Doll Hospital

A room within the Imperial Hotel, on the site of the Malmaison Hotel, Piccadilly, was a Dolls’ Hospital during the 1980s, and doubtless for many years before that.

The entrance was on London Road, but then you had to climb a grotty staircase to reach the room itself. (This photo is from manchesterhistory.net:)

dollshospital

(The building behind is Aytoun Street Dole Office, which I wrote about in the previous post. It looks grubby and neglected, but the lights are on!)

This side-on photo, looking up towards Piccadilly Train Station, was taken in 1985, not long after I visited the place.

June1985

Inside, the environment was completely un-child-friendly… it was like entering a flop-house. Me and my friend Liz felt like Starsky and Hutch going up those stairs!

TheImperial

We had heard about the place’s curiosity value from an artist friend and our plan was to take a few photos, or perhaps make some drawings.

Upstairs we found a grubby room with a counter… like you would find in a newsagents. But instead of penny trays and jars of toffees, there were large jars and containers full of doll bits… eyes, arms, heads, etc…

The doll repair business appeared to be struggling. In fact it was difficult to imagine how it generated any money at all, which made its existence seem all the more peculiar and sinister.

The proprietor was nowhere to be seen at first, apparently in a back room behind some boxes, judging by noise emanating from that direction, so we rang the bell on the counter a few times.

When he eventually appeared (he was an elderly man, quite stocky) he was so hostile towards us that we took fright and beat a hasty retreat. He shouted at us inarticulately like a mad person and waved his arms around aggressively. We gathered that he was sick of being visited by nosey people who wanted to take photos, which was fair enough I suppose, but his odd behaviour, combined with all the dismembered dolls, was quite terrifying. We fervently hoped that no child would go in there without an adult! (I really wish I’d taken some photographs though.)

I did find a shot of the Manchester Doll’s Hospital taken by a professional photographer a few years ago… I think this is it, but I’m not 100% sure, as the photographer’s own comments no longer accompany the image:

dolls-hosp

The photo was apparently taken in 1980.

A woman recently commented on the Manchester Evening News Facebook page, with reference to long-gone shops:
“The Dolls Hospital on London Road – it was so spooky in there! I can remember everything about it, and I visited in about 1975!!”

Manchesterhistory.net explains that the Imperial Hotel itself has been replaced by the Malmaison Hotel, which has incorporated Hoyle’s Warehouse into a new building which occupies the whole block.

This aerial photograph shows the entrance to the Dolls Hospital marked with a red arrow. Hoyle’s Warehouse (still standing) lies to the right. Below, you can see the geometric bulk of Aytoun Street Employment Exchange:

dollshospitalair

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16 Comments

  1. I was just doing a search for the Manchester Dolls Hospital on London Rd and came across this article. Very interesting Urs. I remember it too. My great great grandparents owned the Clock and Watchakers next door which looks like it’s already gone by this point.

    • Thanks Leesa! When I started this site, the Dolls’ Hospital was one of the first things I wanted to mention, but I couldn’t find any material to back up my recollection, so I chickened out! Various websites now mention its existence with reference to Malmaison… but the impression they give is very misleading, i.e. that it was a giant doll repair business occupying an entire warehouse, instead of the pokey, rather sinister, little oddity which it actually was! X
      P.S. I’d love to see some pics of your great grandparents’ business if you have any!

  2. My dad took me a couple of times in the 1950s to have my dolls repaired, broken arm etc.
    I’m sure it was a shop front at street level then I thought it was great that my doll was fine the following week.

  3. hall.... nee Lomax

    I remember mum and dad it was prob in the 1940’s taking my doll there and l don’t remember going up stairs.

  4. Peter Higgins

    I remember the Dolls Hospital like it was yesterday, it was my granddad that is in the photo above holding the doll, Doc Higgins they called him and my first job was to fix action men every weekend, happy days.

    • Hi Peter
      This is Cathy nee Raistrick I don’t know if you remember me, I was good friends with your sister Pam and we went to your Grandad’s Doll’s hospital a couple of times, he was always very nice to us though.

