everything ended that was of no more use any more, and so she was, and of course I couldn’t bear the thought she was up there. I remember once having a dream. I do remember, I remembered this morning when I was thinking about the interview. I dreamt that she had died, so I went up there and got her down and just introduced her back and thought, ‘you’ll just have to bear the embarrassment when people laugh at you for having a doll in your room.’ Christina, born Zurich, 1953

Project Credits

Project Manager: Andrea Dumbrell

Project Volunteers: Harriet Barrett-Dorling, Dan Cash, Emily Hill, Lizzi Humphreys, Sam Humphreys, Chris Joslin, Sean Kelly, Penelope Nightingale, Holly Parsons, Marc Sinclair, Rebekka Turner

Funding: Heritage Lottery Fund

Portrait photos taken by Dan Cash, Andrea Dumbrell and Sean Kelly. Edited by Steven Cragg.

Object Photography & Themed Photographs: Steven Cragg

The people we interviewed: Alice, Annebella, Arthur, Bal, Bernard, Chris, Christina, Dave, Doreen, Gabriel, Gordon R, Gordon S, Hazel, Holly, Hugh, Hugo, Jim, Joe, John, Karl, Lee, Linda, Marc, Matt, Maurice, Michael, Norman, Pat, Patrick, Peter Briant Peter Burbery, Reg, Rhiannon, Steve, Ted, Tony, William, Yaa, Yolanda, Zoe

Interviewee Photos






Doreen, Bernard and John


Gordon R

Gordon S










Maurice and Patrick





Ted and Peter Burbery





Toys in the Community: Valuing Memories of Teddy Bears, Dolls and Construction T

This book is the result of a two year project run by the Brighton Toy and Model Museum and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Working with volunteers, the project collected memories of teddy bears, dolls and construction toys from 40 people with varying life experiences. The youngest interviewee was 19 years old and the eldest was 99. Although the people we interviewed grew up in a range of places, both in the UK and abroad, they all lived in the Brighton and Hove area at the time of their interview. Some of them are living with physical or mental health issues, while a number of the interviewees have current or past experience of homelessness. In this book extracts from the interviews are accompanied by illustrative photographs of toys from the museum’s collection, as well as portrait photographs of the interviewees. The interview extracts show how memories of toys and play provide a valuable insight not only into the types of toys that people owned, but also into the relationships between people and toys, in both childhood and adulthood. These relationships are reflected in five interlinking themes which emerged during the review of the interview material. These are acquisition, emotion, play, identity and loss. These are illustrated by themed photographs. In the writing of this book there were a number of approaches we could have taken. However, given that the purpose of the project was to value the memories of those who chose to share them with us, we decided that the most appropriate approach was to let these voices largely speak for themselves, although we have arranged them according to toy type and theme. We hope that this will help people to reflect on their own memories of toys, and what they mean to them. Full versions of the interviews, in both video and audio form, are available on the project website – www.toysinthecommunity.org

  • Author: Andrea Dumbrell
  • Published: 2016-04-05 15:50:15
  • Words: 19762
Toys in the Community: Valuing Memories of Teddy Bears, Dolls and Construction T Toys in the Community: Valuing Memories of Teddy Bears, Dolls and Construction T