A mum-of-three in North Hykeham has created a group dubbed the ‘Mary Poppins Gang’ – who push prams around the streets with lifelike baby dolls.
Linda Royle, 63, is an avid collector previously amassing high numbers of mugs, thimbles and pot dogs, while her husband Barry has a lot of vintage radios.
Over the past decade, Linda has amassed more than 50 vintage prams and pushchairs, as well as around 20 reborn dolls who she goes for walks with, along with her ‘Lincolnshire Vintage Pram Group’. She also had to have a purpose-built shed to house her large collection.
After reading a news article around 30 years ago about a woman from Skellingthorpe who made reborn dolls to look like real babies, Linda joked about taking her son Darryl to have one created.
She started her collection in 2011 when she attended a doll show and bought her first reborn doll. When she got home Linda started doing some research and purchased a pram locally, that she said was “similar to the one I had as a child which I adored”.
Linda told The Lincolnite: “I then bit the bullet and got a full-size one and then my collection kept growing and I had to have a purpose built shed to house them all.”
Then in 2018 Linda set up the ‘Lincolnshire Vintage Pram Group’ on Facebook which has more than 70 members from across the country, but she wants to encourage more local people from Lincolnshire to join as she doesn’t think there are enough pram days happening locally.
It originally started as a Lincoln group, but she soon met other people on days out and at doll shows who wanted to come and bring their prams, so she changed it to have a county wide focus.
The group has attended the 1940s weekend at Woodhall Spa, a 40s day in Sleaford, Rufford Abbey, Newark Retro Festival, Nottingham Vintage Fayre, the International Bomber Command Centre, a pram walk in Cleethorpes, and a motorcycle museum in Solihull.
The group’s activities were stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but doll shows are now back up and running again and Linda is hoping to get back out with the prams soon.
She has also hosted events in her large garden in North Hykeham where she raises money, including for Bliss, which is the leading UK charity for babies born prematurely or sick, and for Dementia UK after sadly losing her mum to the condition in 2020. The events also include a raffle and a stall where she sells knitted items.
Linda, who has three grown-up sons called Lindsey, Darryl, and Shaun, as well as two grandchildren, said: “My pram and baby collection is still growing but I am not the only mad woman. I would like to find some local ladies as well, and then they will find out when your own children and grandchildren have grown too big for the prams you can still get enjoyment out of them.
“People still love to see them out and about instead of these fold-up buggies. It also gets you out meeting new friends with something in common as we all have our own problems at home that we need a break from, and strangers will stop you and want to know about them.
“Most people admire the prams, but some say they are spooky. We get all sorts of comments. I can’t expect everyone to like them.
“I would be bored stiff looking through someone’s stamp collection, but it doesn’t mean it is wrong to collect them.
“Everybody at some point has been in a pram. It’s not just a mature person’s hobby, it’s a social thing too.”
For the vintage prams, she has paid between £100 and £750 on them. She recently purchased a vintage pushchair for £20, and the reborn dolls cost upwards from £150 each. Linda said she knits things and sells them to fund her “addiction”.
Earlier this year a photo of the group was posted on a local North Hykeham Facebook page calling them the ‘Mary Poppins Gang’. When asked about this, Linda added: “Any publicity is good publicity, they could have called us worse.”
Fellow group member Chris Perkins, who is from Northampton, has collected five vintage prams and 14 reborn dolls over the past eight years.
Chris had a granddaughter who she initially didn’t think was going to survive, but she did. She then saw a doll that looked like her granddaughter and bought it for her before then purchasing more for her other grandchildren, and the reborn dolls are now in her collection.