Merrythought is a family business famous for crafting traditional teddy bears in Ironbridge, Shropshire, UK since 1930.
The story begins in 1919 when Mr B.C. Holmes (the present Managing Directors grandfather) went into partnership with a Mr GHI Laxton to open a spinning mill in Yorkshire to quite simply 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. 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, together with some workers from Chad Valley, moved into the former social room of the Coalbrookdale Co. Over the years the original Merrythought factory site at Coalbrookdale (now Ironbridge), which was purchased from the Coalbrookdale Co in 1965, has seen considerable improvement. New buildings have been added but the large brick building built by the iron foundry in 1898 is still used today to lovingly create each and every Merrythought Toy.
One of the former Chad Valley employees who came 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 studio's Jerry Mouse and single handidly 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 company's now 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 are still produced using the original patterns.
By 1939 over 200 people worked at Merrythought but on the 3rd September 1939 when War began, 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 and 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, which still continues today. The original foundry building was improved again, a new design and showroom were erected and an office block built in the grounds.
Jacqueline Revitt is the current designer of all Merrythought's animals. She started working for Merrythought in 1972 following extensive training as a clothing designer and pattern cutter. Jacqueline gets her inspiration for realism by watching animals in action. Having drawn the animal in profile she then engineers the joining parts to create patterns form which the design can be cut in mohair or plush cloth. After the pattern has been created Jacqueline and her assistant produce a factory model for approval and continually check the production to ensure that the final product is up to the standard of the original model.
The last Managing Director, Oliver Holmes, is the original founder's grandson who joined the factory in 1972 after training as an engineer.
The Directors of Merrythought Toys Limited regrettably announce the cessation of manufacture of their products in Ironbridge, Shropshire, due to the ongoing effects of external economics.
A three-generation family business and the sole remaining toy manufacturer in the country, Merrythought has continued to be an integral part of the history of Ironbridge. The company’s quality products, including collectable teddy bears, rocking and wheeled toys together with a comprehensive range of soft toys, have been demanded worldwide, achieving collector status and a global following.
Despite the best endeavours of the management team and the absolute dedication of a loyal and talented workforce, it has proved impossible for Merrythought to remain competitive against foreign produced goods, which take advantage of significantly lower manufacturing and overhead costs.
On the 27 November 2006, production ceased and 48 redundancies were announced.
The company will be placed into Creditors Voluntary Liquidation in December 2006, at the instigation of the directors.
What's your 'Merrythought' worth? Here are some recently sold items (USA):