For Children — Christmas Presents

London Portrait Magazine — November 1984

Considering their size it's quite staggering how much children manage to cost us at Christmas. But if their presents are getting ever more expensive it's certain that there's been an equally dramatic improvement in quality in recent years. Forgetting the tacky rubbish of yesteryear, here are a few of London's best toy shops and a few ideas to separate you from your cash to a child's advantage.

By Christopher Long

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First call this year is to The Singing Tree at 69 New King's Road, SW6, which specialises in amazing dolls' houses and everything to go into them. The houses, in every style including Georgian, Victorian and Palladian, range from £70 to £500 (no mortgages available) and can be custom-made. Miniature contents such as a round table and four chairs at £10, or a cupboard at £4.30 can be acquired out of pocket money during the year. Watch out for children aged 20-80 who haunt The Singing Tree snapping up meticulously accurate miniature items as collectors' pieces costing £30-£60. Well worth visiting even if you only come away with an Advent Calendar or Christmas cards.

Naturally British at 13 New Row, Convent Garden, WC2, caters admirably for those with traditional tastes. Renowned for their craftsmen-made hobby-horses by Relcon (£66.70) and beautiful rocking-horses, also by Relco, in various sizes from £436.43-£766.82, Naturally British are launching Lewis Bear this year. Lewis invades Paddington-land from Scotland dressed in Harris Tweed cap and trousers (plus braces) and sporting a Shetland sweater. He costs £14.95. They also have excellent Old English pub games such as Solitaire, Sixteen Bandits and Saxon Maze, all hand-made from elm at £6.95. Perhaps best of all are crackers the way crackers should be – i.e. full of decent surprises like Roger & Gallet soap, key-rings and miniature address books. Will go with a bang at £3.95 per cracker!

Frog Hollow at 15 Victoria Grove, W8, is one of London's nicest all-round toy-shops. Despite feminism, dolls still rule the roost there – particularly Chinese dolls in satin suits and long, straight black hair – in a range from £7.99 to £14.99 (including a boy dressed inevitably in a karate costume). A likely winner at Frog Hollow this year is the 'Popoid' kit that builds into spacecraft, cars, monsters etc., by assembling tubular plastic modules that bend and stretch. Made by Tomy they sell for £11.95. Alternatively, look out for fun watches at around £14.99 for A-Team, Night Rider and Pop-Up varieties designed for boys, but which may even appeal to girls rather more than Hello Kitty and Little Twin Star watches at £12.99.

Over at Hippo Hall65 Pimlico Road, SW1, a clever mother can combine festivity with practicality because they specialise in duvets and pillow-cases for kids at £17 and £4 respectively. Take your pick from designs featuring clowns, hearts, animals of all sorts – and, of course, hippos. Alternatively, every egotistical child will need a framed and wipeable picture depicting his/her name illustrated with animals sharing the same initial letter – ego-boosting for just £14.75.

Practicality combines with great seasonal flair at Inca45 Elizabeth Street, SW1 – where they offer unique hand-knitted and brightly-coloured clothes for children up to the age of seven. Peruvian styles find their way into sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves and leg-warmers. Among other things on offer are nativity scenes, knitted animals and tree decorations. Well worth a visit and not much costs more than £9.

Richards and Appleby make some delightful soaps and toiletries that are full of character, and guaranteed to get even the most stubborn of kids into the bath. There is Danger Mouse Rocket Talc or Bubble Bath. The Wind in the Willows Caravan with six bath foam sachets; The Victoria Plum Beauty Box; and the Fraggle Rock characters to choose from. Price from 99p to £3.95, available at Fenwick's, Bond Street, W1 and Debenhams, Oxford Street, W1.

Heals at 196 Tottenham Court Road, W1, got big by stocking the contents of adult size dolls' houses at prices around £185. Amazingly, the craftsman-made miniature contents cost almost as much as the real thing – a four-poster bed at £75; a wooden dresser at £34.50 etc. However, you can still buy a cottage for £85 and a whole castle for £185. Alternatively there are jig-saws from £2 to £12, and a largish selection of other toys including the ubiquitous Lego.

At Fortnum & Mason I suspect most 'little boys' and 'little girls' buy presents for each other on their expense accounts. This year they're heavily into soft toys by Steiss - teddy bears, Jungle Story animals and a new character called Jeremy St James. You can spend anything from £16 to £245 – for a huge lioness to keep you warm at night – while insomniacs can occupy themselves with traditional jack-in-the-boxes, and beautifully made wooden puzzles (for three-year-olds) designed by George Luck!

