This article tells you about the back ground to the toy shop Ptolemy Toys based in Brackley, South Northamptonshire UK
■ The Toy Shop Ptolemy Toys, 50a High Street, Brackley, Northamptonshire. is NOW OPEN Monday to Fridays, 10;30 to 14:30 and on Saturdays, 10am-1pm. Telephone 01280 843000, www.ptolemytoys.co.uk You can also contact Harriet on the same number for information about WIRE
Image magazine – November, 2009
Toy STORYThe Brackley-based toy shop Ptolemy Toys specialises in traditional wooden toys in the UK and is based in a converted stable at Harriet Stapleton’s beautiful Georgian home. Ruth Supple found out more.
Harriet Stapleton stumbled upon the unusual name of the toy shop when reading a bedtime story to her two young children. “I was thinking of lots of names but nothing stood out,” recalled 40-year-old Harriet. “Then, when I was reading Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter to the children, I came across a character called Ptolemy Tortoise. “I thought it sounded like a great name for the toy shop and that’s why our logo is a little tortoise. Ptolemy was also a Greek mathematician and philosopher, and I thought that was perfect too as a good educational link to the toys shop specialising in traditional toys.”
Oxfordshire-born Harriet established Ptolemy Toys nearly four years ago, using a former stables at the rear of her six-bedroom home as premises for the toy shop. “We had just used the stables for storage before,” said Harriet, who is married to 40-year-old landscape garden designer Sebastian. “We cleaned and repaired the panels, whitewashed the walls and created the showroom to display the toys, which are also sold through our online business.” It was a daunting step for Harriet to take – and a far cry from her previous high-flying career as financial director for a marketing company in Thame. “I never imagined setting up my own business, particularly a toy shop in the UK, as I’d never had any retail experience before. I’d carried on working after Augustus, who is now seven, was born and went back full time after Hebe, who is now five, was born. “But I became fed up of not seeing the children and leaving them with nannies and nurseries,” explained Harriet. “They grow up so quickly and I didn’t want to miss it. “I’d had enough too of the politics of working full time so, after 20 years of working for the same organisation, I decided to start afresh.” Ptolemy Toys was created and specialises in carefully crafted wooden toys, mainly from Germany, that will last a lifetime. “I love traditional wooden toys because they are good quality, environmentally friendly and last forever,” said Harriet. “I cannot stand nasty plastic toys that children pick up and break in a few weeks. It’s ship to skip. They are mported around the world, played with for a while and then discarded. They are not eco-friendly either.” Harriet sources the toys for the toy shop from large suppliers and small toymakers. “The majority of them are from Germany as this still has a strong tradition of making good quality children’s toys,” she said. Toys include building blocks, forts and castles, board games, rocking horses, dolls houses, cookers and handmade dolls, ranging in price from £5 upwards in the toy shop. “The average spend is around £50, but you could easily have two or three items for that,” added Harriet. “Yes, you do pay a little bit more for wooden toys, but the price reflects the quality and hours of craftsmanship that has gone into some items in particular.” As well as aiming at babies up to teenagers, Ptolemy Toys stocks collectable toys for adults in touch with their inner child. Stilts are one of its best-sellers and Harriet is a whiz on them! There is also a fantastic, thigh-high Noah’s Ark made by Holztiger, always popular at Christmas time apparently, and the sort of toy that should become a family heirloom.
Harriet’s reasons for setting up the toy shop was to spend more time with her children, so she deliberately shuts up shop in the summer holidays and is not open every day of the week. “The reason I set it up was because I needed more flexibility in my life. Someone said to me ‘it’s run on an old-fashioned basis’, but that suits me best. If people ring up and want to make an appointment outside normal opening hours I am always happy to open up.” Running a home-based company means Harriet is perfectly placed to be the network leader of Women In Rural Enterprise (WIRE). She organises meetings and co-ordinates speakers for members once every six weeks. “WIRE is aimed at women who have their own businesses or are thinking of setting one up,” she explained. “It’s a great way to network and discuss ideas with women involved in all sorts of businesses.” Harriet must have one of the shortest walks to work ever as her Georgian home is a threshold away. Elements of the house date back to the 1700s, when it was part of the Ellsmere hunting estate. It was sold, by auction in the 1920s, along with various other properties in the Northamptonshire town of Brackley. “One of the neighbours has an original catalogue of that auction and our home doesn’t appear to have changed much at all,” said Harriet. “Pre-war, the house was owned by a doctor, who turned it into a hospital after having a row with another doctor at the nearby cottage hospital. I was lucky enough to meet an old lady who used to work here when it was a hospital. She came in and told me what had been where. “The only evidence we found from its time as a hospital was a prescription book in the attic. Fortunately all the gory stuff, in the operating theatre, happened next door in what is now a dentist’s!” The Grade II listed property has beautiful Georgian proportions, with large rooms upstairs and downstairs. As well as an entrance hall, three reception rooms and kitchen downstairs, the property has six bedrooms and an upstairs sitting room, along with a large back garden. “When we moved in seven years ago, the people living here before us were very keen gardeners, so the garden was beautiful,” said Harriet. “But the house was in a really bad state of repair and we’ve had to do a lot of work on it, including replacing the ancient plumbing and repairing the rotting secondary glazed windows. “We’ve also done a lot of decorating and are still in the process of finishing that. There was a lot of 1970s décor, including in the hallway which had those removable floor tiles covering the lovely tiled floor. It took us ages to remove the black gunk they left behind.” In keeping with its origins, a hunting feel has been added to the large, flagstone-floored hallway with various artefacts and antiques adorning the walls. “My parents-in-law buy and sell antiques and have picked up hunting bits and pieces for us over the years and my brother-in-law runs an antiques business in France so collects some for us as well.” It also explains Harriet’s distinctive mobile phone ring tone, the sound of a hunting horn, which goes off during our interview. Tally ho!
■ Ptolemy Toys, 50a High Street, Brackley, Northamptonshire. Open Monday to Fridays, 10;30 to 14:30 and on Saturdays, 10am-1pm. Telephone 01280 843000, www.ptolemytoys.co.uk You can also contact Harriet on the same number for information about WIRE