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Hamleys and the Gold State Coach: The Peggy Lines Collection

Henrietta Katherine Peggy Lines © From G&J to Tri-ang

Many of the tens of thousands of spectators who crammed the pavements of London’s Regent Street to catch a glimpse of the queen’s coronation procession on June 2, 1953 would have spotted the glittering replica of the Gold State Coach in the window of the world’s oldest toy shop.

Today the 9.5 centimetre high display model – complete with its team of eight white horses, four horn-blowing postilions and, of course, the new monarch and her husband – forms the centrepiece of our Peggy Lines Collection, donated by the former Hamleys chairman exactly half a century after that rainy summer’s day on which it enticed young Londoners to her iconic shop window.

The extensive collection – comprising over 400 hand-painted die-cast lead models produced by toymaker W. Britain – was presented to Henrietta Katherine Peggy Lines (known as Peggy) upon her retirement in 1976. As well as a colourful selection of the company’s trademark model soldiers – including kilted highlanders and tartan-trousered ensigns carrying rippling regimental standards bearing lettering as fine as a human hair –  the collection contains a large number of key figures from British history including Queen Boudicca, King Henry VIII and a seductively sideways glancing Nell Gwynn.

W. Britain’s Gold State Coach: Peggy Lines Collection © MBND

'It was full of atmosphere, her house...I loved it’.

Peggy retired to Instow where she would spend the remaining 35 years of her life as an extremely active and much loved member of the community. There the accomplished watercolourist and photographer bought and refurbished The Roundhouse – previously the North Devon Yacht Club’s clubhouse – which, recalls close friend, Ethne Orton, she crammed with art materials and vintage toys:

‘It was full of atmosphere, her house. Many rooms contained shelves filled with toys of some sort. I remember a red double-decker bus and in one of the entrance halls she had her doll’s house, a rocking horse and many other things like that. I loved it’.

Toys were in Peggy’s blood and she grew up surrounded by some of the very best of them. Her father was Walter Lines – one of three brothers who in 1919 established Lines Bros. Ltd, which under the world famous brand name Tri-ang Toys (three lines forming a triangle) manufactured an array of popular items including doll’s houses, railway sets, model cars, lorries and boats. At its peak in 1947 the company, which had evolved from the hugely successful  G&J Lines formed in 1876 by Peg’s grandfather Joseph and his brother George, claimed to be the world’s largest toy manufacturer.

Historical lead figures: Peggy Lines Collection © MBND

'a truly British Toy Manufacturers’ Association’.

Born in 1925, Peggy and her three siblings grew up in a sprawling seventeenth century house in Surrey of which her father commissioned his architect to design an almost exact replica for her seventh birthday. The intricate doll’s house – complete with oak-panelled hallway – which once sat in her Instow entrance hall now forms a prized part of the V&A Museum of Childhood’s collection. In 1931 her father, by then chairman of Tri-ang Toys, bought Hamleys which, having enjoyed 170 years of burgeoning success since its formation by Cornishman William Hamley in 1760  – had become of one of the countless casualties of the Great Depression. Over the course of the decade he spearheaded a successful campaign to entice customers back and in 1938 Queen Mary granted the London landmark the Royal Warrant.

Walter was also a great champion of women’s education and, unusually for the time, both Peggy and her sister Gillian attended university. Having gained a degree in Chemistry at Royal Holloway, University of London, Peggy taught for a number of years in Kent and Croydon before joining Hamleys of which she became chairman during the mid-1960s.

In her book From G&J to Tri-ang, in which she outlines and illustrates in fine detail the first 80 years of her family’s businesses, Peggy expresses great pride in what she describes as their ‘considerable’ role as leaders in ‘a truly British Toy Manufacturers’ Association’.

Detail of the Gold State Coach: Peggy Lines Collection © MBND

‘She was a great traditionalist and liked things exactly as they were’ recalls her niece, Amanda Rhind.  ‘Yet, she was also a very astute businesswoman with a great imagination who came up with many new ideas about the manufacture of toys.’

Amanda remembers watching her aunt put the Hamleys Christmas catalogues together by hand, spreading the paper across the floor and cutting out each of the pictures: ‘which was fascinating for a child. They were real works of art’. One day she came home to find that Peggy had made ‘a little string of joined up paper men with little back hats’ which, she decided, would become the new Hamleys logo. Today the now iconic image still adorns carrier bags dispensed at the company’s 167 stores across 18 countries.

Historical lead figures: Peggy Lines Collection © MBND

Having taken the helm for around a decade, during which time, says Amanda, she created the Regent Street store’s basement book department and ‘made a very good sale’ to Debenhams after Lines Brothers Ltd went into liquidation, she established herself in Instow where she pursued her many interests including painting, gardening and sailing with great gusto. Never one to sit still, she became secretary of the North Devon Yacht Club, raced her dinghy, helped to train cadets, became involved with the local twinning association and regularly had her numerous nieces and nephews to stay in her gleaming toy-filled seaside home. Speaking to The Guardian in 2014, her nephew Anthony Lowth recalled Peggy’s firmly held belief that toys were there to be played with. ‘Her house was filled with things which people would have thought were museum pieces’ he said: ‘yet she had children crawling all over them. She rather frowned on the idea of toys being collectors’ items’.

Often blunt, occasionally absent minded, clever, ‘shy to a certain extent’ and ‘great fun’ remembers Ethne, Peggy always considered herself working class, owing to the fact that Joseph and George Lines had started out as craftsmen. ‘She wasn’t of course’ smiles Ethne: ‘but she was a very dear person’.

The Peggy Lines Collection is available to view on request.

Written by Sophie Jay

Editor Adam Murray

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