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Fit for a queen: miniature items by the Old Bleach Linen Company

Old Bleach doll house ad photo

Advertisement for a replica display, at Hanningtons of Brighton, of Old Bleach linens prepared for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (Brighton and Hove Herald, 28 March 1925)

If you have visited our permanent exhibition, Flax to fabric: the story of Irish linen, you may have been intrigued by the miniature linen items on display in the textile gallery. These include damask tablecloths, napkins, sheets, pillowcases, diaper, and huck towelling, some with a royal cypher. As you might expect, they had little practical use. Instead, they were prepared according to the design of items in the largest and most famous dolls’ house in the world, which this year celebrates 100 years since its completion – Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House.

ILCLM mini linen photo

ILCLM mini linen photo 2

Our textile gallery, featuring miniature items prepared for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (ILC&LM Collection, gifted)

Queen Mary was the wife of King George V, and great-grandmother of the present British monarch, Charles III. The dolls’ house was a gift to the queen from the nation, and it was intended that it would be a demonstration of British craftmanship. It was designed by renowned architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, and work began in 1921. Built to a one twelfth scale, more than 1,500 of the country’s finest artists, craftspeople, and manufacturers assisted in its completion. No detail was missed in trying to provide an accurate representation of a royal household – it even had running water and electricity!

On completion in 1924, the dolls’ house was displayed at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. It remained there for seven months before being moved in July 1925 to Windsor Castle, which continues to be its home. Watch a video of the dolls’ house here.

All linen in the dolls’ house, and the miniature items in our collection, were manufactured by the Old Bleach Linen Company Ltd. from Randalstown, County Antrim. This firm was established in 1864 by Charles James Webb, a Quaker, and they specialised in fine linen for households and dresses. Among the rooms they helped to complete in the dolls’ house were the ‘Dining Room’, with its damask tablecloth, and the ‘Linen Room’, filled with a variety of products. Making such small items required specialist equipment, including the miniature loom below.

Mini loom - photo

Huck towels being woven on a miniature loom (Country Life, 16 February 1924)

Being the sole provider of linen for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House was, of course, a major coup for the company and for Irish linen. They were featured in some of the country’s leading newspapers and magazines, including The Tatler which devoted one whole page on 28 January 1925 about their contribution to the dolls’ house. They said:

‘The beauty of Old Bleach is in the fabric itself. It is woven from pure Irish flax and bleached by the old tried ways of sun and grass. That is why its lovely lustre survives laundering after laundering. Old Bleach Linen is woven not only for Queen’s Dolls’ Houses and Queens’ palaces, but to bring beauty and good service into your home.’

Old Bleach advert photo

Metal advertisement for Old Bleach Linen Company (LMILC.2021.537)

Capitalising on their success, Old Bleach exhibited their products throughout the country, including a replica of the ‘Linen Room’ of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Miniature items, identical to those in the dolls’ house, were sold to the public at these displays. They had also been available for purchase at the British Empire Exhibition when the dolls’ house was on show.

As the original Old Bleach products continue to be displayed in Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, the miniature linen items in the collection of the Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum are likely one of these replica sets that the public could buy as a souvenir.

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