Online exhibition

Chiltern Toy Factory

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The history of toy making in Chesham

In 1908 Josef Eisenmann, a German toy maker, established The Chiltern Toy Works in Bellingdon Road, Chesham. Initially they started making dolls but soon added a range of teddies. It was one of the first companies in the UK to make soft toys on a large scale. Prices ranged from one shilling (5p) each to half-a-guinea (52p). In 1915 they launched ‘Master Teddy’.

The factory was inherited in 1919 on Josef’s death by his son-in-law, Leon Rees. Leon moved production in 1920 to Waterside in Chesham. Leon went into partnership with Harry Stone under the name of H G Stone & Co.

A second factory began production at Tottenham in 1921. The Waterside factory commenced production of the very popular Hugmee bears in 1923. During the War, the Waterside site was taken over by David Shackman & Co who produced optical equipment and other goods for the war effort. Shackman stayed on at Waterside until 1981.

Bales of cloth being delivered on horse drawn carts. Parcels of toys being take to the station. Circa 1923.
The cutting department,
fabric being cut to shape.
The cutting department,
fabric being cut to shape.
The filling department.
Sewn pieces being filled with kapok.
The filling department.
Sewn pieces being filled with kapok.
The finishing department.
Noses and eyes being fixed.
The finishing department.
Noses and eyes being fixed.

Although there was a break in toy-making during the war at the Chesham factory, the Tottenham factory continued to make some toys. After the war, production of wooden toys and soft toys moved from Waterside and was transferred to the Amersham Works and a new large factory near Pontypool in Wales. Hugmee bears remained in production until 1967.

Can you see Winifred the bear outside the factory that she may have been made in? Winifred bear is named after a Winifred who worked at this factory (last on the front row of the photo below). Winifred would have walked up and down Waterside to the factory each day making lots of famous Chiltern ‘Hugmee’ bears.

The company only employed ladies and young girls who were single so if they got married they would have had to leave!

Workers in the toy factory posing for a photo with a teddy bear
Toy factories employees based in Waterside, Chesham

Hugmee bears

Hugmee bears were quite distinctive in the 1930’s having shavedmuzzles, a large smile, embroidered claws on their hands and feet and a large ribbon bow.

Although the design of Hugmee was retained over the years the quality did vary. By the 1950s the mohair plush was less luxurious, the muzzle wasn’t shaved, his big smile had gone a less flamboyant bow and less thread was used for the claws. It is presumed this was due to cost cutting measures, both labour and materials.

Hugmee reunited

Chesham Museum received a message through Facebook from a lady called Beverley who told us she’d inherited a hugmee bear. It turned out that Beverley’s paternal Great Grandma Rosa King (nee Pearce) was the original owner of the bear.

Rosie Dutch (nee King) (Beverley’s Grandma died 2008) then inherited the bear, who in turn handed it to Beverley herself.

When Rosie was a little girl she used to play with Leonard Clapp who was the son of the manager of the toy factory. By coincidence Beverley’s maternal Grandma Dora Deaney (nee Beechey) also worked at the Toy factory.

In 1999 Chesham Town Museum Project put together a small exhibition in the library about Chiltern Toys; Beverley kindly lent her bear for the exhibition. This came to the attention of Leonard Clapp who wrote to the researcher. Rosie was sent a copy of the letter.

Hugmee’s adventures

This special Hugmee Bear was bought for a little girl called Heather Dell back in the 1950s.

Heather’s father, Ron Dell, worked for a man called Count Antoine Seilern. The Count bought Hog Lane Farm close to Chesham after the war where he bred pigs. Courtauld Institute students in the 1950s allege to have seen him outside 20 Portman Square in a sports car with a pet pig beside him!

Every year the Count would buy Heather and her big brother Terry a present at Christmas time. Hugmee went everywhere with Heather as you can see in the photograph, taken circa 1952.

Over the years Hugmee has had many adventures and been loved by many children, including Heather’s brothers and her own children.

Hugmee has visited many nursery schools and was even on display for a few months at Chesham Museum when it was in Market Square. He is a well travelled, much loved and treasured bear.

You can learn more about Chesham’s industries in our online collection and download a fascinating guide to local toy manufacturing written by Keith Fletcher.