wishbone

Our History & Heritage


The Finest Teddy Bears Since 1930

Four Generations of
The Finest Teddy Bears


The story of Merrythought began in 1930. William Gordon Holmes, owner of a spinning mill in Yorkshire called ‘Holmes & Laxton’, recognised the opportunity to make premium soft toys from the luxurious natural fibres they sourced. He found a beautiful brick foundry building in Ironbridge, home of the industrial revolution, and with the help of a team of skilled local seamstresses, Merrythought was born.

The first collection was designed by Florence Attwood, a remarkable pattern maker who overcame many challenges associated with being deaf and unable to speak, to create some of our most iconic designs. This included the original Merrythought and Magnet teddy bears, which still have a strong influence upon the designs we create today.

Our heritage is something we are immensely proud of, and the original factory in Ironbridge, Shropshire, remains Merrythought’s home to this day; a magical place where each teddy bear is brought to life using the finest materials and traditional craftsmanship that has been handed down the four generations of the company.

Merrythought Through The Ages

1st Generation From 1930

1st Generation


Bringing together the best people and materials, the first Merrythought soft toys started to be produced in the historical Ironbridge factory in late 1930. The product range expanded in the years to follow, and despite the setback of World War 2, the company grew to become a major player in the British toy industry.

The Merrythought Bear

Although the earliest design to enter Merrythought’s first trials book on 8th October 1930 was simply ‘Elephant’, the original ‘Merrythought Bear’ was created shortly after this, and in 1931, appeared in the inaugural Merrythought catalogue. Florence Attwood created the company’s first collection; an imaginative range of 32 soft toys which included animals, play toys and dolls, alongside the original teddy bear.

In 2017, an authentic replica of the ‘Merrythought Bear’ was recreated using the original patterns held in our company archives. The bear was brought to life in celebration of the Royal Mail’s ‘Classic Toys’ stamp series, and featured upon one of eight unique collectable stamps.

The Original Punkie

Merrythought produced Punkinhead bears exclusively for Eaton’s department store in Canada between the years of 1949 to 1956. Designed by Florence Atwood, this distinctive bear was characterised by a long tuft of hair, bright eyes and a smiley velvet muzzle.

Synonymous with Christmas, Punkinhead was marketed as ‘Santa’s helper’ who longed to be part of the annual Christmas parade, with the department store distributing story booklets of the little bear’s adventure, and featuring him across their Christmas advertising.

Today Punkinhead, known in recent years simply as ‘Punkie’, has an important place amongst Merrythought’s collectable range. New limited edition designs are created each year and enjoyed by collectors around the world, particularly in Japan.

Gordon Holmes

Gordon Holmes, founder of Merrythought, was a true entrepreneur of the British textile industry. He was Director of the established yarn spinning business Holmes, Laxton and Co., and purchased mohair weavers Dyson, Hall and Co., an existing client, in order to secure the supply of high quality teddy bear plush. He also sought the best team of people to help him build Merrythought into a market leader, bringing in the production expertise of Clifton Rendle, formerly of Chad Valley toy company, and Henry Janisch, who had headed up sales for Britain’s oldest soft toy maker, J. K. Farnell. The ambitious new management team developed a skilled workforce and started driving sales.

Florence Attwood

Merrythought’s inaugural collection was designed by Florence Attwood, a remarkable pattern maker who overcame many challenges associated with being deaf and unable to speak, to create some of the most iconic designs. This included the original Merrythought and Magnet teddy bears, which still have a strong influence upon the designs created today.

London Zoo Panda

In 1939, Merrythought designed a very special Giant Panda for London Zoo. This life-sized soft toy acted as a stand-in for London Zoo’s own famous Giant Panda, Ming, during various topical films about her species. It was a real first, since before then little was known about these beautiful animals and the only previous panda made by Merrythought had been described as ‘modelled from data supplied by an eminent scientist’.

Merrythought was tasked with designing London Zoo’s version with such lifelike accuracy that people wouldn’t be able to decipher between this and a real Giant Panda; a challenge Gordon and his team readily accepted. The result was that Merrythought had made the very first life-like soft toy panda in the world.

