Pollock’s Toy Museum presents: ‘Cardboard Gothic: Damsels, Demons and Heroes’

10 July – 14 September, 2022

Pollock’s Toy Museum‘s miniature theatres, bring Horace Walpole’s imaginary world of Gothic to life inside his ‘House full of playthings’.

The romantic concept of ‘Gothic’ as an imaginary past of exaggerated emotional drama set amid castles, abbeys and ruins came into being when Horace Walpole published the first ‘Gothic’ novel, The Castle of Otranto, in 1764. The Gothic genre, already associated with Shakespeare’s history plays, soon came to dominate theatrical productions which had scenery, costumes and special effects to match the gloomy and sublime settings.

In the Regency period, when melodrama increasingly dominated the London stage, these ephemeral spectacles were reproduced as miniature curt-out prints for use in model theatres as a form of home entertainment by children – one of the plays, acted live at Covent Garden in 1841, was actually a burlesque on The Castle of Otranto itself.

Walpole’s famous creation, Strawberry Hill House, is similarly a miniature world, a Gothic castle where each room was conceived as a theatrical set, while the presence of stained glass throughout the house reminds us of Walpole’s fascination with the illusionistic powers of light and colour.

Successive generations of Strawberry Hill owners, from Anne Damer to Lady Waldegrave, have owned miniatures theatres and have also used the house for their own domestic theatre performances. Plays covering the range of Gothic genre and several decades of toy theatre publishing will be shown in a collection of wooden theatres from Pollock’s Toy Museum, originating from Benjamin Pollock’s shop in Hoxton where toy theatres and their accompanying plays were sold, up to the Second World War. A unique theatre, the earliest known to survive, is on loan from Guildford Museum, together with a set of characters and scenes that show how early Victorian children customised the products of the trade.

The display, a trail of fourteen miniature theatres, are dispersed across the main rooms of Strawberry Hill House, will expand our understanding of Walpole’s imaginary world of Gothic and its legacy, still alive in opera and film 250 years later.

Tickets included in general admission.


Explore more on our social media channels #CardboardGothic

Pollock’s Toy Museum and shop is open daily Monday to Saturday 10am – 5pm at No.1 Scala Street, London W1T 2HL. See pollockstoymuseum.co.uk

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Strawberry Hill House is internationally famous as Britain’s finest example of Georgian Gothic Revival architecture.

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