“ Address: Stansted Mountfitchet /Essex / England „
The House on the Hill Toy Museum is located in Stansted Mountfitched, directly next to Mountfitched Castle. It is home to the largest privately-owned toy collection in Europe and features more than 80.000 exhibits.
Originally we had planned to visit Mountfitched Castle and I didn't even know that there was a toy museum right next to it - both attractions can be visited with a combined ticket. The day we went we found the castle closed and our two daughters, who had been looking forward to see the animals in the castle, made very disappointed faces. As there was a sign pointing towards the museum we decided to change our plans and try our luck at the museum. Now if there is anything that can brighten the mood of a 4 and a 6 year old it is the word "toy"...
As the name already implies - the museum is located on a hill and to reach it you will have to climb the narrow food path that leads along the fence of the castle. You can see some of the animals that roam freely in there from here and also pass from the first attraction of the museum - the talking tree. Our girls found it hilarious that a tree would talk to them and we had to pass three times from this spot before we could continue to the entrance.
You enter the museum from the museums shop/reception hall. Here you find all kinds of toys and knick-knacks to buy, like old fashioned paper dolls to cut out, jack-in-the-box, colouring in sheets, etc.
To be fair, the only other toy museum I had ever seen before is the museum in Nuremberg, which is by no means a private collection but features toys dating back to ancient times, high and brightly lit rooms, all exhibits neatly behind glass and in orderly fashion and with play areas scattered over the exhibition halls. The experience in the House on the Hill is something totally different.
The House on the Hill is no purpose built museum and the rooms are not overly large, in the lower exhibition room there is no window at all and the walls are painted in a bright colour. The exhibits here are a mixture of pop and rock memorabilia, dolls, dolls houses and accessories, teddy bears, model planes, tin toys and old tins and so much more. The items are crammed into display cabinets, slightly chaotic and it is hard to take it all in. There is just so much to see and two over-exited little girls pulling at our sleeves didn't help. You should really have some peace and time to have a real good look at everything. There is a puppet show which the children can bring to life and a pair of legs is dangling from the ceiling - creating the image of Rambo just entering from the upper floor. On the first floor you can find every boys dream - a huge toy train. Of course there are buttons to press to activate it and all my kids (the husband had turned into one temporarily) spend a long time marveling at it. Which gave me a bit time to look at the collection of Barbie and Sindy dolls - and meet some childhood friends again, as I recognized two of the dolls which I used to own myself when I was a little girl. Of course there are also some of the inevitable accessories of both brands. The Barbie version for boys, action man, is also present and there is a large collection of children's annuals, some of which dated back to before WW2.
Before we left we stopped for a while at the old arcade machines. Most of them are working and you can have a go yourself. Even our kids, who are used to the more modern machines they've seen at diverse sea side resorts, liked them and found them "lovely" and indeed - they possess much more charm than any of the money-eating machines you can find at the pier in Brighton, Southend-on-Sea or wherever else.
Of course we also bought some small toys for the kids before we left and had to pass from the talking tree another three times on our way down the hill.
All in all we had spent roughly one hour in the museum and I would have loved to stay a bit longer. With so many items on a not too big space it is easy to miss quite a bit. For our children it got a bit too much to take in and they were starting to moan that they could look at the toys only and not actually play with them. What they have clearly learned on this day is, that the toys mummy and daddy did play with when they were small were totally different from their own and that their grandparents had even stranger things to play with.
It wasn't the trip we had planed but we all enjoyed it at the end. If you go to Mountfitched I'd really recommend you to take advantage of your combined ticket. When we came back a few months later to finally visit the castle we also went back to the museum and enjoyed it as much as the first time, only that this time we had seen it before and could concentrate on exhibits we had missed the first time round completely. Of course we also had to pass from the talking tree another six times. A truly remarkable collection in my opinion.
The museum can be found easily. If you are coming from the M11 you will have to leave the motorway at Stansted airport and turn towards Bishop's Stortford. From the next roundabout on you will find signposts that will point you in the right direction and lead you straight there. The museum and castle are right in the middle of the pretty little town, right next to the train station. Ample parking is available.