The Childhood Galleries, located on the First Floor of the Museum, are arranged into the following themes – Babies, Home, What We Wear, Who Will I Be? and Good Times. Each section of the Childhood Galleries explores a different aspect of childhood – what home means, how babies are cared for, what children wear, and what children will be when they grow up.
Babies are the most vulnerable and dependent age group in childhood. A baby’s life is a constant experience of developing and learning. Babies can absorb and memorise many things – a song, the smell of food, patterns of light and dark – but play is one of the most important.
There are hundreds of objects on display in the Babies area, including many different examples of objects made for babies, including rattles and teethers, cots and cradles, prams and highchairs, clothing, and toys such as pull-along toys and hanging mobiles. The Babies area also explores how young children often role play the caring of a baby, using their own toys.
Dolls’ houses help us to gain an understanding of the history of the home. Prior to the 18th century, dolls’ houses were often handmade for wealthy adults. It was not until the 18th century that they began to be made for children to play with.
The Home area features a number of very rare and beautiful dolls’ houses. The earliest, The Nuremberg House, dates from 1673. Other notable dolls’ houses in this area include the Tate Baby House (about 1760), the Killer Cabinet House (1835) and Princess Elizabeth’s Little House (1935). More recent examples including a Galt dolls’ house from 1964 and the Kaleidoscope House (2001). Other key pieces in Home include the Nuremberg Kitchen, which dates from the 18th century.
What We Wear
Styles, colours and fabrics used in children’s clothing have changed dramatically over the past 250 years. The biggest changes occurred in the 1790s, 1920s and 1960s, each time as a result of an outright rejection of styles popular in previous decades. In each of these cases it was children’s clothing that led the revolution, with adult styles following.
Spanning 250 years, from the mid 1600s to the present day, What We Wear looks at key milestones in the history of children’s clothing, including clothes for boys and girls, accessories, dolls and furniture. Notable pieces include a Chinese silk dress dating from about 1786 and the Old Pretender Doll (1680).
Interactives in the What We Wear area include shoes to try on from throughout the ages.
Who Will I Be?
Children role play at many jobs. Some jobs have existed for centuries while others have all but disappeared. Over the past 50 years, many new jobs have also emerged alongside advancements in technology, and today children might grow up to be a computer games designer, a rock star or an astronaut.
Who Will I Be? looks at some of the toys in the collection inspired by work and the home. Objects on display include a toy butcher’s shop, toy soldiers, guns, tanks and forts, a toy hospital made by Mettoy, a Tri-ang toy milk float, as well as many examples of toy household objects from tea sets to microwaves.
Interactives in the Who Will I Be? area include a play vehicle with dressing up, a play kitchen with a dining table, and Lego.
Everyone enjoys having a good time whether it’s alone or with family or friends. Going out to be entertained has been part of people’s lives for centuries. Fairs have been popular since the Middle Ages and circuses have existed since the late 18th century. Trips to the seaside became more common with the advent of the railways in the mid 19th century. Over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries solitary play has become increasingly popular.
The Good Times area of the Childhood Galleries has a large sandpit for children to play in, with accompanying jukebox and interactive Punch and Judy stalls. Objects related to the fairground and the circus are on show, as well as examples of objects inspired by the seaside, such as bathing suits and buckets and spades. There are card games, board games and jigsaws, musical instruments and toys for special occasions, including weddings, christenings and parties. There are also examples of toys related to magic and fortune telling including magic sets, wands and tricks.
Dan Jones is a writer and painter from east London, who for over 40 years, has explored the complex rules, rituals and poetry of the words accompanying a wide variety of children’s games.
The Singing Playground (2004) is the eighth and largest in his series of playground paintings. It was made using acrylic paint, gouache and oil pastel on paper and measures 533cm by 229cm. It depicts children from all communities dancing together and singing playground songs from all around the world. The Singing Playground is located in the Good Times area of the Childhood Galleries.
The 148 games in this painting and the accompanying recordings (over 300) were collected mainly from children in primary schools in London, including Arnhem Wharf, Christchurch and Hermitage Schools and the Summer University in Tower Hamlets, Winton, Primrose Hill and St Alban’s in Islington, Oakington Manor in Wembley and Haverhill in Suffolk. There are also games from the Camden Council World Music Project and material contributed by Amnesty International human rights campaigners.
Recordings courtesy of the Camden Council World Music Project: Por Kha Noi (Laos); Debajo de un Batón (Colombia); Or Ticha Orway (Sierra Leone); Lyagushata (Russia); Atalac Tortalac (Afghanistan); Kuna mtu Shambani (Kenya); Prom’nons nous dans les Bois (France); Mosquito One, Mosquito Two (The Caribbean); I Saw One Boy Inside Bottle (Nigeria); Ali Baba (Morocco); Usty, Mamó (Poland); Tahora Nui (Aotearoa New Zealand); Mama Tehagosee (Eritrea). All other recordings are courtesy of Dan Jones.