A retired brother and sister who have no children are the proud owners of Britain’s biggest collection – of PRAMS and DOLLS.
Jan and Geoff Swift have spent 20 years amassing more than 200 antique English prams, porcelain dolls and old teddy bears which they store in a barn in their back garden.
The former teachers, who live together in deepest Somerset, dress the dolls and teddies in vintage gowns, baby clothes and shoes and sit them inside the buggies.
They have ‘traditional’ names for all of them and say hello to them when they return home.
In all they own 220 prams dating from 1780 as well as dozens of toys who all have their own names.
Jan, 77, and Geoff, 78, who are both unmarried with no children or nieces or nephews, said they are hooked to the thrill of finding more prams or dolls for their collection.
Jan, a former deputy head at Trinity First School in Frome, Somerset, said: “I’ve always been interested in prams.
“My mother bought me one as a surprise present in 1994 and we thought it was rather nice. We went to the antique market the following week.
“We worked really hard searching for them and our passion grew because of the excitement of finding an old one.”
Jan and Geoff, of Kilmersdon, have half their collection of child-sized prams with the other half doll-sized.
Some are worth around £500 but the Victorian ones are less valuable because there is less demand.
Most of their collection was bought at auctions and Jan and Geoff say they have spent much of their ‘pocket money’ on growing their collection over the years.
Jan added: “To sit in the prams, we have some dolls and some teddies. We try to have the doll or the teddy to match the age of the pram and the bed linen.
“I really enjoy collecting the dolls and the teddies as well. When we go out or come home, we tend to say hello to them because they are part of our family.
“They all have names, and I remember each and every one. If they are German-made, we give them a German name.
“They are all quite traditional names – we don’t have any called Tracey, for instance. I have nothing against Traceys, but normally we go for period names.
“We have one bear who lives inside with us, called Benedict. He’s got this sympathetic look on his face and a wobbly head. All our bears have names beginning with ‘b’s.
“We also have two dolls, Jim and Florence, who are Benedict’s best friends.”
The oldest pram in Jan and Geoff’s collection is from 1780, but the majority are from 1840 onward. They try to find dolls and teddies to match the era.
Their hoard also includes a replica of the 1926 Leveson pram that was used by Queen Elizabeth when she was a baby, and later Princess Margaret and Prince Charles.
Geoff, former head of maths at St Laurence School, Bradford on Avon, Wilts., said: “We started out thinking we were mildly interested in prams, but now we have hundreds.
“It has been a lovely shared project. We are retired so there have been days on end when we have been working on them.”
The Swifts give private tours of their collection upon request.
They have also written a 208-page book, Prams in the Garden: A Pictorial History of British Perambulator, which is available on Amazon.
Jan said: “It is a lovely hobby which has given us so much pleasure. We wanted to celebrate our collection and share it with others.”