Behind the scenes
Working for an enterprise with such enthralling history, I every so often find myself speculating how those heroes of the past felt when working through wars and other difficulties and what those days were really like. I try to transport myself back to 1851, in an attempt to imagine the time a very specific shop in London opened its doors for the first time. Whenever I explore the history of Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop I see it as a theatrical work divided into dramatic acts.
John Redington was the owner of the Theatrical Warehouse located at 73 Hoxton Street. In 1860 Redington bought copper plates and started printing engraved toy theatre sheets. Thus began a mesmerising story of a family business which would be carried on by the next generation.
Redington passed away in 1876. His daughter Eliza took over the shop, but a love story was about to alter her path and her fortune.
Benjamin Pollock, a regular visitor to the shop, fell in love with Eliza and they wed in 1877. Benjamin became a toy theatre publisher. The popular music hall The Britannia was opposite the shop and was an inspiration for the 'penny plain, twopence coloured' paper pantomimes. Pollock started reprinting the so called `juvenile dramas` along with illustrated characters from fashionable plays.
In 1884, the author Robert Louis Stevenson visited Pollock’s shop. He immortalised it in an essay ‘If you love art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock’s’. Distinguished visitors such as Charlie Chaplin, Diaghilev and a young boy named Winston Churchill all came to look at this old-fashioned (as it was thought of even then) pastime.
Pollock died in 1937. His daughters Louise and Selina kept the shop open, but business was not profitable. In August 1944 they sold the company to Alan Keen, a bookseller. A month later a bomb blew out the windows making the shop uninhabitable. During the post-war period the business went through an ingeniously rewarding time. A collaboration with the actor Sir Laurence Olivier resulted in a toy theatre version of Hamlet. Manufacturing of Pollock’s Toy Theatres was done from the Adelphi Building, Covent Garden and these miniature theatres started many a theatrical career. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ralph Fiennes to name a few. By the end of the 1940s the company had moved to smaller premises at 16 Little Russell Street. A year later unanswered mail and unpaid bills were piling up and the stock ended up locked in the premises.
In 1955 the BBC journalist Marguerite Fawdry took over the business and opened her shop at 44 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden. A year later she opened a toy museum in the attic. In 1969, a rent rise forced the business to move to 1 Scala Street where the museum is still run by Marguerite's grandson. It is no longer connected to the Covent Garden shop, except by its mutual history.
In 2008, Christopher retired and Louise Heard, who had worked in the shop since the 1980s, became the co-owner with Peter until 2015, when Baldwin died. The shop is now run by Louise Heard and her team Simon and Raphael.
Located at 44, the Market, the shop carries an essential part of Covent Garden’s history fitting in perfectly with the modern market. Known for its artistic atmosphere, Covent Garden and our toyshop offer together a true show in the West End. Covent Garden is our director and we, their actors.
Written by Raphael Pinheiro Gonçalves