The Harrogate Museums column with May Catt

Everyone has a favourite childhood toy and the next open house at the museum will have a toy theme.
Everyone has a favourite childhood toy and the next open house at the museum will have a toy theme.

What was your favourite toy as a child? Was there a toy, a doll or teddy perhaps, that was always by your side? My daughter’s current favourite is a bunny called Bo, who wears a faux fur cape with pompom fastenings, which has certainly come in handy in the snowy weather.

The Museum has a collection of wonderful toys once used and loved by some of Harrogate’s residents, from the Victorian period to the modern day.

Many of the toy crazes and trends from the second half of the 20th Century are represented.

They were usually showcased at the Harrogate Toy Fairs, which began in the 1950s, so we have a strong regional connection to the wider toy industry.

Nationally there’s the Museum of Childhood too, and our friends there have uncovered many 20th Century toy related facts and figures for us.

For example, when the Royal Pump Room Museum first opened 65 years ago in 1953, materials were still in short supply after the War, yet the demand for toys rose quickly after years of hardship.

The increased use of plastics as a practical and durable material for toys, and which was certainly safer than lead, held particular appeal for parents and was of course easy to clean too.

There is a Bayko building set on display in the Museum and we often hear visitors reminiscing together about their own versions which they used to play with.

This was also the year that Scrabble first came to Britain and when Airfix unveiled their first model Spitfire.

The collectable appeal of toys grew, helped by the popularity of Matchbox and Corgi cars. Lego was also launched in the mid-fifties.

Although people were initially slow to warm to the connectable bricks, they went on to be voted the toy of the century by the British Association of Toy Retailers in 2000.

Meanwhile, back in the fifties and thanks to the growth in television ownership after the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, the link between programme and product within the home began.

Muffin the Mule led the way.

Then in 1957 the hugely popular Scalextric was unveiled at the annual Harrogate Toy Fair.

My sister had a set in the seventies which I was only supposed to look at and not touch, but of course it was irresistible.

The best toys cross the generations, particularly as we lovingly pass our treasures to our own children, assuming we are able to part with them.

Our assistant curator has handed her much loved Sylvanian Family rabbit toys over to her son, but only because it means she gets to play again too.

Our next open house at the museum will have a toy theme.

Come in and see some from our collection, bring your favourites along and if you feel like it you can photograph them and write a label alongside, to share your stories in the Museum.

Or was there something that you always wanted as a child but didn’t get?

Come and tell us more. Free entry, Saturday 17 March. Drop in anytime from noon to 2pm.