My love of vintage and antique toys started a very long time ago when I was given a family doll over 100 years old.  From there I soon discovered a wonderful variety of playthings. I would like to introduce you to some of my favourites.

The Forest Toys of Brockenhurst are an amazing range of hand carved and painted wooden toys. As Fergus Gambon said in his foreword to the book I have just published, they are  “naïve yet catching exactly the spirit of the creature, person or object that they represent”.  Although appearing to belong in the 18th and 19th centuries, these playthings were made between 1922 and 1939.

Doll’s houses come in an amazing range of shapes, sizes and countries of origin. These include shops of all types from butchers to milliners, room settings, stables and warehouses and even swimming pools. Then, of course, there are fascinating inhabitants to collect.

Tin toys encompass a surprisingly broad range of playthings. There are bathrooms with working water and lights, room settings, gazebos and stables, in addition to all the cars and wind-up toys.

Erzgebirge toys are the tiny wooden figures from the Erzgebirge region of Germany, which have been made for well over 100 years, make a fascinating collection. They cover every aspect of everyday life and can include Adam and Eve, weddings, swimming parties and every type of car, wagon and truck imaginable.

About Me

Having the privilege of being a ‘Commoner of the New Forest’ whilst doing my research for this book has meant that I have been able to talk to a relative of Frank Whittington as well as visit many of the people who live in the village of Brockenhurst and remember going to the factory to make their purchases. It has also been very helpful having access to the archives of local companies and museums. Visiting the original house that Frank lived in, and the surroundings and animals of the forest, gives me a deeper understanding of what inspired him. It seems very probable that his great love of nature and animals was a factor in making him choose this subject, perhaps with the hope that children all over the country could appreciate them too.

In the twenty plus years that I have been collecting toys such as dolls houses, dolls, tin toys, Penny Toys and many more, nothing has given me so much pleasure as Forest Toys. Not long after moving to the New Forest I came across a pair of Forest Toys dogs at a local antique fair and was so intrigued that I wanted to find out more about them. There is something very typical about them and the time between the two world wars when they were made, that harks back to a simpler age. The way in which they are made means that whatever figure you are holding, it is unique. The person doing the carving would never be able to make another completely identical, no matter how hard they tried. The painters could not put the brush strokes on in just the same way each time either. Especially with the earlier pieces there can be seen even more individuality in the painting of patterns, whether it is on a giraffe, a lady’s dress or the stripes of a zebra and tiger. It is difficult today to buy toys for children made by individual craftsmen and women.

Now that it is known how many different toys there were, it raises the distinct possibility that there are yet more games or sets to be discovered. Look out for those items previously only seen in old price lists and publications but not generally found in the public domain especially the Fairytale sets.

My Book

My book ‘The Forest Toys of Brockenhurst’ was published in 2017

Fergus Gambon wrote the foreword to my book. He says “This well-researched and profusely illustrated book tells the story of an extraordinary small toy factory, set up in the charming rural setting of the New Forest. Established by Frank Whittington in 1922, the business produced a varied range of handmade toys, each plaything carved and painted, naive yet catching exactly the spirit of the beast, person or object that it represented. As handmade objects made in an age of mass production, Forest Toys were of necessity expensive but their charm and individuality ensured commercial success, the factory only closing as a result of the outbreak of war in 1939.

In some respects Forest Toys look back to an earlier age, reminding us of 18th and 19th century playthings. Some products, such as Noah’s arc and nativity scenes, have their earlier counterparts in the toys produced in the Erzgebirge region of Germany. Others are a result of Whittington’s obvious enthusiasm for the natural world. There is everything from a New Forest pony to a Komodo dragon and an oryx, each animal correctly proportioned and full of personality. Over fifty breeds of dog are recorded (even an Airedale, to my delight) and environments as different as an oasis and a farmyard are provided for the animals to inhabit. Add to that stage coaches (one version with trotting horses, another with horses rearing in horror at the sight of a highwayman), gypsy caravans, book ends, a zoo, a meet, a hunt, a jungle and a horse racing game and the enormous range and ambition of the factory becomes apparent. This is even more impressive for a business that only employed thirteen carvers and three painters at the peak of production. Such ambition can hardly have been commercially expedient, owing more to the enthusiasm of the proprietor and his obvious delight in the creation of new models.

Janet Gent has given us the standard work on this fascinating and little known factory, providing an exhaustive and beautifully illustrated record of its products accompanied by a fascinating narrative of the factory’s history and its relationship to the New Forest in which it was set. It is an important addition to the knowledge of English toy making.

In the gallery below you can take a sneak peek at some of the pages. Click once on the picture to view it and then click again to enlarge.

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In the five years since the publication of The Forest Toys of Brockenhurst, much new information has come to light. People from Brockenhurst to Bermuda, The New Forest to The Netherlands and so many other countries around the world have shown their enthusiasm for these wonderful toys, that it seemed the right time and was a great pleasure to write this update.  New information and pictures have been very generously shared by readers and collectors, so that these wonderful finds can be appreciated by all. 

Forest Toys

The Forest Toys of Brockenhurst are an amazing range of hand carved and painted wooden toys.

As Fergus Gambon said in his foreword to the book I have just published, they are “naïve yet catching exactly the spirit of the creature, person or object that they represent”.

Although appearing to belong in the 18th and 19th centuries these playthings were made between 1922 and 1939.