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FeaturesHistoryThe Queen

The Queen’s Childhood ‘Little House’: Y Bwthyn Bach

When she was aged six, the young Princess Elizabeth received a special present from the people of Wales. It was a cottage of her very own. She came into possession of this unique gift when her parents, the Duke and Duchess of York took over the use of Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park in 1932. It was given to the young princess to enjoy with her baby sister Princess Margaret Rose, who had been born two years previously. Situated deep within the grounds of the Great Park, it is not visible to public view and the House remains a much-loved object of charm, used only by the Royal Family.

Clearly a gift that any child would delight in, it was original in design and served as a playhouse, although the cottage was used to raise funds for children’s hospital charities before the princesses were allowed the use of it. One supposes that it also represented something of a dolls’ house which could be actually entered, the door of which through adults could only duck and then only by invitation. One of the best known examples of a dolls’ house is of course the largest of its kind in the world, which was built between 1921-1924 for Princess Elizabeth’s paternal grandmother Queen Mary and is now housed at Windsor Castle. However the idea of a cottage for royal children was certainly not without its earlier examples. Queen Victoria’s beloved half-sister Princess Feodore of Leiningen had built a Swiss-style chalet for herself called the Villa Feodore at Baden-Baden. There was also a Swiss Cottage at Rosenau – the birthplace of Prince Albert – which seems to have served as the prototype for the Swiss Cottage at Osborne House. The Swiss Cottage at Osborne House contained rooms for Queen Victoria’s nine children, surrounded by gardens which each royal child could tend, together with their own gardening tools engraved with their individual initials. In the Swiss Cottage, the children of Queen Victoria learned to manage accounts, bake in the Cottage’s miniature kitchen, serve tea and even operate their own small ‘grocer’s shop’ inside, which contained various types of spices. Equally, the cottage built outside Darmstadt for another Princess Elizabeth, only daughter of the first marriage of Queen Victoria’s grandson, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, was called the “Prinzessinenhaus” or ‘Princess’s House’, designed by the Art Nouveau artist Joseph Maria Olbrich and erected in the grounds of the Grand Duke’s hunting lodge of Wolfsgarten in 1902. This little house also contained a front garden, kitchen and miniature set of rooms, full of the furniture, toys and pictures that the Princess Elizabeth of Hesse loved.

Princess Elizabeth of York received the two-thirds size cottage on 16 March 1932, as an early present for her sixth birthday. It was designed by the architect Edmund Willmot, who had built a little house for his own daughter to use. The Duke and Duchess of York received the gift on behalf of the princesses and the ‘Little House’ was re-erected in the grounds of  Royal Lodge after this ceremony had taken place, a little girl in traditional Welsh costume presenting the keys of the ‘Little House’ to Their Majesties. This same little girl recalled her memories of this event in the year of the Diamond Jubilee. As it was a gift to Princess Elizabeth from the people of Wales it correspondingly received a Welsh name, Y Bwthyn Bach, or the ‘Little House’. Models of this charming house were later made as miniature dolls’ houses; an example of which is in the Museum of Childhood gallery in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection in London. These models were made by Lines Bros of Merton in Surrey. It shows the beautiful design of the house, with its blue-painted windows, whitewashed walls, a front garden and a thatched roof.

The house itself contained four rooms, with a kitchen to the right of the hall and a ‘Little Chamber’ to the left. Upstairs were a bathroom and a bedroom. The princesses enjoyed giving children’s parties in the ‘Little House’, the ‘Little Chamber’ of which contained a picture of their mother Queen Elizabeth, over the fireplace. Photographs survive of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth together with the two princesses, in the grounds of Y Bwthyn Bach. Reminiscent of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, which had fully functioning electricity and running water supplies, Princess Elizabeth’s ‘Little House’ equally had both hot and cold water, together with power and modern appliances, including a telephone and refrigerator. As Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House had once been exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley in 1924-1925, the ‘Little House’ was also put on public view at the Daily Mail’s Ideal Home Exhibition in Olympia before it was re-erected in the grounds of Royal Lodge. According to the websource Thamesweb, Y Bwthyn Bach was also featured in the book ‘Round and About Windsor’ by Olwen Hedley, who describes the little house as having blue and white checked curtains, blue carpets and a bookcase full of the children’s books of Beatrix Potter. (Round and About Windsor, Oxley and Sons, 1948). The house contained linen which bore the initial ‘E’ and similar to the Swiss Cottage at Osborne, the kitchen had its own pots, pans and working oven.

The ‘Little House’ so greatly enjoyed by The Queen and Princess Margaret Rose still exists, to the delight of her grandchildren today. Prior to 2012, Y Bwthyn Bach was renovated and her granddaughter, Princess Beatrice of York, who loves the House, was given charge of the renovations. Unprecedented access was given to the ‘Little House’ when the presenter Andrew Marr was shown it by the Princess Beatrice – who played in it herself as a child – for the first episode of the programme, The Diamond Queen. Princess Beatrice described it as “the most glamorous wendy house ever”. Given the fact that at the time of her 90th birthday The Queen has five great-grandchildren, it seems likely that the ‘Little House’ will continue to be enjoyed by generations of royal children well into the future.