Caroline Hamilton, the owner of the London Dolls House Festival, knew of a beautiful 18th c. English townhouse by Peter Mattinson that was partially finished. She sent me a photo before I went to London for the fair and when I saw its roof top from outside the fair, I got chills!
MANSION HOUSE was built by Peter Mattinson of Yorkshire. Peter based the exterior of this model on the Lord Mayor's house, called Mansion House on St. Catherine's Square in the City of York. Peter was unable to gain access to the interior and based it on a house of the 18th c. period located on the same street, called Fairfax House. Coincidentally, Fairfax House was the ancestral home of Sally Fairfax. She was the woman for whom George Washington had a yearning and is visiting in the Music Room of the Vassall Craigie Longfellow House. When I realized I had miniature family connections between my 18th c. houses, I just had to take a moment to pause...is this getting a little too strange?
When I first saw Mansion House at the London Dolls' House Festival (LDHF), I felt it was destiny as the pine wood paneling in the Dining Salon looked just like the paneling in my own dining room. As it happened, my husband was traveling through Europe on business and knew I would be at the LDHF. I was kneeling on the floor in front of the dolls house when he found me. It took us ten minutes to decide to buy it.
As always, I feel I must research the period of each dolls house, and was reading through many books looking for a likely story. Mentioning the house I was working on at my miniature club meeting, one of the ladies suggested "The Scarlet Pimpernel," an original novel by Baroness Orczy. I found a very old copy of it that was falling apart, read it and by a strange coincidence, the 1934 movie version with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon was on television the following night. What follows is my version, with apologies to Baroness Orczy...
The year is 1792 and the 'Reign of Terror' is rampant in France. The aristocrats were hiding, fleeing for their lives and the St. Just family took a ship to England to seek refuge with friends. Marguerite St. Just, a former actress with the Comedie Francaise, married an Englishman, Sir Percy Blakeney. She became impatient with his foppish ways and, like so many ladies of the time, was infatuated with the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel who wore elaborate disguises and saved aristocrats from the shadow of "Madame la Guillotine." Sir Percy wrote the following couplet about the Scarlet Pimpernel...
"They seek him here,
They seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That demmed elusive Pimpernel."
THE BALLROOM: Mademoiselle Marie Fournier is guiding the Blakeney cousins, Cosette and Jean Paul St. Just, on a tour of family portraits. They are studying Francois Boucher's painting of Madame Bergeret by Melissa Wolcott Martino. When we first saw the dolls house, my husband felt that such an elaborate house should have a ballroom and Peter Mattinson cut through the floor of the second servants room to accommodate a two story ballroom. John J. Hodgson provided the gilt furnishings throughout the house, the two children are by Jane Davies and Mlle. Fournier by Joan Durigg.
DRAWING ROOM: Sir Percy Blakeney and Lady Marguerite, by Sue Atkinson of Sunday Dolls, are in the elegant Drawing Room which is wallpapered with an 18th century Chinese design known as 'Monkey Paper.' The monkey paper was card stock by Caspari cut to fit, taken from a nearby historic home in Katonah, New York, called 'Caramoor.' Lady Marguerite is about to pour tea for Sir Percy from the tea set on top of an unusual three-legged tilt top table which has a shelf area behind locked doors for cup storage. The table was made by Gerald Crawford and the Simon Willard tall clock was made for me in 1979 by Ron Terrill. Chuck Krug made the yellow sofa and green wing chair, Patricia and Bruno Herbillon made the Louis XV Bureau Plat (desk) on the right wall. Roger Gutheil made the bonnet top secretary.
THE GRAND HALL: The photo on the left shows the upper hallways, taken from Fairfax House. Roberts the butler, by Sunday Dolls, directs the footman when a leather covered truck is delivered to Mansion House. On the John J. Hodgson table is a bowl made by Jean Welsh of The China Closet which was a gift from a N.A.M.E. National Houseparty in Philadelphia. The 144th scale Baby's House under the stairs is by Lew Kummerow and is taken from the Tate Baby House in Bethnal Green Museum.
THE DINING SALON: The room has been prepared for desserts after an evening dinner party. I designed and worked the petitpoint carpet and the small chest on the left is by Herbillon. The sideboard on the right is an antique bought in London and believed to be made by one of the same craftsmen who made several pieces for Queen Mary's dolls house. I bought the sideboard in Kay Desmonde's Kensington shop and immediately left it in the back seat of a London Taxi! We traveled all over London to find out where the cabs go at the end of the day and actually found it! Wonderful London cabbies!
MASTER BEDROOM: Lady Marguerite's sister-in-law, Violette St. Just, is in bed having just delivered her baby girl. Suzanne, Lady Marguerite's personal maid, arrives with fresh linen. I made and dressed Violette and Suzanne as well as Martha Washington, who is visiting. Little Katherine Blakeney has come to visit her aunt and new cousin, but seems to be more interested in the sweets than visiting new babies! Katherine was made by Sunday Dolls. In the niches on the back wall are busts of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of terra cotta by Le Chateau Interiors and many small implements in the room are by Lawrence St. Leger of England.
SERVANTS ROOM: While Mary, made by Sunday Dolls, was sweeping the floor of Cook's second-floor quarters, Lucifer, the biggest household cat, burst into the room from the attic above, in pursuit of a mouse!
BELOW STAIRS: Below stairs in Mansion House are four rooms including the kitchen to the left and the buttery on the right. The buttery is filled with an assortment of cheeses and a rocking butter churn and two cats are hoping for some fresh cream. The kitchen details are taken directly from Fairfax House. The cold room, left below, is where the meats are stored and Tweenie is on her knees in the wine cellar, shown below...