British maker and seller of Toy Theatre (also known as Paper Theatre). Benjamin Pollock was the heir to a long tradition of toy theatre in England. By the early Victorian period, the English toy theatre trade was monopolized by four firms: Skelt, Park, Webb and Green. In 1850, a man named John Redington opened a stationer’s shop a few doors away from the Britannia Theatre in London, one of several large theatres then flourishing in the East End of the city. Within a year or two Redington had become Green’s principal wholesale agent, and after Green’s death he acquired his printing plates and stock. When Redington himself died in 1876, the shop passed to his daughter Eliza, who shortly afterwards married Benjamin Pollock, a young furrier. Pollock abandoned the fur trade and threw himself into the toy theatre business, which was already in severe decline. Undaunted by this, Pollock slaved at his printing press, added some of Park’s old plates to his repertoire, and commissioned new designs for large scenes. Webb, who operated from Old Street, also had a fresh burst of activity, during which he reprinted some of Skelt’s scenes, and commissioned new designs for large scenes from his own son, H. J. Webb.
Pollock and the younger Webb kept their businesses going until the 1930s, both doggedly claiming to be “the last of the old toy theatre makers”. Pollock’s daughters struggled on until 1944, when a bookseller called Alan Keen purchased their remaining wares, and brought toy theatres to the West End. When Keen succumbed to bankruptcy, his stock was acquired by Marguerite Fawdry, who had the idea of combining the toy theatre business with a toy museum. Pollock’s Toy Museum operated from Monmouth Street in central London between 1956 and 1968, and, after being constituted a charitable trust, from Scala Street, also in central London, between 1969 and 2004. At the time of writing, the future of the enterprise is uncertain.
(See Great Britain.)
- Speaight, George. Juvenile Drama. The History of the English Toy Theatre. London: Macdonald & Co., 1946; London: Studio Vista, 1969.
- Speaight, George, and Walter Röhler. Toy Theatre, Pollock’s Toy Theatres. London, 1980.
- Wilson, Albert Edward, and Charles B. Cochran. Penny Plain Twopence Coloured. A History of the Juvenile Drama. London: G. Harrap & Co., 1932.