One little girl I know is always suggesting that I'll find the nails, cigarettes, vegetables or typing paper I need at Tiger Tiger 219 King's Road, SW3. I never do, of course, but somehow she always manages to find something there that she needs! It's hardly surprising because Tiger Tiger seems to have everything for a child.

Top of the pops this year is probably Make Eight, another modular kit which allows you to make several rockets, monsters, space-ships - all for £6.25. They also have dolls' house dolls from £2 to £9, and a large selection of marionettes and toy theatres. Naturally, there are tigers from £3.95 to £190, and a beautiful lioness at £230.

From the Puffa shop at 190 Walton Street, SW3, three-year-olds upwards can kit themselves out in what is expected to become an eye-shattering trend this winter. Puffa jackets cost £19.50 (plain) or £22.50 (striped), and range from soft autumnal shades to colours you won't want to see with a hangover. They can also be made to order.

Toddler Toys at 4 Harriet Street, SW1, claim that they are where 'little people's Christmas dreams come true'. I can believe it. They have hand-crafted puzzles for youngsters up to age eight; a solid wood Land-Rover and trailer for £45; a two-foot high petrol pump to fuel it from (including hose, gauge and bell) £35; and a Cozy Coupé child-size foot propelled taxi made of tough plastic for £60. Rather cheaper is a battery operated game called Trip-Over Traps at £9.99 – rather like a complicated pin-ball course involving skill against the clock.

At Dragons at 23 Walton Street, SW3, they have hairbrushes which can be hand-painted with any chosen name and design, (£17.80) large and (£15.50) small, and they can do the same thing on bunny-style wall-plaques for £13.80. Most useful of all would be their large child's toy-box painted with a child's choice of name and design for £130. (Allow three weeks for all orders).

MaGitty, 39 Kensington Church Street, W8 have a collection of exclusive clothes for children, as well as an exciting range of toys and playthings. There are charming Russ soft toys an dolls, a large assortment of cartoon character miniatures, which should go down a treat, and glam party outfits, just right for the Christmas season.

Asterix the Gaul and his friends get up to all kinds of adventures fighting the Romans in the new Asterix range of character figures and playsets – which range from £2.50 for the single figure sets to just over £20 for the large playsets and chariots – from Hamleys, Selfridges and Harrods.

Fancy giving an English elm wood castle for £575, a Noah's Ark in elm wood which includes 14 pairs of animals in different woods and Mr & Mrs Noah for £450, or some toy clowns at £35 each? Well, these are just a few of the marvellous items to be found in The Kilmaly Collection, a 32-page glossy catalogue that costs £1.25 from their shop at 10 High Street, Poole, Dorset BH15 1BP, 0202 685858. They also do a pretty good selection of other items like fashion, jewellery, crystal and tableware.

Paula Thomas runs a mail order business called Tiggi & Todd, which make enchanting treasures for kids from 0-12 – including soft and wooden toys (£1.50-£10.35), clothes (£13-£30), hand painted furniture (£9.70-£60), charming rag dolls Tiggi and Todd (£5.40 small, £18 large) and accessories – all of which are hand made in the UK. You can send for her catalogue in full colour. Cost is £1.

From Spear's Games comes an exciting new strategy game called Scorpion. This is a game which, like Scrabble, can be played and enjoyed by people of all ages. It's a fascinating board game, with a 'sting' in the tail!, and retails at £9.99 from Selfridges, Harrods and Hamleys.

One of the most ingenious board games is Mandala by Future Games. This is the first game ever with a moving board. It consists of a series of ten brightly coloured, concentric rings providing colour barriers which are moved according to the throw of the dice. The aim of the game is to get your pieces home, or you can indulge your spite by sending your opponent's pieces back to base. It is £9.95, and available at Hamleys and Harrods.

If by this stage you're still stuck for ideas then there are always those great toy institutions like Galt Toys at their new shop in Liberty's children's department or Hamleys, Harrods and Selfridges!

Selfridges, of course, is where the real Father Christmas hangs out each year – presiding over a huge toy department. There you'll find the Trivial Pursuit game for £21.50; a fascinating game from Israel called Rummikub at £6.99 (rummy for 2-4 players involving numbered tiles); and a vast range of Zapf dolls at £14-£24 (including the trendy 'Tina') as well as tea-sets to keep them occupied at £3.99.

Best value of all at Selfridges is probably the special offer Reeve's artist's kit consisting of a box at £9.99 which includes eight pots of liquid poster paints, 23 water-colour blocks, coloured pencils, wax crayons, a mixing tray and sharpener. Alternatively they have somebody called Doggone Dog at £4.95. If you press his head he flaps his ears, shuts his eyes, does strange things with his nose and tongue and then 'just whizzes away'.

Faced with Christmas 1984 I know how he feels...!

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© (1984) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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