The Playhouse Company

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What makes a Playhouse so Magical?

It has proved very difficult to research the history of the garden play-house.  A large number of England’s great stately homes have small imitation houses in the grounds, but they are mostly built from stone and in the same style as the house.

Throughout the world different names are used. In America a children’s play structure is likely to be called a clubhouse or treehouse.  In Australia Cubby houses or colloquially Cubby or Cubbies were historically built by children from scrap materials made just to last the school holidays.  They were spaces designed to be ephemeral and secluded.

History of Playhouses

History of Playhouses

The recognition of wooden playhouses as part of a shared experience of childhood probably came from J M Barries’ play “Peter Pan” and belonged to Wendy Darling.  Wendy was injured soon after her arrival in Never-land so Peter Pan and the lost boys built a small house around her where she had fallen. Thus we are given the phrase “Wendy House”. J M Barrie himself designed the first Wendy House for the first production of the play in 1904.

Playhouses, however, have surely existed as long as there have been children to play in them. Children, as we know, are highly creative and inventive and as soon as they are left to play they will create their own space; a sheet over a sofa and chair in the living room becomes a rainy day sanctuary; an old door leaning up against a tree in the garden becomes a secret den.

Environmental and child development psychologists tell us these days that dens and playhouses are important steps in the journey of learning to be adults.  They provide space that belongs exclusively to the child and as such the child or children are free to express themselves while also learning how to co-exist with others. Children might not express the sentiment in this way but cast your mind back to your own childhood; did you make a den behind an old hedge?  Did you and your father spend a summer trying to make a treehouse in a favoured tree?  What was the over-riding feeling of having such a place?  For me, it was that sense of sanctuary, an adult free world that felt both safe and adventurous; where I could explore the world or hide from my parents but where mum could always find me when it was time for a jam sandwich and glass of squash.

I consider myself extremely lucky to be involved in providing such spaces; indeed whenever people hear what I do for a living; it always provokes a smile.  Some of the freedom children enjoyed in the past has been lost but don't they still deserve the opportunity for adventure, creativity, innocence, imagination and (let's be realistic) mischief? Where better for children to learn and create than in their own space? A space where they can exercise endless creativity, be in the fresh air and spend time with their friends. Magical!