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The Golli*** row: What is the controversy and why are the dolls deemed racist?

Benice Ryley and husband Chris had 15 gollies seized by police at the White Hart Inn in Grays, Essex (Facebook / Google )
Benice Ryley and husband Chris had 15 gollies seized by police at the White Hart Inn in Grays, Essex (Facebook / Google )

An Essex pub which displayed golli*** dolls has shut its doors after sparking controversy over the offensive toys.

Suppliers have boycotted the pub after the row, forcing it to close a month after its selection of golli*** dolls were seized by police.

Officers had seized the collection of dolls from the pub on April 4, as part of an investigation into an allegation of hate crime. The golly dolls are based on 18th-century minstrels and are now regarded by many as racist caricatures.

Essex Police District Commander Tony Atkin said at the time: “Inquiries are taking place to establish what happened in the lead-up to this incident and to identify those responsible, and includes viewing CCTV footage.”

The couple who run the pub, Chris and Benice Ryley, originally vowed that they wouldn’t back down, saying a “mountain has been made out of a molehill”.

But now the public house has been forced to close on Monday night amid the fallout from the well-publicised scandal.

Suppliers Carlsberg and Heineken had told the pub to stop selling their lager, and their maintenance firm Innserve have refused to work with the pub for any longer.

But what is the controversy over? Here is everything you need to know:

What are golli*** dolls?

A golli*** is a type of rag doll, also known as a golly. It is made from black fabric and has black eyes, red lips, and frizzy hair. Golly dolls were popular dolls in the past and not seen as offensive until more recent years. They even became the face of Robertson’s jam, with people able to send off for Golly badges, as part of a loyalty scheme.

Where did golli*** dolls come from?

The dolls came from an idea from artist Florence Kate Upton who was born in 1873, in Flushing, New York, and was the daughter of English parents. She moved back to England at the age of 14 following the death of her father. She was a keen artist but her family did not have a lot of money so to be able to afford art school she made an illustrated book called The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golli***. It was a children’s book that had a character by the name of Golli***, who looked scary but was actually a positive character.

Why are they deemed racist?

The dolls became controversial because they have black face. Many say that the term golli*** was then shortened to an offensive term and racial slur which applies only to dark-skinned people as an insult.

Can you still buy the dolls?

Because of the racial connotations associated with the dolls, they are rarely seen and not sold in many shops at all. They can be bought online but they are deemed inappropriate by many. However, they are still popular, with some people simply seeing them as rag dolls, and the Robertson’s pins are particularly collectible.