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A History Of The Teddy Bear
The Merrythought Teddy Bear Company History


W.G.Holmes and G.H.Laxton opened a small spinning mill in Yorkshire in 1919 to weave raw mohair that was imported into Britain. During the 1920's the firm expanded and brought out Dyson Hall and Co Ltd. a mohair plush weaving factory located in Huddersfield, England.

In order to provide an outlet for their plush fabric the firm decided to establish their own soft toy factory and Merrythought Ltd was founded in 1930.

The name Merrythought is derived from the old English word for wishbone, the forked bone found in birds and traditionally thought of as a symbol of good luck. Merrythought registered the company's trademark in 1930.

H.C. Janich, a sales manager at J.K. Farnell was hired to run the company's sales operation at their London showroom, while C.J.Rendle, a former Chad Valley manager was hired to take charge of production. Rendle began manufacturing with only 20 workers and using temporary premises in September 1930.

In February 1931 the firm leased a building from the Coalbrookdale Co, in Ironbridge, Shropshire. The new premises were located on the edge of the edge of the River Severn and was close to excellent transport facilities. Merrythought leased the factory until 1956 and then bought it.

By 1932 the number of people employed by Merrythought had risen to 200 and electric motors were installed in the factory to drive the sewing machines. Expansion continued to take place and in 1935 Merrythought had the biggest soft-toy factory in the United Kingdom. During the Second World war the Merrythought factory was taken over by the British Admiralty and the Ministry of Aircraft Production to produce maps and store plywood. Toy making was transferred to temporary accommodation in Wellington a village close to Ironbridge. Toy production began again at Ironbridge in 1946.

Following C.J Rendle's death in April 1949, B.T. (Trayton) Holmes joined the company. Jimmy Matthews was employed in 1952 as sales director to boost sales after the war years.

New fabrics such as nylon and draylon were introduced in the production process and new machinery. In 1955 a stuffing machine using compresses air was imported form the USA. Later hydraulic cutters were also introduced.

By 1988 the company opened a shop and museum next to the factory.

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More about Merrythought

Established in 1930, Merrythought is one of the oldest and most prestigious of England's toy manufacturers. For over 60 years the magic of Merrythought delighted adults and children of all ages with a range of traditional hand crafted toys that are regarded as more than mere playthings.

“A Merrythought toy is a joy forever - a treasured family friend to be passed down from generation to generation - a valued heirloom that is guaranteed to give year after year of lasting pleasure.” This was a company mantra.

The History of Merrythought

The history of Merrythought provides us with a fascinating insight into early 19th Century England - a period of considerable industrial change and development.

Our story actually begins in 1919 when Mr B C Holmes (grandfather of the present Managing Director) went into partnership with a Mr G H I Laxton to open a spinning mill in Yorkshire, quite simply to manufacture mohair yarn from imported raw materials.

The introduction of synthetic fibres led to a decline in the demand for mohair fabric causing one of their yarn customers, Tyson Hall & Co Ltd of Bakersfield, to lose a considerable amount of business. Holmes and Laxton decided to buy Lyons plush weaving company and realised they had to find something to do with the mohair yarns.

The sales director of the combined companies knew two men who were to play a vital role in the development of Merrythought. Mr R Rendle was in charge of Production at Chad Valley and Mr A C Janisch in charge of sales at J K Farnell (another soft toy manufacturer). Both were keen to join Holmes and Laxton to produce Merrythought Toys and together arranged to rent space in one of Coalbrookdale's foundry buildings.

In September 1930, Mr Rendle moved into the former social room of the Coalbrookdale Co, together with some workers from Chad Valley.

The home of Merrythought

Over the years the original Merrythought factory site at Coalbrookdale (now Ironbridge) which was purchased from the Coalbrookdale Co in 1965, and saw considerable improvement. New buildings were added but the large brick building built by the iron foundry in 1898 was used until the end to lovingly create each and every Merrythought Toy.

One of the former Chad Valley employees who went to work at Merrythought was a remarkable lady called Florence Atwood. A deaf mute, Florence had studied at the "Deaf and Dumb School" in Manchester which she attended with Mr Rendle's daughter. She created her own toys, translated drawings by well known artists including MGM studios' Jerry Mouse and single handily designed the entire range of 32 toy patterns for the first Merrythought line in 1930.

The first company catalogue was produced in 1931 and featured the much loved Greyfriars Bobby and the company's famous line of Teddy bears beginning with Magnet Bear. Florence's second catalogue in 1932 expanded the range to include other domestic animals wild animals, animals on wheels and even dressed animals like 'Toby' - a Movie Toy that could be place in different positions and hold them.

Until her health declined in 1949 Florence Atwood was chief designer for Merrythought. Some of her characters remain as popular today as ever and were produced using the original patterns.

The War Years

By 1939 over 200 people worked at Merrythought. When War began on the 3rd September 1939, the British Admiralty took over the Coalbrookdale factory buildings and used them for vital map making work. Merrythought rented space in nearby Wellington and at the government request began to produce items for the war - Chevrons (sleeve badges), linings for helmets, tiny ignitor bags, gas mask bags, covers for hot water bottles and a variety of practical products made from gabardine and velour.

In March 1946 Merrythought were able to restart production at the Coalbrookdale works and Mr B Tayton Holmes, son of the founder, came to the factory. With his management the factory began to expand again. An automatic stuffing machine was brought over from America in 1955 - although it did not entirely replace hand stuffing. The original foundry building was improved again, a new design and showroom were erected and an office block built in the grounds.

The Present

The last Managing Director Oliver Holmes was the original founder's grandson and joined the factory in 1972 after training as an engineer. Merrythought remained a family business and continued to create a delightful range of beautifully made soft toys.

There is nothing mass produced about a Merrythought Toy and each animal is lovingly hand-crafted. No two animals of any design are ever exactly the same. In fact through every stage of production everything was done to ensure that only the best in top quality soft toys were to bear the prestigious Merrythought Wishbone label.

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Alphabetical Listings...
Wendy Boston
John W Bratton
Chad Valley 
Janet Changfoot
Deans Rag Book Company
Grisly Speilwaren 
Gund The American giant 
Hermann, Hermann Speilwaren, Gebruder Hermann, Hermann Teddy Original 
Jimmy Kennedy who wrote the words to the song Teddy Bears’ Picnic
Teddy Bears’ Picnic music by John W Bratton and the lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy

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