This house was a special commission in the 1930s for the young Peggy Lines, a member of the family who founded the international Lines Bros toy company that produced Tri-ang and Pedigree products, amongst a number of other household names.
A Toy Making Family
The Lines family were significantly involved in the British toy industry over three generations and their products, including wonderful dolls’ houses, were some of the most popular from the late 19th and 20th century.
Peggy’s Grandfather Joseph and his brother George established the hugely successful G&J Lines toy company. On leaving school, Joseph’s three sons Walter, William and Arthur went to work for their father. William started in 1894, Walter in 1896 and Arthur in 1910. Here they gained first-hand experience in all aspects of toy manufacture including design, carpentry and cabinet making. George resigned from the company in 1903, but 23 year old Walter and his older brother William were soon playing significant management roles within G&J Lines.
On their return from serving in the First World War, and after disagreements over how best to manage G&J Lines, Walter, Arthur and William decided to leave their father’s company and set up their own toy manufacturing business. Their new company, Lines Bros., was registered on 1 May 1919. Initially the three brothers had equal status in the company, rotating year on year as Chairman, but Walter, who increasingly became the public face of the company and the main driving force behind it, became managing director, with particular responsibility for the design department. William looked after sales, and Arthur ran the factory.
From the 1920s to its closure in 1971, Lines Bros / Tri-ang was one of the largest and most successful toy companies in the world. Like G&J Lines before them, they made a wide variety of toys and baby carriages at their main factory at Merton in South West London. But some of the best known and now collectable toys they produced were dolls’ houses.
Walter Lines had four children: Graeme, Sandy, Peggy and Gillian. Graeme and Sandy worked directly for Lines Bros Ltd, as the third generation of the family moved into the toy industry.
Peggy however started her career in another direction. After studying maths and physics at Holloway College she taught for a number of years, first at her former school, Benenden, and then at Croydon High. But after accompanying her father on a trip to the Lines Bros’s Canadian factory, Walter made her Chairman of Hamleys, which had been owned by the Lines Family since 1931.
Peggy soon made her mark at Hamleys. Amongst other things the men in red coats and top hats that have appeared on Hamleys bags ever since were originally drawn by Peggy.
Lines Brothers Ltd collapsed financially in the early 1970s, but Peggy continued to run Hamleys for a few more years, until 1976. She then worked for a short while with her father at Goodwood toys, a smaller toy company that Walter had set up from a saw mill in Sussex.
Peggy’s childhood at Leigh Place, Godstone
Henrietta Katherine Peggy Lines was one of 4 children born to Henrietta and Walter Lines.
Walter Moray Lines (Sandy), William Graeme Lines (Graeme), Henrietta Katherine Peggy Lines (Peggy) and Gillian Hendry Lines were all born between 1922 and 1927.
In 1927 when Peggy was two years old and her younger sister Gillian had just been born, the family moved from Coney Burrows on the London-Essex border, to the affluent space and countryside of Leigh Place, a beautiful historic house near Godstone, Surrey.
The business was rapidly expanding and the size and prestige of its success was reflected in this grand family home in the Surrey countryside. It was within easy commuting distance of the Lines Bros. factory at Merton.
The 1927 brochure for the house describes a ‘moderate-sized country residence…..conveniently situated for City workers and others, wishing to enjoy the advantages of a country house accessible to their business’.
In reality, ‘moderate’ meant a hall and 5 reception rooms, 12 bed and dressing rooms and additional staff rooms. The ‘secluded and nice old fashioned grounds’ comprised 24 acres of land with a lake, mature woodland, orchard and outbuildings including stables where Peggy’s pony Susan, and other family horses were kept.
Leigh Place was to be the children’s home until adulthood and Walter continued to live here until his death in 1972. The extensive grounds and large open rooms in the house provided a giant playground for the children particularly in the school holidays when Graeme and Sandy were home from boarding school.
Peggy and Gillian both had their own dolls’ houses specially commissioned for them. Peggy’s was probably made in 1933 when she was eight years old. In her unpublished memoirs Peggy told how her dolls’ house sat in one of the large bay windows that over looked the lake. She wrote how the dolls’ house was based on Leigh Place, and recalled the similarity to the hall. But perhaps a more striking similarity is when we compare the façade of the dolls’ house to the view of Leigh Place from the front driveway.
The dolls’ house was made at the Merton factory and is a more elaborate version of the Mayflower series of houses that first appear in their catalogue from 1927. The house is furnished with a mix of furniture made by well-known manufacturers of the 20th century. The pink bedroom has a Westacre Village suite comprising a four poster bed, ottoman, arm chairs and sofa. Other furniture was made by Elgin Ltd of Enfield, including the dark wood bed with barley twist posts, and Lines Bros’ own furniture ranges such as their Queen Anne period range which came in kit form.
Peggy didn’t have her own children and the house was played with and added to by her great nieces and nephews in the 1990s. After Peggy’s death, the house was acquired at auction by the Museum in 2011.