Pram collection outgrows its parental home

CLARE GARNER

The owner of the largest collection of prams in the world has one dying wish - that his nursery treasure should outlive him.

Over the past 25 years Jack Hampshire, 81, has accumulated 460 baby carriages that are crammed into every corner of his home. Recently he turned his collection into a charitable trust but unfortunately his children, the trustees, do not share his passion. They admit they are "not mad keen" on prams.

Step inside Bettenham Manor, near Sissinghurst, Kent, and it is crammed with prams. At the foot of Mr Hampshire's bed stands his favourite, an 1899 Victoria pram which he describes as "very pleasing to the eye".

At the Bettenham Baby Carriage Museum hundreds of prams stand in rows. In some, startled porcelain dolls are propped up, waving or clapping.

Although Mr Hampshire, a retired radio engineer, lost his voice following a stroke last year he still manages to convey his enthusiasm. In 1980 he prefaced his book, Prams, Mailcarts and Bassinets, with the words: "We are destroying too much, too fast, without realising how much we are losing ... if not now, then later, we shall all have cause to regret this loss."

Sadly, the trustees of the prams, Mr Hampshire's daughter, Mary, 48, and two sons, John, 43, and Nick, 37, are finding it very difficult to find a home for the collection. They respect their father's wish that it should not be split up but finding a single owner in this country is proving very difficult, and they do not want it to go abroad.

"We've found that most people say 'yes' if they like prams but when we say it's 450 plus all the odds and sods they say: 'You must be joking'," John said. "None of us is that interested in prams but we don't want to see them destroyed or sold ... We'd love to get [the collection] displayed in one place where the public can go and see it."

The collection includes examples of the four main types from the 1750s to 1965: the Victoria pram, the carriage pram, the bassinet and the mailcart. Now there is only one maker - Wilson Silver Cross - turning out handbuilt carriages; 100 years ago, there were more than 300. Mr Hampshire has all the famous makers' names, such as Millsons, Osnath, London Baby Coach and Royale.

He has even managed to acquire the pram Prince Charles graced in his early years, and carriages belonging to Paul McCartney, Diana Dors and Jeremy Thorpe.

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