Long before children immersed themselves in computer games and electronic gadgetry, it was the simpler things in life that kept them amused. Toys were handcrafted and beautifully constructed demonstrating the great skill of the maker. An example of this craftsmanship would be the “tumbling man”.
Created in 1800 to entertain the children of a wealthy household, his acrobatics were powered by liquid mercury. Two hundred and twenty-two years later, we no longer offer our children toys containing deadly poisonous substances but we do have on display an accurate replica of the tumbling man. His acrobatic manoeuvres still delight but using tiny weights to achieve the desired effect. The odd thing is that despite all the modern technology available to them, children are still fascinated by toys such as this.
Another contender in the popularity stakes would be “The Remote Control Driving Test”. This game requires a very steady hand and boundless patience. The lever controls a magnetic car which has to negotiate streets and obstacles. In order to pass the test, the car has to complete the course and park in the garage – no mean feat!
Many of the traditional toys encouraged children to use their imaginations far more than modern playthings. Shadow theatres, puppets, doll’s houses, toy forts filled this need, whilst sledges, hobby horses, balls, hoops and trikes encouraged outdoor exercise and socialising.
Some toys were unashamedly educational or used to train children in future necessary skills. The miniature sewing machine and lace making set are good examples.
The nursery room is filled with childhood treasures and colour all designed to stimulate and entertain young minds. Visitors of a certain age may find it quite nostalgic. Of course, on the back of the door hangs a mortarboard and two leather tawse; a reminder that corporal punishment was widely used in the past and misbehaviour invariably led to the strap being deployed.