Bess the Wooden Doll

You might be forgiven for walking straight past this strange looking doll, thinking that she was just a wooden torso of a long gone plaything, but Bess the Wooden Doll is a doll with a history.

Bess belonged to the family of Thomas Hill (1855-1928) of Marine Parade, Whitby. Thomas started his working life as a jet carver and when this industry declined used his skills to become a stone and monumental mason. Part of an unfinished model of Whitby Abbey carved by Thomas in Caen stone can also be seen in the museum.

Bess the wooden doll had been given to Thomas’ eldest daughter, Mary, and was passed down to each of his daughters in turn until it came to youngest daughter, Eva. Bess was made from solid wood and would have had jointed arms and legs which were already missing when she came into the family.

Now for the unusual part of the story; Thomas would wait until the girls got Bess all dressed up in baby clothes and then take her and throw her into the harbour, sending his dog in to ‘rescue’ her, thus training the dog to rescue any children who had the misfortune to fall in! Whether the dog ever went on to save any children we don’t know.

Eva passed Bess down to her own daughter who eventually donated her to the museum.

A doll with a story to tell!