Down memory lane with Peter Tuffrey - Hospital for poorly dolls

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FOR many Doncaster children Ted Meller was the doctor who made dollies better at the Dolls Hospital.

Charles Edward (known as Ted) Meller’s Market Place shop was demolished around 1926 due to the Scot Lane widening scheme and he moved to 55 Hall Gate.

Leila Meller (who married Charles’ son Grenville) said: “I think that the Meller family had been in the Market Place since the late 19th century.

“Father-in-law started a toy shop, or more specifically the Dolls Hospital, as a result of buying a huge consignment of damaged dolls.

“By swapping various limbs and things around he was able to make complete dolls.

“He obviously thought the idea of a Dolls Hospital was novel and unique and nobody else in the town at that time was doing this sort of thing.

“There was quite a bit of money in it too, since many of the more expensive dolls which needed repairing were owned by children of the wealthy.”

Leila said Ted was a real character with a dry sense of humour.

“Undertaking was still part of the family business when I joined it and I remember that father-in-law used a hearse which had been converted from another vehicle.

“The hearse wasn’t very roomy and in it, on one occasion, was the driver, father-in-law squeezed in next to him, and me and my husband squashed on either side of a coffin, which had a body in it.

“For some reason the driver suddenly cornered and the coffin slid forward and gave father-in-law a nasty bump on the head.

In his usual dry manner he said: ‘Well there’s five of us in here and only one bugger’s comfortable’.”

By the time Audrey Adamson joined the staff in 1945, the shop was reputed to be the largest of its kind outside London. She was recruited whilst still at school.

A tearful Audrey was summoned to the headmistress’s study.

“But instead of being told off I was introduced to a very smart lady, Leila Meller from Dolls Hospital and she offered me a job on a month’s trial. “

Apparently she obtained all the staff by going round the various schools asking if there was any suitable conscientious pupil who would soon be looking for work.

Mellers had survived in business through the War because they accumulated a colossal amount of stock in the years leading up to it.

Ted and his son had also made wooden toys. In the 1940s the main shop area was on the ground floor, storerooms and workshops on the first floor and the Meller family lived on the second.

Audrey said: “Grenville organised the display in the boy’s half of the front window which included Meccano sets, Hornby railways, Dinky Matchbox and Corgi toys.

“Leila did the other half of the window and spent hours arranging dolls in little settings such as tea parties.

“Occasionally I helped, writing out the price tags and tying them on the dolls’ feet.

“Leila also served in the shop and was very good with customers.

“Ted’s workshop faced Hall Gate and you could see him in it from the pavement outside. Lots of mothers walking past told their kids that he was the doctor who made dollies better.

“If Ted saw a kid looking up at him he would wave and they would wave back. His wife was not involved with the business and was rarely seen.”

Ted Meller died in 1951, yet the shop continued to go from strength to strength

Extensions at the rear in 1952 and 1955 created more space and allowed items to be displayed on the first floor.

“The stock we had was enormous,” said Audrey, “And ranged in size from a bicycle to a small box of caps.

“We used to have a fair share of celebrities in the shop too, usually those who were appearing at the Gaumont.

“Tommy Cooper came in one day and I served him, though I forget what he bought.”

Staff numbers eventually reached about 20 and this included a store detective and a delivery van driver, a post occupied for a while by Leila’s brother.

Audrey left to start a family shortly after the company was sold to Lines Bros of London in 1959.

Grenville was in bad health and died in 1964. Grenville’s son, also called Grenville, helped in the shop as a youngster but left to pursue his own career.

He said: “I suspect my disinterest in the Dolls Hospital may have stemmed from the fact that during my childhood, it was the only topic of conversation at home. I was fed up with it and wanted a change.”

Lines Bros continued the name of Dolls Hospital for a time but this was eventually lost.

The site today is not even occupied by a toy shop.