The Evans Baby House, part of the Five Centuries: Furniture, Paintings and Works of Art auction, is a stunning piece of social and cultural history featuring 19th-century interiors and tiny artifacts.
The Baby House, an earlier term for what has become known as a dollhouse, was first documented in a book by Vivien Greene in 1955, reprinted in 1979, in which she tells the fascinating story of The Evans Baby House. Mrs Green, a notable authority on 18th and 19th century English dolls houses, was also the wife of novelist Graham Greene.
Greene wrote of this particular dollhouse: “This story of its reclamation is in its own miniature way as thrilling and touching to read as any story of a real house repurchased by its original owners after the alienation…”
The house became the property of the Evans family in Buckinghamshire in the early 19th century and was given to a woman, Anne, by a Miss Hancock (thought to be her godmother).
Anne Evans (1820-1870), English poet and composer, and her sister Emma, were the sisters of archaeologist, geologist and collector Sir John Evans (1823-1908). Sir John then had a son, Sir Arthur Evans (1885-1892), their nephew, and the archaeologist best known for his excavation of the so-called Palace of Minos in 1900 and his discovery of Minoan civilisation.
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Anne’s sister, Emma Hubbard, (née Evans), became the biographer of their dollhouse, stating that some time later it was given to a younger member of the Hancock family, the original owners. , and was never heard from again until 1886.
However, by a remarkable coincidence, in January of that year Emma visited Evelina Children’s Hospital in London and saw and identified the house, buying it back for a donation of four guineas in 1890.
After “saving” The Baby House, Emma set about renovating it. A feature of this era being framed miniature photographs depicting members of the Evans and Hubbard families, which hang in the first floor drawing room.
The original upper and middle tier tinted prints have been retained, one of which depicts the Gothic tower in Whitton Park, Middlesex, together with a small sepia drawing of his father.
Emma is believed to have sourced some of the current furniture, which includes a downstairs chest of drawers, 19th-century bedroom furniture and an earthenware dinner service, complete with its original box. Later additions include the children in the nursery and a male doll that Emma described as having “sheep’s whiskers”.
It is believed that Emma passed the dollhouse to her brother, Sir John, and through him by descent to her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter, the late Mary Harley (née Weir). Mary (1925-2019) grew up in rural Suffolk and was educated at the universities of St Andrews and Oxford.
Theo Burrell, the Lyon & Turnbull specialist responsible for the sale said:
“It’s an exceptional dollhouse that tells a great story.”
Bidding for the house will start at £15,000 ahead of the February 24 auction.