New for 2016, visitors to Woburn Abbey can now peek behind the curtains of a wonderful, historic doll’s house. Beautifully furnished and skilfully made by members of the Russell family at the beginning of the 20th century. It is a replica in miniature of Oakley House which is situated just outside Bedford and was owned by the 4th Duke of Bedford.
Created in the 1920’s, it is one of the largest doll’s houses of this era in the UK. It is very fitting to have this particular doll’s house on display at Woburn Abbey as its history ties back to the family. The dolls’ house was created by Leo and Phyllis Russell, the two youngest children of the Baron of Ampthill, who were aged 13 and 10 and lived in Oakley House at the time.
The current owner of the Doll’s House; Mrs Georgiana Fiddian-Green visited Woburn Abbey to assist with installing the furniture ready for it to go on display to the public. She commented; “Aunt Phyllis, would have been over the moon to have it on display at Woburn Abbey, it feels that it has come home and is back where it belongs.”
Georgiana remembers some of the furniture from her childhood when she visited her grandmother at Oakley House and still owns some of the pieces of the original furniture herself.
The doll’s house is a true model of Oakley House, which was purchased by John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford around 1750, and completely rebuilt by his grandson to designs by architect Henry Holland.
The original idea for the doll’s house was Phyllis’s, she got her brother Leo interested and finally, Lady Ampthill approved the scheme, with the proviso that all the measurements must be correct and that once begun, it must be completed. After the external parts of the doll’s house had been created by a local carpenter, the children spent their free time and holidays creating the furniture.
Phyllis’s intricate and skilful needlecraft is one of the features that stands out, as she embroidered the carpets and some of the soft furnishings in true likeness, including the delicate patterns and colours.
Matthew Hirst, Curator at Woburn Abbey said; “We are very pleased to be able to have this splendid piece on display. We hope that our visitors will very much enjoy seeing the doll’s house and finding out more about the history of Oakley House and it’s furniture.”