Hampshire was the birthplace of some famous 20th century toys. Scalextric was first made at the Minimodels factory in Havant in 1956. Minibrix, an interlocking construction toy and an important precursor to Lego was made in Petersfield between 1935-1976. Boscombe, which used to be part of Hampshire before 1974, was home to the Hayter factory which produced the well-loved Victory jigsaw puzzles, which were immensely popular both before and after the 2nd World War.
Evidence of Hampshire toy-making before 1900 is harder to find. A number of toys, models and games were made by Napoleonic prisoners of war, who were kept in forts and prison ships around the county during the early 1800s. They would spend their time making the toys (and other items) out of anything they could find, including old mutton bones, straw and wood. These were then sold locally and the prisoners received food and other necessities in return for their work.
Dominoes made by Napoleonic prisoners of war
Although not strictly playthings, pedlar dolls, with their trays and baskets of wares, were very popular during the 19th century. Children could look but not touch! C H White of Milton, Portsmouth was one of the few commercial producers of these dolls. The two examples in our collections date from around the 1820s.
Pedlars and hawkers were the main sellers of toys before the early 1800s. They often made the simple toys themselves and would travel around the towns and villages on foot. Local fairs provided them with much of their business. There is an account of Alton Fair, 1704 in the Hampshire Records Office which mentions a toy man and woman (as well as women selling gingerbread and sugar plums). The Museums Service has a pair of dolls, with feet made out of sealing wax, which were bought at Lymington fair in 1829.
Shops had become more of a feature of everyday life by the Victorian period. Toys were often sold alongside other items in general shops such as grocers or stationers. A typical ‘everything shop’ (as Coleridge referred to them) was that belonging to John Cootes of Gosport, who traded as a ‘Boot, Shoe, Toy and Fancy Goods Dealer’ at the turn of the century.
The toy industry expanded rapidly during the early 20th century as a result of new manufacturing processes and an increased demand from the burgeoning middle classes. Toy shops sprang up in most towns in the county and the newly emerging department stores in Southampton, Portsmouth and Bournemouth also played their part in satisfying the demands of Hampshire’s children. In the 21st century, the local toy shop on the high street is facing increasing competition from large out of town stores and the advent of online shopping.
Purchased with the assistance of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund