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A visit to the Doll Doctor in Burscough

PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 September 2014

Doll Doctor Jean Pritchard

Doll Doctor Jean Pritchard

Archant

Dolls are being given a new lease of life at a 'hospital' in Burscough and one has a special tale, as Paul Mackenzie reports

Patients are sitting quietly in a small room overlooking a courtyard in Burscough. The ones in the discharge area are ready to be taken home, others are still waiting for surgery. Some are on the operating tables having broken arms or legs treated, others have suffered scratches, bumps and knocks while the most badly injured need to have their heads and limbs re-attached.

The dolls here are all in the care of Jean Pritchard who has overcome her own share of medical conditions to set up the hospital. Jean was forced to retire from her job in the NHS when she became ill with a Lupus, an incurable condition which still affects her everyday life.

‘I’m still quite poorly but I’m not the sort of person who can sit at home all day,’ she said. ‘Lupus makes my hands and feet swell and I can get ulcers and skin rashes. My feet swell when I walk but if I sit too long I seize up. It can be very painful, it’s like being stabbed in the bones.

‘It would make life easier if I didn’t have this business but I’m not that sort of person. After about two years of people telling me to take it easy I came off all my tablets because I wanted to get my life back.’

Doll Doctor Jean PritchardDoll Doctor Jean Pritchard

She enrolled on a ceramic restoration course and after a couple of years of practice volunteered for the Museum of Lancashire’s conservation studios where the course of her life was changed when she was presented with a doll in need of repair.

‘I didn’t want to do it at first and I told them I didn’t do dolls but once I’d started work on it people started to bring more in for me.’

She certainly does dolls now. Since opening her hospital at Burscough Wharf three years ago she has treated dolls from all over the world, many of them rare and all of them at some time or other dearly loved.

‘I have seen all sorts of dolls, some of them quite rare,’ Jean added. ‘It’s a throw away world now but there’s something about dolls that make people want to hold on to them when they grow up, even though in many cases they are damaged or broken. It’s nice to think I can give people another chance to see their precious doll the way it was supposed to be seen.’

Doll Doctor Jean PritchardDoll Doctor Jean Pritchard

Each has a story but none of the hundreds of dolls that have been restored by Jean has a tale as heartrending as little Gretchen.

Jean said: ‘A woman came in one day and when I asked her about the doll she’d brought she started to cry. Her auntie had been in the Royal Auxiliary Nursing Corps and was one of the first there when the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated.

‘When they went in the doll was lying there among the rubble and the devastation. She picked up the doll and put her in her pocket and she went with her as she worked. She called the doll Gretchen. ‘The doll’s legs were off and one was broken, her costume was falling to bits and her head a bit wobbly.’

The doll was found by Major Margaret Susanne Jump of the Queen Alexandra Nurses, 81 British Field Regiment who also worked at hospitals in Southport and Ormskirk.

And mother-of-three Jean added: ‘I knew the importance of the doll and wanted to leave as much of the original as possible. It’s only eight inches but it’s a very, very interesting piece and its story is desperately sad. When I was working on it I felt very humbled and just thought of the girl who must have played with the doll, if she suffered when she was in there. I don’t know if she made it out or not. Every time I look at her I get goosebumps.’

Pritchard’s Dolls’ Hospital is open from 1-4pm from Wednesday to Sunday, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. For more information on the doll hospital and the other businesses at the wharf, go to burscough-wharf.co.uk

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