World War II

World War II broke out in 1939 and the British Admiralty took over Merrythought’s Ironbridge factory to carry out vital map-making work, forcing soft toy production there to stop. Merrythought’s reduced workforce moved to nearby premises and used their skills and materials to help the war effort, producing a variety of textile items such as chevrons, helmet linings, igniter bags, gas mask bags and hot water bottle covers.

It wasn’t until 1946 that Merrythought was able to resume production of soft toys in Ironbridge, and this came with many challenges associated with the aftermath of war. If that wasn’t enough, the River Severn also burst its banks and flooded the factory during the same year. Despite a shortage of supplies and components, a small collection of animals and teddy bears was created, as Merrythought endeavoured to bring the joy of their soft toys to customers again.

2nd Generation From 1949

2nd Generation


With ambitions to take Merrythought’s teddy bears to customers around the world, the company grew its sales across Europe and the British Commonwealth. Significant investment was made into the production process to improve efficiency and output, and help meet the increasing demand.

The Original Cheeky Bear

The Cheeky Bear is a distinctive style of teddy bear that was first created by Merrythought designer Jean Barber in 1955. Appearing in that year’s trial book, then named simply ‘Teddy T’, this smiley bear was described as ‘a completely new bear – Tubby Teddy - very soft stuffed with amber eyes and growls’.

Legend has it that at The British Industries Fair that year, Her Majesty The Queen was introduced to this new ‘Teddy T’, and is said to have exclaimed ‘what a cheeky little bear!’. This unique Merrythought character would thereafter always be known as ‘Cheeky Bear’.

Today’s Cheeky Bears have a unique character that remains true to the original 1950s design, and are loved and collected around the world.

Disney

Merrythought has designed and manufactured an array of famous Disney characters throughout its history, stretching as far back as 1953. These included 'Donald Duck', 'Mickey Mouse', 'Pluto', 'Lady and Tramp',' Bambi' and 'Thumper' to name a few. One rather famous Disney bear, Winnie the Pooh, first appeared in the Merrythought range in 1966, complete with his little red top, and remained in the catalogue for a further decade.

Various other well-known characters also appeared in Merrythought’s collections during this era, such as ‘Sooty’ and Hanna Barbara’s ‘Yogi Bear’.

Woppit

Merrythought’s Woppit bear, who appeared in the 1956 catalogue, was to find fame as the mascot of land and water speed record breaker Donald Campbell. His little bear, with the slightly adapted name of Mr Whoppit, was at his side in the cockpit of the Bluebird K7 hydroplane boat in 1967, as he tried to become the fastest man across the water Sadly, Mr Whoppit was the only survivor when Bluebird crashed during the 300-mph record attempt, emerging from the wreckage intact and serving as the memento of Campbell’s achievements ever since.

Bernard Trayton Holmes

Bernard Trayton Holmes, son of founder Gordon, joined Merrythought in 1949 and his enterprising and occasionally eccentric character soon started to shape the future of the company. He focused on growing sales, both in Britain and in new export markets, and pushed for greater efficiency in the Merrythought factory to help keep up with the increasing demand and growing range of products. He even purchased a then state of the art, custom-made stuffing machine from the United States, which is still used in the factory today.

Exhibit Trade Fairs Including British Industries Fair

In 1958, Merrythought was one of only six British companies that exhibited at the Nuremberg trade show in Germany, demonstrating the company’s ambition for exporting to new markets. Merrythought also attended the British Industries Fairs throughout the 1950s, and on one occasion met a particularly discerning visitor, Her Majesty The Queen, who was presented with a Merrythought corgi.

3rd Generation From 1972

3rd Generation


With cheap imports increasingly affecting the traditional British toy sector, Merrythought focuses on the growing teddy bear collector market. Impressive collections of beautifully-designed limited edition bears were created and sold through British retailers, and also distributed across new export markets, including the United States and Japan.  

Master Mischief

Master Mischief was the flagship design of Merrythought’s 1992 collector catalogue; a charismatic 14 inch golden mohair bear dressed in short, patched dungarees, and holding a catapult behind his back. The mischievous personality of a little bear feigning innocence over some naughtiness appealed to collectors and judges alike, with the bear receiving that year’s acclaimed TOBY award (Teddy Bear of the Year).

