Remember Meccano, Subbuteo and cowboy outfits? If so there’s a treat in store at York Castle Museum. MATT CLARK previews Toy Stories, which opens today

WHO says nostalgia isn’t what it used to be? Not Amy Parkinson at York Castle Museum who is leading a new permanent exhibition called Toy Stories.

Amy says the museum’s small display of playthings in the debtor’s prison has proved so popular that an entire floor has now been turned into a toy cupboard.

It’s a heady trip down memory lane for kids of all ages, featuring everything from chopper bikes to Sindy dolls; there is even a 300-year-old doll, “We’re not telling a story, the point of the exhibition is for people to look at the toys and tell their own toy stories,” says Amy. “And of course we have things that many people will have forgotten all about.”

This is bound to bring out the inner child in us all.

On display are fantastic Victorian wood carvings, weird and wonderful early computer games, Lego bricks and any lad’s toy-box staple, Meccano.

Then there is Gilligan’s Galloping Carousel, an Edwardian roundabout which was popular on the streets of Castleford.

Not to mention a treasure trail around the gallery in search of a 1915 Steiff teddy bear.

Sadly, though, you will have to hand him back.

The exhibition may not be about telling stories but Peter Turton will be and he was on hand yesterday to regale tales of derring do to pupils of St Peter’s School who were invited to a special preview.

Perhaps the exhibition’s big attraction is that it’s a sociable way to look at toys rather than be on their Play Station alone in the bedroom.

“I don’t think the age of innocence has gone,” says Amy. “We have a play area with replica toys from the past and children still want to play with them. A good toy is always a good toy.”

Themed rooms include a 1950s lounge; the era when toys were first influenced by TV shows, a boy’s bedroom, painted blue – naturally – and a girl’s bedroom in pastel shades.

“We’ve put boy’s toys in the boy’s bedroom and girl’s toys in the girl’s bedroom. But what is a boy’s toy and is it only boys who play with them?” says Amy.

Good point. Many think little cookers, dolls and play vacuum cleaners were some form of social engineering, a way for parents to teach little girls learn that their place is in the home, looking after hubby and baby.

Imagine doing that now.

“Toys do reflect social life and that is one of the more serious undertones to our exhibition,” says Amy. “What we want people to do is talk about the toys and maybe say no, our little girl plays with things like that. My daughter is a good example: all she wants to play with is cars and garages.”

The exhibition also has some great anecdotes and bits of trivia. Amy’s favourite is found in the bathroom, where amid all the rubber ducks and bubbles is a little board that helpfully tells us about a cargo ship carrying 28,000 rubber ducks that sank in 1992.

Being buoyant, the ducks escaped, floated to the surface and have since been found as far away as Australia, Hawaii and Scotland. Most are still bobbing away on the world’s oceans and who knows, you might even find one on Scarborough beach.

“People love toys and they want to tell their children or grand children about the ones they played with,” says Amy. “But children can also tell their parents and that’s a nice touch.

“After all, things like hula hoops and balls are still played with today.”


Railway fun too

More children’s activities are on offer across the city at the National Railway Museum, which is running Big Fun with Little Trains during half-term.

Family friendly model layouts will be on display and visitors can take part in a Chuggington© challenge to stack your track as high as possible. As well as regular school-holiday activities including explosive science shows, turntable demonstrations and rides behind a real steam engine.


• The York Castle Museum’s Toy Stories and National Railway Museum’s Big Fun with Little Trains both open today in time for half-term.