ONCE upon a time, long, long ago, there lived a little boy named Christopher Robin.
One day, his mother came home from the shops with a present for him. The present was a small, stuffed toy in the shape of bear. Christopher became fond of it immediately.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this was an extract from a children’s book about the adventures of a certain honey-loving bear and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.
It is in fact the real life story behind the origin of Winnie-The-Pooh, the much-loved literary creation of writer A.A. Milne. His wife Daphne went shopping one day at the department store Harrods in 1921 and returned home with the toy bear, then a brand new concept which unsurprisingly went on to sell like hot cakes. She gave the bear, named Edward, to the couple’s son, who shared a name with his fictional counterpart.
This enduring icon, still going strong today, is linked inexorably with Acton, for it was this humble corner of the borough where a consignment of bears were made, on the spot where Twyford Church of England High School now stands.
Nowadays, the real life Christopher Robin’s toy bear on display at the main branch of the New York Public Library in New York City, but that same toy was once a consignment of several toys created in a factory owned by JK Farnell, the London company which helped introduce the first teddy bear to Great Britain.
The company itself had roots firmly planted in west London. Its owner, silk merchant John Kirby Farnell, started the firm in Notting Hill in 1840. It started out making tea cosies and pin cushions. After Farnell’s death, his children Agnes and Henry, relocated to nearby Acton where they continued the family business.
The firm began to make soft toys and hit upon the idea of bringing over a product line that had already seen success abroad - the teddy bear, made popular in Europe by the German manufacturer Steiff.
A line of the bears was made and sent to Harrods, and the rest is history. On Wednesday(14), Ealing Civic Society will unveil a plaque in The Elms, where the JK Farnell factory once stood.
Writer Shirley Harrison will be relating the story to Acton History Group’s meeting at 7.30pm on th same evening at St. Mary’s Church Hall, next to St Mary’s Church, The Mount, Acton, close to Morrisons Supermarket. She will also sign copies of her book, The Life and Times Of The Real Winnie The Pooh - the Teddy Bear Who Inspired AA Milne.
All are welcome to attend. Members get in free while others pay £2.
A further book signing will be held at the Yo Yo Kitchen in Station Parade, West Acton, from 10am on Wednesday.(14)