Daydream Dolls hospital celebrates 25 years of coming to the rescue of favourite toys
PUBLISHED: 11:18 11 June 2013 | UPDATED: 11:18 11 June 2013
Paul and Gloria Steggel's toy hospital in Winsford is one of the best in the world.
WORDS BY MAIREAD MAHON; PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
Celebrities, children and octogenarians are just a few of the people who have made their way to Daydream Dolls: a dolls’ hospital in Winsford. It is owned and run by Paul and Gloria Steggel, who this year are celebrating 25 years of repairing dolls and teddies from all over the world.
‘We never know who is going to be in touch when we open our doors every morning’ says Paul who, at the moment, is working on a teddy that arrived last week all the way from South Africa. ‘It doesn’t look much like a teddy at the moment’ laughs Paul, as he looks down at a tangle of brown and cream fur. ‘But he is suffering from a common problem: old teddies and hot tumble driers don’t mix!’
However, this teddy has come to the right place as Paul and Gloria have folders full of letters from satisfied clients, most of whom thought their precious doll or teddy was beyond repair. Many of them are very touching, like the man who wanted his childhood teddy to be restored for his 80th birthday. He travelled up from London and explained his mother had made it for him before he was born. When Gloria opened the teddy to restuff him, she discovered that the gentleman’s mother had slipped a heart shaped brooch into him: a fact that made his owner dissolve into tears.
Museums also contact the Steggels when they have something needing specialist attention. The latest museum to seek help was the Bradford Film Museum: it had a valuable and rare 17th cenury doll, which had been crushed by a mannequin falling on it. The head was cracked on one side but it required a lot more work than simply gluing it.
‘The first thing we had to do was study other historical dolls,’ Gloria said. ‘Luckily, we have our own kiln and Paul was able to fire a piece in almost the exact colour and it is the colour matching that requires an immense amount of skill. When the curator came to pick it up, she was delighted to find that she couldn’t tell which side of the head had been repaired.’
Television production companies also make use of Paul and Gloria’s services, and they often have precise requirements: such as dolls which look as if they are antique, dolls with frightening expressions and giant teddy bears such as a four foot panda that Coronation Street needed. It just had to have a very pink nose and pads. Charities also ask for help and an example of this was the teddy made in the image of antiques presenter, Tim Wonnacott. Tim was presenting a charity auction at Cholmondeley Castle on behalf of the Prince’s Trust and it was thought it would be a good idea to have him auction a replica of himself. He thought it was hilarious and the bear, which the Steggels had donated, raised £300. This was reward enough for Paul and Gloria but they were delighted to receive a few days later a letter, signed by the Prince of Wales, thanking them for making, ‘this wonderful bear’.
Celebrities, from footballers and fashion designers, to actors and presenters, have also entrusted their precious childhood toys to be restored. Gloria makes a point of explaining to clients that that is what they do: restore. ‘Most people don’t want unrecognisable dolls and teddies handed back to them, they must still be their old familiar toy; just in better condition and ready to give years more loving. Children in particular will reject a toy if it doesn’t have its old comforting smell,’ she said.
The Steggels have also repaired ventriloquists’ dolls, elephants, pull along dogs and, most unusually, an enormous six foot high camel. The camel had been stolen from a house in Bournemouth and when the owner appealed for its safe return, as he used it to raise money for charity, it was thrown on to his drive, where it promptly splattered!
‘Repairing it was a long job, as we had to replace the frame but the real problem was how to get it back. The problem was solved by the loan of a horsebox which must have made a lot of people on the roads do a double take, especially as we attached a bag of straw to the box in case it got peckish,’ said Gloria.
In the first 25 years, Gloria and Paul have made many people very happy indeed and have no plans to stop doing so: a fact which must make the dolls and teddies of the world breathe a huge sigh of relief.