Norah Wellings Dolls – Norah Wellings was a British toymaker and designer, well known for her cloth dolls. We take a brief look at her career and at her unique dolls along with some doll values. Norah was born in Shropshire in 1893 and began her career as a milliner’s assistant before moving to Chad Valley Co Ltd in 1919, where she worked as their main doll designer. It was at Chad Valley that Norah developed her unique dolls styles. She stayed at Chad Valley until 1926 when she left and with her brother Leonard opened their own toy factory, the Victoria Toy Works.
The Victoria Toy Works initially comprised just 8 staff including Norah and Leonard. In 1927 the company had two positive pieces of exposure including gifting Queen Mary (the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II) a Cora doll when she visited Shropshire, and after displaying her designs at the British Industries Fair in London, Norah and her company was mentioned in the Games and Toys magazine:
‘Miss Wellings has not long been manufacturing on her own account, but evidently there is a very big future for her in the trade, for her caricatures, dolls and animals are produced as saleable lines which every high-class store throughout the country will feature’.
The company grew rapidly creating a quality line of soft toys which were sold in many high end stores such as Harrods, for which she designed toys for their Christmas displays. Norah remained lead designer and managed all the designs. The company is said to have employed around 250 people at one time exporting dolls to a number of countries including the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa.
The Typical Norah Welling Doll
Norah’s dolls were typically made of cloth: felt, plush, velvet and in some instances cotton were used. The dolls were constructed entirely of soft materials including the heads which were moulded buckram over a layer of plastic wood which was then overlaid by a steam pressed layer of felt, stockinet or velveteen. The faces were hand- painted and sealed with a waterproof coating to make them washable. All faces were hand painted in sections, allowing one part to dry before the adjoining portion was painted.
Over the years the company produced baby dolls, fashion dolls, dolls dressed in native costumes, storybook characters as well as a range of animals including monkeys and rabbits. All dolls were fully marked with sewn-on labels on the wrist or the foot with the words: ‘Made in England by Norah Wellings’.
In 1929 the company once again exhibited at the British Industries Fair and were listed as: Manufacturer of Soft Fabric Toys of Distinction, including “Cora”, “Babimine” and “Cuddly” Dolls, “So-Soft” Nursery Animals, Plush and Velveteen Novelties, Mascots, etc. Discriminating buyers are cordially invited to inspect this exhibit. (Stand No. D.28).
The company was also very successful in marketing to the tourist industry and principally to the cruise ship industry. Norah’s range of sailor dolls were sold on many ships. The Norah Wellings novelty line of dolls included the sailor dolls, which were initially released in 1929. They quickly rose to the top of the Wellings catalogue as the most well-liked novelty dolls. The original “Sailor,” model 140, was known as “Jollyboy.” He had glass eyes, a painted smile with teeth visible, and an intensely coloured curly wig. His torso was blue velvet with bare feet, and his head was made of velvet. Only his head was jointed, and he was wearing a white cotton hat. The name of the navy ship or ocean liner was always on the hatband of the “Jollyboys,” which came in a wide range of sizes and almost always had bare feet. The Jollyboy sailor dolls are the most common found and examples can be purchased relatively cheaply.
The company managed to continue during World War Two with Wellings making dolls representing characters from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, including Harry the Hawk, which was sold to raise money for the Royal Air Force Comforts Fund.
In 1959 the Victoria Toy Works closed its doors after the death of Nora’s beloved brother Leonard. Nora did not want to sell her designs and burned all her tools, designs and unfinished dolls in a huge bonfire. The finished dolls and toys were donated to various institutions and societies.
We will feature Norah’s rabbit and monkey designs in future features.