Here is the much awaited second part to the story that derived from a bundle of unusual old dolls house furniture which I had purchased back in 2016. That bundle of furniture turned out to have originated from the 1930s and had been made by Bertha & Ralph Wright. It was through the power of the internet that Richard Wright (grandson of Ralph Wright) and Patrick Daw (grandson of Bertha) got in touch and who kindly forwarded information about their grandparents and their dolls houses/miniature furniture, picture boxes, etc. If you have not read Part One of this story from the previous post on here, I strongly recommend that you read it before you read this second part:
So here we go....PART TWO: The Story Of Bertha & Ralph Wright Plus Their Miniatures Revealed!
Dolls Houses & Dolls House Furniture
While Bertha was making her picture boxes, Mr Chris Hoad, (the carpenter making Bertha’s wooden boxes) helped Ralph hone his carpentry skills. From then on Ralph began to make “beautiful original doll’s houses” (Bertha’s description) and eventually dolls house furniture. Various pieces of the furniture were unusually carved out of wooden blocks. Ralph did all the constructing of the dolls houses and furniture, and Bertha did the painting.
Ralph & Bertha’s Price List
Patrick kindly unearthed and forwarded an old price list of Ralph & Bertha’s dolls houses, etc. but says that the date of this list is unknown. It certainly makes fascinating reading, as not only did they make various dolls houses, furniture, shops, and stalls but they made other products too, including three carved bears and a zoo cage suitable for lead animals. I have to say that the seven roomed "L-shaped" dolls house fitted out as a bookshop in a two thirds of an inch scale, would have been quite unusual for its time. So too, the five roomed shop fitted out as a grocer and fishmonger shop. Another surprise to see on their price list was miniature handmade wax food, flat plates of fruit plus carved bowls, fancy dishes, servers and even crocuses in a bowl. Which goes to show how varied and innovative both Bertha and Ralph’s creations were.
|Bertha & Ralph Wright Price List - Page One. Image courtesy of Patrick Daw.|
|Bertha & Ralph Wright Price List - Page Two. Image courtesy of Patrick Daw.|
|Bertha & Ralph Wright Price List - Page Three. Image courtesy of Patrick Daw.|
Tudor Dolls House
|Images of Tudor dolls houses made by Ralph & Bertha Wright. Image courtesy of Patrick Daw.|
The only dolls house that appears on the price list that we actually have photos of, is the Tudor dolls house, hence this section of the article. The price list shows that Ralph was making a large Tudor dolls house, and that it was being offered unfurnished as well as fully furnished. However, it appears that the Tudor dolls house was known to have been made in a medium size too. Various images of Ralph’s Tudor houses can be seen above. It is believed that Ralph modelled this range of dolls house on their Marden house (The Old House), a 16th century timber framed house.
|Tudor dolls house with inscription. Image by courtesy of Marden History Group.|
An image of another version of Ralph and Bertha’s Tudor house can be seen above, by courtesy of the Marden History Group’s archives. This dolls house was purchased from an antique shop by a couple who after finding the inscription on the house, sent photos to the history group for their archives.
|Market Stall By Ralph & Bertha Wright.|
Bertha and Ralph described their market stalls on the price list as “Brightly coloured little stalls with hand modelled goods plus a carved and painted vendor. Each has a small door behind.” In the photo above you can see one of these stalls that came with the bundle of furniture, but sadly there were no goods or carved vendors amongst them. The variety of stalls that Bertha & Ralph offered included Bookseller, Greengrocer, Cake, Pork Butcher and Fishmonger. The bookseller particularly would have been an unusual toy for a child during the 1930s, I am assuming that this was heavily influenced by Ralph’s great love of books.
|Assortment of furniture, including some that are specifically mentioned on Bertha & Ralph Wright's Price List above.|
The list of furniture seen on the price list is a little more extensive than I was expecting, so could prove useful for identification purposes to antique dolls house collectors, as I suspect that there are pieces of Ralph and Bertha’s creations out there in various collections yet to be identified. So as not to repeat myself too much, I have included some different images of the furniture below not seen in the 2016 article.
