Make your own Victorian toy theatre
Discover how miniature toy theatres became popular during the Victorian era, then download our printable templates and follow our instructions to make your own. We’ve got everything you need to put on your own Christmas play set at Osborne, Queen Victoria’s former home on the Isle of Wight.
A popular pastime
Toy theatres (originally called ‘Juvenile Drama’) were very popular in the 19th century and became collectors’ items for adults and children alike. After buying and making the theatre, printed sheets could be bought to create and stage performances of hundreds of popular productions, from Victorian melodramas to pantomimes and historical romances.
Miniature stages, characters, scenery and props were printed onto paper from engraved copper plates and sold by publishers and stationers as individual sheets, with a choice of either ‘a Penny Plain’, or ‘a Tuppence Coloured’. These were then cut out, pasted onto card or wood and the cheaper, uncoloured versions were painted. Once all the pieces had been assembled, the ‘actors’ were mounted onto little tin slides and were pushed onto the stage from the side wings.
The first toy theatres were sold during the Regency period, after William West set up a shop in Covent Garden, but by the 1880s only two toy theatre shops remained: Pollock’s in Hoxton and Webb’s in Finsbury, London. The decline of English toy theatres was partly due to the arrival of grand imported theatres from Germany and Denmark.
Today, only Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop is left, after being salvaged and re-established in Covent Garden. Pollock’s Toy Museum in London’s Fitzrovia has a collection of original Victorian toy theatres.
Make your own Victorian toy theatre
We’ve created a downloadable kit to help you assemble and decorate your own Victorian toy theatre themed around Christmas at Queen Victoria’s former home, Osborne, on the Isle of Wight. This is where Queen Victoria chose to spend Christmas with her children and grandchildren following the death of her husband Prince Albert. The kit includes templates for a miniature theatre to cut out, complete with six cut-out characters: Queen Victoria, her favourite dog Noble 4th, Princess Beatrice, Victoria Eugenie, Alexander Mountbatten and Father Christmas himself. There is also a Christmas tree and gifts, and a picture of Osborne’s Dining Room for the backdrop.Download the templates
Step-by-step instructions to build your theatre
YOU WILL NEED
- • Your templates printed out
- • Card to make the base (grey board, corrugated card or kraft card is ideal)
- • Strong glue or strong tape
- • Pritt stick, sticky tape or double-sided tape
- • Thin card to mount the templates onto
Cut out the five templates to make up the base of your theatre. Glue them together with strong glue or sticky tape. You might need to ask a grown up to help you with this step.
Glue all of the template sheets onto thin card, then cut out the stage floor. Glue this on top of the base you have just made. It should fit exactly! Use a Pritt Stick or double-sided tape.
Cut out the two theatre wings from card. Score along the dotted lines using something pointed (like the tip of a pen lid). Fold the tabs outwards and glue in place onto the stage floor – matching up the numbers.
Glue on the other side to the stage floor, giving you two sides.
Cut out the back of the theatre and support bar from card. Glue the back panel onto the theatre wings at tab 1. There is an outline of the tabs on the back panel which indicates where you need to stick. You might like to add some tape at the back of the back panel and the stage floor for extra strength.
Fold the tabs of the support bar over and attach onto the top of the theatre wings. There is a square at the top of the wings that indicates where you should stick. This is the stage section complete!
Now to make the auditorium! Cut out the stage front. Leave the white area around the curtains to stick the surrounding features to. Cut out the two boxes. Fold the tab on the short vertical edge backwards and the tab on the long vertical edge forwards. Line the short vertical edges up with the sides of the stage front and glue on.
Cut out the ceiling. Fold the two long tabs on the horizontal backwards, and the two short vertical tabs forwards. Wrap the two short tabs around the outside of the boxes and glue on to the top of the stage front.
To add strength, cut out the front wall, and stick in between the two boxes.
Now let’s make the façade. Cut out the roof, two gargoyles and two pillars. Stick the gargoyles behind the roof at the top.
Attach the two pillars onto the tabs on the roof. This is the façade finished!
Stick the façade onto the long tabs on the boxes and ceiling to enclose the auditorium behind your Victorian theatre façade.
Stick this onto the wings to complete your theatre! Line up the bottom of the stage front with the bottom of the base.
Cut out the scenery and hook into the grooves in the wings, then drop the backdrop in.
Cut out the characters and fold the triangular stands but don’t stick them down just yet. Cut a thin strip of card (around 1cm wide) and stick onto the back of the character on the first folded section (this will be the bottom). Can you guess which character we’re making?
It’s Queen Victoria! Finally, stick the tab of the stand onto the back of the character to make them stand up. Now repeat with the rest of the characters.
You’re now ready for your first performance. Have fun bringing a real Victorian Christmas back to Osborne!