A Wendy house or playhouse is a small house for children, large enough for one or more children to enter. Size and solidity can vary from a plastic kit to something resembling a real house in a child’s size. Usually there is one room, a doorway with a window on either side, and little or no furniture other than that which the children improvise.
The original was built for Wendy Darling in J. M. Barrie’s play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Wendy was shot by the Lost Boy Tootles after arriving in Neverland, so Peter Pan and the Lost Boys built a small house around her where she had fallen. It was inspired by the wash-house behind Barrie’s childhood home in Kirriemuir and first appeared in story form in The Little White Bird in which fairies build a house around Mamie Mannering—the prototype for Wendy—so protecting her from the cold.
A prop house was created by Barrie for the first stage production of the play in 1904. It was constructed like a tent so that it could be erected quickly during a song which Wendy starts with:
“ I wish I had a darling house
The littlest ever seen,
With funny little red walls
And roof of mossy green. ”
John’s hat was used as a chimney and a slipper was used as a door knocker. Toy manufacturers soon created replicas of the stage Wendy house, which have become a standard toy found in British gardens ever since.
Another take on the origin of the name “Wendy House” in South Africa, is that it comes from the building of a doll’s house for a young lady called Wendy in Pretoria in the mid 60s (the doll’s house rather like that of Wendy in Peter Pan). In this case, however, during construction of the doll’s house, a regular question to the builder was “How’s Wendy’s house?”. This name, “Wendy’s house”, stuck amongst the constructors, and was eventually used by all building this type of construction.
South African usage
In South Africa it is usually used as a form of accommodation for many low income earners. The structure would usually be erected in someone’s backyard. Although many people may view this as “temporary” accommodation, many families have lived in such a structure for years. It is very popular among the coloured population in South Africa; among the larger black population it is often constructed from corrugated iron instead of wood.
The term ‘wendy house’ usually refers to the wooden temporary accommodation, although there are various other types. Corrugated iron structures are called ‘shacks’, while cement board structures are called ‘nutecs’.
A few online companies offer rustic or corrugated iron varieties: these are usually set up by the individuals directly to avoid the price increase that comes with external suppliers. Most of the online established companies set up only wooden or nutec structures. The quality of these companies varies greatly.
Among the more affluent white population, wendy houses are used as entertainment huts or children’s play houses.