The magic of Titania's Palace

Monday, October 8, 2012

As a new book about the world famous dolls' house is launched, its author, Laura Ricks, speaks exclusively to DH magazine

The magnificient Titania's Palace has travelled the world, raising millions of pounds for children in need and casting its spell over everyone who has seen it. Among those is Laura Ricks, who first saw the palace as a child when it was exhibited at Wookey Hole in Somerset. She now lives in Denmark, close to where it is currently displayed by The Lego Foundation, which bought it in 1978.

Laura's love of Titania's Palace, the glimpses it offers into Fairyland and its fascinating past were the driving force behind her new book, Titania's Palace, A Fairytale Doll's House. The book reveals in great detail the full story of the exquisite dolls' house and its incredible contents, with delightful pictures and plenty of 'fairy facts' to keep children amused. There are even treasure hunts to help draw attention to some of the miniatures in the rooms.

Keeping the magic alive was as important to Laura as it had been to Sir Nevile Wilkinson in 1907 when he promised his young daughter, Guendolen, that he would show her Fairy Queen Titania's Palace. It took 16 years to fulfil that promise and build the special dolls' house, which he filled with miniature antiques collected from all over the world.

It was never Sir Nevile's intention that the palace should be a mere plaything. He hoped to inspire children to think kind thoughts that would lead to good deeds. That has been its role since Queen Mary officially opened the dolls' house 90 years ago. It was exhibited in London before travelling across three continents where it was admired by more than two million people, raising the equivalent today of more than £7 million pounds for children's charities.

To find out more about the incredible story of Titania's Palace, you can purchase Laura's book from Amazon. Here she tells us more about her connection to the dolls' house.

Q Why have you written this book?

The writing of this book was a personal crusade. Titania's Palace (and dolls' houses in general) have fascinated me all my life. I contacted the Lego Foundation, who own the palace, with a synopsis of the book last year. Kirsten Stadelhofer, who is responsible for Titania's Palace at the Lego Foundation, informed me that they receive many requests to write a book, but they liked my idea. The book is ostensibly written for children yet contains information which is useful to collectors. They approved the project immediately and things took off from there. The Lego Foundation are not financially involved in any way, but have been generous in their support.

Q. Did you have special access to the palace to carry out your research?

We were granted access to the dolls' house "out of season". It is on display at a Danish Renaissance Castle which is a popular tourist attraction and we were able to visit it as we wished. A castle employee, Kit Hansen, was an agile help at removing objects from the house to be photographed. As many of the objects are priceless, it was a comfort to know that she handled the miniature antiques.

The research was time-consuming but fascinating, including many old newspaper articles from around the world. I chose to include the "fairy facts" as this was very much in Sir Nevile's own spirit. As a mother of five I chose the objects and anecdotes for the book which interested the children - and me. Volumes could be written about, for example, the hand-blown glass, but this is not interesting to children.

Q Do you view the palace differently now, as an adult, as opposed to when you were a child?

I was around eight or nine when I saw Titania's Palace at Wookey Hole. Then the wooden facade was still on the outside of the house - now it has plexiglass for display purposes - so it was even more thrilling as a child to peer through the windows and doors, and hope to catch a glimpse of the fairies! I was amazed by the detail and the size of the objects, and decided then and there that I would make my own dolls' house one day.

I am English, but I moved to Denmark in 1983 after I finished at Oxford. My mother is Danish and I still had some Danish relatives living here. I saw Titania's Palace several times at Legoland and was thrilled when The Lego Foundation lent the house to Egeskov Castle, which is close to where I now live on the island of Funen. As an adult, I think more about the purpose of the palace - the way it was designed to help charity - whereas as a child I just thought about its perfection.

I also think there is a lot of "reading between the lines" as an adult. Sir Nevile Wilkinson and Colonel Gillespie, who had served as officers in the most horrific wars - the Second Boer War and The First World War - chose to paint ceilings consisting of 250,000 dots of paint (Sir Nevile) or lay an intarsia floor of tiny wood chips (Colonel Gillespie). That must be the ultimate in escapism.

There are many stories under the surface of the palace - not least that Sir Nevile and Lady Beatrix had only two children (which was, after all, unusual then) and that their second child Phyllis had Down's Syndrome. At the time they would not have known about the genetic reason for the syndrome, which may explain why Guendolen never married or had her own children. The family looked after Phyllis throughout her life. When most people think of dolls' houses they think of them as playthings and yet the family which created this most famous dolls' house died out with it, without having children. 

Q What is Rotary's connection to the story?

I am now President of Faaborg Rotary Club and when writing the book I was already President Elect. At that time I had no idea of the important role Rotary has played in displaying the palace around the world, deciding on the children's charities to which the proceeds should go and distributing the funds. Sir Nevile appointed Rotary "the Fairy Godfather to the Royal Family of Fairyland".


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