The Merrythought Hippo

First introduced in 1967, Merrythought’s original hippo has been one of the brand’s longest-standing animal characters, appealing to generations of children and adults alike. One was even gifted to His Royal Highness Prince Charles during a royal visit to Marks and Spencer’s flagship London store in 1982.

William Oliver Holmes

William Oliver Holmes, known as Oliver, joined Merrythought in 1972, working alongside his father Trayton before becoming Managing Director in the early 1980s. Although the third generation of the Holmes family to run the company, Oliver was a pioneer in his own right and brought a huge amount of energy and vision to Merrythought.

Oliver was a charismatic salesman who took the Merrythought brand to new markets, including the US and Japan, where he established successful distribution of its premium teddy bears. Merrythought built up a strong collector following in both countries, with Oliver and other members of the Merrythought team representing the brand at various trade and collector events. Enthusiasts would travel hundreds of miles to meet Oliver and take home a bear that was hand-signed by him.

Such was Oliver’s flair for adventure, that in his spare time he enjoyed high octane exploits such as car rallying and hot air ballooning. One of his greatest achievements was to pilot the custom-made Merrythought hot air balloon on a challenging flight across the North Pole.

Merrythought Diamond Jubilee

Merrythought celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 1990 by launching the first international collector teddy bear. The unexpected demand of this limited edition product encouraged the team to develop a separate collector’s range of teddy bears in 1991, which was offered alongside the traditional soft toy collection. The age of the teddy bear collector had begun!

4th Generation From 2010

4th Generation


Today the Merrythought teddy bear is still widely regarded as the ultimate childhood toy, treasured by children and adult collectors across the globe. The company’s timeless traditional characters continue to be hand-made in the original factory, alongside stunning limited edition bears that commemorative occasions such as the Olympic Games and Royal Weddings.

Royal Teddy Bears

Merrythought created special commemorative teddy bears to mark the birth of His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge and each of his siblings, Prince Louise and Princess Charlotte. A bear to celebrate the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s first child, Archie, was a later addition to the series after his birth in 2019. Merrythought was also commissioned to produce exclusive Royal Baby teddy bears for the Royal Collection Trust, operator of the official Buckingham Palace Shop, with number one of each limited edition being gifted to the respective Prince or Princess.

To celebrate Her Majesty The Queen's 90th Birthday in 2016 Merrythought designed and produced a splendid limited-edition teddy bear that really encapsulated Queen Elizabeth's grace and refined sense of dress. Through studying the designs of her preferred dressmaker, a beautifully authentic overcoat and matching hat were created from the finest lilac silk, one of her favourite colours.

Brand Collaboration Bears

Merrythought has collaborated with a fantastic variety of luxury brands throughout its history, becoming a specialist in creating bespoke and exclusive teddy bears for both corporate gifting and premium retail. Clients have ranged from global fashion brands to five star hotels, with each given a truly personal service and a finished product that is tailored to their requirements and, of course, beautifully handmade in England.

The Olympics

As a long-standing British brand and manufacturer, Merrythought was approached by the organising committee of the London 2012 Olympic Games and asked to produce the official teddy bears for the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and Team GB. The collection proved extremely popular as high quality souvenirs of the global event, with a special gold edition bear selling out within just a few hours of the opening of the Games.

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Given Merrythought’s heritage in producing classic British teddy bears, film producers Fox approached the company about recreating one rather famous character – Edward; Christopher Robin’s Teddy Bear – for the major feature film ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’. Originally made by Farnell, producer of the first British teddy bear and the country’s oldest soft toy brand, Edward was Christopher’s much-loved childhood teddy bear, and the inspiration for his father AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Since Merrythought had owned the Farnell brand for many years and was experienced in recreating their classical designs, the company was able to produce a beautiful replica that starred throughout the 2017 film. The bear continues to be one of Merrythought’s most popular Traditional Collection products to this day.

90th Anniversary

Merrythought marked its milestone 90th anniversary with the release of a unique limited-edition teddy bear. Made from special gold and bronze toned mohair, the bear was finished with a gold pendant in the shape of the brand’s iconic wishbone, set within a double ribbon that signified the marriage of ruby (40 years) and gold (50 years) anniversaries. A Cheeky Bear version was also created, giving Merrythought collectors around the world the opportunity to own an exceptionally beautiful bear to remember the occasion by.