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Toy Theatre

This week’s Gem is an unusual item from the Alan Stoyel Collection. It is a set of papers with images for the characters and scenes of a toy theatre play, “The Miller and his Men”.
In the early 19th century the toy theatre was one of the most popular children’s toys. You could buy a kit that enabled you to build a small theatre out of card. Sets for different plays could then be purchased, containing images of the characters and scenery, together with the script – usually based on a popular stage production of the time. Children could paint or colour in the characters and scenery, cut them out and stick them on card backing and then perform the play.
The toy theatre fell out of fashion in the later part of the century, but the tradition was maintained by Benjamin Pollock, who continued selling them from his shop in Hoxton Street until his death in 1937. Today his legacy is preserved by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop , now in Covent Garden, and the Pollock’s Toy Museum (which has recently closed and is looking for a new home).
“The Miller and his Men” was one of the most popular toy theatre plays. Based on a stage play by Isaac Pocock (1782-1835), performed at Covent Garden in 1813, it is a melodrama in which a group of ‘banditti’ pose as millers and attempt to capture the heroine, Claudine.
In the final scene of the play Claudine is rescued by the hero Lothair and the mill blown up with all the villains inside.