Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Every Home Should Have a Bear
If you are in need of a hug then you should go to Kensington Town Hall. Well, at least on two days of the year anyway.
My mum and I have been collecting Charlie Bears for the last four years, and while doing a bit of virtual bear hunting on the internet, Mum discovered a website called Hugglets.that holds a biannual teddy festival. The one-day fest is held in February and September each year, and is a chance for collectors to meet artists, stockists, and of course lots and lots of bears.
We only collect Charlie Bears, so when I looked through the listing of exhibitors and saw that they were not going to be there, I wasn't sure if it was worth going or not. It didn't take much convincing. For starters, by simply registering to the Hugglets website, we received free tickets (standard entry is £4 or £2 for children). Why would I pass that up?
Even if we were not going to buy anything, it would be interesting to see all the different designs, and we would also be able to proudly tell my dad (who is getting a bit overwhelmed by our hundred-fifty plus collection) that we stoically resisted everything.
Then there was one final thing that clenched the deal. A few weeks before Teddies 2014, I was on Facebook, and got a message from Will & Charlie, the founders of Charlie Bears. Although the couple would not be exhibiting, they were going to be there on matters of pure pleasure i.e. shopping. Will said any fans who were attending should look out for them and say 'hello'.
Kensington Town Hall
So on the 14th September, Mum and I made our way to Kensington Town Hall. From the outside it a large brick building, cold and imposing. Step through the door and you enter a world of fuzz.
The festival was spread across three levels, with over a hundred and seventy exhibitors. Outside the main hall, a lady sat behind a table with a portfolio. Her name is Dot Bird, and she specialises in 'sympathetic restoration of pre 1960s Teddy Bears. Her portfolio showed magnificent restoration jobs, from something as small as paw repairs to turning what looks like nothing but a sack into a glorious cuddly friend. If your bear has seen better days, then you can call her on 01765 607131. There was also another bear restoration company called Bear it in Mind, which did equally as impressive repair work.
You know what I said about only collecting Charlie Bears? Our convictions were put to the test from the moment we walked in. Immediately to our left we saw Bisson Bears. These glorious handmade bears by Gail Thornton were so lifelike, but it was not the bears that caught Mum's eye. Benbow, a one of a kind mohair hare, had stolen her heart. Unfortunately he was out of our price range, so we hesitantly moved on.
The next stall along was All Bear by Paula Carter, who is 'putting the teddy back into bear!' These were clothed bears, which I don't tend to go for, but there was one in a clown costume I thought cute.
Mohair Bear Making Supplies
The corner of the hall was occupied by the Mohair Bear Making Supplies shop, which is the go-to place for anyone who is interested in making their own bears. At the back of the second room, there were also many other exhibitors who had all the tools you would ever need. These included a vast array of patterns, and a huge variety of fabrics, for your own unique creation.
If you have never made a bear before, but would be interested in trying, then Tillington Bears has a series of how-to DVDs. What we were more interested in, however, was yet another hare, called Monet. He was just one day old, having been completed the day before. Mum resisted at first, but before we left, we made one last stop there, and he leapt into our shopping bag.
The same thing happened to me when I saw an original 1970s Paddington Bear in very good condition. It was on show by the Special Auction Services, and I went past several times before finally buying him. For the rest of the day, as I walked around, people were stopping me, commenting and congratulating me on getting him.
Now, I wasn't expecting to find any Charlie Bears that day, but while Charlie and Will were not exhibiting, several of their stockists were. It was a pleasant surprise to see several stalls filled with Charlie Bears. Admittedly they were all ones I'd seen before, but that was online and on television. It is far better seeing them in the fur.
Charlie and Will have a saying that you don't chose a bear, a bear chooses you. And that is exactly what happened to me. I am not a pink person; it is usually a colour I stay away from. I also prefer big bears to small ones. Yet somehow, Cosmopolitan, a 6 ½ inch pink Mini-Mo would not let me leave without him. Neither would his friend Tatty.
Bears Upon Soar
Through to the second room I was blown away by the sheer artistry of Bears Upon Soar. These giant grizzlies were twelve jointed, and I was trying to figure out what they all were. There was the standard head, arm, and leg joints, but then there were also wrists, ankles, knees and elbows.
You might think we were falling in love with an awful lot of bears, but for everyone that made us go 'aww', there were at least ten than made us think 'why would anyone want that?' But lots of people were walking away with them. It just goes to show there is a bear to suit everyone.
As you've probably noticed from the hares, bears are not the only creatures at the festival. There are all sorts, including cats, dogs, rodents, dragons, meerkats and so on.
But where do all these bears live? Good question. Just like we have furniture to sit on, so do bears. There were two companies with vastly different products. One had wood carved benches, stools, and rocking chairs, while Phylls Bears Chairs create elaborate arm chairs, sofas, and chaise lounges.
After covering the ground floor, we went to the basement. There was one artist downstairs that stood out to me and that was Hannah from. Baildon Bears. She does personal pet portrait commissions. Send her a photo of your pet, and she will create a beautiful caricature for you.
On the first floor there were some preview stock Silver Tag Bears which had not yet been released, Next to them was a man selling some vintage items, including a Steiff Bambi. It had seen better days, and the 'Button in The Ear' was missing, but it was Disney, so I got it. Upstairs there was also a café with reasonably priced snacks, sandwiches, and drinks.
It was as we were making our final round of the hall that I saw Will & Charlie. They were talking to other fans, and signing bears. I had brought some of my bear tags in anticipation. They are both such genuinely friendly people, and were happy to do signings, even though they were on a shopping trip rather than a business trip. As well as adding to my bear hug (a hug is a group of bears), I also got a hug from Charlie. What's more, I almost came away with an extra memento in the form of Will's jacket. He had given it to me to hold, while he signed my tags, and absent-mindedly I almost ended up walking away with it.
When we got home, we unfortunately could not proudly tell Dad that we had stoically resisted buying anything, but I think I can live with it.
Winter Bearfest 2015 will be at Kensington Town Hall on the 22nd February, and is open between 10.30am – 4pm. We were there for about two and a half hours, so there is plenty of time to see everything, even if you arrive in the afternoon. But remember, the early bird catches the worm (or bear), and if you line up before opening, they hand out free chocolates.
Great article Bryony. Always loved getting teddys for our daughter when she was of that age. Also, I enjoy reading about you guys in the midst of your winter while we're melting into pools of sweat here in Queensland - lucky things. Regards, Tony