Shropshire History


Toy Makers


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Chad Valley



In 1830, a Birmingham printer called Anthony Johnson began to make simple games for children as a sideline. These consisted mainly of pictures on paper and card, sometimes supported by a set of rules or instructions. In 1860, his two sons Joseph and Alfred branched out on their own, setting up a similar business called Johnson Brothers. In 1920, the firm moved to a larger premises at Harborne and the new building was called the Chad Valley Works, from its location in the valley of the River Chad.


By 1920, the company needed more manufacturing capacity and acquired the Wrekin Toy Works in Wellington. The factory already had skilled people and there was a gradual shift towards soft felt and celluloid toys. There was a steady stream of new dolls being produced by the 1930s.


What set the Chad Valley items apart was the exceptional attention to detail. Dresses were in authentic materials, finished with lace and neatly pleated, and faces were designed with great care. Boy dolls proved very popular with children.


Chad Valley received a Royal Warrant in 1938 and for the next 14 years all Chad Valley Toys carried the highly-prized accolade on their boxes or sew-in labels. It read “Toymakers to H M The Queen”. America's Walt Disney Company invited Chad Valley to create dolls of seven dwarfs, who were to appear in a new film they were making. The elegant boxed set of Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs is one of the most sought-after collectable toys in the world today.


In 1946, the Wellington factory began making rubber toys and took over more premises at Waterloo Works. However, by 1975 they were facing stiff foreign competition and the Wellington factories were closed.







The company was formed in 1930 by Gordon Holmes and George Laxton to make handmade traditional toys. The first catalogue produced in 1931 detailed a range of 32 toys, including their first teddy bear “Magnet”. Their most famous bear was "Mr Whoppit", the mascot of land and water speed record breaker Donald Campbell.


The company at first rented rooms at the Station Hotel in Wellington before moving to their present building in Coalbrookdale in 1931. By 1935, the company had the largest soft toy factory in Britain and by 1939 over 200 people worked for them. During World War II, the site was requisitioned by the Admiralty for map-making but the company continued working from premises in Wellington producing equipment for war use. Merrythought returned to their Ironbridge site in 1946. After the war new buildings were built on the site and an automatic stuffing machine was bought from the United States in 1955.


Merrythought made a selection of hobby horses alongside their famous teddy bear range. Their products were all hand made and renowned for quality.


After 2000, foreign competition meant that they could not compete due to the high production costs associated with manufacturing in the UK. Production of the extensive range of plush animals products ceased. From 2007-2010, an independent company took on production of the teddy bears in the original factory at the Ironbridge site, with Merrythought Ltd purely managing product development and sales. This was a short-lived partnership and Merrythought ended up bringing production back in-house in early 2010 and have since then continued to manage all elements of the business.


The shop and museum, which first opened in 1988, is now one of the visitor attractions in the area. The present range includes traditional and collectable teddy bears (including the company's "Punkie" and "Cheeky" variants) plus some other soft toy animals. Since the relaunch in 2007, the collectable part of the range consists of numerous special designs, each produced in a limited batch of up to 200 and with new designs regularly coming onto the market. Recent commemorative bears included those for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton plus the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.


Teddy bears are sold all over the world, most significantly in Japan, where in recent years a cult following of Merrythought Bears has developed. Merrythought was selected by the London Olympic Games organisers in February 2011 to produce the official teddy bears of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, giving the company a further boost.




Golden Bear



The company was formed in 1979 by John Hales and Christine Nicholls. It sells a range of branded products including Thomas and Friends, My 1st JCB, Charlie and Lola, Pingu, Noddy, Peppa Pig, Brum, Bob the Builder, Cars, Dora the Explorer, Hana's Helpline, Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom, Sooty and Teletubbies. The company acquired the rights to sell the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville.


Golden Bear operates from a 5-acre site at Hortonwood in Telford which houses offices plus a modern warehouse and distribution facility of 74,000 sq. ft. In 2001 it opened a Hong Kong office to co-ordinate overseas production.