It is 20 years since the only British factory to make Paddington Bear soft toys closed its doors, but the character on which its business was based lives on, delighting children and adults alike.
It was Shirley Clarkson, the mum of outspoken television presenter Jeremy, who first brought the loveable children’s character to life as a toy bear.
Cuddly Paddington was born in furry form after Shirley read A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond.
She came up with the idea of making a Paddington for her own young family, Jeremy and his sister Joanna, and got to work at her kitchen table in the family home at Burghwallis, Doncaster.
That was back in 1971. It led to the formation of a factory....the only one to produce Paddington bears in the country, that became known as the Bear Garden.
Gabrielle Designs used Shirley’s middle name in its title. It was granted the first licence to manufacture a Paddington Bear toy.
The Clarksons became great friends with Michael Bond, as a result of their negotiations, and the author introduced the bear’s famous wellington boots in to his books, to suit the design of toy. Reputedly, Dunlop could not cope with the mass production of wellingtons needed for the toy bears, so Gabrielle designed and produced its own wellies, with paw print treads.
During 1978, the factory sold 87,000 bears to the public, who had become smitten with the cuddly form of the marmalade eating, polite little bear.
The firm was based in Adwick, Doncaster, and produced Paddingtons of several designs until 1998, when, sadly it went in to liquidation. It had been sold as a concern to a business couple in 1995, following the death of Shirley’s husband Eddie Clarkson in 1994, with whom she had launched the business. Handmade bears from Gabrielle Designs’ early years are now collectors’ items.