When I was a wee girl, and my Dad went down to London on business, he’d return bearing a pair of glittering dressing-up shoes from Hamleys toy shop for me. I’d totter around the house as pleased as punch in those shoes which, to my mind, were every bit as magical as Dorothy’s ruby slippers.
The first time I visited Hamleys in person was with my Mum when I was about seven or eight. It truly was a shop of wonders and I remember standing entranced, watching the toy train engine rattling its way around a track above my head. But the fondest memory of that visit was buying my doll, Victoria. She looks rather sad, battered and a little demonic now – my daughter painted her face with indelible neon pink makers when she was wee – but on the day I bought Victoria, with her blonde hair, blue eyes, long eyelashes and delicate white dress and bonnet edged with pink ribbon, she was the most beautiful doll in the world.
I wrapped her up in a blanket and carried her home to the people we were staying with. (My Mum’s cousin, I believe.) But when I pulled back the blanket to show them her beautiful face… horror of horrors! Her head was missing! I was inconsolable. However, it turns out that my Mum’s cousin was a ‘dolly doctor’! He pulled on his jacket, retraced our steps to the tube station… then about half-an-hour later presented Victoria to me, her head reattached to her body. And she’s never lost it since!
Every trip back to London, I try to visit Hamleys in Regent Street, especially at Christmastime to see their stunning window displays. It might not be the biggest toy store in the world, but it’s the oldest. William Hamley opened his original shop – Noah’s Ark – in 1760 in High Holborn. The shop was relocated to Regent Street in the 1880s and bombed 5 times in World War Two.
It’s impossible to recreate a 250 year-old toy shop in a city that was only settled in 1875, but I think any toy shop is magical to a wide-eyed child. Toy R Us certainly matches Hamleys for sheer size, but to find something just that little bit extra, we visited Castle Toys, just off Macleod Trail. Established 30 years ago, it’s old in Calgary years! Another Calgary toy shop we’ve visited in the past and which is worth checking out is Livingstone and Cavell in Kensington.
Do you still have a favourite toy from your past? If so, I would to hear its story.