Camilla Frances explores (or rather, peers into) one of the most famous interiors in the world: Queen Mary's exceptional dolls' house at Windsor Castle, a 100-year-old miniature marvel still considered to be an unsurpassed archive of British craftsmanship and creative talent. 



The Queen's Bedroom, featuring walls covered in blue-grey damask, reflecting the style of the 1920s, and a box-spring horsehair mattress © Royal Collection Trust. 


Ever since I was a child and first visited the north London store of the late doll’s house maker and collector, Kristin Baybar, I have been obsessed with these painstakingly-created miniature spaces. Kristin was fierce and formidable, barking “this is not a toy shop” to every under 18 who entered, but once you’d gained her trust - and convinced her of your pure intent - she was only too thrilled to share her life’s work.

Every corner of her curious shop, every draw, every surface, was filled with tiny works of art, each more beautiful and life-like than the next. There were drawers full of minute plates of food, baskets of eggs, punnets of cherries, scones in the making and jars of marmalade - each no bigger than a centimetre in diameter - and boxes of fine antique furniture from every era, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. For years, Kristin’s shop was the only place I spent my pocket money.


The Library in Queen Mary's Dolls' House, paneled in walnut and featuring 588 custom made books upon its shelves © Royal Collection Trust.


It was with this same sense of wonder, and deep respect, that I discovered the Petronella dolls' house at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Beatrix Potter’s dolls' house in Cumbria, the 18th-century dolls' houses at Uppark House and, more recently, Liza Antrim’s veritable museum of miniatures in the Somerset countryside.

But if one dolls' house were to stand apart for its astonishing craftsmanship and unapologetic opulence, it has to be Queen Mary’s at Windsor Castle, which is this year celebrating its 100-year Anniversary. Built between 1921 and 1924 for Queen Mary, consort of King George V, it is the largest and most famous dolls' house in the world and contains works from over 1500 of the 20th-century's finest craftspeople.


The King's Bedroom, featuring a ceiling painted by George Plank, who subtly wove the notes of the UK National Anthem into a garden trellis © Royal Collection Trust


Created as a miniature 1:12 scale royal palace, the house was designed by leading architect, Sir Edward Lutyens, and given to Queen Mary - Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother - as a symbolic post-war gift from the nation. Inspired by architects Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren, its façade elevates, rather than opens, to reveal a stunningly true-to-life interior filled with furniture and decorative arts created by nearly 100 of the UK's leading craftsmen in a bold display of British workmanship.

Among its implausibly impressive features: running water, electric lighting, working lifts, real food and soap, a working bicycle, a working miniature piano, a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll, and approximately 1000 miniature works of art. Even the gilded clocks, which all work, were custom made for the house by Cartier, while observant visitors will see a tiny model of a mouse, custom made by Fabergé.


Meanwhile, in homage to their real-world royal counterparts, every decorative detail was designed from scratch or replicated from a family heirloom. The sheets on the miniature beds - which are all hand sprung - were carefully embroidered with the royal cipher, and every chair in the house was upholstered by an expert.

Queen Mary, then Princess Marie Louise, could even gaze at a pair of tiny gilded thrones and a full set of crown jewels, including a thimble-sized George IV Diadem - the crown that Mary’s granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, would one day wear at her own coronation. Like the original, the miniature marvel is filled with crimson velvet for a comfortable fit and features the same rose, shamrock and thistle motifs, although perhaps not quite the Diadem’s 1,333 diamonds and 169 pearls.


A miniature George IV Diadem - the crown that Mary’s granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, would one day wear at her coronation © Royal Collection Trust.


Perhaps the most significant room in this gesamtkunstwerk is the walnut-panelled Library, which runs the entire length of the elegant ground floor. It reads, quite literally, as an unsurpassed archive of the literary and artistic talents of the day. The then-Princess, who acted as chief archivist and librarian, commissioned many of the 20th-century’s leading writers, artists and composers to produce or contribute to the 588 diminutive books that line its shelves.

Among the tiny tomes created by literary greats - including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Aldous Huxley and Rudyard Kipling - are the Bible, the Koran and the complete works of Shakespeare. The Royal Library also contains hundreds of novels, poems and prose, and over 700 bespoke prints, etchings and watercolours. The composers even produced 24 miniaturised music scores.


The Grand Entrance Hall at Queen Mary's Dolls' House in Windsor Castle © Royal Collection Trust; His Majesty King Charles III 2024. 


Kristin Baybar was quite right: dolls' houses were never intended to be children’s toys. Indeed, the very first - believed to be 16th-century Germany houses - exhibited such exceptional, expensive details that historians believe they were flamboyant displays of status, architectural-style models of the owner’s house or tools for aristocratic young women to learn the art of decorating and furnishing a home.

Writing in 1924, the author E. V. Lucas, a friend of Queen Mary, asked: "How many London residences, even in Berkeley Square and Park Lane, have a library consisting of 200 books written in their authors' own hands, and a collection of over 700 watercolours by living artists? I doubt even if you could find the counterpart of these in the real Buckingham Palace."


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Throughout 2024, Queen Mary's Dolls' House is celebrating its 100th Anniversary and can be visited at Windsor Castle |

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