Please see “A Collection of Miniature Treasures Made by Bertha and Ralph Wright” for further photos of the furniture.
|A chest of drawers with Bertha's green lacquer hand painted Chinese design, with each drawer having been carved out of separate blocks of wood.|
What makes Ralph’s dolls house furniture so unique is the fact that construction wise, many of the pieces have been carved out of single blocks of wood such as all the drawers of the chest of drawers, as seen above. Quite remarkable! Usually, the drawers of dolls house furniture are constructed from separate components.
|A wardrobe with Bertha's green lacquer hand painted Chinese design, looking well at home in a 1930s dolls house bedroom.|
Bertha and Ralph offered a bedroom suite in an enamel cream finish with Chinese green lacquer painting. Bertha’s painting was stunning, you can see here in the above photo the wardrobe that was part of the suite. The wardrobe looks well at home in the bedroom of an old 1930s dolls house. The Chinese design was replicated in various forms on other pieces of bedroom furniture by Bertha, as well as on a folding screen which can be seen further down below.
|Two single beds in a cream enamel finish with Bertha's floral hand painted design.|
In the photos above is an example of two beds from another bedroom suite with Bertha’s hand painted flowers in a vase design, so very evocative of the 1930s style.
|A sofa and armchair with Bertha's "flower chintz" hand painted design shown in situ in a 1930s dolls house.|
The sofas and armchairs were carved out of single blocks of wood, their framework superbly and skilfully shaped. Seen here is the sofa and armchair that were described on the price list as having a “flower chintz” finish. Bertha’s painting of these pieces is quite beautiful and so unique, one would certainly need a steady hand and creative ability to be able to paint staggered rows of multiple tiny hand-painted flowers. I know these may not be to everyone’s taste, but personally I love them! They look well at home in this c1930s dolls house.
|A carved armchair with a plain terracotta painted finish.|
Above is an example of a carved armchair painted in a single colour, this one is in a terracotta colour.
|Two of Bertha & Ralph's chairs, quite different from each other.|
Here are further examples of Ralph & Bertha’s chairs, quite different in finish from each other. The chair with the bright yellow seat pad that has a tiny floral repeat pattern in rows has a very “Bloomsbury” feel to it.
|Ralph's grandfather clock, kitchen cupboard and room screen, all beautifully painted by Bertha.|
The grandfather clock has been carved out of one single piece of wood and the clock face has been painted by Bertha in such a beautiful way. Her painting of fish, vegetables and fruit on the kitchen cupboard is exquisite. No doubt this is one of the items off the price list that is described as a “gaily painted” kitchen cupboard. The room screen, which is not on the price list and the only piece of furniture which I had in my possession that Bertha signed, has Bertha’s very distinctive hand painted Chinese design. There is no doubt that both Bertha & Ralph had been extremely creative and innovative in their dolls house furniture… quite different from any of the commercially produced dolls house items being offered by the leading toy manufacturers at that time, such as Tri-ang, Pit-a-Pat, etc.
The Mystery Of The Modern Dolls House
|Scanned image from International Dolls House News magazine, Volume 22, No. 2 - Summer 1993.|
In my original article about Ralph & Bertha that appeared in a 2016 issue of Dolls Houses Past & Present magazine, the editor (Rebecca Green) by chance had come across an image from a two-page spread in an old International Dolls House News magazine on Flat-Roofed Houses of the 1930s & 1940s (IDHN Volume 22, Summer 1993, page 46). The image can be seen above, and the house No. 2 (on the left) clearly names Ralph Wright as the architect and that Bertha Wright was the interior decorator. When I first saw this, I assumed that it was likely meaning the Ideal Home Exhibition and perhaps it had been a joint project with Heals specifically for the exhibition? However, Patrick forwarded a snippet from Country Life December 1934 with more information about that model, as seen below.
