One lovely thing to come out of this crisis is that 91-year-old knitting queen Margaret Seaman of Caister, Norfolk, is busy with her knitting needles raising money for the NHS, by making a woolen replica of the UK’s Nightingale hospitals, as a tribute to health workers.
Mrs Seaman has been working every day on her project, which she has named the Knittingale Hospital. Eventually, it will look like the model below
Once completed, it will have four wards, an X-ray department and a coffee shop. ‘Manning’ the Knittingale will be woolen figures of doctors, nurses and patients, donated by a fellow knitting enthusiast.
Mrs Seaman, known locally as ‘Norfolk’s knitting queen’, has previously raised thousands for charities with her knitted recreations of Great Yarmouth sea front and Sandringham House, and hopes the Knittingale will raise at least £5,000 for three hospitals in her area: the Norfolk and Norwich, the Queen Elizabeth in King’s Lynn and the James Paget in Gorleston-on-Sea.
Not the first time
The craze probably started in the German city of Nuremberg, famous for making toys, and soon spread across the Rhine into the Netherlands. By the 17th century, the Netherlands had entered its “Golden Age” and merchants had become extremely wealthy through maritime trade with the East and West Indies.
These merchants gave their wives lots of disposable cash which they enjoyed spending on luxuries such as doll’s houses, rather than sensible investments in their businesses, which eventually led to a Dutch economic decline a century later.
What were these houses like
Petronella Oortman, a rich 17th-century Amsterdam silk merchant’s pampered wife, spent 20,000 guilders on a dolls’ house, the same price as would have been paid for a large home along one of Amsterdam’s elegant canals, Today, you can see her dolls house on display at the Rijksmuseum., along with others.
Below is just part of one these Dolls Houses, on display in the Rijksmuseum. Looking closely, you can see it is furnished with a mixture of miniature wooden and silver pieces.
Up to two-metres (6 feet) tall and open on one side, the miniature homes were packed with tiny treasures — and often cost as much as their real-life counterparts.
Recently there has been a novel published called The Miniaturist, giving more background to these incredible pieces. If you go on the Rijksmuseum’s website you can see more on the rooms and furnishing, or see this YouTube explanation by a curator of an American museum that exhibits one of these houses.
The dolls’ houses were not only a pleasant pastime and a way of spending superfluous money, they also served as a status symbol and played an educational and social role. Life at home was more important in Protestant countries than in Catholic ones, where the church was the centre, For the Dutch in particular, it was important to show how a good house was kept.
Friends and neighbours would come around to admire the tiny creations, and were often accompanied by children who were shown what every “good house” should have. Even strangers traveled from afar to knock on the door of a home with a doll’s house, having heard of it and wanting to see it up close. Sadly, after the Industrial Revolution, dolls’ houses and their accessories slowly became standardised, mainly to a scale of 1:12, and were no longer such a status symbol.
Today, these miniature pieces are very much in demand. In a top silver shop in The Hague, I was shown a table setting for eight, with knives, forks, spoons, chargers, salt cellars etc. I would have loved to take them home as a souvenir, until told the price for the complete set was £1 million.
Instead, I found these early 20th century copies at £155 !