Six carved wooden figures with large eyes and black geometric decoration on pale unvarnished wood.

Empire and Education in Edward Lovett’s Display of Dolls

By Catriona Ellis

The Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh claims to be the first in the world to focus on the history of childhood, but the museum is not the only place in which some of these toys have been displayed.  Many of the dolls were the result of enthusiasm for collecting of one man – Mr Edward Lovett (1852-1933).  But collections are not only for the joy of collecting, but also the joy of sharing with a wider audience. 

View of the Exhibition 'It's Alive' at the Museum of Childhood Edinburgh, June 2017

It’s Alive! tour for visually impaired visitors


This summer the museum plays host to a cast of curious clockwork characters from the House of Automata, alongside a new series of etchings by Robert Powell.

We invite you to join us for a descriptive tour of the exhibition and a hands-on automata performance, tailored to visually impaired visitors.

Come along to experience the magic of mechanical life. In Robert Powell’s prints we will explore the uncanny overlaps between nature and technology, and the role of automata in legend and literature. Then, the automata will come to life in the expert hands of Michael and Maria Start, including a tiny feathered bird who sings 170-year-old songs.

11.00am – 12.30pm

Friday 28th July 2017

Places are limited. Book by email

Museum of Childhood, 42 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TG

Directions to Museum

A 'Strawberry Girl' automata, resembling a ceramic doll holding a basket of strawberries, in front of a patterned wallpaper and Victorian diorama.

Background information

Michael and Maria Start are collectors, restorers and promoters of mechanical life. The intriguing automata in the exhibition have been brought to Edinburgh from their secret workshop in the Highlands.

Robert Powell is an Edinburgh artist who creates hand-painted prints, filled with black humour and glorious detail. This new series, ‘Pneuma: The Mechanical Egg’, has been created especially for the exhibition.

Accessibility information

A lift provides step-free access to the exhibition, and there are accessible toilets in Gallery 3. Unfortunately we do not have parking on site.




Write at the Museum


We’re starting an exciting new writing group at the Museum of Childhood. It will be a small group of up to ten writers. All levels of experience welcome, and types of writing.
Our galleries might inspire new pieces of poetry, prose or memoir, or perhaps give new energy to works in progress.

Enjoy exclusive access while the museum is closed to the public, and write among the wonderful displays. Discuss your work over a cup of tea with the friendly group and get advice from the experienced tutor.

To start, we are offering a four week course over the Autumn and Winter with professional writer Regi Claire, for £80.

Tuesday afternoons, 2.30-4.30pm.

25 October 2016, 22 November 2016, 10 January 2017, 7 February 2017

Get in touch if you have questions or to book your place.

Bedtime Stories

What do you remember about your bedtime stories as a child? What did you read with a torch under the covers? Did you tell tales of your toys coming to life?

The next exhibition at the Museum of Childhood will look at these moments when night-time stories blur the line between waking and dreaming.

Inspired by Proust’s recollections of bedtime, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems Young Night Thought and The Land of Counterpane we are going to have a big quilt at the centre of the exhibition – this is where you come in.

The Green Velvet Suit Children

In Gallery 5 at the Museum of Childhood, there is a room setting of a children’s party. It’s one of my favourite parts of the museum – a strange group of mannequins dressed in various costumes, with toys and games spread round their feet and 30-year-old plastic food sitting uneaten on the table.

Two of the costumes in the display were sent to the museum by Joan Somerville in 1982. She wrote at the time that she had “come across the enclosed items which I kept for sentimental reasons… I trust you will not be offended by my sending them without prior consultation”.

They were a lovely green velvet Elizabethan-style costume, which Joan remembered had been “made for me by an Indian tailor in Madras over 55 years ago” and a Norwegian national costume “sent to me after the War by Norwegians I befriended during their stay here while Norway was occupied”.

A new project

Over the next twelve months or so, I will be working on the collection at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh, unearthing treasures in the stores and highlighting great things in the galleries.

I will be working with lots of different people in different ways to explore what’s interesting and inspiring about the objects of childhood, and sharing those stories here.

This is a Collections Engagement project, and brings together the best things about museums: the objects and the people. We will see what happens.

I welcome contributions, project proposals and comments. Please get in touch.