  5. So glad to find this site! I remember taking my little brother to this dolls’ hospital, as his Action Man was broken! It was as spooky and as accurate as you describe it. Wish it was still there!!

  6. Di Doyle

    Have just been looking for dolls hospitals anywhere in the UK and found this, as my baby needs some tlc and medical attention. She has in the past been treated by doc Higgins back in the 1960’s. Very scary place it was but he did a wonderful job. Debbie is now approaching 60 yrs old and still going well but she has a poorly neck. I wish it was still there as l visit Manchester once a month and travel to Piccadilly station and it would be so handy to drop her off then go back a month later to collect her

  7. I remember my Mum taking one of my dolls there (probably late 70s, maybe 1980). She didn’t take me with her though, maybe she knew what it was like as we lived around there. I remember imagining a real dolls hospital with beds and nurses!

  8. Patricia

    I remember the Dolls Hospital clearly it was at street level in the 50s and certainly early sixties we took several dolls there for repair a great adventure. My friend now 67 still has her Doll which she had repaired there in the 50s

    • I remember it from mid50’s, only went once. It was indeed a strange place.
      Pity there are no photos taken from the station approach – that is how I remember it.

  9. Anonymous

    The Dolls Hospital was certainly on the 1st floor (1 flight up from ground) in the Imperial Hostel building (but not connected to the hotel) via the single door to the right side of the hotel on Piccadilly in the mid-60’s when I visited with my mum to have a teddy bear eye replaced.
    Oddly, after I left college in 1975/6 I worked for a while 1 flight up from the Dolls Hospital at a small advertising design company I think called ‘Unit Advertising’, entrance via the same door on Piccadilly. We occupied the whole top floor of what at one time must have been part of the hotel, the 2 big bay windows and 2 smaller ones, top floor, in the photo of the Imperial. The Dolls hospital was still there and operating when Unit moved to 8 Fairfield Street around 1977.

  10. Hi I wentbto the doll hospital on a regular basis lol before going to the Manchester one I used to go to the doll hospital on Lillington st Bolton it too was a dark wooded dimlynlit eerie place but strangely neither hospital scared me was always too busy getting john henry fixed I still have him now 54yrs later I’m on the internet looking to get him new arms life is so strange thank you for this memory recalled I enjoyed my visit thanks

  11. Are there any photos of the shops to the left of the Imperial hotel.I grew working at Stanley’s army and navy store a few doors down.It was an emporium of war surplus clothing and camping gear.I recall a delivery of a huge wooden box sealed with steel banding and stamped with “W.D1942″ .We cracked it open and found hundreds of red Fez hats (see Tommy Cooper) packed in grease proof paper.Straight in the window at £1.50.We must have had 20 blokes a day walking in,trying one on,walking up to the mirror in the corner and lifting both hands whilst saying the words “just like that” in the style of Tommy Cooper.The same thing happened when we got a case of berets (some mothers do ave em),over to the mirror and an awkward shrugg of the shoulders followed by a camp “oooh Betty”.we sold the lot!!
    Anyway…..(could go on forever),back to the dolls hospital,me and the shop lads were all a bit scared of him,Austin our boss said he kidnapped kids and used their limbs to fix dolls!!I remember him coming in for laces ,socks etc over the years.We said he looked a bit like a doll.Loads of people came in to ask where the dolls hospital was,usually a mum,daughter and doll..quite magical looking back,a bit “Willy Wonkers”

  12. Carol Taylor

    My mum used to visit an osteopath in Manchester once a month and I often used to go with her. I would be about 7 yrs old I suppose in the early 60’s. I remember visiting the Dolls Hospital a couple of times when I used to go with her. The photograph of the entrance and description of the steep staircase to the first floor brings back memories. I remember taking my porcelain/pot doll for new eyes. I can still remember the card I was given.. turquoise blue and white with a jagged edge! My mum and I would return home with no more than a penny or halfpenny in her purse. All spent up! Happy, happy days!

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