|The Modern Movement In The Dolls House - Country Life 1934. Image by courtesy of Patrick Daw.|
So, from the information given above, I am now assuming that Heals manufactured the dolls house and furniture, based on Ralph’s architectural plans and Bertha’s interior design plans, and it was then sold under the Heals brand name. Oddly, there is no mention of this dolls house in Bertha’s memoirs and neither Patrick nor Richard know of any specific details about this.
|Modern Dolls House - Designed By Bertha & Ralph Wright, Made By Heals. Images by courtesy of Patrick Daw.|
However, Patrick did forward these photos of the modern style flat roof dolls house that the family had, showing it in more detail. Due to lack of further information, I can only guess on such points as to how did this deal come about? My gut feeling is that it would not be inconceivable for the Wrights to have had social connections to Heals. The famous Mansard Gallery was situated on the fourth floor of Heals, and where some of the leading artists and designers would have exhibited, including some of the Bloomsbury Group and their acquaintances. Interestingly, you can see that the date on the Country Life snippet is stamped December 1934. Although one or two flat roof dolls houses had just begun to make an appearance around then, Tri-ang did not bring out their flat roof range of “Modern Dolls Houses” until 1935. So, had Bertha and Ralph been clever and anticipated a niche in the market? They had already shown an aptitude for innovation in their furniture design and Bertha’s picture boxes.
An Unexpected Discovery – The WW2 Bombing Of Maidstone Road, Marden.
|This image shows the actual devastation that took place from the 1941 bombing raid at Maidstone Road in Marden. Image by kind permission of Marden History Group.|
An unexpected discovery from my online research whilst compiling this article led to finding a sad and tragic end to Mr Christopher Harral Hoad, the carpenter who made Bertha’s wooden boxes and who taught Ralph carpentry. He lived at No. 3 Maidstone Road (Marden), but on the night of the 4th February 1941, a German plane randomly dropped its leftover bombs (presumably after a London raid). It landed on two houses and two shops in the Maidstone Road. Five people were killed on that fateful night, one of whom was Mr Hoad. How tragic for those people and their families. It is believed that he had been playing cards in his house at the time. However, the Kent village of Marden was described to have been situated in “bomb alley”, a common route for German planes heading to and from London, so this was not an isolated case. This tale and more can be found on the Marden History website. http://www.mardenhistory.org.uk/home/
Huge thanks once again to Richard Wright and Patrick Daw, for their wonderful communications and efforts on passing on such glorious information about their grandparents, all given so readily and so freely. Special thanks also to Patrick’s brother Peter Daw, his brother James Derville, and to his sister Daisy Macdonald, for sending photos of Bertha’s picture boxes that they have in their possession. Also thank you to the Marden History Group (www.mardenhistory.org.uk/home/) for their kind permission on allowing the use of their photos, and to Eunice Doswell of the group for her input.
Richard, whose father was Christopher Wright – Ralph’s youngest son, told me that one of the most important aspects of his grandfather’s life was that he and Bertha were able to keep such a close bond with their children, despite divorce and that it is a tribute to the legacy of Ralph and Bertha that the bond between the families has continued to this day.
On a personal note Patrick, who is a professional sculptor and commercial artist based in Bristol (UK) and whose mother was Sheila - the eldest daughter of Bertha & Alec Penrose, poignantly says “I am privileged to own some of Ralph’s woodworking tools, principally his many carving chisels, which I regularly use in my pattern making workshop. The role model set by Ralph and Bertha at The Old House was a potent unconscious influence upon me and helped to mould my own professional making and painting practice in adulthood. Ralph always had a penknife handy and even on walks near Marden he would whittle up a little sailing boat for me from a small branch.”
Well what else is there to say, other than I hope you have enjoyed reading the story behind Ralph, Bertha, and their miniatures. It is rare to obtain such in depth information about a pair of wonderful makers who are no longer with us. Needless to say, if anyone out there reading this has any further information on Ralph & Bertha’s creations, particularly the furniture, dolls houses and some of Bertha’s commissions where no known photos to date are in existence, I would love to hear from you.
Celia Thomas – KT Miniatures